Monday, July 28, 2014

Precis 1 - No Logo

The multitudes inside me were completely at odds as I approached Naomi Klien’s, No Logo. As a current student of one of the best business schools in the world that boasts the “father of branding” (David Aaker) as one of its professor emeriti, I read No Logo with a hint of dismissiveness, scoffing at the idea of business without branding.

As a former business owner and a strategic marketing consultant, whose life aim is to work towards ending world hunger, I approached this text with hope. Hope that her take on branding might shed some light on the inequities inherent towards those affected by the system.

As a person deeply interested in the commoditization of products and their impacts on necessities like food, I approached the texts with skepticism, questioning the significance of branding in relation to the basic food staples.

Although, I found myself agreeing with her overarching concepts, reading the two chapters, I often found myself consistently disagreeing with her approach. The broad generalizations and nearly incorrect statements that she makes, issues that she tries to overlook, really made me question her credibility as an author.

I tried to dismiss as many concerns as I could writing them off as issues possibly arising from a lack of lacked the content from the other chapters. I tried to remember that given my pro business bias I most likely am not the ideal audience for this book. Had I been a part of the occupy movement or the anti-globalization movement, she would have found a more receptive audience to her approach.

Her basic proposal revolves around the idea questioning the need for and demonizing the idea of brands and branding. The way she explains the idea of branding, it seems like a relatively new concept that has emerged and become a self-feeding monster, where more and more is needed to maintain the status quo or to ward off competitors.

However, that couldn’t be anything from the truth. The oldest example of a brand that still exists to this day is the beer Stella Artois. Originally branded in 1366, Stella has continued to exist to this day. This is just an example of the need for and the longevity of a brand; there have been many brands that have come before and after that have long disappeared.

In fact the idea of branding your product can be traced back to the times when humans were starting to develop agriculture, raising livestock and developing gastronomy. People would brand their food, animals and cooked foods to differentiate themselves from everyone else.

Although it is true that the concept has been taken to absurd limits, it is that need to differentiate that is the key behind people and companies wanting to brand themselves and their concepts. In fact, one could argue that one of the most significant examples of that in our collective history is of the apostle Paul’s attempt to evangelize the teachings of Christ was his attempt to brand Christianity.

The most egregious problem that I find with her writing is the pigeonholing of a companies work. She claims, “Their real work lay not in manufacturing but in marketing” and in one fell swoop, oversimplifies the magnitude of what a corporation does. She completely disregards the multitudes of other factors such as product development, research, quality management, distribution, etc.
All this is not to say that I disagree with her core points, I don’t disagree with her basic premise that branding as a concept has been applied nearly to near detrimental levels. The concept has been applied to that level and there are many issues with it, a reduction of competition, not enough consumer choice, a vicious cycle of one-upmanship in advertising and marketing.

I agree with all those points, I just do not agree with her cavalier approach of overlooking inconvenient issues to fit her needs. 


Allyn Benintendi said...

I really appreciated your use of personal examples, and that you really explained your position and perspective as a reader. I will be honest, I could have benefitted from more contextual support of your argument that she "overlooks inconvenient issues to fit her needs." On the other hand, I do agree with your analysis of her oversimplification of the corporate scale. Great read! Thanks for sharing.

Shayda Azamian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shayda Azamian said...

Interesting background on the subject! I do see how she provides a very narrow focus of the market industry, but I actually find myself agreeing with Klein's stance. I, myself, find branding an essential business strategy because a brand can represent a number of things and can communicate a set of values to the consumer. However, I believe Klein is emphasizing how the values that many brands represent are often unfounded and unsupported. I would also attribute her oversimplification of the topic to how a brand itself is a simplpification of a company's beliefs as well. I really appreciate how you brought many different perspectives to the topic!

Cheyenne Overall said...

Personally, I also struggled a bit with Klein's oversimplification of branding and all of its complexities. I don't really have a business background and I do suppose that considering the orientation of this text, I may be less qualified to refute her claims if I derive my authority on the matter from my position as a consumer. At any rate, I did take issue with Klien's claims that brands don't always tell you much about the product. I would argue that brands give me quality assurance that cannot be achieved without branding. I think it's irrelevant whether or not the company's projected values match up with the actual cooperate values. As long as my Aleve keeps my headache away and my Nike track spikes keep me grounded, I think that that quality assurance is all I expect the brand to do for me. I mean, this would be different if the brand was for a low income housing development firm...that is actually owned by racists. I don't think that's what this discussion is really geared towards. I think that Klien was a bit monolithic and could have given been more fair. I admit that I have a little bit of an ambivalent relationship to branding...

Dale Carrico said...

