Dan forwarded me an article today that ranks right up near the top of my “Things to read that are relevant” list. Titled “What If Giving Up Your Brand Really Means Giving Up?” this Advertising Age article from Jonathan Salem Baskin asks some very pointed questions and draws some mildly controversial conclusions. (At least, I’m assuming they might be considered controversial among those people advocating a complete rush to social media in lieu of traditional branding, but it hasn’t seemed to bubble up to the top of Digg or gain a notable trend on Twitter, so we may never know.)

Baskin argues, basing his conclusions on the recent Edelman 2010 Trust Barometer, that consumers are growing weary (and wary) of their peers as credible sources of branding information. Where we once happily turned to people we trust to learn their opinions about a company or brand, we’re now skeptical of the same people and what they have to say. Maybe it’s because so many have turned out to be shills working on behalf of the companies they were promoting. Or maybe it’s because some of them turned out to be the actual companies themselves, pretending to be average Joes. Or maybe it’s because Twitter recently announced that they’ve surpassed the 50 million tweets per day mark, and we’re all buried under the noise.

Regardless, this paragraph from the article seems a perfect summation:

“If we renewed our commitment to selling based on credibility, authenticity and utility, maybe people would trust what we tell them, respect our corporate reputations, and give us their purchasing loyalty. Maybe if we stopped thinking we can give up responsibility for why they should buy, and start acting like David Ogilvy and sell to them once again, they’d find comfort relying on our communications as well as the subsequent iterations through the social echo chamber. This might unleash the ultimate promise of social and empower people to know, discuss and change the way businesses function, not just blather on about marketing blather.”

Absolutely, positively right on the mark. I recommend that you read the rest of his excellent article. You can also read the results of the Edelman study. Enlightening stuff.