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Thursday, 26 October, 2000, 18:43 GMT 19:43 UK
Are we slaves to brands?
Brand names have become the embodiment of globalisation. They not only attract customers world-wide, they also pull in campaigners against world capitalism.Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
As a current exhibition in London shows, we are prepared to pay over the odds for clothes that have the right logo on. With them, we think we are buying into a lifestyle.
Are we? What is the power of the brand? Do they really symbolise everything that is wrong with globalisation? Or are they being unfairly targeted by newly branded anti-capitalist protestors?
We took your calls in our LIVE phone-in programme "Talking Point On Air". You can use the form at the bottom of the page to add to the debate.
Select the link below to watch Talking Point On Air.
Designer label clothes are for sad people who lack their own personality and individuality!
In answer to Tim Wong of Australia, there is plenty wrong with 'brands' if they use child labour/slave wages to produce the goods at low cost and then sell them at inflated prices in order to make their profits.
Remember - you're unique, just like everyone else!
If it is the quality of the goods behind the brand that matter - then why do so many drug companies spend more on advertising and branding than they do on research and development?
Arnab Mukherjee, USA
Fashion victims will always feel the need to conform for the sake of their own personal security. Because I have always created my own style and not been influenced by fashion I have encouraged this in my son. But as he is now in his early teens, peer pressure is getting to him, and he seems destined to join the hordes of lookalikes in their track and field event outfits at the mall...
I have no problem with 'brands', and believe people are entitled to buy whatever they perceive as 'quality'.
What I do have a problem with is people that I can only describe as complete idiots who think they are better people, or somehow superior, because they have this stuff or can afford to buy it.
Any company that puts their brand name on the outside of clothes, doesn't get my business. Occasionally I will remove the offending advertisement. I don't desire to be a walking billboard. Anyone who buys clothes so they can display the logo as a means of gaining approval is shallow. I suggest getting a life instead of a lifestyle.
Unfortunately many people do not have the mental ability to make a conscious choice and are seduced into the false life style images that the brands project.
I have the scenario for a film that no filmmaker would dare to make. A film about brands which would end with people streaming past a camera all dressed in branded goods and, as they stream past, the line gradually becomes a line of sheep until the whole screen is filled with nothing else. Wake up and be individual! Lead you own life!
Consumers wish to presume quality. They choose brand names in an attempt to get it and will return if it is delivered.
Every brand name began as a local company. Snapple, Dell, Nike, Gateway, all became giants who provided quality for value and then mastered marketing.
Quality is only a beginning and when it is absent the game never begins.
Jennifer Knoeber Vilnius, Lithuania
In France, brands seem to be so important that on top of traditional
TV commercials made by brands, we can also see "generalist"
commercials saying that it is important to choose brand products more
than other products. "Les marques: on ne pourrait pas vivre sans
elles" (we could not even live without trademarks!).
In the Independent On Sunday of 24 September there is a
photograph by Martin Parr entitled 'What the photographer saw', of a bag seller in
Odessa selling plastic carrier bags from the West with logos, brand names
on them. "The more Western the bag, the better the associated prestige".
That says it all!
Tim Wong Sydney Australia
The fantasy may be quality, predictability, pleasure or status, at
whatever price the consumer is willing to afford. Consequently producers
provide brands at different price points.
It's not that the more expensive product will last longer
necessarily, but that it satisfies a mix of other needs, but all
primarily satisfying the equation, fantasy=money.
Is it not obvious that the massive marketing campaigns are directly funded
by the consumers? As prices go up, the marketing campaigns become more
elaborate. A vicious circle if ever there was one.
Breandán Murray, Ireland
The brands depend upon the concept of contagious magic where
touching the item associated with an important or
powerful animal, person or idea gives the person those qualities. They provide a group identity that feels safer than
one's individual identity. Marketers take advantage of this herd
mentality. Anyone different from the herd is ostracised and isolated
and most people do not want to be outcast from the group.
My problem with the whole issue of brands is that because they are determined
to build a relationship with you, to sell you more. This means they have
become increasingly pushy in the way they try and stamp themselves on your
Advertising on every white space, everywhere; in the real world and the
virtual world. They demand you change your life to fit them better, to wipe out or manipulate the identity you had before.
