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Branding - An article, 2001-11-18, 9:12 a.m.

I think I'm going to get off the Harry Potter Bandwagon for a few minutes. I wrote this this summer for my favourite course. I've been thinking about this course more and more as I try to instill some of the things I learned in it in my students. I wrote this on 'Branding', tying it into parts of 'No Logo' by Naomi Klein, which is, in my opinion, one of the best books ever written. Any book that makes me think is a great book. So, here goes. Enjoy.


When watching the Disney production of Anne Frank's story, I was struck by a comment made by one of the characters. As Otto and Edith Frank picked up the stars that they now must wear on their clothing, Edith says something like "Must we be branded now?". As Jews under Hitler's reign, they had to wear the star as identification, branding them as people who were sentenced to death.

In her book No Logo Naomi Klein discusses branding in the first section, entitled 'No Space'. However, the current reaction to being branded is nothing like Edith Franks. Instead, our generation willingly accepts the branding that Nike, Tommy Hilfiger and others place upon us. We pay for branding as a social rite of acceptance - to wear the current Tommy designs is a privilege, not a punishment. In fact we take comfort in being branded - it makes us feel like we are being looked out for and that we are accepted. When we become a Gap Girl or a Tommy Boy, we have joined a social identification club that we can stay in as long as we keep buying. As social beings we want to stay in the club so... we keep buying.

And we're joining that club sooner and sooner. Klein talks about six year olds who entered the esprit store where she was working and demanded to see the logo, their mother saying that they (the child) won't wear anything without a logo. With so many baby stores- including Baby Gap - we can brand a child and enter them in the club as soon as they leave the womb. Perhaps, as time wears on, we will be able to brand them while in the womb.

Brands are appearing in places where they are not expected. We see the Nike Swoosh in Tiger Wood's Target commercials. We hear of Drew Barrymore having to reshoot scenes in 'Charlie's Angels' so that the Nokia name is shown on the phone for the 3 seconds or so that the phone is visible. Universities allow companies to have exclusive contracts so that as students walk around the campus they are surrounded by that company's logo. We have become a world where the brand that we drink or wear has become of vital importance. And association is all. If a school or celebrity chooses one brand over another, they'd better assure that they remain loyal on all fronts, no matter what the consequences. Sarah Michelle Geller was associated with Burger King through commercials that she shot in 1982. Not only did she have to enter McDonalds in a disguise if she wanted to eat there, but because they named McDonalds in the commercial McDonalds sued her and Burger King. Klein tells the story of a kid who got suspended on 'Coke Day' in his school for wearing a Pepsi shirt. You mess with a brand, you pay the price.

Even things that should never be branded are. When corporations discovered that our generation was the generation of diversity, all of a sudden, ads became more diverse and, as Klein writes:

.."with that, the marketers and media swooped down air brushes in hand, to touch up the colors and images in our culture"
(pg 111, No Logo)

With that particular airbrush, Brands tried to pretend that they cared. They started shooting ads with more than one racial type. They released Malcolm X baseball hats, Silence=Death shirts and you could purchase the ribbon of the brands choice at the brands store. Celebrities wore ribbons to awards ceremonies - in fact, it was considered rude if they didn't. Diversity and causes became the brands way of saying 'we're really looking out for you, the consumer - We, here at ____ Care'.

But if they care so much, why does it cost so much to buy their brand? Why aren't homeless people wearing the best of branded clothes, getting passes to the best of branded movies, and eating the best of branded food all the time? Why haven't we found cures for the diseases represented by those ribbons the brands are embracing? If the brand cared that much, why aren't they putting their money where their mouths are and finding ways to solve the problems they so abhor? Yes, they may give some money, but if they really cared, it would be more. If their politics were true, they would live them. As Klein puts it:

.."And though girls may indeed rule in North America, they are still sweating in Asia and Latin America, making T-Shirts with the "Girls Rule" slogan on them and Nike running shoes that will finally let girls into the game.."
(pg 123, No Logo)

Branding politics and interest in social matters is a hypocritical field. Yes, it could come out of genuine concern, but when looking at it closely, it appears to be simply a ploy to get more consumers branding themselves with the company's product. People are more likely to buy if it seems that the company supports the same things they do. And brands know this.

Looking back at the Franks they were forced to be branded. We as a society choose it. What does that say about us?




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