A Case Study in How the "Brand" Concept Makes Case Studies Stupid

The New Yorker website, not to be confused with the New Yorker print magazine, is thinking about status today. In an item on its "Currency" vertical, the online New Yorker introduces us to researchers who have gained fascinating insights into how people police the abstract status identities they've constructed around their preferred "brands"—or else (maybe?) how people who have attained the factual condition of attending Harvard or of running long-distance obstacle courses disdain people who claim to have done those things without having done those things:

The authors focussed on athletes who partake in Tough Mudder events—multiple-mile obstacle courses that can include crawling through mud, swinging on ropes, and scaling up walls—to find if there were similar concerns of outsiders spoiling the Tough Mudder brand name. There were. They enlisted eighty-three participants who had earned their way into the Tough Mudder community by completing a race, and presented them with an imaginary spectator named Mike. One group of participants was told that Mike planned on buying a twenty-five-dollar ticket to attend both a Tough Mudder event and its related after-parties to associate with Tough Mudders and give the impression to friends and family back home that he, too, was one of them—even though he had never entered a race. The other group was told that Mike wanted to attend simply to witness Tough Mudders in action and applaud their dedication. Again the results found that while participants thought a Brand Immigrant stance posed a potential threat to the brand's integrity, a Brand Tourist attitude could enhance it.

People who pretend to have run endurance races without running endurance races are "Brand Immigrants" who pose "a potential threat to the brand's integrity." Or, you know, they're assholes who lie to people. Perhaps treating everything as a "brand" is not always the clearest way to understand human activity?

[Image via Getty]