Grayson Perry on middle
Grayson Perry’s exploration of British class and the significance of its tastes continued last night on C4, with a look at the middle class. As an X Factor judge might say “he nailed it”. The programme took a pretty broad cultural view of the topic, but for those of us involved in branding, his observations of the middle classes use of and reliance on brands were of particular interest.
Perry noted that there are two kinds of middle class – the insecure but good income ones who need brands to signify that they have ‘got it just right’. And the insecure but good income ones who use cultural references to the same end. The first buys Cath Kidston, the second buys ‘vintage’. Both can probably agree on Farrow & Ball. A much missed ex-colleague was one of the folk he met in the second camp, but that’s by the by.
Perry’s observations were wonderfully pithy, so I thought I would share a few without adding my own tuppence worth. Here is the gist of it…
The keen to ‘fit in’ middle class like the clarity of meaning that brands can give. They seek the understated but clearly ‘designed’ e.g. an interesting detail on the cuff. “Our badges are slightly more hidden” he was told. Great effort is made to look ‘effortless’. Branded choices are used because they deliver ‘good taste’ without the consumer having to think too hard. What these choices signify to the wider world is almost moral: “I am a good person”. Hence ‘green bling’ like organic cottons for babies. As he summarised “we all like to think we are individuals ‘till we look around and see there are lots of other people as individual as we are.”
There were a ton of observations worth chewing on, but what’s the upshot? Well, branding will have a significant role to play as long as the middle class have a sense of anxiety. So that looks like a long career ahead then…