Author Topic: Noncommercial Branding  (Read 8011 times)

Cramulus

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Noncommercial Branding
« on: September 01, 2010, 04:05:23 pm »
Many of us feel that BRANDING contains many of the dangers of modern living.

Here's the argument:
We humans make sense of the world using narratives. Our expectations for how things work are are projections of stories we've heard.

A good BRAND is a really dense and adaptable form of narrative. Current marketing strategies focus on designing brands which can be easily and seamlessly become components of one's identity. Visualize the person wearing Adidas shoes, shirt, shorts, he's probably jogging or playing sports, you think of him as an active person. This is why you'd buy Adidas, because you resonate with that image in some way and want to incorporate it into your lifestyle.



Marketers capitalize on your desire to broadcast your identity and whatever has meaning in your life. They design brands which highlight personally relevant topics -- so you can be that health conscious guy drinking a vitamin water, that free thinker using a mac, that trendy media wizard on his iphone, that always-active guy in the Nike jersey. But as our culture becomes increasingly bent towards commercialism, brands have hijacked everyday life.

Quote from: Walter Benjamin, One-Way Street, 1928

"The freedom of conversation is being lost. If earlier it was a matter of course to take interest in one’s partner, this is now replaced by inquiry into the price of his shoes or his umbrella. Irresistibly intruding upon any convivial exchange is the theme of the conditions of life, of money. What this theme involves is not so much the concerns and sorrows of individuals, in which they might be able to help one another, as the overall picture. It is as if one were trapped in a theater and had to follow the events on the stage whether one wanted to or not, had to make them again and again, willingly or unwillingly, the subject of one’s thought and speech."

So Kalle Lasn and the Adbusters crew wanted to stop this. Their stated goal is "to bring the factory of images to a shuddering halt." They produce publications and events which encourage people to quit paying so much attention to each other's goddamn shoes. They think that by building ourselves out of commercial brands, by emphasizing commerce in everything we do, we've limited and stunted our mental freedom and have lost some degree of our autonomy. I agree with this.

Sadly, Kalle and crew don't have a great solution. Their response to commercialism is an effete "Just say no." They do not provide any alternative for those of us who agree with their position but still have to buy shoes every few months. (Well, they did have an answer, the Black Spot shoes, but that was an abyssal failure) Branding strategies are incredibly powerful and therefore attractive to people. If they want to spark a mass revolt against commercialism, they need to provide something cooler than commercialism. (Arch-Situationist Guy Deboard sadly insists that anything which can beat commercialism is temporary, and will eventually just be subsumed by commercialism. But I think that's okay if it gets the ball rolling)

so that's the problem.




So Here's My Idea

What if there were brands not connected to a commercial product line?

Let's take the cool things about being "unbranded" and design a brand for it. But we don't then put that brand on sneakers and try to sell them to people. We give people the tools to express the brand in their own way.

Let's visualize it:

You're conscious of the world around you.

You're neophilic - you're not afraid of doing new things. You like do-it-yourself projects. You like meeting new people. You desire awesome experiences and things which make you feel like you're really alive.

You've figured out how to detach from the rat race. Your job is just this thing you do, it's not You. You know that you're not your wallet or the pieces of plastic inside of it.

You choose products based on quality and ignore as much of the marketing as possible.

You think commercials are boring. You are aware of the various trances that commercialism creates and capitalizes on. When you see people zoned out at the supermarket, glassy eyed and watching TV, lifelessly driving cars, you feel bad for them. But you take heart that you have left their ranks.

The stuff in your life doesn't look like it just came out of the box. You like to modify things, play with them, change them to fit you better. You own a few articles of clothing that you created yourself. Your identity is better expressed through original creations than any product you've purchased.

And despite your choices, you are not alienated. You have a vibrant life which is oriented around things that matter to you.



These ideas would be connected to a symbol. This symbol can become part of your personal fashion. There is no retail outlet which carries these clothes, although you can probably find some online, created by other people who are into this idea. (This is okay - we're not trying to create an absence of commercialism, we're just not letting it call all the shots)

It's sort of like being a "hippie". There is no official product line for hippies. Hippies tend to dress a certain way, but it is not a uniform. The Hippy identity (read: brand) is connected to a bunch of political, commercial, and recreational choices. People choose whether or not to orient onto those things on a case by case basis.

To design this brand (read: lifestyle), we'd make some choices about style, about what symbols and slogans to use, and include some highly charged documents which can motivate people to get into it. We could launch something like a marketing campaign, but the product we're pushing isn't for sale. It's you.



