January 6, 2011


Naomi Klein, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies ((New York: Picador USA, 1999) ("Dazzled by the array of consumer choices, we may at first fail to notice the tremendous consolidation taking place in the boardrooms of the entertainment, media and retail industries. Advertising floods us with the kaleidoscopic soothing images of United Streets of Diversity and Microsoft's wide-open 'Where do you want to go today?' enticements. But in the pages of the business section, the world goes monochromatic and doors slam shut from all sides: every other story--whether the announcement of a new buyout, an untimely bankruptcy, a colossal merger--point directly to a loss of meaningful choices. The real question is not 'Where do you want to go today?' but 'How best can I steer you into the synergized maze of where I want you to go today?'" Id. at 129. "The brand-name references weren't paid advertisements, [Patricia S. Wilson] said, but an attempt to speak to students with their references and in their own language--to speak to them in other words, in brands." "Nobody is more acutely aware of how enmeshed language and brands have become than the brand managers themselves. Cutting-edge trends in marketing theory encourage companies not to think of their brands as a series of attributes but to think to look at the psychosocial role they play in pop-culture and in consumers' lives. Cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken teaches corporations that to understand their own brands they have to set them free. Products like Kraft Dinner, McCracken argues, take on a life of their own when they leave the store--they become pop-culture icons, vehicles for family bonding, and creatively consumed expressions of individuality. The most recent chapter in this school of brand theory comes from Harvard professor Susan Fournier, whose paper, 'The Consumer and the Brand: An Understanding within the Framework of Personal Relationships,' encourages marketers to use a human-relationship model in conceptualizing the brand's place in society: is it a wife through an arranged marriage? best friend or a mistress? Do customers 'cheat' on their brand or are they loyal? Is the relationship a 'casual friendship' or a 'master/slave engagement'? As Fournier writes, 'this connection is driven not by the image the brand 'contains' in the culture, but by the deep and significant psychological and socio-cultural meanings the consumer bestows on the brand in the process of meaning creation.'" Id. at at 175-176. No Logo, though published twelve years ago, remains relevant. Klein states, quite explicitly, that she is not engaged in making prediction. Good thing, as most predictions would have been off the mark: A bad situation go only worse in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Branding expanded. For example, one criticism of the administration of George W. Bush took the form of complaining that the American 'war on terror,' the American War in Iraq, and the American War in Afghanistan, etc., had hurt America's image, that is, the American brand, around the world. The Obama administration's goals included recovering the brand. Both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, not to mention the Tea Party, are engaged in branding, i.e., creating psychological and socio-cultural meaning. Unfortunately, it is meaning without substantive content; it is all about projecting images. Is it any wonder that neither party is capable of (the substance of) governance? If our government, beginning with the administration of Ronald Reagan, is rather flakey, it is because we as a people are rather flakey. We have gotten the government(s) we deserved!).