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.
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