The Economist says "Brands are good for you."
September 9, 2001 1:07 PM   Subscribe

The Economist says "Brands are good for you." "They not only simplify choices and guarantee quality, but they add fun and interest." You need a subscription to read the cover article (natch), but the cover that appropriates Naomi Klein's book title is at the link, and there is a companion article you can read. Here's her response. Are there people who genuinely think that "we" are in charge of the brands? Is this the new corporate line--"Can't we all just get along?"
posted by aflakete (21 comments total)

 
You are in charge of the brands, to an extent. If the public stops buying them, the company will stop making them. Brands die all the time as other companies bring out competing products that end up stealing market share.
posted by aaron at 1:25 PM on September 9, 2001


What "we" are in charge of, is which brand -- if any -- we support by means of our purchases: A brand is just an identifier for a production company/product line. There's nothing magic about them.
posted by dagny at 1:31 PM on September 9, 2001


...and if you like that line of thinking, then the Economist is just the brand for you ;o)
posted by andrew cooke at 1:38 PM on September 9, 2001


Andrew: The Economist are a bunch of socialist pussies, if you ask me ;-)
posted by dagny at 1:45 PM on September 9, 2001


What Klein identified, in a slightly fuzzy way, is that the original purpose of the brand -- a mark of integrity and authenticity -- has been transformed into a Ding an sich, pursued for its "brandness".

The first trademark was for Bass Ale: it denoted that the beer had come out of a single brewery in a single location. It epitomised the kind of liberal capitalism that Adam Smith talks about, by which value could be easily distinguished and rewarded.

While the Economist is right that the campaigns against Nike and GAP have forced them to reassert some of that authorising control over what's sold in their name, there's still a disjunction: the brand, if you like, patches over the faultline between the marketplace and the anonymous EPZs that produce the goods, stitching on the badges to suit this week's contract. So in that sense, the brand isn't so much an identifier as a misidentifier, a pseudonym. There's something tangible -- however contrived it may be -- about getting a pair of Dr. Martens and having the name of the person who made them written on the label: being able to know the factory in which they were made. And if brands are to survive modern scrutiny, they have to appreciate that they have to re-engage with consumers' desire to know where things come from.
posted by holgate at 1:54 PM on September 9, 2001


Firstly, InterBrand (mentioned in the 2nd Economist link) has a fascinating brand discussion site.

Second:

Brands of the future will have to stand not only for product quality and a desirable image. They will also have to signal something wholesome about the company behind the brand.

This is interesting. It's part of what Klein, in her response, paints as the Economist's overly optimistic view of things:

Your publication, on the other hand, appears to believe that political activism is unnecessary since we apparently can rid the world of corporate abuses simply by shopping for better brands.

However, I think what they're suggesting is that this bright new socially-responsible world of branding is directly due to efforts by people like Klein, and that, I have to agree, is a good thing.

Right now brands are a weird hybrid representing past product quality + "lifestyle". We're moving into a world where branding is going to be past product quality + social responsibility (where each consumer can decide what qualifies as "social responsibilty" -- DuPont backing Jeff Gordon will ride alongside Reebok's self-policing), and it won't be (entirely) due to people passively choosing brands, but also and importantly because of activists protesting, writing letters, and boycotting.

This isn't an easy thing, but I think it's certainly something that's conceivable and even, whether you're mostly happy with big corporations or if you simply see this as one small step, definitely worthwhile.
posted by claxton6 at 2:15 PM on September 9, 2001


Jesper Kunde touches on what you write, claxton6, in his book called Corporate Religion
posted by dagny at 2:24 PM on September 9, 2001


Generally speaking, I'm far too shallow to embrace any sort of ideology that alters my behaviour in any way, but I've personally become so irritated with the branding culture that I reject it completely. I refuse to wear clothing any kind of logo or brad identifier or marking on it. I buy generic food. If I happen to really like a name brand product, like my Caterpillar boots, I take a black permanent marker to the logo.
I don't enjoying being the last digit in some megacorp's profit margin equation.
I am not ad space.
posted by dong_resin at 2:35 PM on September 9, 2001


If you've got to use a type of car and a brand of clothing to express who you are as a person. youre a pretty lame and uninteresting bloke.
posted by Satapher at 4:40 PM on September 9, 2001


Customers like a brand's products = brand becomes popular
Customers dislike a brand's products = brand becomes unpopular
A brand is just an identifier for a production company/product line. There's nothing magic about them.


