Economics

The Revenge of the Brands

How corporate America turned Naomi Klein's anti-branding manifesto on its head

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No Logo: 10th Anniversary Edition, by Naomi Klein, Picador, 544 pages, $16

Reading old works of journalism is like looking at old photographs, serving as a useful reminder that politics has its own fads and fashions that years later seem as incomprehensible as muttonchops or leisure suits. For the politically engaged, it can be embarrassing to be reminded of the forgotten fears that once loomed so large, the abandoned fights that at the time seemed so stridently important.

Recently, the 10-year anniversary edition of Naomi Klein's No Logo appeared in bookstores, complete with a new introduction by Klein herself. Originally released in early 2000, No Logo was an impeccably timed report on a growing youth movement that was rising up in response to the new-world-order agenda of liberalized trade, corporate outsourcing, and political deregulation that became known as "globalization."

Klein's writing caught the wave of anti-globalization protests that swept across the planet a decade ago, beginning with the massive and violent demonstrations against the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in November 1999. Almost immediately, wherever world leaders gathered—international economic conferences, G8 summits, trade negotiations—they would be met with street protests and a parallel meeting of the planet's angry marginalia, including counterculturalists, environmentalists, socialists, labor organizations, and human rights activists. No Logo was quickly adopted as the movement's bible and, along with Nalgene water bottles and khaki cargo pants, became an essential part of the general-issue battle kit for campus lefties.

What are we to make of No Logo a decade on? It remains a passionate and ambitious snapshot of the newly globalized youth and consumer culture at the end of the 20th century. It is also an often infuriating work of agitprop that marries old Marxist prejudices about the market economy to a paranoid and conspiratorial account of the business of advertising.

If that was all there was to the book, it would be enough to dismiss it as a period piece, the journalistic equivalent to a box of old Polaroids. Sweatshops, the McLibel trial, Brent Spar…weren't those the days? But that would be a mistake, since it would miss the way in which, in its quest to undermine the branded economy and expose the capitalist propaganda that motivates all advertising, No Logo inadvertently served as the most influential marketing manual of the decade.

The organizing conceit of No Logo is the notion that the American economy has stopped making things and is now focused on managing brands. Where once a corporation might have employed domestic workers to make its jeans or sneakers or computers, now companies such as Tommy Hilfiger or Nike or Dell simply market their brand images while outsourcing the manufacturing to low-cost factories overseas. The power this gives to corporations is enormous, and we find ourselves at the whim of these brand bullies. 

Why "bullies"? Klein's case against brands comes at them from two angles. The first is the way that brands—and commercial advertising in general—have come to dominate our mental environment. Brands, she says, have co-opted popular culture and colonized our sense of self. Forget about your education or your job, your church or your family; what matters to your social status and personal identity in North America today is the brands you consume.

The second aspect has to do with the erosion of public space and the political sphere. The financial power they get from their brands has given corporations a great deal of political leverage, Klein argues, which they use to bend national governments to their will, forcing them to drop trade barriers, lower taxes, deregulate markets, and eliminate environmental protections.

Take these two arguments together, and we are left with a world where corporations, not governments, rule, and where consumerism has almost entirely displaced citizenship. We are modern-day serfs, nearly helpless in the face of the power of these feudal brand lords.

Nearly helpless, but not entirely. The corporation's greatest strength is also its biggest weakness, and much of No Logo is devoted to documenting the ways small groups of committed activists retaliated by turning the power of the brand back on itself. But 10 years later, the rule of the brand is more entrenched than ever, largely thanks to lessons learned from a close reading of No Logo

The book devotes a great deal of attention to the various strategies of anti-brand activism that were coming into play at the time. Joining the old-school consumer boycott were newfangled techniques such as guerrilla marketing, culture jamming (ad parodies, basically), and Reclaim the Streets initiatives aimed at reversing the "commodification and criminalization of street culture."

However edgy or subversive these strategies once might have seemed, every single one is now a standard part of the tool kit of every advertising agency and brand manager. You think culture jamming is subversive? Kenneth Cole has been jamming its own advertising for years, embroidering its campaigns with slogans and quotations addressing topics such as AIDS, homelessness, gun control, and same-sex marriage. Guerrilla marketing might once have been a cool way of getting attention for your alternative band or performance-art installation, but today, thanks to the viral capabilities of Twitter and YouTube, the technique is used to sell everything from fried chicken to the latest Hollywood blockbuster.

And what of the Reclaim the Streets party that Klein held up as emblematic of all that was good and true about the movement? It's still going strong, and it now involves such activities as pillow fights on Bay Street in Toronto, epic games of kick the can in Brooklyn, and mobile dance parties on London's public transit. It has been rebranded the Urban Playground Movement, and its incredible popularity has attracted the attention of corporate sponsors such as Red Bull and T-Mobile, which are dying to associate themselves with such a hip scene.

Klein certainly recognizes how much things have changed during the last decade. She even opens her new introduction with two telling examples. The first is Absolut Vodka, which in 2009 launched a bottle with no label or logo, to "manifest the idea, that no matter what's on the outside, it's the inside that really matters." Then there's Starbucks, which has tried recently to return to its coffeehouse roots by opening a handful of unbranded stores. As Klein wryly observes, "The techniques of branding have both thrived and adapted since I published No Logo."

Yet while Klein is tempted to interpret these examples as cases of companies trying to escape their own brands, the truth is a bit more subtle. What both Absolut and Starbucks are trying to do here is position themselves as brands that are delivering honesty, integrity, and self-fulfillment. They are selling not just vodka or coffee but also authenticity, which is ironic, given that one of the things that No Logo found so unpleasant about the contemporary brandscape was how inauthentic it was.

