Interbrand Thinking
manfredi ricca

Introducing the Express Arena

insider view

Concepts and words are symbols, just as visions, rituals, and images are; so too are the manners and customs of daily life. Through all of these a transcendent reality is mirrored… Symbols hold the mind to truth but are not themselves the truth, hence it is delusory to borrow them. Each civilisation, every age, must bring forth its own.”

Heinrich Zimmer

The use of symbols to convey complex ideas, objects and relationships is one of the traits that make us distinctly human. Essential to communication, they are the essential vehicles of knowledge, which is what we define our very species through – as Sapiens, i.e., “the knowing.”

As Yuval Noah Harari suggests in his bestselling book by the same title, “as far as we know, only Sapiens can talk about entire kinds of entities that they have never seen, touched or smelled. […] The ability to speak about fictions is the most unique feature of Sapiens language… fiction has enabled us not merely to imagine things, but to do so collectively. Any large-scale human cooperation is rooted in common myths that exist only in people’s collective imagination.”

All the way since the oldest known forms of cave art, burials and religious rituals our history sees the constant presence of artifacts, rituals and symbols whose significance and power transcend their physical features.

Today those artifacts, rituals and symbols are more numerous and disparate than ever before, having accessed the world of commerce and evolved respectively into products, experiences and brands whose demand and value are driven not just by what they are, but what they mean.

They tell stories. They signify affiliation or rebellion. They encapsulate complex concepts such as ideologies, achievements, legacy or provenance. They hark back to widely shared creation myths. They shape the way their bearers see themselves and are seen by others. A pair of sneakers can convey much of this.

In some cases they follow into the tradition of ancient magic, seemingly possessing transformative effects on our own selves, typically through a principle of imitation. Pick up any glossy magazine, and artifacts and rituals that infuse confidence, power or discernment abound.

This report explores what we call the Express arena – the broad, complex and dynamic space of those products, experiences and brands that address our fundamental motivation to shape and express our individual identity as we navigate societies.

Exploring this arena enables us to move beyond the stale conflation between luxury and expression – a simplification that is increasingly out of touch with reality.

True – traditionally, products, experiences and brands would signify economic capital. However the advent of the knowledge economy and the 2008 financial crisis produced a shift towards the expression of intellectual capital. The past few years’ debates around inclusion, equity and climate change has sparked the urgent need for artifacts, rituals and symbols that represent our ethical capital too.

As a result, the palette of choices that express who we are now vastly exceeds the traditional notion of ‘luxury’.

The Express arena lens opens up the aperture and changes the conversation from increasingly forced industry conventions to the fundamental human need for self expression.

In so doing, we break the mould of pre-defined ‘luxury’ clichés – categories, exclusivity and global footprint – to reveal an incredibly complex, varied and fascinating space. Our investigation into Objects of Desire brings to life a dazzling universe of arts and places, subcultures and festivals, science and sustainability – and even digital artifacts.

We are confident that our ongoing exploration of the Express arena will consistently bring inspiration and provocations to brand leaders. Brands that help individual express their selfhood are set to create symbiotic relationships with the communities they serve – elevating demand to desire, loyalty into belonging and relevance into iconicity.