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Excerpts from No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies

Naomi Klein

No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, by Naomi Klein.

This book is hinged on a simple hypothesis: That as more people discover the brand-name secrets of the global logo web, their outrage will fuel the next big political movement, a vast wave of opposition squarely targeting transnational corporations, particularly those with very high name-brand recognition....[This book] is an examination of a largely underground system of information, protest and planning, a system already coursing with activity and ideas crossing many national borders and several generations. (xviii)

This book is not...another account of the power of the select group of corporate Goliaths that have gathered to form our de facto global government. Rather, the book is an attempt to analyze and document the forces opposing corporate rule, and to lay out the particular set of cultural and economic conditions that made the emergence of that opposition inevitable. Part 1, "No Space," examines the surrender of culture and education to marketing. Part II, "No Choice," reports on how the promise of a vastly increased array of cultural choice was betrayed by the forces of mergers, predatory financing, synergy and corporate censorship. And Part III, "No Jobs," examines the labour market trends that are creating increasingly tenuous relationships to employment for many workers, including self-employment, McJobs and outsourcing, as well as part-time and temp labour. It is the collision of and the interplay among these forces, the assault on the three pillars of employment, civil liberties and civic space, that is giving rise to the anticorporate activism chronicled in the last section of the book, Part IV, "No Logo," an activism that is sowing the seeds of a genuine alternative to corporate rule. (xxi)

No Space

The astronomical growth in the wealth and cultural influence of multi-national corporations over the last fifteen years can arguably be traced back to a single, seemingly innocuous idea developed by management theorists in the mid-1980s: that successful corporations must primarily produce brands, as opposed to products. (4)

Nike, Microsoft, Tommy Hilfiger, Intel, for example: These pioneers made the bold claim that producing goods was only an incidental part of their operations, and that thanks to recent victories in trade liberalization and labor-law reform, they were able to have their products made for them by contractors, many of them overseas. What these companies produced primarily were not things, they said, but images of their brands. Their real work lay not in manufacturing but in marketing....[I]n several crucial ways--not their profits, of course--these merged companies are actually shrinking. (4)

...this corporate obsession with brand identity is waging a war on public and individual space: on public institutions such as schools, on youthful identities, on the concept of nationality and on the possibilities for unmarketed space. (5)

Competitive branding became a necessity of the machine age--within a context of manufactured sameness, image-based difference had to be manufactured along with the product. (6)

In the early twenties, the legendary adman Bruce Barton turned General Motors into a metaphor for the American family, "something personal, warm and human," while GE was not so much the name of the faceless General Electric Company as, in Barton's words, "the initials of a friend." In 1923 Barton said that the role of advertising was to help corporations find their soul. (7)

Scott Bedbury, Stabucks' vice president of marketing, came from a previous branding success at Nike where he oversaw the launch of the "Just Do It!" slogan. Here he explains the common techniques used to infuse the two very different brands with meaning:

Nike, for example, is leveraging the deep emotional connection that people have with sports and fitness. With Starbucks, we see how coffee has woven itself into the fabric of people's live, and that's our opportunity for emotional leverage....A great brand raises the bar--it adds a greater sense of purpose to the experience, whether it's the challenge to do your best in sports and fitness or the affirmation that the cup of coffee you're drinking really matters. (21)

There is, in fact, a new strain of marketing theory that holds that even the lowliest natural resources, barely processed, can develop brand identity, thus giving way to hefty premium-priced markups. In an essay appropriately titled "How to Brand Sand," advertising executives Sam I. Hill, Jack McGrath and Sandeep Dayal team up to tell the corporate world that with the right marketing plan, nobody has to stay stuck in the stuff business. "Based on extensive research, we would argue that you can indeed brand not only sand, but also wheat, beef, brick, metals, concrete, chemicals, corn grits and an endless variety of commodities traditionally considered immune to the process" (25).