All brands are built around a unique promise or selling proposition, but as Klein argued, whatever a brand is supposed to stand for, it has little to do with the material facts of how the product is manufactured. Nike's "Just Do It" pledge of individual achievement and Apple's attitude of hip nonconformity could mask sweatshops, communities damaged by outsourcing, or an exploited environment. The anti-corporate activism chronicled in No Logo used this gap between what a brand promised to consumers and how its corporate parent actually behaved to perform a bit of public relations jiu-jitsu. When their bad faith was revealed to the world, the economic strength of the brand bullies became a major liability. The need to preserve shareholder value forced companies such as Shell and Nike to get their act together and make sure their corporate deeds aligned with their marketing froth.

A decade on, there is no question who won that fight. From eco- to organic, fair trade to locally sourced, sweatshop safe to dolphin friendly, sales pitches that 10 years ago would have reeked of patchouli oil and set the red baiters on full alert are now thoroughly mainstream. Companies like Whole Foods (and its quarterly "5 Percent Day," when each location donates 5 percent of its net sales to a nonprofit) or the Vermont-based Seventh Generation (a natural soap and detergent company devoted to all forms of sustainability, whose co-founder and executive chairman is known as the "inspired protagonist" of the firm) are massively successful operations.

Virtually every marketing book published in the past few years, from Martin Lindstrom's Buyology to James Gilmore and Joseph Pine's Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want, has stressed the primacy of authenticity as a selling point. Everyone agrees that the quest for authenticity is the contemporary advertising equivalent of the search for the Holy Grail, and being able to play the authenticity game is now a fundamental requirement of marketing, the standard against which all brand strategies are judged.

At this point you might expect Naomi Klein to raise her arms and declare victory. The days when Shell, McDonald's, Nike, and others could bigfoot around the planet while ignoring their public responsibilities are gone, their behavior transformed, thanks to the efforts of a relatively small but highly vocal, motivated, and intelligent group of connected activists. The taming of the brand bullies is all the proof you need that corporations don't own brands; consumers do.

Yet Klein is not happy. In a remarkably self-aware passage toward the end of No Logo, she points out that there has to be more to environmentalism than an Energy Saver sticker on your computer monitor and more to social justice than a Fair Trade logo on your coffee mug. If all politics becomes absorbed into consumer politics, she warns, you end up with the wholesale privatization of what was once the democratic responsibility of the public sphere.

That is why Klein is so unappreciative of what would appear to be a great triumph for her side. Her goal was never merely to change corporate behavior. It was to change the entire economic system. As she sees it, the newfound emphasis on selling authenticity is just further evidence of capitalism's ability to co-opt dissent and exploit seemingly subversive niches. Reform is always the enemy of revolution, and any change that maintains the overall status quo is to be viewed with suspicion. Writing about branding was only an excuse to talk about politics, and what led Klein to re-engage with the discourse of marketing after 10 years was the emergence of Barack Obama, the first U.S. president who is also a "superbrand."

In the new introduction to No Logo, Klein denounces Obama as little more than a neocon who has wrapped himself in the branding of truly transformative political movements. Shamelessly helping itself to the iconography of Che Guevara, the rhetorical cadences of Martin Luther King, and the "Yes We Can" slogan of Latin American migrant workers, the Obama brand is just as hollow and inauthentic, as far as Klein is concerned, as the corporate brands she X-rayed a decade before. Whenever possible, she alleges, Obama "favors the grand symbolic gesture over deep structural change." He was happy to play the role of the "anti-war, anti–Wall Street party crasher" when running for the Democratic nomination, but promptly cut bipartisan deals "with crazed Republicans once in the White House."

You can see where Klein is going with this. In No Logo, she argued that it is simply not enough for anti-brand activists to persuade Nike to improve its production methods or for McDonald's to fix its environmental problems. Similarly, today it is not good enough for the most liberal president in ages to settle for half a loaf when the alternative is going hungry. In both cases, she argues, a profoundly corrupt system is left intact. Any suggestion that things might have changed, if marginally, for the better is dismissed as just more marketing spin.

Still, Klein claims to spy an ironic sort of hope in Obama's victory. Just as the success of socially conscious branding is a sign that there is a longing out there for equality, diversity, and public space, she writes, the well of hope and expectation that Obama was able to plumb is decisive proof that there is still a tremendous appetite for social justice. That he has failed to deliver is almost beside the point: The market research is done, and all that is left is for genuine transformative social movements to exploit the niche. 

This gets the order of exploitation exactly backward. A more likely consequence is something roughly parallel to what happened during the last decade in the consumer realm, where the very brand-driven corporate hegemony that No Logo so forcefully critiqued came back stronger than ever. 

For all its faith in a transformative grassroots political movement, the principal legacy of No Logo was that it served as a research manual for corporations looking to sell their products to consumers looking for meaning, integrity, and purpose in their shopping cart. Ten years on, still waiting for the revolution, Naomi Klein scarcely seems to notice that she's providing invaluable marketing advice to her opponents.

Andrew Potter is the author of The Authenticity Hoax: How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves, out this month from HarperCollins. He blogs at authenticityhoax.squarespace.com.

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155 responses to “The Revenge of the Brands

  1. All I ever wanted from the “No Logo” movement is the removal of the overt symbols of the brands from the products I consume.

