I first realized the importance of forewords a few years ago. I’ve always been an avid reader, but only over the past several years have I been delving into non-fiction books with a vengeance. Because the non-fiction genre is meant to share its story based on fact, it’s interesting to see the motivations and biases of the writer that come into play based on the author’s background, experience and interests. In the case of my copy of No Logo, the foreword is reflecting on the changes that have occurred since the book was published 10 years prior in 1999. The book addresses the history of the multinational company and the influence of brands and logos on the economy and, consequentially, their affect on citizens of the world. The most interesting part of the foreword was author Naomi Klein’s expansion of the definition of “brand” to include individuals and the government.
“As a brand, the Obama White House’s identity is probably closest to Starbucks: hip, progressive, approachable—a small luxury you can feel good about even during tough economic times.”
In light of the age of the book, I was repeatedly shocked at how timely it seemed. Klein was talking about issues that are still hotly debated now. She was ahead of her time: publishing an influential book at the cusp of the movement’s beginnings. She raises concerns about issues from the “free-trade zones” peppered throughout Southeast Asia, to ubiquitous marketing strategies appearing in classrooms across the States and the ethics of corporate sponsorship of inner city basketball courts.
To question the status quo of capitalism is to question a whole system, society and sense of continuity. If one questions that, what follows is nearly impossible to imagine for Westerners. No Logo doesn’t seek to answer this question, although various chapters propose interesting solutions. The majority of the book is devoted to showing the reader how exactly we ended up where we are now. The process has been so gradual that the existence of multinational companies, outsourcing of labor and mass marketing is rarely questioned. One is often caught vacillating between thoughts of “ “This is capitalism working!” and “There’s a downside to every economic system.” From there, we’re met with conflicting emotions, especially the generations who grew up with the mantra that capitalism is all that’s good in the world: it’s progress, innovation, the future.
“The economic model that dominates around the world has revealed itself not as “free market” but “crony capitalist” –politicians handing over public wealth to private players in exchange for political support.”
Klein takes the reader on a historic journey through the transition of companies focusing on production of a product (factories) to instead focusing solely on the branding of a product (identity). The majority of companies nowadays outsource most of their moving parts while keeping an office in North America or Europe only for marketing, day-today business or processing warehouses. This has resulted in growing concern over No Jobs being left in America, Canada, and Western Europe as the exodus of factories to Southeast Asia and South America continues to increase. It’s also what led to middle American angst translating into votes for now-President Trump.
The transition from production to branding has resulted in excess. Companies are slashing their production budget by going where the labour is cheapest and pouring the subsequent reserve into development of brand identity. Living in the city, there is no escape from this business plan: branding is everywhere. There is No Space to find refuge from the onslaught of advertisements and logos. The only respite one can find is going into the wilderness wearing a burlap sack and leaving all electronics behind. The sack can function as a sleeping bag, pillow, toothbrush or even a little snack if desperate measures are required; otherwise, it will be difficult finding those things without a brand attached to them. Klein makes a fascinating argument about the right to space – to live without having a company force its wares on you everywhere you turn. In response to this invasion of personal and public space, there are quite a few activist groups focused on reclaiming these spaces. A fun example is peaceful street parties blocking highways with a theme of dissent and resistance or graffiti artists putting their own ironic twist on billboards dotting the cityscape.
“When any space is bought, even if only temporarily, it changes to fit its sponsors. And the more previously public spaces are sold to corporations or branded by them, the more we as citizens are forced to play by corporate rules to access our own culture.”
Just as the mark of branding is permeating our cities, so too is the omnipresent chain store. Selection is growing with the infinite product lines of big box stores but choice is diminishing with the loss of unique, independent stores. There are more and more colossal mergers and endless sponsorship deals, leading to next to No Choice when it comes to what you buy and who you buy from. Klein highlights the reality that multinationals have a powerful hold on the market, but more disconcertingly, policy-making in Washington, Ottawa, and capitals around the world. What room does that leave for dissenting voices when corporations become more powerful than the government? What happens when a powerful corporation smacks an individual protesting its chain with a libel suit (ie. The McLibel case)? How does the ordinary individual make sure their interests are being taken care of? There are plenty of questions but no simple solutions.
Fair trade and sustainability have become more than buzzwords in recent years. It’s a growing movement and increasing numbers of people are becoming invested in the global effect of their purchases. We vote every time we spend a dollar, or a euro or a yen. If you’ve been considering pulling back the curtain on where your money goes and what it supports, this book is a great starting point. The Guardian dubbed No Logo the “Das Kapital of the growing anti-corporate movement” and it’s an apt comparison. It might not change how you vote in political elections – that’s not the point – but it may make you more thoughtful about where you send your hard-earned money.