Let's reconquer the space in front of our eyes and between ourselves. Let's
free ourselves of these brands and put shopping back where it belongs - a tiny
part of our lives, not a lifestyle.
Jaffar Sidek, Singapore
The audience listening to this program are, after all, slaves to the BBC brand, who
have established a reputation around the world for the quality and reliability of their
news reporting, though they are in the pay of the British Foreign and Colonial
(Commonwealth, if you prefer) Office and though the BBC looks at the rest of the
world through western-coloured spectacles!
As someone who has lived in a third-world country, Nigeria, for over 20
years, I appreciate global companies like Coca Cola, the Hilton,
Sheraton, and Levi Strauss. They provide quality products that also set a
standard for local companies. Long live capitalism.
I an a 19-year-old business student at Bournemouth university. On campus I see day to day the result of young adults with far larger disposable incomes than they have ever had before. When my fellow students buy a new Armani jacket or Versace jeans they are not only buying the clothes they are buying the image. Brands such as Levis and Nike are nowadays regarded as common and anything but is declared as cheap market rubbish.
I believe we could be enslaved to brands, but many of the "names" in the market owe their reputation to their quality. Brands such us Coca-Cola represent negative globalisation for some individuals, but sooner or later all countries will appreciate the advantages of a global economy.
Japan is the most incredibly brand conscious society in the world. People will pay over £400 for a handbag because it has a famous name on it. I look at items, see the price, and then judge if it's worth paying for. Sometimes it has a brand name I know, but more often than not, it doesn't. I don't feel less well-dressed than anyone else, I don't feel like I drive a worse car than anyone else, and I have put on 6kg since I arrived here, so I don't eat or drink worse than anyone else!
Of course we are slaves to brands. We tend to claim
that we are individuals, but in reality, we
wear what we're told, think as we're
told, and do as we're told. There is
a certain safety in sameness, and for this
we will sell ourselves to the large
coorporations that rule the world.
Given the choice between a plain blue T-shirt and a blue T-shirt with a Nike logo, I'll always choose the Nike because it gives me deep and profound satisfaction to help advertise the product of cigar-chomping, three piece suit fat cats who would dance a jig on my grave for a buck or a quid or a doubloon. And in the process, I look good damn good.
Jenny, Essex, England
Tim, Marlow, England
The "Brand Names" to that most influence societies, peoples and governments are the names such as Time Warner, BBC, CNN etc. They are products which not only shape who we are but what we look like as a society on the whole. Finding the real truth about the real world is all to often distorted by the brand names of the media. Believe it or not, the true dresser of the world wears an editorial badge not a label.
Chris Millbank, London, UK
Robert Gufler, USA
Christoph Haemmerli, Switzerland
To Steve Richardson: I wear mostly unbranded clothes (bar my Wrangler jeans I got for $15 on the basis they fit me better than the unbranded pair for $12). I really couldn't care less if my clothes mean I get turned away from The Fridge. I live in London and until today had never even heard of it. When I retire I'll have a decent pension, at least you'll have a collection of fine clothes you wore in your youth.
Multinationals now have their own "economies" worth much more than entire countries: WalMart is worth more than South Africa. Big branding does not equate to quality and choice. Big branding means free reign to impose. They are their own lawless dominance - unbound by national law.
Its freedom of choice. If you want to buy it buy it if you don't want to buy it don't. But whether you decide to buy exclusively "branded" goods or exclusively "non branded" goods or a mixture of all - its your choice and you have the right to make it!
We seem a bit less involved in labels here in rural England, I don't know anyone with Versace or Armani, and while Nike is common, if you buy your trainers from a catalogue it takes away a bit of the cudos, apparently.
When my daughter was in high school she was routinely snubbed and even harassed because I refused to buy her sneakers that cost $150.00 or Jeans that had the logo of some grossly overpriced brand name stamped on the pocket. At the time my husband worked in the oil industry in Houston and price was not the issue. I simply did not want my daughter to allow her entire physical being to depend upon magical thinking and the approval of others whose thinking was were driven by considerations of status that derived from outside themselves.
Will O'Malley, Manchester, UK
Back in the days of conscription 'National Service', most soldiers couldn't wait to get out of the enforced conformity of uniform; how ironic that many of their sons and grandsons crave group identity and acceptance through uniformity; how ridiculous that they pay a premium to advertise their lack of individuality.