    I don’t give a shit, and have never given a shit, about globalization or McLibel or any of the rest of it. All that ever mattered to me is that products with visible brand markers are vulgar, but all manufacturers of high-quality items felt the need to plaster their trademark all over their products to make them “distinctive”. There is nothing more gauche than some disgusting Kardashian wannabe skank with a Louis Vuitton bag on her arm, but for a while it was almost impossible to buy products that were well made but didn’t have gaudy brand markers of that kind.

    So to the extent that Klein’s work led to at least a FEW manufacturers reigning in their trademark overkill A LITTLE, I salute Klein and her work. Thanks Naomi!

    Because if SOMETHING hadn’t happened, I would have had to buy basically all my goods from Mennonites. And that would have been inconvenient.

    1. You poor thing.

    2. As a matter of personal preference, I too would prefer clothing, computers and vehicles without brand logos. But, that’s why the Almighty One created stickers. Thanks, Invisible Sky Man!

    3. Are you referring to Mennonites or Amish?

      1. Both, I suppose.

        In my neck of the woods there are a lot of Mennonites, but no Amish. Although apparently the Amish are moving into Maine in a big way, so perhaps they will eventually be all over New England.

        The Mennonites around here make really nice furniture and have really good organic produce and hand crafts. They don’t make a lot of clothes for sale, mainly because as far as I can tell it’s only the women who “dress Mennonite”.

    4. I would have had to buy basically all my goods from Mennonites. And that would have been inconvenient.

      Yeah, especially if you want a pickup or SUV.

      1. Obviously, Pen, you have never been off-roading in a buggy, that shit is fun.

        You have to drink liquor while you do it though, ’cause all the bouncing will make your beer go flat.

      2. Mennonites drive non-colorful gasoline-consuming vehicles such as vans. Amish still use the horse and buggy.

        1. I almost married an Amish girl a while ago. Unfortunately it fell apart because her kin was afraid that I would drive the family buggy.

    5. I like graphics and typography. And commerce. Logos represent all of those things, and make progressive pussies bitch about the corporashuns.

      1. +4

    6. Fluffy for Prez! Fluffy for Prez!

  2. Revenge of brands? This is what these think tank fronts pay you guys to write? Really? Even if it were true, who gives a shit?

    Only someone with their head so far up the business world’s ass would feel the need to proclaim a “revenge of the brands.”

    I don’t think the average person above the age of a teenager is interested in having logos on their clothing. In fact, I would be willing to be that most would like to have logos hidden.

    You guys are about as daffy as the mutant GOP. You cater to the same narrow demographic.

    There isn’t a phobia about business. However, pointing out the self-serving nature of business interests is perfectly reasonable. Your hyperbole isn’t necessary.

    1. However, pointing out the self-serving nature of business interests is perfectly reasonable

      More like “pointing out the self-serving nature of business interests is” totally fucking redundant, as anyone with a modicum of sanity knows that businesses exist to make a profit. And it’s that, I suspect, that gives Klein and her ilk the vapors.

    2. I don’t think you understand the article.

      It’s merely a rundown of the fact that the anti-brand movement ultimately became dominated by…brands.

      And the fact that consumers who fled brands merely ended up in the clutches of different brands that employed an alternative marketing strategy.

      This is important because it demonstrates once again that there is no way to express an economic preference without that expression itself being part of the market system. In other words, there is no way to act outside of the market because your freedom to choose to act in your own way is itself an element of the market.

      That’s a useful lesson to repeat, as often as possible. In fact, drawing the distinction between what I wanted to get out of the anti-brand movement [well-made clothes without little polo men on them; plain black picture frames without affect; high-quality luggage of no discernible brand; etc.] and what Naomi Klein wanted to get out of it [the death of capitalism] is useful because one of those two can be attained by the free exercise of consumer preference and the other can’t.

      1. Great points.

      2. That was such an excellent argument that I actually saved it to read it later

    3. Check out this kick-ass Ed Hardy t-shirt. It’s totally banging.

    4. Check out my awesome BMW.

    5. You should live in Taiwan. If it’s not a brand-name item, it’s considered junk.

  3. My baloney has a first name.

  4. I don’t think the average person above the age of a teenager is interested in having logos on their clothing.

    And yet despite you knowing what is best for everyone, today millions of Americans over the age of 19 will don a Nike swoosh while they sip from their Starbucks cup. What an incredible business opportunity this presents for you.

    1. Isn’t it just perplexing how many people who pay extra for a product might want people to know about it? Of course that’s totally different than paying extra to not have a logo on the product. ‘Cause you know that when somebody walks around with that unbranded $5 Starbucks latte, they aren’t just itching to be asked about it so they can show off their moral superiority. Of course not.

  5. I do find it amusing to see that Naomi Klein has successfully branded herself as the premier “anti-brand” activist. How ironic!

    It’s not like this was new territory even ten years ago, you know. Frederik Pohl addressed the same issues in his science fiction in the 50’s. It was overblown horseshit then, and it’s overblown horseshit today.

    1. I read Space Merchants long time ago. I’m always a bit amused when I hear modern rhetoric about government of and for the corporations being something new.

  6. As usual, i agree with Fluffy, with the caveat that i have no problem buying things from Mennonites — mainly because i live in Virginia, and you can’t throw a dead cat in this commonwealth without hitting a couple of ’em.

    1. If you live in Canada, you can buy from the Hutterites. However, a lot of their products have brand names.

    2. I live in Maryland, but close enough to Lancaster to have lots of opportunity to buy stuff from the Amish. The goods that the Amish sell may be unbranded, but they use the “Amish” title just as much as a brand as Nike.

