The Real Brand-Obsession Lesson

It seems that the posts on branding are coalescing in both the blogosphere and my inbox. Emails notifying me of a response to one of Gip’s posts about logo-free living just popped in last week, and Minimalist Mommi just showed up on my radar with a radical minimalist perspective on clothing.

What I’m seeing, from many bloggers (Minimalist Mommi excluded!) and their commenters, seems to be a backlash against high-end fashion and the brand marks, logos, patches, etc. that go with them.

I sympathize with many of the concerns, but here’s the thing…..I’m not anti-logo. I’m not anti-brand. I’m not anti-differentiation. When I’m not blogging, I’m a web designer. This means that building brands, creating logos, and otherwise helping people differentiate who they are is a core part of what I do.

And I don’t see that task as being fundamentally in conflict with the principles of minimalist, intentional living.

I Share “Brand As Status” Concerns

Let me be clear. If somebody came to me and said they were buying a Coach handbag because “all the cool mommy bloggers are doing it”, I would suggest that they’re probably buying it for the wrong reason. Same with the guy that wants to buy a Dodge 4×4 truck because all the other guys at the bar own a Dodge 4×4.

This is particularly an issue to me when people aren’t just trying to catch up, but outdo their peer group. This just dovetails into the whole minimalist philosophy of life:

You are not your stuff.

But the fact that somebody is buying (or owns) a Coach handbag is usually a fact in a vacuum – there’s no context. Absent that context, I have a rather lenient fallback position.

I Don’t Share The “Brands Are Bad” Philosophy

Branding is useful on many levels. Brands help us differentiate products from various manufacturers, and let us use previous experience to inform future buying decisions.

I, personally, have used previous experiences to develop strong attachments to certain brands. These include Birkenstock sandals, Logitech Trackman trackballs, Plantronics Voyager headsets, HP printers, Gildan t-shirts, and several other items. In my case, each brand attachment has been formed because their products perform better for me than any other option.

The brand attachment, to me, is a shorthand way of referring to the elaborate quality testing and determinations that I’ve made over the years. And as such, it cuts both ways.

I have strong aversions to other brands. I run screaming in the other direction when I see a Canon inkjet printer. I don’t like eMachine computers. I will never intentionally buy Palmer brand chocolates. This is because of the print-head design on most Canon inkjets, the underrated power supplies they stuff into eMachines, and the fact that Palmer chocolates taste like wax to me.

Years of experience have shown me that those products are bad investments. You can parade runway models in front of me with swimsuits that say “Canon inkjets are #1!” and I won’t believe you. Your claims don’t trump my reality.

Brands aren’t a magic sales tool. Any brand that sticks its head up enough to be identified positively also runs the very real risk of being identified negatively. Any brand that ties its promotional strategy to current fashion is even more susceptible to suddenly becoming “uncool”.

Logos Are An Attribute, Nothing More

The thing that gets me about this discussion is that it seems as though brands and logos are being used as a litmus test for the legitimacy of a purchase, and to me that’s just silly. Brands/logos are single attributes, nothing more.

If a shirt fits you well, looks good, and is known to be a well-made product, would you honestly put it back on the shelf because there’s a brand logo embroidered on the chest? And if so, how is what you’re doing all that different from the people that buy the same shirt because of the logo, disregarding all the other factors?

To me, clothing is about a certain base amount of style, and large amounts of comfort and durability. I’m not going to sacrifice my comfort just so I can wear the latest Chaps polo shirts, and I’m also not going to sacrifice my comfort just to avoid wearing those same polo shirts.

I honestly don’t believe that the Chaps brand is going to significantly grow or significantly suffer because I do or don’t buy a polo shirt. I’m not that big of a deal, really.

The Bottom Line: Be Intentional

The bottom line here is that I’d encourage you to come to your own decision, and be your own person. Personally, I don’t see the rationality of having an all-or-nothing perspective regarding brands and logos. Maybe you do.

But whatever you do, take a little bit of time and plan your strategy intelligently. There are no cosmic bonus points for having a brand-free existence. The Minimalist Police aren’t going to show up and arrest you for having a polo shirt with a little alligator on it.

Be your own person!

And if you have a minute, tell me about that “own person” you’re being in the comments. I’d love to hear some other perspectives on this issue.

Enjoy this post? Subscribe for free updates via e-mail or RSS and never miss another one!

