a college freshman, Naomi Klein had a job folding sweaters at
an Espirit clothing store in Montreal. She reports that "mothers
would come in
with their six-year-old daughters and ask to see only the shirts
that said 'Espirit' in the company's trademark bold block lettering.
'She won't wear
anything without a name,' the moms would confide apologetically
as we chatted by the change rooms.
Espirit clothing is just the beginning. Babies and children have
a whole branded life ahead of them: Nike running shoes, Gap pajamas,
Old Navy jeans, Abercrombie & Fitch sweatshirts, and J. Crew
pullovers. In the Age of Shopping, Brittney Spears has her own
line of clothing, Brooks Brothers has a brand of toiletries, and
girls check out each other's butts for Jordache logos.
journalist Naomi Klein explores this brave new world in NO LOGO:
TAKING AIM AT THE BRAND BULLIES. NO LOGO is an international best-seller,
and Klein (age 30) has become a leader of the anti-globalization
notes that the commercialization of daily life is complete. There
are corporate ads on park benches, postal boxes, and library cards.
Earthlink has placed ads in the restrooms of 40 restaurants. ABC
has slapped stickers on fresh bananas ("Another Fine Use
of Yellow: ABC"), as well as urinals, candy bars, bar glasses,
and door hangers. In December 1998, NASA announced plans to solicit
ads on its space station. Most Americans are assaulted by at least
2500 commercial messages every day.
have also fallen prey to commercialism. Cafeterias and sports
stadiums are increasingly littered with corporate logos. Public
schools have exclusive marketing deals with Coke and Pepsi, as
well as Apple and Microsoft. Channel One, an in-school broadcaster,
is in 12,000 schools,
subjecting its commercials to 8 million captive students.
students are also captives to corporate influence. Many universities
grant exclusive marketing deals to computer manufacturers, credit
card companies, and soft drinks. Washington State University has
a Taco Bell Distinguished Professor of Hotel and Restaurant Administration,
and Wayne State University has a KMart Chair of Marketing.
contemporary America, everything needs a sponsor--rock concerts,
PBS shows, sporting events, the Olympics, and church bulletins.
Two New Jersey students recently pitched themselves as "spokesguys"
for any corporation willing to fund their college education. First
Bank USA signed them each up, for $40,000 a year. The two, now
attending Pepperdine and USC, will wear clothing with First Bank
USA logos and speak with students about the joys of going into
debt with First Bank USA.
neighborhoods and cities have sponsors. In San Diego, the city
council declared Pepsi the city's official soft drink. The city sold
naming rights to Jack Murphy stadium to a high-tech firm. Now
a city councilman suggests that the city sell the naming rights
to East Village, part of a 26-block development.
has taken the concept one step further. Celebration, Florida is
the first Disney town: "The meticulously planned development
arrives complete with picket fences, a Disney-appointed homeowners'
association and a phony water tower. For the families who live
there year-round, Disney has achieved the ultimate goal of lifestyle
branding: for the brand to become life itself." Klein notes
that the purpose of corporate sponsorship "is not to sponsor
culture but to BE the culture."
LOGO also discusses the cultural impact of chain stores and suburban
monster malls--what James Howard Kunstler calls "the geography
of nowhere." She laments the inhuman scale of the big boxes:
"the streets without sidewalks, the shopping centers only
accessible by car, and the stores the size of small hamlets with
all the design flair of toolsheds."
boxes are largely responsible for the clearing away of "the
favorite cafe, hardware store, independent bookstore, and video
house." In modern culture, the Mall of America is a major
do consumers flock to the big boxes? Low, low prices! Many of
Wal Mart's competitors assert that they pay more for their products
wholesale than Wal Mart charges retail.
these low, low prices have economic and cultural consequences.
First, prices remain low only as long as there's competition.
Once the big boxes have driven out the Mom and Pops, prices go
up. Also, big box jobs in the United States are typically part-time,
with low wages and few health benefits. And the factories in the
Third World that supply products to the big boxes are often slave
of Klein's central arguments is that successful corporations primarily
market brands, rather than products. The chairman of Polaroid's
advertising agency stated that "Polaroid is not a camera--it's
a social lubricant." The owner of Diesel Jeans said, "We
don't sell a product, we sell a style of life." In a youth-dominated
culture, the goal is the marketing of cool. As Andre Agassi notes,
"Image is everything."
most corporations are in the business of selling cool, Tommy Hilfiger
is in the business of signing his name. The company manufactures
nothing; it simply establishes license agreements: "Jockey
International makes Hilfiger underwear, Pepe Jeans London makes
Hilfiger jeans, Oxford Industries makes Tommy shirts, the Stride
Ride Corporation makes its footwear. What does Tommy Hilfiger
manufacture? Nothing at all."
attempts to end on an optimistic note, citing the efforts of "ethical
shareholders, culture jammers, street reclaimers, McUnion organizers,
human-rights hacktivists, school-logo fighters, and Internet corporate
watchdogs" to demand "a citizen-centered alternative
to the international rule of the brands."
LOGO is an important, evocative book. It is a call to arms to
confront the forces of globalization, monopolization, and mindless
Published in Hopedance, September 2001