      1. Aha! So it was you who bought that raw milk. Up against the wall, punk!

    3. I gather from the comments here that most people don’t understand what a Mennonite is.

      The vast majority of us are indistinguishable from regular folk.

      1. That’s what they say about serial killers!
        Being Mennonite is like being Jewish – they can go from ultra-orthodox ‘dress in blacks’ to looking like everybody else

  7. “I don’t think the average person above the age of a teenager is interested in having logos on their clothing. In fact, I would be willing to be that most would like to have logos hidden.”

    True and the unfortunate consequence of that is they instead proceed to tell you all about the boots they bought online from an indigenous group in Paraguay their friend turned them onto when they ran into each other at Whole Foods. I was just looking at the swirly piece of gum on the sidewalk and wondering what flavor, or combination of flaovers, it might have been.

  8. I really can’t be bothered to read the article completely, but what strikes me as odd is the strident responses, particularly by those against “branding.”

    1. If you don’t like the branding of the items, then don’t buy the item and leave those that want to buy the branded item alone. That is the “libertarian” thing to do.

    2. With some things, branding does matter and provides a value to the customer. I rely on the branding to steer me towards the items I want. Example: I am a long distance runner and I have a very wide foot. I run 50+ per week. Therefore, I need a well built shoe. While other brands of shoes, including unbranded shoes, may offer some shoes in wide widths, I know if I go to the New Balance section, I will get shoes that fit me. I look nowhere else, even if I know that I might get just as good of a shoe for less elsewhere. It is worth it to me to “buy the brand” because I know what I am getting ? even if I pay a premium for it. I am willing to trade money for time, a known quality and consistent sizing. I trust New Balance to insure that anything with their NB on it will meet my requirements. If they start being loose with their brand and stop meeting my needs, I will start looking elsewhere

    1. In other words, a brand is a promise of value and integrity. What a concept!

    2. You make a good point, loyalty to quality is definitely a plus. I think the point is that when brand loyalty is a consequence of image rather than quality, quality will suffer.

      Kind of reminds me of American auto makers, for years they were the gold standard of quality, and as the workmanship of their product slowly went to shit they coasted on their image. All the while the Asian car companies were building better and better cars for less. Next thing you know GM is nothing more than the logo of a pension fund that got slapped on to worthless pieces of steel.

      1. I think the point is that when brand loyalty is a consequence of image rather than quality, quality will suffer.

        If such products manage to hold onto a customer base for any length of time, they must be delivering something the customers want. Perhaps the image is all some customers want.

        1. How else do you explain Harley-Davidson?

          1. Even in the 70s and 80s, when Harleys really sucked compared to their Japanese counterparts, they were still very fun bikes to ride and tinker with. Less reliable, yes, but easy to work on and cheap to find parts for.

            And for a while, they were the only US-made bike on the market, so it was a popular choice of anti-globalist bikers in America.

            But the bottom line of Harley’s well-maintained brand image is: “big, loud, heavy bikes that will get you laid with truck-stop sluts.”

            Another case of a brand which serves as a promise that they are delivering something rather specific.

            1. Why would anyone want a 1952 Honda, if there is such a thing? Show up at the bar with a rice burner and you’ll only get ridicule.

    3. 1. If you don’t like the branding of the items, then don’t buy the item and leave those that want to buy the branded item alone. That is the “libertarian” thing to do.

      There is nothing “unlibertarian” about expressing contempt for a practice you find contemptible.

      Also, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Merely refraining from buying a product does not supply any information to the market about what products you DO want to buy. Actively complaining about the available products in public fora helps to supply information to others about the products you DO want.

      And please note, I have never had a problem with the existence of brands or the presence of trademarking. Or with the use of brand marketing to build a customer base. I just don’t want visible logos on my possessions.

      1. Why do you give a shit if your stuff has a logo or not? It it works how you want it to work, isn’t that enough?

        If anything, it makes sense to have a logo on stuff you like so others will buy it and the company that sold you a good product can stay in business to keep providing you with that quality product.

        1. In the Ken Burns documentary about the Shakers, one of his voiceover guys reads aloud from a letter written by one of the Elders that reads in part,

          “In the entire village, there is not one line of ornament.”

          If it wasn’t for the No Sex bit, and the primitive communism, I would totally have wanted to live there.

          It’s an aesthetic judgment. Nothing more and nothing less. But THOSE COUNT.

          You have to realize that TO ME, everyone is ALREADY dressed like the extras in Idiocracy. That’s what you guys look like to me. It’s not a satire or a work of imagination.

          1. Again: you poor little thing!

            1. Maybe you could point out where in this thread I’ve claimed this is anything but an aesthetic issue. Huh cunt?

              [Insert quasiRandist “all aesthetic issues are moral issues of one sort or another” disclaimer.]

        2. Why do you care if your clothes are all bright orange with avocado green spots? They still work perfectly well as clothes.

          Aesthetics matters to some people. And some people don’t want to be a walking billboard giving away free advertising.

      2. Merely refraining from buying a product does not supply any information to the market about what products you DO want to buy.

        Not sure I buy that argument. Totally hypothetical, but let’s say the regional sales manager for Nike decides to spend $50,000 making up a batch of Nike swoosh t-shirts, another $25,000 distributing them to retailiers, and the resulting sales are $15,000. Doesn’t that definitely send a signal? Doesn’t the regional sales manager have to explain to his or her boss why Nike lost a bunch of money on the t-shirts?

