Brands have become a ubiquitous feature of life in market‐based consumer societies. While marketers aim to establish brands as efficient devices for guiding purchase decisions, critical scholarship investigates how branding functions as a mode of exercising power by shaping consumers' identities and consumer culture more broadly. Beginning in the 1950s as a predominantly semiotic critique of advertising, critical research into branding has over the decades developed a more complex conceptualisation of brands and their interrelationship with “active” audiences and the cultural environment in which they operate. The first part of this essay summarises this conceptual evolution. It provides the necessary background for interrogating how brands engage with, shape, and capitalise on “algorithmic culture”. Recent dramatic changes in the data‐processing power of the developing algorithmic, platform‐dominated media environment is significantly altering the way brands operate and capitalise on consumer participation and popular culture. The present moment is therefore a crucial one to survey and evaluate emerging critical perspectives on brands and branding. By engaging with the current scholarship on social media, algorithms, and platforms, the second part of this essay outlines a number of novel and distinctive critiques emerging from this literature, which can help inform further research.