Kleinís Vain Search For The Bullies of Branding
happier times, Torontoís garment district was abuzz with Trotskyite
debate and the wrangling of trade union leaders, laments Naomi Klein
in her book, No
Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies.
Now, she says, the districtís warehouses have only one "remaining
capitalist function," and that is to showcase advertising billboards.
here on in, the book is devoted to the machinations of a capitalist
cabal, intent on colonizing the minds of consumers by peddling larger-than-life
brands over and above products; the kind of brands that expand to
rob people of their "public and personal spaces," their
culture, their jobs, even their freedoms.
lineup of culprits is long: Microsoft, Nike and the various "sneaker
pimps," Intel, The Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Apple,
The Body Shop, Starbucks and so on.
self-confessed "mall rat"-which would explain her obsession
with the gimmicks of marketing to the exclusion of an understanding
of market forces-Ms. Klein is a leader of the anti-globalization
movement, and has been described by the Times of London as
"probably the most influential person under the age of 35 in
the world." All the more surprising considering that this soundbite-rich,
deeply silly monograph is more conjecture than fact; Ms. Klein draws
causal relationships where none exist, and finds culpability in
the absence of any proof.
sounds flaky, she explains, but the corporate takeover really gained
momentum after a 1993 event known in marketing circles as "Marlboro
was then, ironically, that the branding of products seemed poised
for its demise: On that apparently fateful day, Phillip Morris slashed
its prices in response to competition from "bargain brands."
According to Ms. Kleinís subjective interpretation of market competition,
if a brand like Marlboro was "stooping to compete on the basis
of real value," the public must have called the corporate bluff
and rejected the cachet of the name brand.
the brands recovered. In their truest and most advanced incarnation,
they have become "about corporate transcendence." Products
that will flourish in the future are increasingly presented as concepts
rather than as commodities. For the next 446 pages, the same savvy
American consumer who forced Phillip Morris to fight harder for
its market share on "Marlboro Friday" suddenly turns into
a helpless pawn of the marketing moguls.
a solemn commissar, Ms. Klein bolsters her theme with scores of
exuberant, non-incriminating interviews with ad executives and CEOs,
which she portrays as sinister confessions. The
endless accounts of advertising gimmicks are meant to expose the
malignant franchises that devour local shops, public spaces and
"host cultures." The fluffy jargon does nothing to conceal
that in reality, this is an unremarkable selection from the trillions
of capitalist acts between consenting adults.
has become this sophisticated and, as a result of the dizzying array
of choice in the market, has shifted to selling lifestyles, attitudes
and atmospheres. Long gone are the days when advertisers merely
educated and informed the few who could afford their products. The
plenty generated by mass production means producers must labour
to capture consumersí attentions. Corporations can no more be demonized
for their promotional methods than lovers for preparing candle-lit
dinners as preludes to seduction.
in her discrete demarcation between big and small, local and transnational
business, Ms. Klein ignores the fact that consumer patronage grows
a small business into a large one. To her, consumers are dim. They
buy products they neither need nor want, and even when their purchases
are unsatisfactory, they keep at it. If they are so incompetent,
why allow them to vote?
Klein describes the horrors of the branded neighborhoods, schools
and towns "public" areas that fall prey to the
logos and brands of corporations.
happened because of tax base erosion, for which Ms. Klein blames
the Reagan, Thatcher and Mulroney trinity. With big, good government
in retreat, big, bad business is forced to pick up the slack. The
fact that Ms. Kleinís monopoly public schooling is producing ignoramuses
becomes the fault of corporate cash infusions that have allowed
big business to infiltrate campuses.
Klein extends this seamless corporate conspiracy to the co-opting
of the pharmaceutical industry, the censorship of news, the upstaging
of sports events and the overthrowing of local retailers by branded
superstores. She descends into obscurantism when describing the
apocalyptic branding of life: "Cross-promotional
brand-based experiences that combine buying with elements of media
entertainment and professional sports to create an integrated branded
loop ... using ever-expanding networks of brand extensions to spin
a self-sustaining lifestyle web." What in bloody blue blazes
does this mean?
in no small part, corporations are responsible for censorship. Klein
claims that somehow private enterprise can pose a threat to free
speech. What escapes the obtuse Klein is that government alone has
the power to violate speech rights by using the force of the law.
One indictment is of Wal-Mart for pulling sexually explicit magazines
in accordance with customersí wishes. This champion of local activism
cries "censorship" when the moms and pops in a community
peacefully exercise the power of the boycott. However, when government
bans publications, they disappear or go underground. Procure them
at your peril! When an outlet decides to heed its particular constituency
by not carrying a publication, said item can be found elsewhere.
Alas, the distinction is lost on Ms. Klein.
Klein rounds up by anointing those who vandalize billboards as the
leaders of the new anti-corporate resistance movement. Somehow Ms.
Klein, who despises the falseness of consumerism, has failed to
detect the poseur in these self-styled "culture jammers and
Mercer [send her mail]
is a freelance writer based in Seattle.