        1. Outside of an educated guess, no, not really.

          1. That, and bitching about something you don’t aesthetically don’t like isn’t unlibertarian. Now, if bitched, moaned AND tried to get it banned by law like some pissy conservative or liberal, then you might have a point…

            1. if we* bitched, moaned… etc.

              1. Huh? I didn’t call anybody unlibertarian. I was responding to the statement, “Merely refraining from buying a product does not supply any information to the market about what products you DO want to buy.”

    4. Knew you were going to say, “New Balance”, ’cause I have grape-stomper feet, too. How dare they use our physical deformity to suck us into buying their brand!

    5. Brought to you by Carl’s Jr.

    6. EXACTLY.

      I’m a sports junkie and that’s pretty much how I do it. Same with banks. For example, here in Canada (and we have a different banking system here than in the States) I worked in investments for a bank called the Royal Bank of Canada. Their logo is a gold lion. To people, Royal represents stability and tradition. The logo said it all. Instant credibility.

      It’s nice some people go out and study these things and write books like they do, but really, what an overblown topic of our times.

      If you live vicariously through a logo then you have greater issues to contend with.

  9. Where are these people shopping? American Eagle? Abercrombie & Fitch? I do most of my shopping at the men’s clothing store that’s been here for like 70 years, and the most labeling I’ve ever seen is a small Lacoste or Polo logo on a polo shirt. Hardly what I’d consider gratuitous.

    1. This whole movement always reeked to me of people whose political opinions were formed by being part of the out crowd in high school. Yes, teenagers paying $50 for t-shirts with a brand name on them is vapid and stupid. However, that realization shouldn’t be enough to build a political belief system on. Klein’s work never seems to go much deeper than that, though.

  10. Is the fact that they’re releasing an “Anniversary Edition” of a book that decries marketing supposed to be an intentionally ironic joke?

    It’s much funnier if it was unintentional.

    1. I’m sure it’s unintentional on Klein’s part. The execs at the publisher probably see the irony but don’t care because they know it’ll make some money regardless.

  11. When Miracle Whip has an authentic, hip, counter-culture ad, I think the movement is about over.

    1. That add sucks so bad its hip? Hurts the eyes, the ears, and the groovyness is unlimited. Yep dead movement.

    2. I was willing to try Miracle Whip, until they slandered mayonnaise.

      Don’t fuck with mayonnaise in MY town, bitches.

      That’s like slandering bacon.

      Just apologize to the mayonnaise, and nobody gets hurt.

      1. I like mayo, but I think Miracle Whip (whatever the hell it is) does taste slightly better.

    3. Holy Hell I was hoping someone would mention this…

  12. The advent of DVRs has made branding more important. Your logo has to mean something and be pervasive to help keep your product alive because you can’t count on your commercials explaining things to people any more now that we can fast-forward through the ads.

    If Klein thinks brands can go away, she doesn’t understand a damn thing. The market always wins. How it functions can change based on some people reading her book or advertising being fundamentally different now than it was 15 years ago, but people want to buy and sell things and always will.

  13. I don’t think the average person above the age of a teenager is interested in having logos on their clothing. In fact, I would be willing to be that most would like to have logos hidden.

    I guess that explains why Northern Face jackets flopped so miserably.

  14. I can’t help myself to add an irrelevant comment to an irrelevant critique of an irrelevant book.

  15. Insisting on no logo is itself a logo.

    1. Thank you for summarizing the important point here with a mere 7 words.

      Brevity is the soul of…something.

      1. Hipsters drink Pabst Blue Ribbon because they like the taste. Honest.

        You can, of course, do as you please. But going out of your way to have no brand on you is the act of constructing a brand for yourself. If you truly didn’t want to signify a position, then wearing or owning whatever you felt was best for you without consideration for brand is the best way to go about it. Making branding a defining factor in choice of purchase betrays an obsession with brands on par with those who display them fetishistically.

        1. What he said. ^

        2. No No No.

          Again, you’re confusing my concerns with Klein’s concerns.

          I have no problem with “constructing a brand for myself”. Awesome!

          I’m not trying to avoid “becoming a tool of the corporate culture”.

          I’m trying to avoid bad taste.

          So it doesn’t really matter if I’m “betraying an obsession with brands”. So what? In fact, I fully acknowledge and appreciate that.

          1. So you’re essentially embracing that you are the exact moral equivalent of the woman who MUST have a genuine Coach purse.

            Both you and she disapprove of my cheap Isaac Mizrahi bag from Target for essentially the same reason.

            You can both piss up a rope, as far as I’m concerned. I like the bag, and don’t care that it’s visibly branded or what you think it says about me that I’m carrying around something that shills for a budget-label designer.

  16. To me at least what is most interesting about the concept of brands is that people will often pay more for a branded product than a 100% identical generic product.

    That seems to fit into Klein’s greater point – the concept of the “brand” has become more important that the product itself. Take a pair of shoes that cost $20 and slap a swoosh on them and suddenly they sell for $75.

    1. I’ll buy that for a dollar!

    2. Have you worked for a company that is trying to build or maintain popularity of a brand? It requires hard work to consistently crank out quality products and ensure a pleasant shopping and ownership experience.

      (Admittedly, the hard work of successful Marketing and Sales staff tends to be obscured by their hard drinking.)

    3. Putting your brand on something means that you are putting your reputation on the line with every product you sell.

      Nike built their empire on making a running shoe which absorbs shock well, provides good traction, is comfortable, and is relatively durable.

      Then they built their reputation even more by making a basketball shoe and having it endorsed by the most popular athlete in the world.

