Blog Post#5 – Naomi Klein and the Yes Men: Branding in the 21st C

In her 2004 interview with PBS, activist Naomi Klein discusses the evolution of branding, brand-messaging, and consumerism. What she really seems to be doing is giving a sociological account of marketing in US society.  According to Klein, the most successful branding is seamlessly integrated into culture so that members of society actually participate in it. In that way, branding has actually replaced advertising.

During early industrialized periods in America, food started being mass-produced. As the country grew, it was no longer feasible for everyone to purchase food at a farm. Advertising was used as an intermediary between the farm and the household, to forge a connection with the food company and the consumer.  Fast forward to roughly one hundred years later, and consumers have become more immune to advertising. We now live in a world of TiVo’s and DVR.  Nobody wants to be consciously advertised to.  Slowly advertising evolved into branding.  In Klein’s words, “the trend in branding is for the brand to become the infrastructure, not to tag onto our culture, [but] to sort of associate with the culture that it wants to be associated with — whether it’s music, theater, sports, young people. It’s to actually sort of supercede it and become the actual cultural infrastructure, and then we sort of live inside the brand.” Examples of this in action are Starbucks, the Body  Shop, and Nike. When you enter into a Starbucks or a Nike Store, you actually do feel like you’re stepping inside the brand. Starbucks tries very hard to foster a sense of a tight-knit and inclusive community.  The Nike Store tries to make everyone feel like a champion.  Disney and Marlboro are also two masters of this type of brand-messaging; Klein’s example with Disney is Celebration, FL. Personally, I have friends who smoke Marlboro for that lonestar image.

Klein also spoke of the role of the consumer in branding. The act of branding is no longer restricted to companies and products, and you no longer need an MBA to start your own brand. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Gordon Ramsay and Ryan Seacrest are engaging in self-branding and making millions.

The irony of Fortune 500s’ massive branding push is that it’s being turned against them on some level. Even activists are using branding theory to form social organizations to combat what they see as evils of Big Corporations. For example, the activists Yes Men, and Rainforest Action Network and Amazon Watch ruined a Chevron ad campaign by creating their own viral parody. The Yes Men in particular branded themselves as activists who engage in satire to increase accountability of big companies. In the trailer for their film “The Yes Men Fix the World,” they’ve targeted companies like Dow and Haliburton. They’re funny guys, but I also think their efforts are laudable. In a world where we can be totally enmeshed in a brand’s message, it’s good we have some people trying to keep everyone’s feet on the ground.

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One Response to “Blog Post#5 – Naomi Klein and the Yes Men: Branding in the 21st C”

  1. rklein100 says:

    Im not going to lie -_-, i love brands lol. I love to know im wearing a certain designer, regardless of the material. I feel a sense of confidence when I am wearing something nice or “popular” in todays society. Maybe two years ago was the whole Ed Hardy craze. Everybody wanted Ed hardy this Ed hardy that, and having that brand on your shit makes people feel better about themselves. Branding has been promoted through advertisements, as these companies know the brand is why many people wear their clothes.