The effect, if not always the original intent, of advanced branding is to nudge the hosting culture into the background and make the brand the star. It is not to sponsor culture but to be culture....If brands are not products but ideas, attitudes, values and experiences, why can't they be culture too? (30)

Corporate Tax and Corporate Sponsorship

Corporate tax as a percentage of total federal revenue in Canada:

Increase in U.S. Corporate Sponsorship Spending since 1985:

In the past decade, global corporate sponsorship has increased from a $7-billion-a year-industry in 1991 to a 19.2 billion one in 1999. (34)

Culture Jamming: Ads Under Attack

In the "No Logo" section of her book, Klein reviews the strategies that have been used to confront the corporations marketing their logos around the world: from massive public campaigns, to sponsorship deals with sports teams, universities, public schools, and communities. In "Culture Jamming: Ads Under Attack," she reports on the billboard alterations New York guerilla artist Rodriguez de Gerada, who "refuses to slink around at night like a vandal, choosing instead to make his statements in broad daylight. For that matter, he doesn't much like the phrase "guerilla art," preferring "citizen art" instead. He wants the dialogue he has been having with the city's billboards for more than ten years to be seen as a normal mode of discourse in a democratic society." Klein claims that de Gerada is "widely recognized as one of the most skilled and creative founders of the culture jamming, the practice of parodying advertisements and hijacking billboards in order to drastically alter their messages. Streets are public spheres, adbusters argue, and since most residents can't afford to counter corporate messages by purchasing their own ads, they should have the right to talk back to images they never asked to see" (280).

Klein argues that culture jamming a corporate logo hacks "into the corporation's own method of communication…because anytime people mess with a logo, they are tapping into the vast resources spent to make that logo meaningful" (281) She cites Kalle Lasn of Adbusters magazine as a practitioner of "mass political jujitsu," a term borrowed from Saul Alinsky's activist bible, Rules for Radicals: Mass political jujitsu uses "the power of one part of the power structure against another part....the superior strength of the Haves become their own undoing." The hack takes its power from the mass recognition of the logo, the most prized possession of the corporation.

The term "culture jamming" was coined in 1984 by the San Francisco audio-collage band Negativland (281). Since 1984, Negativland has advocated the freer artistic use of copyrighted materials and thus been instrumental in the "copyleft movement."

San Francisco's Billboard Liberation Front has been altering ads for 20 years, while Australia's Billboard Utilizing Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions (BUG-UP) reached its peak in 1983 "causing an unprecedented $1 million worth of damage to tobacco billboards in and around Sydney" (282).

Guy Debord and the Situationists first articulated the power of a simple détournement: an image, message, or artifact lifted out of context to create a new meaning.

In 1993, Mark Dery wrote "Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing and Sniping in the Empire of Signs," a booklet published by the Open Magazine Pamphlet Series. For Dery, jamming incorporates such eclectic combinations of theatre and activism as the Guerilla Girls, who highlighted the art world's exclusion of female artists by holding demonstrations outside the Whitney Museum in gorilla masks; Joey Skagg, who has pulled off countless successful media hoaxes; and Artfux's execution-in-effigy of arch-Republican Jesse helms on Capitol Hill. For Dery, culture jamming is anything, essentially, that mixes art, media, parody and the outside stance. (283)

Influenced by such media theorists as Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, Mark Crispin Miller, Robert McChesney and Ben Bagdikian, all of whom have explored ideas about corporate control over information flows, the adbusters are writing theory on the streets...(284).

On the more radical end of the spectrum, a network of "media collectives" has emerged, decentralized and anarchic, that combine adbusting with zine publishing, pirate radio, activist video, internet development and community activism.

Jubal Brown, a Toronto artist, developed a technique known as "skulling": using a magic marker to black out the eyes of fashion models and draw a zipper across their mouths. After teaching his friends the technique, there was a rash of skulling across Canada.

Klein accounts for this resurgence of culture jamming as follows: "Something not far from the surface of the public psyche is delighted to see icons of corporate power subverted and mocked. There is, in short, a market for it. With commercialism able to overpower the traditional authority of religion, politics and schools, corporations have emerged as the natural targets for all sorts of free-floating rage and rebellion." She quotes American labor rights activist Trim Bissell, "There are certain corporations which market themselves so aggressively, which are so intent on stamping their image on everybody and every street, that they build up a reservoir of resentment among thinking people....People resent the destruction of culture and its replacement with these mass-produced corporate logos and slogans. It represents a kind of cultual fascism" (287).


Rodriguez Gerada: Artjammer.Com: under construction Spring 2002.
Article on Gerada's work

Adbusters: http://www.adbusters.org/home/

Negativland: http://www.negativland.com/

Billboard Liberation Front: http://www.billboardliberation.com/

Joey Skaggs: http://www.joeyskaggs.com/

Mark Dery's Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: http://www.levity.com/markdery/

Guerilla Girls: http://www.guerrillagirls.com/

Archiv der Kommunikationsguerilla: http://www.contrast.org/KG/sservice.htm

Source: Klein, Naomi. No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2000.

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