Mnuchin’s wife isn’t the only one defining herself through the brands she promotes – Los Angeles Times
Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin’s wife, Louise Linton, did herself no favors when she took to Instagram this week to brag about the luxury brands she was wearing and then belittled a commenter who called her out for her let-them-eat-cake behavior.
“It’s as stupid as stupid gets,” said Leslie Goldgehn, a professor of marketing at the University of San Francisco.
But I’m not here to join the chorus of critics who have made Linton the poster girl for crass, tone-deaf displays of wealth and thoughtlessness. I have another question in mind.
Why do people do this?
I don’t mean why people behave so atrociously. I mean: Why do consumers — even those in the pampered One Percent Club — so eagerly embrace corporate brands and make them their own?
It’s not a new phenomenon, of course. Consumers have been associating themselves with favorite brands for decades — logos on T-shirts or sneakers, designer goods that all but scream the designer’s name.
What’s changed is the way social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook have taken things to a higher level, making brand identification more powerful, more tempting and potentially more dangerous.
“Social media is amplifying and accelerating the phenomenon,” said Americus Reed, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “It’s where we curate an idealized version of ourselves.”
And then we broadcast it to the world.
Linton, 36, a Scottish actress and producer who became the third wife of 54-year-old Mnuchin in June, certainly wasn’t shy about putting herself on display.
She posted a photo on Instagram of her and her husband disembarking from a government jet in Kentucky, where the pair planned to visit Ft. Knox. Some say they actually were using taxpayer funds to get a good seat for the eclipse.
To make sure her stylish ensemble received due notice, she hashtagged her post, “#roulandmouret pants, #tomford sunnies, #hermesscarf, #valentinorockstudheels #valentino.” Fashion mavens estimated she was not-so-humble bragging about thousands of dollars’ worth of goodies.
Then, after another Instagram user commented, “Glad we could pay for your little getaway #deplorable,” Linton went into full Marie Antoinette mode.
“Have you given more to the economy than me and my husband?” she snapped online. “Either as an individual earner in taxes OR in self-sacrifice to your country? I’m pretty sure we paid more in taxes toward our day ‘trip’ than you did. Pretty sure the amount we sacrifice per year is a lot more than you’d be willing to sacrifice if the choice was yours.”
She signed off with: “You’re adorably out of touch.”
Linton subsequently apologized, saying through a publicist that her original post and response were “inappropriate and highly insensitive.”
That they were. But her in-your-face hashtags were in keeping with a consumer culture that has grown increasingly assertive in declaring corporate allegiances.
The Internet is now populated with “influencers” and “tastemakers” — and more than a few wannabes — who dedicate themselves to pimping popular brands. In return, many receive swag, and maybe some cash, from the companies they promote.
The Kardashians and Jenners are at or near the top of this food chain, but there’s no shortage of others who have made materialism both a lifestyle and a livelihood. Today, more than ever, people are defining themselves through the brands they promote.
The pay-for-play nature of the game has become so routine that the Treasury Department had to issue a statement this week saying that Linton “does not receive compensation for products she mentions.”