So that's the pitch



Do you think that a new noncommercial brand could provide an attractive alternative to branding culture?
« Last Edit: September 01, 2010, 04:12:54 pm by Cramulus »

Placid Dingo

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Re: Noncommercial Branding
« Reply #1 on: September 01, 2010, 04:17:49 pm »
Dead tired. Will respond properly later but...

1. Noncommercial seems just as challenging as counter-culture. If the brand is popular enough to appear on t-shirts, is it still non-commercial? If so, isn't the 'brand' of Che Guvara shirts a 'non commercial' brand.

2. I love the idea but what's the point. That's not defeatist rhetoric; what's the actual motivation? Why should this be done?

One example of a n/c trend (though depending on definition of 'non-commercial') I observed was high school kids with young kids' back packs made vulgar. Thomas the Tank smoking a j, "Bob the Builder: Can we fix fuck it?" etc. These kinds of things could be marketed, but again; point 2; to what end?
If sheep entrails could in any way be related to the weather, i.e. sheep trails only originate where it rains, then you could use it as an accurate model for discerning what the weathers going to be like. Either, sheep shit makes it rain, or raining makes sheep shit. Sheep don't shit "randomly" sheep shit after they eat, it doesn't rain "randomly" it rains after water collects in the atmosphere.

Cramulus

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Re: Noncommercial Branding
« Reply #2 on: September 01, 2010, 04:34:55 pm »
1. Noncommercial seems just as challenging as counter-culture. If the brand is popular enough to appear on t-shirts, is it still non-commercial? If so, isn't the 'brand' of Che Guvara shirts a 'non commercial' brand.


The idea is, basically, that people LOVE brands. They love having a cool label they can show off. It gives them the sense of having an identity.

Wouldn't it be cool if there were "open source" brand alternatives? Wouldn't it be cool if there was an explicit brand which has mass appeal, and was in the hands of a community instead of a corporation? That's something I could resonate with far more better than, say, Vitamin water.



Quote
2. I love the idea but what's the point. That's not defeatist rhetoric; what's the actual motivation? Why should this be done?

to decrease the power of commercial sigils which are designed to get inside our brain and influence our behavior.



Don Coyote

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Re: Noncommercial Branding
« Reply #3 on: September 01, 2010, 04:39:36 pm »
Why not....just buy clothes with no obvious brand label, or remove labels?


Cramulus

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Re: Noncommercial Branding
« Reply #4 on: September 01, 2010, 04:43:56 pm »
I mean if you're really into the environment, there is a HOST of products which appear to support that cause. Off the top of my head, a local supermarket markets itself as the "Green" supermarket because they don't waste paper by mailing people coupons every week. This is stupid, they basically just slashed their paper budget and are spinning it as some kind of positive lifestyle choice. People like this are killing the "green" movement because they make it merely about identity and not about really about saving anything.

another good example is that court ruling about Vitamin Water. A judge ruled that they can't bill themselves as a healthy product because it's basically just colored sugar water. But before I knew that, I definitely bought vitamin water because I thought it was healthy. They are selling the Healthy Identity, they are packaging their product using Healthy memes, but they are not actually selling a healthy product. It's all smoke and mirrors.


My thinking is:

you create a "health conscious" brand. Let's call it "Healthy Brain Healthy Body". Part of that brand identity is "I understand that people are trying to deceive me all the time, so I actually read the package and educate myself about a product's contents." Normally, branding like this would be tied to a really healthy product. But I think that if you offer people the equivalent of a T-shirt which says "I make educated choices", people will go for that.

the difference between this idea and a straight up commercial brand is that I don't want to create products or make a million dollars. I don't want a privately owned brand. I want to create public resources which are owned by everybody.

Cramulus

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Re: Noncommercial Branding
« Reply #5 on: September 01, 2010, 04:49:36 pm »
Why not....just buy clothes with no obvious brand label, or remove labels?



A good question. This is largely how I roll, btw.. I think I have like one shirt with a logo on it. I prefer simple clothing.

basically, I want to take that energy and give it a form that people can resonate and run with. There is no ad campaign which says "Stop being a billboard."

and there isn't always an "unbranded" choice.

In computers, you can get open source software. Free resources developed by a community. Why haven't we seen this sort of thing in other theaters?

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Re: Noncommercial Branding
« Reply #6 on: September 01, 2010, 11:18:15 pm »
To me this notions just seems like saying, " I am a nonconformist"
To which is the reply is, "Just like the rest of you fucks?"