I'd also really appreciate it if you'd share this post with your friends:

18 Responses - Add Your Input!

Posted March 26, 2012 at 5:52 am | Permalink

I don’t like the way logos *look*, style-wise. All but one of my shirts is a single, solid color. So yeah, I avoid visible logos.

I don’t necessarily avoid the brands that come with them; frankly, unless you’re making it yourself everything his branded. It’s just a matter of picking the well-known or under-known variation. I pick the “feels comfy, lasts for years” version.

Well-timed post. A couple of items in my wardrobe are reaching the end of my usable lifespan, and I’m actually going to *be* clothes soon.
Shadlyn Wolfe recently posted..Short Story: Wish

    Posted March 28, 2012 at 2:45 am | Permalink

    I definitely know what you mean about the look of logos. I have a general preference for vertical stripes or plain colors when it comes to shirts, but every pair of jeans, shorts, etc. I own has a brand label on it somewhere. This isn’t as much because I’m buying a brand as much as it’s part of the territory with denim products. They all seem to have that big tag on the back waist. :D

    You make a really good point – everything has a brand attached to it, whether or not it’s outwardly obvious. The only question on the table is “which brand do we buy?”

    Best of luck with your clothes shopping. That’s the one thing in life I try to do as little of as possible!

Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink

Thanks for the mention. Intentionality is the key to everything, I think.

I remember the professor in my first advertising class mentioned that Tide laundry detergent is no better than an off-brand, but advertising people have made you think it is. I thought he was surely wrong. Tide is the best, isn’t it? Experience has now shown me that it really is no different from the other brands.

Brand loyalty caused me to buy a Toyota Camry to replace my previous Camry, but they are no longer the same cars they once were. My new one is acceptable, but it isn’t the brand it once was. I’ll buy a Nissan Sentra next time because I like the look and feel of them. And I won’t make the mistake of being brand loyal again… I hope.

By the way, as you know, I do writing work that promotes brands. But I don’t wear t-shirts with big logos. If I have anything that’s a big-name brand, it came from a thrift store. That’s important to know if you see my wearing my “new” L.L. Bean jeans.
Gip @ So Much More Life recently posted..Best Decisions: Adopting A Minimalist Hairstyle

    Posted March 28, 2012 at 2:50 am | Permalink

    I remember my great-grandmother using Tide. She bought the value-sized box of the powdered variety, and it was all she’d buy. She swore by that stuff!

    Your comment about the Camry is interesting…..do you remember how long it was between Camrys? I know the dealer tries to sell a new car about every two to three years, but I’m betting you had a much bigger gap than that. Do you remember the model years?

    And don’t worry, I won’t be making fun of you for your designer jeans. :)

Posted March 26, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

When my daughter wanted to “fit in” at her new school. she insisted she needed Gloria Vanderbilt jeans. This was a child who regular wore out her Toughskins. Thirty years later she has never forgiven me for not buying the jeans she “needed”. That’s what is wrong with branding. Nothing else. I buy a certain brand of jeans because they fit me, not because of what the pockets or tags look like.
Linda Sand recently posted..Politics

    Posted March 28, 2012 at 2:54 am | Permalink

    Wow! I’m hoping “never forgiven me” means “she kids me about it sometimes”, rather than “she’s still really upset about it”.

    The question that pops into my mind when I read your comment is, “is this primarily a function of branding, peer pressure, or both?” Obviously the peer group had decided what was “cool”. But did they do it based on Vanderbilt telling them it was cool? Or was there something particularly fancy about those jeans that really made them look awesome?

    Do you have any thoughts on that?

Posted March 26, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

It’s taken me a while to come around but…I like what I like. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s a “brand” or not. Now wearing huge logos, where the person basically becomes a walking billboard, I’m not a fan of that. My feeling is that if the company wants to use me for advertising they should pay me to wear it, not the other way around.
Heidi recently posted..Free on Kindle

    Posted March 28, 2012 at 2:57 am | Permalink

    When I want to wear a huge logo on my back, I usually just put *my* logo on a shirt and wear it around. Sometimes it gets a conversation started, and at a minimum it promotes something I really believe in. :D

    As a flip side to the question, *would you* wear a company’s logo if they paid you for it? I’ve always wanted to ask that of somebody with your opinion on the matter. :)

    Thanks for commenting Heidi!

      Posted March 29, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I would, if the price was right so long as it wasn’t for a company or product that I objected to. I would also post a sign in my yard or on my car for a reasonable monthly payment.
      Heidi recently posted..Free on Kindle

Posted March 27, 2012 at 11:15 am | Permalink

Firstly, thank you for the shout out!

