The Anti-Brand Movement And Its Antidote

Derrick DayeFebruary 16, 20074 min

It was first articulated by Naomi Klein in her 1999 book, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies. It later manifested itself again as a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal. The ad read:

“Because my country has sold its soul to corporate power. Because consumerism has become our national religion. Because we have forgotten the true meaning of freedom And because patriotism now means agreeing with the president I pledge to do my duty…and take my country back.” –, now known as Adbusters.

It seems that people are tiring of crass commercialism, corporate greed and the pervasiveness and power of mass brands across the land.

Branding done badly reflects all that is bad about our society:

•Logos plastered everywhere but the brands they represent not really standing for anything (brands that are “all symbols but no soul”)

•Stadiums, arenas, theaters and other public structures named for the corporations that bid the highest prices, rather than for historical events or figures, local heroes or myths and legends

•Corporations’ interests (not the needs or wishes of individuals) driving national and international policy, including the need for aggression and control

•Corporate officer greed superseding the employee’s, shareholder’s and public’s interests (witness Enron and others)

•Pervasive marketing hype

•Companies promising “the world,” but delivering much less

•Using sex to sell products and services across a wide variety of categories

•Convincing people that they need products and services that they don’t really need

•Brands being an increasingly important source of personal affiliation and identification, a role that they have taken over from traditional institutions such as schools, communities, churches, etc.

•National category killer chains driving smaller local stores out of business (examples: Wal-Mart and Barnes & Noble)

•Companies telling you that you need yet another <product or service> to achieve status, look attractive, be accepted by others, feel good about yourself, etc.

The increasing distaste for all of this greed and capitalism gone amok is conveniently blamed on brands and branding.

At its worst, the organizational brand is a name and a logo that is inconsistently applied to an unrelated set of products and services. It is overused and means nothing, and it reminds people of the worst of an over commercial society. It feels cold and seems exploitative. It is perceived to be a vestige of a past era.

At its best, brand management aligns organizations with value-adding activities.

It keeps organizations focused on meeting real human needs in compelling new ways. And, at its best, the organizational brand defines how the organization best meets its customers’ needs in unique and compelling ways. It serves as the organization’s unifying principle and rallying cry; it infuses the organization with a set of values and a personality; and it holds an organization’s employees to a consistent set of behaviors. The organizational brand stands for something. It establishes trust and a certain level of assurance; it makes it possible for people to establish relationships with the organization; and it creates expectations that must be fulfilled. The brand can bring an organization to life in a very real way.

When an organization uses its brand to meet real human needs in unique and compelling ways, and when it is uses its brand as an organizational standard and a rallying cry for its employees, this is branding at its best.

Example: Starbucks

Starbucks brand is its product, its people and its in-store experience.

Starbuck’s brand promise: For curious and discerning adults, Starbucks provides the best coffee experience that enriches lives.

Starbuck’s brand essence: Rewarding Everyday Moments

Starbucks strives to create an inviting, enriching experience that is stylish and elegant and that provides people with respite, time out and a personal treat. The experience is designed to enhance sensory signals.

Starbucks romances coffee drinking. It encourages its employees to approach coffee with a wine steward mentality.

Involvement and personal interaction is key to the Starbucks experience. Starbucks strives to be authentic and stand for something through passionate and committed employees.  It promotes treating people with respect and dignity. Store employees are encouraged to greet everyone as if they were friends.

In the end, brand management is all about meeting people’s physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and other needs in unique ways.  It is the application of free enterprise to the timely and timeless needs of mankind.

At The Blake Project we challenge organizations in all stages of development to unleash their brands’ power to:

Stand for something meaningful
•Meet customer needs in unique and compelling ways
•Create an ongoing dialog with customers
Build relationships with customers
•Offer assurance to customers
•Create the total customer experience
Serve as a rallying cry for employees
Build a human side to business through story
•Focus the organization’s activities and resources on meeting the brand’s unique promise to its customers

May you unleash your brand’s power and transform your organization through branding.

The Blake Project Helps Brands In All Stages Of Development Focus On Those Who Matter Most In The Brand Positioning Workshop

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Growth and Brand Education

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  • Sean Wilson

    February 17, 2007 at 8:05 pm

    I really loved this post. You point out the need for corporate ethics and responsible marketing which are so rare these days.

    The one thing I would note, however, is that Starbucks as a brand is facing a lot of backlash. There are communities in Texas and Colorado where the people are up in arms and don’t want them around. They tend to have a negative impact on other local owned and operated businesses who don’t necessarily have the financial means to compete with a Starbucks franchise.

    Now, I understand that is part of business, but as you point out in the rest of your post, sometimes there are other concerns in business. Starbucks, I like them, but I’m starting to avoid them more and more because I hate seeing small owner-operator businesses going under.

    It is more important to me that a community have those things which make it pleasant and different rather than having the same franchise and convenience found in every metropolis. In effect, I prefer a community’s brand that the locals create rather than one outside investors and corporations try to create in/for them.

    Still, that aside, I loved this post. I’ll be swinging by from time to time.

  • David Carlson

    February 19, 2007 at 7:01 am

    Good post! At least until the lines about Starbucks…

    Unfortunately they are driving smaller local cafés out of business all the time. And the quality of the coffee could be discussed. At least if you are from Europe.

  • Brande

    March 23, 2008 at 7:55 pm

    I was curious if anyone has heard of anti-branding clubs at middle or high school level? Thanks.

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