Having said that and probably sounding like a douche, I am going to think about this. There is some merit in it.

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Re: Noncommercial Branding
« Reply #7 on: September 01, 2010, 11:43:22 pm »
I think that symbol is used by a brand already, or something very like it. Coach or something, for the lines that don't say "Coach" eighty bajillion times.

I get what you mean and I think you're on to something, but doesn't branding the brandless identity defeat the purpose?
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Re: Noncommercial Branding
« Reply #8 on: September 01, 2010, 11:55:26 pm »
I think that symbol is used by a brand already, or something very like it. Coach or something, for the lines that don't say "Coach" eighty bajillion times.

I get what you mean and I think you're on to something, but doesn't branding the brandless identity defeat the purpose?

Nah, people are still going to cling to labels even without "the market" to guide them to their "favorite" labels.

I like the idea of subverting the Branding process and handing out the tools to do it. It's one of the only coherent things I get out of Ben Mack's (hi there :waves:) methods.

It'd be like pulling a "Lemon Party" on the Advertising industry.
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Re: Noncommercial Branding
« Reply #9 on: September 02, 2010, 12:09:06 am »
Mmmm . . . Pepsi.

Yeah. The problem I see is that with any amount of success, the non-Brand will become a Brand and will start drawing people to it who resonate with the image it evolves into. And everything after that is shenanigans.
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Re: Noncommercial Branding
« Reply #10 on: September 02, 2010, 12:11:27 am »
Isn't that the point?  Not to avoid branding but to avoid any one person having control over the brand.
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Cramulus

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Re: Noncommercial Branding
« Reply #11 on: September 02, 2010, 02:11:48 am »
I think that symbol is used by a brand already, or something very like it. Coach or something, for the lines that don't say "Coach" eighty bajillion times.

Oh, I put in the image of the fleur de lis just to break up my wall of text. It's a pretty generic symbol, it's been used by literally hundreds of different organizations.

Quote
I get what you mean and I think you're on to something, but doesn't branding the brandless identity defeat the purpose?

good question. my goal is not to eliminate the phenomenon of people identifying with brands. That'd be a losing battle. Basically, I'd like to introduce a brand into the mix that is not commercial in origin, something owned publicly and created collaboratively.

I suppose by some measures this idea might be kind of redundant because brand-identities emerge spontaneously from subcultures already. I mean people were dressing "goth" and "punk" before it got co-opted by the various trendy retail joints like hot topic. And punk even carries with it a certain "I don't do mainstream" vibe. But that's so easy to market, it was really begging to be transformed into a mainstream product.

Guy Deboard, of the Situationists, was skeptical that you can create something of value that wouldn't eventually become a product. Adbusters' attempt was at least admirable - the "unbranded" brand. I wonder if it's possible to do that but without it being connected to a market. Or are brands something that emerge purely from markets? I think I'm blurring the word brand and lifestyle a bit, but I hope you get the idea?



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Re: Noncommercial Branding
« Reply #12 on: September 02, 2010, 12:09:50 pm »
Why not....just buy clothes with no obvious brand label, or remove labels?

Because you can't show them off. Unbranded, really unbranded lacks memetic qualities to spread big. It's something you do for yourself (I do it too), but it's not something people will copy from you. It's also not something you can really advertise, because it's not visible enough.

Unless, by removing labels, you leave obvious rags or "scars" that say "a label was here, but I removed it, because I'm a label-remover" (emphasis on your brand-identity).

before I knew that, I definitely bought vitamin water because I thought it was healthy.

aw come on man, always read the label!! I thought that'd be a basic urban survival strategy in the US by now.

anyway,

Quote
you create a "health conscious" brand. Let's call it "Healthy Brain Healthy Body". Part of that brand identity is "I understand that people are trying to deceive me all the time, so I actually read the package and educate myself about a product's contents." Normally, branding like this would be tied to a really healthy product. But I think that if you offer people the equivalent of a T-shirt which says "I make educated choices", people will go for that.

the difference between this idea and a straight up commercial brand is that I don't want to create products or make a million dollars. I don't want a privately owned brand. I want to create public resources which are owned by everybody.

ahhh okay.

so at first I thought your OP was all for creating a new brand that's just "cool" by itself and have people wear that. so I thought, sweet, let's pick the Chao and the Pentagon and the K-Apple. They're stylish and we already have tens of designs for them too.

but going by what you now write, you're after something different.

you say health, let's pick a different one that says Sports. instead of Nike or Adidas logo, you want a new non-commercial logo for people to wear, to have their clothes be able to say I'M SPORTY ?

you already have those.

the shops that sell non brand clothing, well they always have a brand, but it's something nobody ever heard of.

talking about the big warehouses, not the ultra-cheap ones, but the reasonably stylish affordable ones. for the Dutch among is, that's HEMA, V&D, C&A, Xara, H&M ...

