No Logo

As 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.

But 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.

Toronto 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 movement.

Klein 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.

Schools 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.

College 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.

In 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.

Even 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.

Disney 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."

NO 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."

Big 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 tourist destination.

Why 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.

But 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 labor camps.

One 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."

While 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."

Klein 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."

NO LOGO is an important, evocative book. It is a call to arms to confront the forces of globalization, monopolization, and mindless consumerism.

Published in Hopedance, September 2001


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