      If you need a good athletic shoe, and you find a Nike that fits, you can be reasonable confident that it will measure up to a certain measure of quality. If Nike started putting their logo on badly-made shoes, their reputation would tank and suddenly their “swoosh” would not be worth that $55 premium anymore.

      So they go for $75 because a massive corporation is staking their reputation on it being a quality shoe.

      Can you find somebody else making a shoe just as good for $20? Yeah, maybe. But what assurance do you have that it really is as good? Unless you’re a professional cobbler and know what to look for (or are willing to spend a lot of time becoming an expert on shoe-design comparisons), you’re probably better off spending the extra $55 on a pair of shoes which you know won’t fall apart or start cutting into the side of your foot a few weeks after you buy them.

    4. True. But a Ferrari remains a Ferrari; a Zegna suit a Zegna suit etc. We’re free to siphon through the differences.

  17. You know, another really severe problem in all this is this insistence by some folks – like Klein, and Dan T. for example – that there is some kind of objective value to goods & services.

    “Take a pair of shoes that cost $20…”

    What makes them cost only $20, Dan?

    If the Nike Swoosh adds enough value in the minds of consumers (perhaps because they trust the product they’re getting more than an “identical” pair of generic sneakers from Target?) that the shoes will sell in appropriate quantities for $75.

    Why isn’t $75 the right price?

    Value is not intrinsic. It’s ascribed. Always…

    There is no set price a pair of shoes or a cup of coffee “should” be… So it’s absolutely ridiculous to pretend that someone like Naomi Klein can know what the “real” prices are supposed to be and make a valid judgment discounting any and all prices paid above that level.

    Klein’s economic understanding is, in my opinion, worse than your average communist because she doesn’t even seem to realize the position she’s taking most of the time. People who think there is some kind of objective standard of value for things make my brain explode constantly… It’s really time to get rid of that idiocy.

    1. Sean, you are correct. I agree that there is no “true” price for any product.

      What I was pointing out was that two otherwise identical products can demand different prices strictly because of the brand concept. Shoes was probably a bad example since one might argue that Nike shoes are higher quality than another brand’s…but consider something like medicine, where the products are chemically identical but people will pay more for Bayer asprin than a generic brand.

    2. But isn’t that Klein’s point? That the “value” of a product depends more and more on the “brand” rather than the product itself?

      The brand is what you pay for, yet it adds no actual value to a product, just a percieved one. Even if we accept that Nike shoes are high quality, taking the Nike logo off of them does not reduce the quality of the shoes but it will reduce the price you can get for them.

    3. The point is that if you take the Nike logo off a pair of shoes you still have the same shoes but they will sell at a lessor price. So “brands” have duped consumers into paying a premium with nothing in return.

      1. Dan, did you read the post you’re replying to?

        If the consumer feels that there is a value, there is. So by definition those consumers did not get “nothing in return”.

      2. Yeah… Dan, you missed the point spectacularly.

        The BRAND is what added the value.

        It’s not for nothing that people want to be secure in their purchasing decisions and know what they’re getting. The amazing success of companies like McDonald’s is not that their burgers are the best of all time, obviously, but that essentially anywhere you go around the world you can drop in a McD’s and know *exactly* what you’re going to get.

        The same is true for shoes.

        The Nike brand as compared with a no-name shoe of similar make, conveys quality, security and consistency to their customers. That is worth paying for because it converts what was an unknown (is this generic shoe any good?) into a known (I know I like Nike, so I trust this logo to bring me what I want).

        You can call it being “duped” if you want, but I think you’re radically misunderstanding what purpose branding serves for businesses and consumers.

        And btw, I say this as someone who personally would rather take the cost savings of a generic, unknown brand 9/10 times on the little choices like clothing, shoes or breakfast cereal. However, I really wouldn’t consider going with an “unknown” in the gear I use to work… Would you?

        1. Sean, I do understand your point and agree with it. I’m not saying that brands have no utility since they do provide the consumer with information about the quality of the product. In the ideal world, the Nike logo tells you that the product you’re purchasing conforms to Nike’s standards.

          The problem happens when marketing and advertising step in. Marketing is basically lying to customers by telling them that you’re not just getting a pair of shoes but rather a product that will, by the power of the brand alone, make your life more fullfilling. A hollow promise.

          1. So, do you want to get rid of everything in life that makes people feel good but is really full of hollow promise? Because that’s a heck of a lot of things.

          2. The promise is only “hollow” if the person who buys the product doesn’t actually feel like they’re getting a better life out of the purchase than they might have otherwise.

            There’s a great aspect of Michael Gerber’s book, “The E-Myth” where he asks a baker what her product is… She replies “cookies?”. No… Her product, as Gerber explained, is comfort.

            She’s selling cookies… Sure, but the reason people are buying them is because they feel better when eating them. Obviously you don’t buy cookies for the purpose of “nourishment”. You buy them cause they make you feel good.

            Buying a pair of Air Jordans vs. some generic shoe can probably make some people feel like a better athlete.

            What you’ve said above, Dan, is precisely what’s so disruptive about assuming you know what people value and how to objectively measure something as nebulous and individually meaningful as prices. What you view as some kind of lie or manipulation is built on the idea that you know better than other people about what they should value.

            Good marketing can be self-fulfilling and create meaning in ways that you view as “hollow”. Driving the Mercedes doesn’t actually make you a higher-class citizen, but it can sure make some people feel like it – and that’s what they’re paying for. Some people are vain like that… Some people, like me, prefer the Honda instead, knowing (thanks largely to their branding) that it is a much less expensive yet very reliable vehicle.

            You are always free to make other choices… Which is why marketing just isn’t the evil a lot of people make it out to be.