As you know, I highly agree with your stance. I’m a bit of a brand junkie, BUT that’s only because the brand (American Eagle) is the ONLY brand where I can enter the store and know that I can get clothes that will always fit, are comfortable, have a style I like, and stand the test of time. I have yet to find any brand that consistently comes close. All 3 of my boys (little one & The Hubs) are all “brandists” too. Again, though, they are clothes that hold up, are a style we all like, and are comfortable. The fact that they have big logos in the design aren’t the reason we keep buying them (although we love the aesthetics). We keep going back to these few brands because they’ve held up for years! They mainly wear Hurley, Quiksilver, and Billabong. The Hubs has shirts that are over 4 years old and still in great shape. The same brands have easily held up through two rowdy boys. For those reasons, I keep going back, even with the large designs/logos.

    Posted March 28, 2012 at 3:02 am | Permalink

    Every time I hear the word “billabong” I get “Waltzing Matilda” stuck in my head. But I digress….

    Am I to infer that you’re passing clothes down from one child to another? If so those would seem to be pretty durable clothes. :) And correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t American Eagle one of the more reasonably priced “name brand” clothing lines out there?

      Posted March 28, 2012 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      Yep, we’re passing down clothes! So you can see why I give these clothes a lot of credit after now being through two Wild Boys (and some are STILL wearable for another child!). I guess AE is an “affordable” brand. I usually like to spend less than $15 on shorts/pants/jeans and less than $10 for tops…so I felt their prices were high. I did splurge on a $30 pair of jeans that are on year #2 lol! I know, I’m such a big spender ;)

        Posted March 31, 2012 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

        Wow, $30 jeans…..you’re really killing your minimalist cred here Megyn. ;)

Posted March 27, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

Hey Robert – Came over from Gip’s blog and I commented most recently on his post about logos- I think the issue for me too comes down to buying with intention. However, I also strive (out of necessity) to be frugal in every aspect of my life. Not working with a baby at home makes it tough to be so intentional. If that makes sense? It meas that sometimes beggars can’t be choosers. But, being in that position irks me in that some of the things that I get for free are not things that I would choose to purchase if I were purchasing with my own intentions. So where does that leave me? Advertising the Mercedes dealership on my free coffee mug or having my kid wear Toy Story clothes and other licensed items that I would never choose for him. Two things that I really don’t want to do, but since I didn’t have to shell out any of my scarce $$ to do it, does that make it ok? Can I be comfortable with that choice (or lackthereof)? That’s my dilemma.

Posted March 28, 2012 at 5:46 am | Permalink

[...] couple days ago I wrote a post about brands and their place in a simple, minimalist life. One of the comments really caught my attention. It was by a reader named Ellen, and I’ve [...]

Posted March 29, 2012 at 3:19 am | Permalink

As a visual artist who also works on a lot of brand identification, AND identifies as a minimalist, the “NO LOGOS OR YOU’RE NOT MINIMALIST” thing drives me *nuts!* I remember writing a while back about how I feel brands IN THEMSELVES aren’t the culprit here: it’s the ethics of the companies behind them that should be put into question. There are good companies out there, too! Would you boycott them just because they had a brand or logo? Differentiation is good! Treating corporations with the rights of a human person isn’t. (But that’s a rant for another day.)

I personally buy items because
a. it serves my needs
b. it’s good quality
c. it’s worth the price

If it happens to have a well-known brand attached, that’s okay! It’s a bonus. And isn’t it so much easier to say “Wacom” than say “that tablet by that one company in [insert country here] with the black design” or something equally hard to say? Heck, blog names are brands in themselves. It’s part of daily life. It’s sad that brands have been attached to “corporation”, though. Non-profits have brands, too.

I could go on and on about this but I’ll just keep it to this comment for now. Thanks for writing about this!
Mel recently posted..What Really Matters

    Posted March 31, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    You’re welcome!

    I completely agree that brands are more than companies. A brand can be a company, a nonprofit, a person, or half a dozen other things.

    You reminded me of some other thoughts I have on differentiation….I think I’m off to write another post. :)

    Thanks so much for commenting Mel!

      Posted April 5, 2012 at 3:55 am | Permalink

      Oooh. Can’t wait to see what you have to say about differentiation! :D

      You’re welcome! I’m stoked to be able to discuss these things with like-minded people!
      Mel recently posted..Moving

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.