Brands Everywhere

louis-vuitton-monogram-canvas-dog-bag-40-brown-women-softsided-luggage While brushing my teeth this morning, which is usually when my mind wanders, I noticed that just on the counter everything I was looking at had a brand or logo of some sort on it. It’s usually invisible to me but once I noticed it became garish as Times Square.

I counted 11 brands on the counter at that exact moment: Dr. Hauschka, Orabrush, Common Good (soap), Kohler (sink), Bongio (faucet), Philips (toothbrush), Rembrandt, Royal Velvet (toothpaste), Sonos, Neorest (toilet), and Tom’s of Maine (mouthwash). My iPhone was on the counter but the Apple was covered in a WordPress iPhone case, I guess a 12th brand, but the only one I chose to be there.

None of these labels are easy to remove either — the Common Good, a liquid soap dispenser, looked like it was going to be easy but as it started to peel off lots of sticky residue was left behind. I’ll try soaking it later. For most of the others, including the sink and faucet, the brand was embedded in a way that would be impossible to remove without switching the contents to a different container (toothpaste, mouthwash, or moisturizer) or sanding something off (toothbrush, Sonos…).

Earlier this year I attended Burning Man for the first time, and one of the things you notice after a day there is the complete absence of brands — it’s considered gauche to have visible branding there, some people even cover up small logos (Patagonia, the Polo horse) on their clothes. As much as the rest of the experience was bizarre, living a few days in the absence of brands and advertising makes it as alien as anything else.

I don’t think you can call it a trend, but it is interesting that brands like Muji or high-end fashion like Bottega Veneta distinguish themselves as much by the absence of branding as their product quality, the visual antithesis of Louis Vuitton luggage. It’s like the first level of affluence is about broadcast, and then the ultimate level is about (apparent) minimalism.

But for regular, everyday goods, how can we get all of the advertising off them? I don’t need my sink telling me who made it. If there’s a brand around me, I want it to be one I choose. I think this is one reason people appreciate the ability to 100% customize WordPress, and counter-intuitively why most choose to leave the “Powered by” somewhere on the site, because they have the choice.

Take a look around you, how many visible brands or logos can you count?

Update: Om writes on An Unbranded Life.

20 thoughts on “Brands Everywhere

  1. I have long despised the prevalence of logos on things. I recommend you check out the book No Logo, you might enjoy it. The only visible logo I see right now is the WordCamp Portland logo from last year on my water glass.

    1. Jen: I haven’t read No Logo, but I just clicked the link and noticed that on the very front of the book, aside from the title, is the logo of the publisher (Picador). Ironic.

  2. Someone who agrees with me! To hell with brands!!! One of the things I love about my Nexus 4 and 24inch Dell monitor is there’s no logo on the front of it to distract me! But this stupid Dell laptop has logos everywhere! It doesn’t feel like it’s mine – it’s like I’m leasing it from them…

    I started my website with no logo but everyone complained and said I need it for branding so people will know the site and remember it. I’ve added it for now, but once it’s popular I’ll get rid of it because it just gets in the way.

  3. Have you ever been to Sea Ranch, CA? It is a planned community that lives lightly off the land. No streetlights. No glaring brand signs. When I first went there I immediately appreciated the focus on nature. The absence of excessive branding and other excesses was beautifully, energetically detoxifying. I find some forms of branding abusive. And I have some background in it. I agree; I don’t need to see the sink’s brand name I bought, and I’m always grateful for when I can look underneath a sink or product and find its product code/serial number hidden away but there if/when I need it.

  4. My question to you though is: How do you build a business without a brand? My theatre company just went through the process of finding a new logo which I feel both unifies us and gives us credibility to the outside world. How do we separate ourselves from the others?

  5. Start with the principles outlined in The Cluetrain Manifesto. It’s so funny to me how tech evolves endlessly, while marketing holds on tight (TBH, the tensions between tech folks and marketing folks doesn’t help this).

  6. Interesting. I love brands and visual identity. I think logos can be great works of art. Where things get ugly is when we’re dealing with excess (e.g. Times Square) — too much clutter competing for attention.

  7. Great that you noticed that! One of the Burning Man 10 Principles is Decommodification. Larry Harvey says that “In order to preserve the spirit of gifting “our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.” As an ecopsychologist (and a blogger) one of my interests is in Burning Man and how people’s experiences there have an impact. Here’s part 3 of a 3 part blog post about Burning Man and the 10 Principles if anyone is interested in learning more:

  8. hard to live in 2013 and beyond and be logo-free. in fact it’s almost virtually impossible. Everything that we interact with is / has a brand (logo). From purified water, to cars, to even something as mundane as a toothbrush. The simple fact is, these logos are the self-same reason, that many companies exist. Apart from you, the consumer, remembering what / where you bought something, all it takes is for a single piece of information, but more so a single image (logo) for you to remember your experience with any particular product. This is the simple reason why companies willingly pump billions of dollars into advertising.