          3. Dan, like most critics of brand-advertising, you are completely missing the point of the REAL reason why brands are marketed.

            Coke and Pepsi spend millions on brand-awareness ads every year, yet most people don’t care what brand of cola they are drinking, and those that do almost never change their minds about which one they prefer. So are both companies just wasting money?

            No, because the REAL reason for brand-marketing is not to sell you their product. It’s to sell their brand to INVESTORS.

            Pepsi’s ads don’t say, “this should be the choice of the next generation.” They say that Pepsi IS “the choice of the next generation.” Does that claim make me want to buy Pepsi cola? Is it even trying to convince me to buy Pepsi cola? Of course not. What it is doing is telling the manager of my retirement account that Pepsi is a good long-term investment.

            This allows companies to raise capital and also offer better value growth to their current shareholders.

            People don’t buy Macs because of Apple’s phenomenal brand-awareness advertising. In fact, most people flat-out don’t buy Macs, in spite of the fact that anybody who studies advertising will tell you that Apple does a better job of marketing than just about anybody.

            The people who do buy Macs (and iPhones, iPods, etc.) do so because they find the products useful and worth the high price tag over competitor’s devices. Simple as that.

            The same goes for Coke & Pepsi, Nike shoes, Tommy Hilfiger, etc. etc. etc.

            Unless you are a potential investor, controlling your mind is not nearly as important to brand-identity advertisers as you think it is.

            1. “The people who do buy Macs (and iPhones, iPods, etc.) do so because they find the products useful and worth the high price tag over competitor’s devices. Simple as that.”

              And… You know, cause they desperately want to be seen as hip, creative and such. That is a branding thing… But I think it turns off easily as many people (like me) as it excites.

    4. Wo. Maybe I said “true’ a little too quickly after reading Dan’s comment below about how all shoes are the same. No way. Na-ah. Part of the reason why some products are more expensive is because it really is of a better quality. Consumers know the difference between an average generic shoe and New Balance. Different R&D, tech, design etc.ich

      And I think Sean’s point is important. Which leads to price theory and yes, he’s right, the average leftist has little concept of how it really works.

      It’s all about perceived value. The same crap happens in sports. What sets the value of an athlere? A lot of it is what value is tagged to him.

  18. I’m going to find a usable version of that Che logo, and print up a batch of targets.

    I might even do a one-off shirt, with a bloody bullet wound to the forehead, just for the benefit of the pinko fags I occasionally see sporting Hero-Che on their chests.

    1. Picture of Che with ‘asesino’ under it would probably sell better and has more punch

    2. I am mostly saying this because I secretly want someone to make it so I can buy it

      1. Okay, I’ll bite. What has ‘asesino’ got to do with Che?

        1. It’s just ‘murderer’ in spanish.

          Nothing fancy, straight to the point.

          1. One of my friends was in Argentina and someone asked her what she thought of Che. She just stopped for a few moments and than said ‘asesino’ and all those Argentinians got all riled up by her answer.

            It was the only right answer, however.

  19. this insistence by some folks – like Klein, and Dan T. for example – that there is some kind of objective value to goods & services.

    Willing buyer, willing seller.

    see, also: auction

  20. New Balance, like others I almost always buy new balance, after ten years I go straight to the New Balance section, why? Good Shoe cheaper than a Nike. The Brand conveys meaning.

    Brands should provide a mental shortcut and that shortcut is worth money. I walk into a store and buy a Ralph Lauren Polo, what is the value in the brand? I know it will fit and last. That short cut means I can send my wife to the store she comes home with five shirts and I’m good for a year.

    For me, I see a lot of value in that.

    This doesn’t mean I am a slave to the brand, but it does mean that if the brand DELIVERS on its promises I am likely to become fairly loyal.

    Regards

    Joe Dokes

  21. People are actually arguing that clothing with brands that send social signals are functionally equivalent to clothing without brands?

    You do realize that this argument rests on the premise that clothing has no signalling function whatsoever, yes?

    1. People who never leave the basement miss some of these subtleties, RC.

    2. “The Jacket” has no need for worthless logos and stickers.

      Though it does send a signal, a signal of LIBERTY!

  22. Of course, this reaffirms my belief that Mark Mothersbaugh is a genius. Knowing his work in Devo was going to get co-opted by the consumer culture, he went along with it gleefully, since it let him be subversive from the inside.

  23. Political trends change too? Wow, who’d thought that America will ever get over how a bunch of illeterates with horse drawn carts and 1970 rifles would destroy America. Oh wait. They have bombs in their underwear! Well that is different, now!

    Go back to worrying if Fruit-of-the-Loom is dangerous or not!

  24. I usually have something more substantive or pithy to add, but in this case I just want to point out the obvious that Naomi Klein is an evil ignorant kawkpouch.

  25. My favorite communist once told me buying generic was ‘soooo bourgeois”.
    Then again, she has had a very successful career . . . in advertising.

  26. Everyone has the freedom to not buy a product. The original book forgot to say this, which then allowed it to portray consumers as victims and large companies as evil organisations destroying the planet… what a perfect lie.

  27. the author is too modest: no reference to his own earlier (and reader-friendly) analysis?
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rebel_Sell

  28. What brand, and let’s say you have a loved one who’s serving in the war, does Hillary Clinton represent?

    When President Obama nominated her, a pro-war voter, Clinton was a senator who couldn’t serve her constituents and impeach George Bush…unless she also impeached herself and did that *first*.

