In a text about advertising and marketing the following line appeared:
Customers can identify with the product.
This is an interesting use of the word “identify”. Let’s look at the word family of this word and analyse the different shades of meaning:
Word Family – the Verb – to identify
The verb “to identify” is often used in the area of police and forensics or in history and archaeology. Check out this example:
The police found a car wreck with human remains but they were unable to identify the body.
That means the body was badly burned and it was not possible to find out who it was. Look at these variations:
Identify and Identity – Verb and Noun
The police were not able to identify the body.
The police were not able to ascertain the identity of the human remains.
The first one uses the verb but the second one uses a noun. We can see that “identify” basically means “determine the identity” of somebody or something.
Archaeology – the Verb “identify”
In archaeology researchers might identify a site. Look at this sentence:
A team from the local university identified an Iron Age settlement under the old carpark.
That means they found something (old archaeological ruins) and they worked out what it was.
Phrasal Verb – identify with
When we talked about “the customer who identified with the product” above we were actually using the phrasal verb: “to identify with”.
In the field of marketing and advertising, researchers talk about how a customer can “identify with” a product or a logo or a company.
That means, to the customer, certain companies and their brands represent different aspects of society.
Advertising, Image and Identity
Apple represents young cool people who are tech-savvy and not too worried about price.
Expensive French and Italian fashion labels like Yves St Laurent and Luis Vuitton or Gucci might represent high class or wealthy people who have enough money that they don’t have to worry about price. They can spend thousands of dollars on a handbag. Wealthy people can identify with those labels (brands).
Some people don’t identify with those brands. They prefer eco-friendly products which are “responsibly sourced” or “recycled materials” which are “environmentally friendly”.
When a market researcher talks about how a consumer identifies with the product, this is what he or she means. The product somehow represents the person who is buying it. It belongs to the image that person wants to show. It appeals to that customer’s sense of style or identity or social justice.
To Identify and to Relate
Another way to say:
“The customer identifies with the product,”
“The customer relates to the product.”
Do you think it is strange that we talk about people identifying with things?
It is a common feature of the global post-modern world where English is the international language. But not everybody identifies with things. Some people get their identity from who they are, not what they have.
To Have or to Be?
Having, Owning, Possessing – Identifying
We can have, or own, or possess an object but it is not really who we are. Yet if we identify with it, then, in a sense, we become “a person who owns a red sports car”. Or “a person who owns a Rolex”. Or “a person who has an i-phone”. In a certain way the product becomes us. It becomes part of our identity. We identify with it. It represents who we are.
Being and Having
We look around and we realise we have become a person who owns an expensive suit rather than somebody who is a good parent or a good friend or a good human being. In his book Fromm talks about the difference between “being” and “having”.
Do we define ourselves by who we are (being) or by what we have “owning objects”, “possessing things”?
The Language of Advertising and Marketing
The language of advertising and marketing clearly shows that for many people owning material things is a form of identity. How about you? What is more important? Is it what you have or who you are?
It is an interesting question. Have you thought about it before? Think about it now. Tell us what you think about this topic. Write your opinion in the comments section below.
Let’s look at other members of the word family – identify:
This is a compound noun. An identity card is a card which tells who you are. It is usually issued by the government but it could be issued by a school or a university or a private company. Do you have an identity card? Is it compulsory to have an identity card in your country?
In Australia there is no official national identity card. People usually use their passport or driver’s license if they have to identify themselves.
If you are stopped by the police, they may ask:
Do you have any identification?
This is sometimes abbreviated to:
Do you have any ID?
We often say “ID card” rather than “identity card”.
Law Enforcement – Identity Theft
In the area of law enforcement we often hear about identity theft. That means somebody steals your personal details and uses them to impersonate you and get your money or get access to your bank account or some other aspect of your private life.
Have you been the victim of identity theft? It is a common phenomenon these days and Hollywood even makes movies about it.
Let’s summarise what we have learned:
Identify with (phrasal verb)
Did you enjoy expanding your vocabulary? Writing helps you to use the words you have learned. Read the above text again and look at the questions. Can you answer the questions?
Write your answers to the questions in the comments section below.