Books: Peeling labels - Barry Delaney enjoys the argument, but doesn't buy the case against brand marketing

Books: Peeling labels - Barry Delaney enjoys the argument, but doesn't buy the case against brand marketing - No Logo

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

No Logo

Naomi Klein

HarperCollins pounds 14.99

Anybody who works in marketing knows how fallible it is. Half of all advertising money is famously wasted. Most new products fail. Much of the research on which marketing depends is so far removed from empirical science that it might as well be astrology. Of course, some people market products or services more successfully than others, but this usually owes more to their cleverness than a faithful adherence to marketing dogma.

Marketing, like democracy, flourishes because all the alternatives are worse.

Yet this flawed and prosaic aspect of commerce has acquired a public face in the last decade or so that is generally perceived as exciting, glamorous and even magical. As a result, people and organisations previously immune to its blandishments embrace the new faith. Charities, churches, broadcasters and politicians now commission focus groups and enlist the services of marketing managers. We who were once variously voters, passengers, listeners, viewers and congregations are redefined as lumpen consumers.

There is no shortage of voices issuing dire warnings of where it will all end. Naomi Klein's is one, striving to be heard through the medium of a new book, No Logo. Its premise is that there is a global groundswell of opposition to brands and those who own and market them.

To make the case she revisits a number of high-profile PR disasters suffered in recent years by famous brands: Nike's third world shoe makers, the McLibel case, and Disney's cheap-labour problems in China. Detailed and often repetitious telling of these events is mixed with a bit of marketing history and some highly selective excursions into the by-ways of contemporary culture, consumerism, environmentalism and even student protest.

The trouble is that Ms Klein has been seduced by Marketing's New Clothes.

Although her evidence is often fascinating, the conclusion it points to is not the one she reaches. The groundswell of opposition is not to brands but to poverty and environmental degradation.

Many of the companies that have been found most wanting in these areas aren't 'brand names'. They are in mining, chemicals and similar semi-anonymous industries. Sometimes the true culprits are governments.

No Logo demeans the causes it purports to celebrate by offering a narrow, fashion victim's perspective on achievements that have undoubtedly helped to make the world a better place.

Barry Delaney is creative partner at Delaney Fletcher Bozell.

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