I believe H&M (Hennes & Mauritz) is an international (Swedish?) brand as well. Stylish cheap clothing that doesn't last very long.

* For starters you have the bullshit branding. I try to steer even more clear from those than the real big brands because it's so incredibly retarded. It's the shirts that have big faded block letters on them that say OCEAN MARINE CRATE #45 PILOT DOCK 1973 CREW . You know the ones I'm talking about. They try to appear to look like "something branded" but when you really take a look at it it doesn't make any sense whatsoever. Sometimes the H&M ones do really tempt me because they are typographically/design-wise occasionally really nice (as opposed to the HEMA and V&D stuff which is horrible poopy typographic wannabe retro fail). I sometimes buy one when the bullshit branding has gone so far it's no longer words but just a jumbled mess of letters and it still looks nice, I pretend it's a typographic picture and all is good.

* Then there's the slightly less bullshit branding. There's random shirts and sweaters that somehow suggest baseball, soccer, basketball, you name it. Without saying Nike or Adidas. So if you wanna broadcast "I LIKE SOCCER" without being branded you can get those. They're cheaper too.

* Then there's the "actually pretty cool" stuff. Ok these are rare and you have to really look for them. One shirt I got at H&M has this mashup monotone graphics with a sort of face that looks a bit like my face in the middle except it has psychedelic spirals for eyes and a big grin with pointy teeth, but all in a sort of disconnected cut-up collage mashup style. It has no brand but it says IM CRAZY INSANE. That's nice.
Another one, even better, cause it's almost a memebomb, a sweater my gf bought for me at the Xara, the design looks like faded paint blots (which is why she bought it cause she knows I like abstract designs), but if you look closer, there's a text behind the paint blots that says DREAM WITH OUT SLEEPING ALL DAY. That's pretty cool.


So anyway, in order to get non commercial branded clothing with a branded-like message, you don't even need to print your own.

It doesn't really help, does it :)
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Re: Noncommercial Branding
« Reply #13 on: September 02, 2010, 02:27:45 pm »
I'd also add that sometimes, wearing a brand is ok because that brand actualy does make quality products.

I think I've said this before, but I'm a sucker for Ben Sherman dress shirts, because the cut, tailoring, and textile choices are perfect for me.  They're well-made, look sharp, and are just, you know, cool.

More on-topic, a "no brand" product seems unlikely to me, because that is a specific category of product, and therefore can be considered a brand.  However, I see the point as being aware of brands.  Compare it to our often ranted-about Dumb Monkey behaviors.  There are times we can't help dropping to all fours and hooting while throwing our own shit at things; that's a part of who we are, how we're wired.  But if we are aware of it, we can make attempts to pull ourselves up and be a biped.

Similarly, if we are aware of how brands are marketed, then we can make conscious choices about what we buy and why we're buying it.  So in that way, the branding isn't controlling our behavior.

Cramulus

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Re: Noncommercial Branding
« Reply #14 on: September 02, 2010, 02:54:24 pm »
the shops that sell non brand clothing, well they always have a brand, but it's something nobody ever heard of.
...So anyway, in order to get non commercial branded clothing with a branded-like message, you don't even need to print your own.

you make good points.

In trying to draw this concept up into something functional, I keep coming back to Guy DeBoard's sentiment.. I mean, we could create a set of public domain resources and instructions so that people could literally make their own clothes (regardless of whether they use Cafepress or iron-on decals). Or even just a logo that means "I made this". But ultimately, if that's cool and not protected, it'll be coopted.

I'd also add that sometimes, wearing a brand is ok because that brand actualy does make quality products.

Totally. "Doing everything the opposite of the mainstream is still being controlled by the mainstream." I would advise a pragmatic view - wear what you like.

I mean, I'm a PC guy. I don't use a PC because the commercials really resonated with me. I use it because I grew up using a PC and it's what I'm familiar with. Certainly I have some brand loyalty to microsoft -- I keep buying (or pirating) their products.

Your final point articulates a good direction much more clearly than I have so far --

Quote
Similarly, if we are aware of how brands are marketed, then we can make conscious choices about what we buy and why we're buying it.  So in that way, the branding isn't controlling our behavior.