By Sidney J. Levy
The University of Innsbruck, with sponsorship from the Swarovsky Crystal Company, in 2010 established a new academic venture, the Brand Research Laboratory. I was invited to provide the inaugural lecture. I wrote a paper, “The Concept of Branding,” in collaboration with doctoral student Wilson Bastos; and created a PowerPoint presentation for the occasion.
On November 28, Wilson and I started our journey to Austria. We were delayed at the Tucson Airport due to bad weather and were rerouted to Heathrow from Dallas instead of going directly to Frankfurt. The airports were a mess, with long lines of unhappy travelers trying to get to their destinations. At Frankfurt, Wilson was not allowed on the plane to Innsbruck, for no clear reason, and had to wait until the next morning; and I sat in the plane on the ramp for four hours before departing and arriving at Innsbruck at 11:30 p.m.
Despite this ominous beginning, a wonderful visit began on Tuesday, November 30th. We were hosted by Professor Hans Mühlbacher who created the BrandLab with Swarovsky, and especially by Professor Marius Lüdicke who assumed responsibility for the program during our visit. On Wednesday, Wilson earned his keep with a well-received presentation of his research on the relationship to happiness of experience, material objects, and sociality. We were entertained royally on campus, taken to lunches and dinners, and toured around town by Verena Brown, who is most knowledgeable about the local history. We were taken to the most marvelous spa up in the mountains where they have 3 large outdoor pools and several saunas where the visitors wander around casually in the nude enjoying the different temperatures and atmospheres. I also attended a performance of Andrea Chenier at the Innsbruck Opera House.
My lecture was attended by over 120 registrants and was preceded by a six man brass band playing a fanfare—the first time that’s ever happened to me. The talk went well. It is a history of the concept of branding, its changing meanings over time and its current pervasive character in practice and research; I have since received several requests for copies. Wilson and I plan to submit the paper to the Journal of Marketing.
On December 4th, Marius and his colleague, Elizabeth Pichler, drove us to Salzburg. We visited Mozart’s home and we attended the 11:45 p.m. memorial performance of Mozart’s Requiem in the Kollegien church. It was played Zur Todesstunde, at Mozart’s death hour, with original instruments. It was magnificent and heart-rending, a peak life experience for me.
Wilson and I wound up our visit by two days in Vienna, wandering the city among the Christmas markets, visiting Freud’s home/office, the Museum of Fine Arts, and admiring the grandeur of the St. Stephan’s Cathedral. We attended the spectacular Vienna Opera House for a performance of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. The theater is quite a sight and the singing was wonderful–especially the “Figaro, Figaro!”–but we were so uncomfortable in the crowded and cramped seats and overheated room that, I hate to say it, we left at the intermission. Our flight home was thankfully uneventful, leaving us with many great memories of the beauties and hospitality of Austria.