It's not magical when a pair of shoes that cost less than $10 for make become worth $100+ once a swoosh is sewn onto them?

The "customers control brands" argument seems disingenuous considering the millions upon millions of dollars in advertising and marketing that corporations spend in order to build their brand images.

After all, if those commercials and ads were having absolutely no effect on consumers, free market logic dictates that corporations would stop spending all that money on commercials and ads.
posted by Zettai at 6:10 PM on September 9, 2001


here in michigan, we have Wolverine Boot. Its Assembled here but materials from china. kinda like the buick is today. (of course, Kettering was just voted #1 manufacturing technical school. with the 88 million $ computer upgrade and a possible contract with Sony for PS3 work, our little wasteland may have a spark in it yet.
posted by clavdivs at 7:01 PM on September 9, 2001


I work for The Economist (the socialist pussies, heh). When I read the story on Friday morning, I thought, "Who the hell wrote this?!" I don't know, so please don't ask me...

The Economist has always stood for globalisation and all that, so it's not surprising that it thinks brands are a good idea.

Also, what Zettai and claxton6 said.
posted by jetgrrl at 8:10 PM on September 9, 2001


After all, if those commercials and ads were having absolutely no effect on consumers, free market logic dictates that corporations would stop spending all that money on commercials and ads

There's a difference between effective advertising and controlling the customer. The equally valid flip-side of your statement is that if customers *don't* have control over brands, then free market logic dictates that corporations would stop spending money on commercials and ads. Who control(s)(ed) the brands Pets.com, ValueJet, Amtrak or Western Union - the corporations that owned them or the customers who do (or more pointedly don't or didn't) purchase their offerings?

Why does there appear to be this general assumption that corporations are so much smarter than the customers who buy (or don't buy) from them (or that most people are manipulated idiots that need to be saved from themselves)?
posted by dchase at 8:46 PM on September 9, 2001


Klein: "if humans being really are compliant brand drones, why are they taking to the streets in the hundreds of thousands, from Seattle to Genoa?"

Some of us cynical folks would say they're reacting to the brand "AntiGlobalization"
posted by owillis at 9:41 PM on September 9, 2001


Why does there appear to be this general assumption that corporations are so much smarter than the customers who buy (or don't buy) from them (or that most people are manipulated idiots that need to be saved from themselves)?

I don't see anyone saying that. But advertising is about persuasion, and it seems unlikely that corporations would spend such immense capital on advertising if it wasn't at least partially successful.

Sure, sometimes no amount of advertising and persuasion can get consumers to buy something-- new Coke, OK Cola, Crystal Pepsi. But for every failed soda there's a Mountain Dew, its image reformed from hillbilly drink mixer (slogan: "Yahooo!") to exteme sports youth lifestyle "experience" ("Been there, done that." "Do the Dew!") to the tune of millions of dollars in sales per year. And that's just a few examples from the sugar water arena...
posted by Zettai at 10:30 PM on September 9, 2001


Wow, that Economist piece was breathtakingly shoddy. Some of their past efforts on the subject have at least been memorable, but these days they increasingly seem to be phoning it in. Defeated or merely tired?
posted by johnb at 10:59 PM on September 9, 2001


zettai: It's not magical when a pair of shoes that cost less than $10 for make become worth $100+ once a swoosh is sewn onto them?

It isn't magical. It's a question of supply and demand. Not to mention fairly low intelligence on the demand side, but that's a different matter altogether.
posted by dagny at 1:17 AM on September 10, 2001


Some of us cynical folks would say they're reacting to the brand "AntiGlobalization"

All of 'em? What a bunch of mindless drones~! Oh yeah? well, you're buying the media line! Oh yeah? well, you're buying the indymedia line! Oh yeah?...

Excellent...
posted by mblandi at 7:10 AM on September 10, 2001


"You are all individuals!"
"Yes, we are all individuals!"

"I'm not."
posted by dong_resin at 7:59 AM on September 10, 2001


There's an article in the September/October "Foreign Affairs" asserting that entire countries need to establish a branded image in order to survive. (Can't get to their site for some reason, or I'd link it.) Most of us can relax - we're already branded. Except if you're Chuck Connors.
posted by skyscraper at 10:25 AM on September 10, 2001


Rise of the Brand State is the article in Foreign Affairs.
posted by claxton6 at 10:38 AM on September 10, 2001


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