    We went through all that crap with Valerie Plame, Dick Cheney, Robert Novak, the question of whether and when we should rely upon unnamed sources, the fact that there was not only no yellowcake but no evidence whatsoever in favor of the war. For what?

  29. Actually, just take Potter’s concise paraphrase of everything Klein is alleged to think, throw out his supercilious tone and his “Gotcha” punch line, and you have the simple truth. Klein is right about everything. I can understand that those who think she is wrong about everything are laughing themselves silly at the outcome. But who, along with Klein herself, didn’t know that the corporations would be glad to read her book and tell their ad departments to build the next PR campaign around authenticity, or rather, “authenticity”? So what all her critics are laughing about and celebrating is their own endless apathy and manipulability: if a clever company markets arsenic cola as “organic” and “environmentally friendly” and gets a liberal actress to do the ads in the nude, they will drink themselves to death while toasting American capitalism.

  30. New version of the book, huh? Looks like Naomi Klein’s fridge is empty, so she’s doing some brand revitalization of her own. Seriously: she has built a very strong brand around opposing brands. As a result, she commands far higher speaking fees, salaries, etc. than she did before she wrote the book. (She’s a giant phony.)

  31. An old story. A hundred years ago, Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle (a novel documenting exploitive and unsanitary practices in the canning industry) to convert Americans to socialism. Instead, we got the Food and Drug Administration. “I aimed for their hearts, but I hit their stomachs,” he reportedly said.

  32. An old story. A hundred years ago, Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle (a novel documenting exploitive and unsanitary practices in the canning industry) to convert Americans to socialism. Instead, we got the Food and Drug Administration. “I aimed for their hearts, but I hit their stomachs,” he reportedly said.

  33. The number one problem with this _no logo_ notion is that it still is about buying. Stop buying and they will simply go away. It’s not that hard to understand — nor to do.

  34. Not having read the book, only this take on its contents, I can’t offer a full report on what it does and does not attempt to do.

    That said, my only response to this article (and to some of the comments it has elicited in response) is this:

    It sounds as if Klein is raging against the notion of brand as smokescreen. If the brand insists that the sky is purple, an enlightened society would either calmly shrug it off as insane rambling or pure fantasy. Unfortunately, I think we’ve seen enough branding that has operated as a smoke-screen covering up business practices that are clearly contrary to the brand’s “party line.” In that sense of it, I think the brand is a wretched idea.

    Unfortunately, what this relies upon is an intelligent and informed customer base that is willing to call companies on their bullshit and see past the brand and its message to the actual behaviors of the company. There the notion falls flat on its face simply because the vast majority of people don’t seem to want to be bothered until it comes home to roost in some impossible to ignore fashion.

    Just a thought.

  35. It seems that many commenters on this page misunderstood what was meant by “brand” and “logo.” All these comments about logos on clothing are off the topic. The objection is not really to the presence of a logo on a product, it’s to the POWER that this logo has thanks to branding. It’s not about tackiness,design or even an identifying mark on products; it’s about deception.

    Advertising creates dubious associations, whether relatively harmless (Apple=progressive nonconformity) or dangerously false (BP=responsible energy production). The problem is that, with these associations replacing any real knowledge of a product or company, people are buying into an identity/reputation that they want for themselves, or are throwing their money at abstract ideas. It doesn’t matter how big the physical logo is, if you’re buying something for the sake of qualities falsely associated with it (image), then there are no consumers to actually hold companies accountable for what really lies behind the product (sweatshops, employee treatment, monopolistic practices etc).

    The point this article is making is what an ironic bummer it is that the remedy touted by Klein for the above problems has turned out to be a tool in perpetuating them. Guerrilla marketing was supposed to allow the promotion of non-corporate efforts (an artist, a community gathering etc.), but now it is essential to any advertising strategy (witness spambots, corporate Twitter accounts). What’s worse is that the co-optation of those tools didn’t end up just as a wash that mutes the anti-corporate voice while leaving brand power at the same level, but in some cases it actually increases brand power. It depends on where you stand (hence the “reform is the enemy of revolution” line), but some people will be irked by the fact a few token changes allow the system to remain largely intact.

    And as a response to the people saying the “brand is the value” and Klein is such a dumb “communist” blah blah blah–do you really want image as value? Do you really want to live in a world where people buy identities that have nothing to do with themselves but only the kind of advertising messages they absorb? Of course we all know that the “brand is the value,” but we don’t want it to be! Forgive us if we want the price to reflect the cost of labor and goods and for corporate reputations to reflect quality and corporate citizenship–how primitive. All hail image-making!

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  41. The point this article is making is what an ironic bummer it is that the remedy touted by Klein for the above problems has turned out to be a tool in perpetuating them.

  42. I think we’ve seen enough branding that has operated as a smoke-screen covering up business practices that are clearly contrary to the brand’s “party line. | ran ??? |

  43. I need some time to think about this!

  44. Gotta love engineers 😉

  45. The faculty of reason, rationality, or the faculty of discursive reason

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  61. I can understand that those who think she is wrong about everything are laughing themselves silly at the outcome.

  62. It seems that many commenters on this page misunderstood what was meant by “brand” and “logo.” All these comments about logos on clothing are off the topic. The objection is not really to the presence of a logo on a product, it’s to the POWER that this logo has thanks to branding.

  63. Once registered and logged in, you will be able to create topics thanks…

  64. I like graphics and typography. And a response to the people saying the “brand is the value” and Klein is such a dumb “communist” too.

  65. erences, G8 summits, trade negotiations?they would be met with street protests and a parallel meeting of the planet’s angry marginalia, including counterculturalists

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