Interesting to see the conversation provoked by your intervention. I happen to disagree that Klein' critique is written from a perspective that dreams of a utopian refusal of branding altogether. I would direct your attention to the "No Logo" brand on the cover of her own book, and to Klein's work with adbusters and culturejammers -- these are forms of activism that employ branding and marketing techniques, often ironically, to do educational, agitational, and organization work. When one is first beginning to grapple with critical theory it is easy to get the impressions that critics only criticize, that they denounce everything they come across, that they are relentlessly negative. But critique usually takes as its point of departure that the realities it critiques are doing real substantial work in the world, providing real values -- else they would not sustain themselves in the world at all. It is true that Naomi Klein hasn't provided an elementary practical textbook on the way business folks can use branding to attract customers -- there are many, many places where one can find such accounts. She is proposing that branding practices have other effects worth understanding -- possibly unintended, often structural. Even if a critic highlights dangers, threats, and risks this does not mean that the critic is insensitive to uses, promises, and benefits -- she is emphasizing what interests her in order to provide a more complete picture. I think worries about fairness or balance themselves need to be fair and balanced -- did Klein ever claim to offer a comprehensive accounting of marketing, or simply to investigate cultural implications in contemporary branding practices that tend to be overlooked by those who undercritically accept branding practices on their present terms as useful techniques? Remember, corporations have been legally constituted over the history of the legal form in ways widely at variance with current practice -- a person who is "anti-corporate" might approve of historical forms of corporate charters that included public good provisions, or restricted the range of executive against average pay, or which insisted at least half the members of boards do the actual work with which the corporation identifies (as in Germany today). Too much everyday intercourse could be construed as business for even the most stridently anti-business critic to denounce them all. Provide enough public investment and support to ensure equity-in-diversity and even a revolutionary socialist might find it hard to complain too much about a capitalist society. These comments may seem a bit general, but what I am trying to respond to is my sense that the Klein provoked a response to the critical enterprise more generally for you -- I think your response is very honest, and very common (even if many would hesitate to voice it in a class devoted to so much critical theory), and I can definitely viscerally remember experiencing variations of the same feeling in my own long explorations of theory, especially as they challenged my assumptions (even when they failed to convince me). I honestly do not agree that Klein is demonizing brands, or treating marketing as a monster octupus, or what have you. She is trying to intervene in a set of discourses and practices that are part of the commonsense of our world, she is trying to complicate our sense of the work brands do. She is not trying to replace the commonsense view with her critique, her critique is a supplement complicating that commonsense view.

Dale Carrico said...

The specificity of her historical account proposes that modern advertising began a century ago by deceiving us that there were substantial differences between mass-produced consumer goods according to the brands they bear, and has succeeded by now, a century later, in deceiving us that there are substantial differences between mass-produced consumers according to the brands we buy. This is an account that build on Marx and Debord. This is an account of branding written from the perspective of an activist concerned with building political coalitions of consumers to do social justice work. Again, Klein isn't providing a comprehensive account of marketing -- but one that is relevant to her specific concerns. I think that somebody who "agrees" with Klein and treats her view as the last word is in fact not getting her point anymore than somebody who "disagrees" with her because she doesn't provide a comprehensive account of branding she never promised (and which would almost certainly not interest her very much). I appreciated your intervention very much! I hope my response is read in a spirit of support rather than castigation. Keep grappling!

PS: If you think Stella Artois is an old brand, think about the Cross, the Cresent, and the Star of David. My point -- too sweeping a denunciation of branding risks a self-contradictory denunciation of signification (offered up in terms of just such a system of signification). Chances are, that's not what Klein is actually up to.

Yiming Huang said...

I too think that I would agree with Klein more... no idea why. Maybe it is because that the examples you have brought up in your precis did not successfully convinced me anyway...

Something in the original text including the argument of de-production focusing and do-branding really make sense for me. Think about Apple of today. I think there a hell of people in this world have known Apple the company in various of ways. Maybe from the iPhone, maybe from the creative TV ads introducing features of the iPad, or even the slogan and billboard ad "Think Different" for the older generations, I think more and more companies are following the path of this. Indeed some very longliving brands still runs well today, but that does not mean that the Branding strategy was somehow "incorrect".

Anyway I am really impresses by your professional background, but I think you have to bring up more convincing reasons or... data maybe? to support your ideas.

Joshua Park said...

When I read that you were a former business owner and strategic market consultant, I was like excited to read how you would critique as someone who would also have the knowledge to critique the business world. And it is very interesting how you disagree with her approach although you agree with the basic concepts of her work. But I think in her efforts to convey her message that is focused on branding, it was necessary for her to generalize all the other complexities of a business corporation in order to highlight her argument. To specifically go over each complexity, I think, would cause a whole another text to be written because it might diverge attention from her main point and also may make the work more complicated than what she is really trying to get at, which is simply the branding enterprise of modern corporations.

King said...

Thank you everyone for the great comments above.

Until this class, I had not read Naomi Klein and I approached the text from a skewed perspective.

Part of the reason I am taking this class (and trying to major in Rhetoric) are to resolve the exact issues in my arguments everyone mentioned above.

I would like to develop my Rhetorical skills and become more convincing as a person but especially as someone who wants help create businesses that affect positive change in the world.

Your comments have shown that those skills have a long way to go. If I left so many holes in the piece I wrote about something I have knowledge in, I can only imagine how unconvincing my writing must be in other circumstances.

Thank you for your wonderful feedback, I will incorporate it into my next Precis.

Jo Hodaly said...

Thanks for writing! You write: "She completely disregards the multitudes of other factors such as product development, research, quality management, distribution, etc." My question originally was about whether you think she is discounting branding altogether, though Dale has already addressed this. I also just see a slippery slope in comparing the branding of one's personal objects or goods as comparable to the work of a corporation that measures the quality of its products by how less harmful the product is for its consumers (I think of processed foods as I write this). Do you think that maybe the labor that is put into the development and production of a product has much to do with how it will be branded? Take cereal or candy for example; these foods seem to be developed and produced with their profitability. Just some food for thought.

Lea Dandan said...

To piggyback off of what Jo said about the cereal and candy example, it is necessary to compile branding as a marketing strategy in order to have their customers identify with a specific brand so the author, Klein, can execute her thesis in her upcoming chapters. The brand acts as a divider between people who can afford it or cannot. I find that it is more of a reflection of the consumers rather than the company, even though the company has its personal and political mission, the message of branding interacts is a silent word of mouth transaction that pressures others to conform to the majority or more superior brand.