    Signs / advertising (logos) are a vital part of our everyday life, as they help us make the great majority of our purchasing decision, whether you prefer kfc, wendy’s, or mc donald’s. And I’m quite sure that with the mention of each of those well-known brands, your mind and senses brought to the fore-front your memories of previous interactions, or lack thereof, with the aforementioned brands.

    So think CMS, think blogging, think wordpress and you automatically think of that wonderful blue “W” that has changed our life, at least professionally, with a fantastic pice of open-source software.

    In conclusion, i think its absolutely ridiculous for one to be so dislike the abundant presence of logos (/ advertising) around us.there’s absolutely no humanly possible way to lead a normal life and not see any form of logo around you. Unless of course your address is changed to #1 Under A Rock Avenue.


  9. When I moved to Moscow at 18 years old, that was the first thing I noticed. The absolute lack of brands. Of course that has changed since then. But at the time, I still was buying milk and butter that were called “milk” and “butter.” And that’s all.
    It felt boring to walk down the street, though, at first. Being a person who likes to read, the lack of constant phrases to stimulate my mind in a nonsensical way.
    It changed over the years as I was there (I got here in ’96 and left in 2005) and now it looks the same on Tverskaya Boulevard as on 5th Avenue in NYC.

    But I remember, it’s like turning off a radio that you never had noticed was left on in the background.

    I have some other thoughts on that, but won’t go on here 🙂

    Thanks for the reminder of that time

  10. only in my office from left to right ; vittel, cma cgm, blackberry, cisco, dell, compaq, sharp, epson, ecu-line, starbucks, pentel, suntory, united arrows, banana republic, yamazen, family mart, style one.
    on me zara, clavin klein, tag heuer, lanvin, paco rabanne
    that makes 22 in less than 5 M2 and I don’t dare looking into my briefcase

  11. Your observation about the first level of affluence being broadcast, then the ultimate level being minimalism often applies to dogs too. Affluent people often have quite large dogs, (maybe for protection in feudal times?), but extremely affluent people have small dogs, (think about the queen and her corgis).

  12. And what about the logo that one can’t see because it is placed on its nose. Google takes it to a new level: While their glasses are branded, they deliver advertising as well.

  13. I wear/own very few logo/branded things… The few that I do are things I’m glad to have a logo on… This like t-shorts from WordCamps, kick starter campaigns, etc… I don’t mind the branding on my apple products, but then I’d be fine without it. It’s the logos on things I don’t care about that irk me, like you, it’s my toothbrush, my shoes, my sunglasses, etc..

    By the way, seems almost mandatory to have a reference to William Gibson’s novel Pattern Recognition in an essay like this…

  14. @Matt I DISAGREE (I know BOLD:) & Interesting to find this article because I was seeking you out to recommend some suggestions which will discuss later in this comment…

    First please do not think I am a BRAND Wh*re: I simply think a Brand has arrived when you want it displayed. In example I love the lighten up APPLE on my mac book. (well i love anything apple).

    In addition I understand your wanting the choice but some times it can be a great advantage what if your Refrigator needs a replacement part or even a new water filter. Do you have the manual and/or do you know the brand to navigate the great GOOGLE to do search.

    Bottom line I think branding comes in many fashions, symbols, words, etc.

    I think a BRAND has arrived when its displayed as a badge of honor in i.e. WordPress


    So here comes my suggestion and tidbit about me….

    I am just a Owner of Real Estate Brokerage that I am the REALTOR
    ( not just real estate agent), that have spent SO MUCH TIME trying to learn the WordPress way because I have only been Disappointed in THEME purchased and frustrated with WordPress tutorials, tips, tricks, thin content, arregerated content, 500 best themes, 500 best plugin, even sessions that conflict with best practices, & everything POST….I can go on & on and certainly respect that its open source but I suggest the following which leads in the amazing idea of Branding / Trademarks:

    1. Elevate the WordPress ™ brand and profession with certifications that the theme and/or plugin developer has been tested, adhere (or knows) the code standards, best practices, blah blah… so the end consumer knows that is symbol of badge that they know WordPress.

    WordPress Certified… ie Google, Microsoft, Apple and even others have certifications.

    Its time to RAISE THE BAR with WordPress Certification (™)

    WordPress brand has arrived its time for consumers to know that the developer has the BADGE of honor or if its another person to MASHUP plugins & themes to only profit for something copied/pasted to only be frustrated.
    know it is open source, it encourage learning which I have done a lot & its community.

    The BOTTOM line the end consumer sees WordPress as WordPress, its time to stamp that with a (various) certification.

    Just so you know I emphasized Realtor over real estate agent…license from state to state our required as real estate agent but being Realtor is elective and promise to elevate the profession with code of ethics, standards and professionalism.

  15. The central character in William Gibson’s “Pattern Recognition” is a person with a strong psychological aversion to brands, some more than others. You’d probably feel a lot of sympathy with that character.