Branding The Populace

I used to think that branding was an apt description for the way companies emblazon their products with distinctive logos, colors, and styles. But it isn't just the products that are being branded, it is us. When I wear my Adidas fleece top or my Eddie Bauer khakis, when I whip out my Nikon Coolpix or my Toshiba Satellite, when I drink from a Pepsi can or eat from a Burger King bag, the company has scored a success by tagging me as their consumer. I become more than their customer, more than their billboard, I become their spokesman, a virtual employee. When I drink from that Pepsi can, I am unambiguously not drinking from a Coke can. And everything I do while conspicuously consuming, everything I am, becomes an extension of the company's ad campaign.

American advertisers pioneered the notion of lifestyle branding, then went a step further to associate emotions and primal desires with products and services. Can your running shoes reflect your perseverance? Can your cola reflect your politics? Of course they can.

Watch the Persuaders online at frontline.org, or get a fuller perspective on how advertisers manipulate us from Persuaders co-author Douglas Rushkoff in his book Coercion: Why We Listen To What "They" Say.

In fact, as Mecca Cola is proving, foreign marketers are just as adept at exploiting consumers' desire to reflect more than their thirst in their choice of beverage. In a rambling masthead on the corporate web site, I found some of the marginally coherent reasons for why there is a Mecca Cola:
• we considered the idea of launching a new concept, amely [sic] that of putting the economy to work in the interest of ideology

• One of the perversions of capitalism lies in the generation within oneself of the most brutal and the most inhumane part of oneself.

• The spirit which governed the creation of Mecca-Cola was to create a profit-making business which would help to relieve human suffering where action is still possible.

Now, to its credit, Mecca Cola does seem to be involved in humanitarian activity. However, it is at its heart a business, and an increasingly threatening one to American competitors like Coca-Cola and Pepsi who saw dramatic decreases in consumption in Arab markets after the introduction of Mecca Cola and similar 'prinicpled' soft drinks like British Qibla Cola, Iranian Zamzam Cola, and French Muslim Up. I swear I'm not making this up.

The threat is looming large enough that some American businesses have banded together to form an organization called Business for Diplomatic Action, described as "a nonprofit organization that mobilizes multinational corporations to build lasting, enriching partnerships with local communities around the world." Keith Reinhard, President of BDA, Inc, notes in an interview with the US Chamber of Commerce staff at the Centre for Corporate Citizenship, that a survey of international attitudes toward Americans and their business practices revealed two sentiments:
"...while people around the world admired many things about America and Americans—our diversity, our openness, our innovation and creativity, and our
freedoms—there were pronounced and consistent negatives, most of them related to U.S. business expansion."
Then he states paradoxically, and presumably without any irony: "It seemed obvious that, if business was the cause of some of the problems, business could be mobilized to address the issue." Ooh boy. He doesn't quite get it, does he? It's statements like that which cause steam to whistle comically from Naomi Klein's ears.

The bottom line is that we will never escape the onslaught of advertising clutter. So be alert, and be principled in your consumption. You've already heard me suggest that you avoid CanWest Global media outlets. You can do the same with foreign national megastores, companies that use excessive packaging, blood diamonds, Nazi sympathizers, etc. Choose your allegiances well, and bear those brands proudly.

1 comment:

apple said...

And the spread of the iPod and those ubiquitous white wires. I'm just waiting for Apple to flip a switch and everyone turns into robots wreaking havoc on the NY subway system. Oh, wait.