Sunday, July 27, 2014

[Précis #1] Taking on the Brand Bullies of No Logo by Naomi Klein

After reading a series of "serious" passages or books or works by Wilde, Nietzsche and Marx, Naomi Klein's No Logo came as a cool breeze. Consisting lots of relatively more practical theories and arguments (not saying that those of Wilde, Nietzsche and Marx are not... Just that they are more comprehensive, harder to understand, and their real-life effects are usually discovered far later than those coming from passages like Naomi's). No Logo had changed my perspective on marketing and business in several aspects. One thing I preferred most in No Logo is the use of objectivity, which means that only a slight argumental bias could be found. This enabled readers like us to think on our own basis and also extend to different directions, preventing bad consequences which may often happen when the original passage had too many argumental bias. Making few but important arguments with the help of data, interviews and quotes directly from CEOs or other leaders in dominant corporations, Naomi revealed a different marketing world with her noble objectivity.

The first part of No Logo, called Taking on the Brand Bullies, consisted with several arguments about the branding system and some other marketing skills or methods among the industries. It could be divided into portions: the introduction of the brand, the beginning of the brand, the death of the brand, and the reborn of the brand.

In the introductory portion, Naomi listed some historical facts about several corporations including Nike, Tommy Hilfiger, etc. to explain the situation: Corporations suffered between choosing between branding and production. Building up brands is the avant-garde of marketing, as the production process is often not completed by the corporation itself, but by some other companies. The corporation only takes care of the "brand-building" part and a few core functions. For instance, a sports T-shirt bought from Nike may have its design department in the HQ of Nike in the US, its technology department in the remote tech dept. of Nike in Europe, its materials from several different companies in China, and its assembling from Malaysia. This kind of marketing style existed only in a few corporations, as critiques on this were not all good. Most traditional companies still preferred the old style, which was focusing on production, that the company itself takes care of all processes of a product, from its design, to its assembling, and its marketing. One conclusion, or point she pointed out is that: whoever owns the least, has the fewest employees on the payroll and produces the most powerful images, as opposed to products, wins the race.

In the birth of the brand portion, Naomi first clarified several terms including the difference between advertising and branding. Advertising is more like a tool, while branding being the soul. The two terms are not contradicting, but could not be used interchangeably. Also, branding is more specifically explained by "Manufacturing products may require drills, furnaces, hammers and the like, but creating a brand calls for a completely different set of tools and materials." Through sentences like "So the role of advertising changed from delivering product news bulletins to building an image around a particular brand-name version of a product. ” Some other terms are specified and clarified. Later on, Naomi used several famous figures including Dr. Brown, Uncle Ben, Aunt Jemima, and Old Grand-Dad with brands including Heinz and Quaker to illustrate the use and significance of branding. The first argument made in this portion is "This was seen to be of crucial importance, since corporations may manufacture products, but what consumers buy are brands. ” where Naomi explained why the branding system would developed in such a rapid speed.

Later on, Naomi described lots of failures of companies using the "brand-building" in the death of brand portion. The "Brand Building" method of marketing became the mainstream way, thus making most companies raising their budget on advertising, some with terrifying ratio. But as Naomi quoted: David Lubars, a senior ad executive in the Omnicom Group, explains the industry's guiding principle with more candor than most. Consumers, he says, "are like roaches - you spray them and spray them and they get immune after a while." The difficulties and problems after major companies raised its budget on advertising soon make companies with wrong strategies began to reach their "deaths". In specific, Naomi used the example of Marlboro, or to say, Marlboro Friday. The figure of the Marlboro Man was deeply spread in the US since the 1950s, as a part of the company's advertising strategy. While the cost of the Marlboro Man is getting higher and higher, the price of Marlboro cigarettes remained at a high scale. However, in the 1990s, Marlboro had cut 20% of the price in order to compete with smaller companies even without a distinctive figure like Marlboro Man. The crisis of Marlboro had once revealed the weakness of most "Brand Building" companies: Spending way too much budget on advertising may lower the competitiveness of its product. This is also one of the arguments Naomi has concluded in this portion.

Last but not least, Naomi used more analytical skills while describing the success of several companies with great marketing strategies in the last portion talking about the bounce back of branding. "Not only were these brands doing just fine, thank you very much, but the act of branding was becoming a larger and larger focus of their businesses." Companies stacked to its "Brand Building" strategy at the very beginning including Nike, Apple and Starbucks and so on had done way better than just survive. The reason is dominant: for those companies, the sense of brand had already been integrated into the core of its culture since it was founded. Figures like the swoosh label on Nike's products, the apple without a bite logo on Apple's products, and the mermaid like figure appeared on Starbuck's cup are all detailed examples of the integration of the branding culture. Just like Naomi said, "And when the brands crashed, these companies didn't even notice - they were branded to the bone." She then described the overall marketing situation and development from the 90s, for example, the division of Wal-Mart like big-a** stores and Nike like figurative brands. This "fetishism" (of the Nike-like brands) had made the companies excessively successful: "The fetish strategy seemed to be working fine: in the six years prior to 1993, Nike had gone from a $750 million company to a $4 billion one". In the very end, with the conclusion of "The brand reinvented itself as a cultural sponge, soaking up and morphing to its surroundings. ” Naomi had made her final argument in the passage.


Joshua Park said...

I also thought this piece was a bit relaxing for my mind. The title was at first confusing when I first read it but because of the simplicity of the text, which I think is due to the objectivity, which you also mention, it was easier to understand than most of the other texts we read.

While reading this text, I immediately thought of what is going on with companies like Microsoft. At the time we were reading her work, I just read that Microsoft was going to slash I think it was 18 or 19 thousand employees. Why? For the very reason that Naomi Klein observed in this transformation of business infrastructure.

Also, as for branding and marketing strategy, I think that Naomi misses an important point that I learned from a ted talks "How Great Leaders Inspire Action " by Simon Sinek.. It's veeery interesting and I would definitely recommend watching it. But from that presentation, I truly believe branding is only as it is today because branding for companies such as Apple and Nike, it is because they appeal to us not because of their products but because of their beliefs/perspectives/visions which Sinek talks about. I think this is a key point to understand when discussing the success of branding and why it succeeded over production.

Allyn Benintendi said...

I am taken aback by David Lubars' quote, describing consumers as being"like roaches - you spray them and spray them and they get immune after a while." I think that its particularly crude to blame consumers for the ubiquity of branding. Consumers are in no way like roaches, if anything, companies are like roaches, insidious and creepy. But regardless, I see his point. He is suggesting that branding is only effective for so long before it becomes easy to ignore, and therefore companies have to work hard to keep the attention of consumers. I still think that it can be said in a better way.

King said...

Allyn - I read your comment and had to respond, I don't think he was talking about advertising becoming easy to ignore but rather about the idea of influence.

As humans we often think that we have dominion over other animals and things that we consider insignificant, like roaches. As long as they do what we want and we can control them in one way or another we are satisfied, however the moment they start to stray from the path and do things we don’t want them to do, we get irritated and find ways to make them comply.

I think his comment is meant to reflect that aspect of branding and influence instead of ignorability.