A few months ago, on a twitter rant, I commented on the mixing up of the words logo and brandAlexis Madrigal's reply, though, was a bit unexpected.


Animal husbandry is not my strong suit, but it did raise a very solid point. Our use of the words logo, brand, and mark seem hopelessly entwined.

Tribal Marks

Tribal marks in Nigeria were, for ages, a ready identifier or tribe and affiliation. They effectively served as your community brand, for lack of a better 21st century term. Not everyone was a fan. My father waited until he was in grade school to undergo the procedure (it started with small cuts around the mouth, in his case) but after they did just one, he realized how badly it hurt and chickened out. He still has a scar to the left of his mouth, but its hardly noticeable. Lots of others have written about their changing attitudes toward tribal marks, both physical and social.

Those marks signaled group membership to anyone who cared to look. But what is the difference between a brand as a mark of belonging, and a brand as a mark of ownership? Where is the line?

The Final Cut

In 2004, I saw a Robin Williams movie called the Final Cut. It was based on the idea that in the near future, all humans had bio-mechanical chips implanted in their heads at birth. The chips recorded everything you heard and saw. Robin Williams' character, called Hakman (yes it's a pun), met a group of dissidents who got heavy tattoos across their heads, in an attempt to prevent the chips from recording. That group of Neo-Luddites were happy to tattoo him up.

Although it is a commentary on our voyeuristic society, I found it interesting, that in this dystopian future, tribal marks became the only way of opting OUT, rather than joining.

Full Circle

So it comes full circle. From brand as a cattle mark, to the current social and personal tribal marks, and then (perhaps) to facial branding that prevents you from being watched.

Tribal marks are going way out of fashion in Nigeria. That permanence is being replaced by a more ephemeral mark of social status and wealth, marks that revolve around the logos on possessions, not on one's skin. Our new tribal marks are malleable, erasable, and over all, social. There's no guarantee, however, that they will remain that way. Neither will the language we use to discuss them.