Albert P'Rayan, Kigali, Rwanda
The strange thing is that poor people in bad neighbourhoods are the ones who buy the Nike and ck apparel the most
Personally, I have an ambivalent attitude towards
this debate. Some branded products, such as
Mercedes have a very justified brand association with
quality. The other branded world
inhabited by firms such as Nike
have a reputation for, being an 'it'
product? Not enough justification
to my mind to pay any premium
for their goods.
John R, Edinburgh
The price charged for brand name products in comparison to other prices is so ludicrous. I have four children, all of impressionable age and there is no way on this planet I could even consider buying brand name products. This unfortunately causes hang-ups for my eldest son who has just gone up to secondary school. He finds he is in a minority group where fashion is concerned. Where is this all leading to and why charge so much for something that is often of poor quality anyway?
RESIST! If your country has not already become completely consumed by the corporate moloch (as we have in the US), run as fast as you can! The price of this consumer feeding frenzy is a seemingly limitless expanse of strip malls, chain stores and fast food establishments. Trust me on this, there is nothing about this lifestyle worth importing.
Brands are good. They help define quality, and protect the consumer from poor quality upstart products, that have not stood the test of trial.
Christopher, New York City, USA
The weak minded, the peer-pressured, and the socially mobile are slaves to brands. The strong-minded are not.
In school from the mid 70s my friends and I would cut off the Lacoste gator turn it upside down and sew it back on. Strange this was our way to of thumbing our noses at the corporations but oddly enough if you didn't have Lacoste you weren't anybody. I find it strange in the protests against the WTO many of the protesters are sporting their upscale expensive "people friendly" clothes. Forty-five dollar T shirts stating their philosophies about corporations that pay employees only one to two dollars a day.
I really struggle to understand the issue here. If you don't agree with brand names then don't buy them!! I personally like to wear Nike trainers, they look good and last a damn site longer than "supermarket" trainers, but that's my choice. Surely if this "globalisation",(whatever it is?) was that important, more people would avoid buying branded goods and economics forces would kick in to change the policies of corporations.
If a brand is meant to signal quality, then it is placed discretely on the inside of the things we wear.
The quality of the garment or shoes will be obvious without a logo to signal that fact.
Where the label rests on your own clothing indicates your needs: quality (goods) versus status (symbols).
Yuli, Vienna, Austria
Unfortunately, brands are not only signifiers of particular products and lifestyles but of capitalism itself. In the enlightened public consciousness the two are entwined and inseparable. Therefore, there could be a compelling argument to suggest that the more powerful brands are complicit in the legitimisation of all the horrors and anti-democratic actions undertaken on behalf of Capitalist ideology. To equate Capitalism with Democracy is the height of folly and false consciousness.
Reading through the messages posted here, I see quite a common sentiment that there is something wrong with people who buy because of brand, that they have no will power, that they are gullible or just plain stupid. What a bunch of pompous, arrogant, conceited, self-righteous nobodies you all are. Are you motivated by jealousy because you can't afford branded goods, or do you just get off on feeling superior to us mere mortals? I buy branded goods because, by-and-large, I can trust the quality because I have experienced it before. If my last purchase from a particular manufacturer was satisfactory, there's a pretty good chance that it will be the same if I go back. I don't have time to shop around to find what is the best value, or to find the cheapest deal, because I have both a job and a life. So to all those who look down on the majority, I can only suggest that you get yourselves a job, and get yourselves a life.
Alex White, UK
Brand name or no brand name. What's happened to freedom of choice? The choice is yours. Why make a mountain out of a molehill!
First, think of what you want to buy. Then think of the minimum of capabilities the thing must have to do what you want it to do. Then buy the cheapest example you can find that has those qualities (this includes durability of course). Then have everybody surprised, when they see that not a single brand of household appliance in your house is present more than once. Have enough money left over for other things that you want to do, that you didn't spend on needless brand buying. Just my two cents :-)
Richard, Merseyside, UK
Brands are many things to many people. However, they usually stand for a quality and lifestyle that one can aspire to and desire. Buying a branded product is not simply about the physical object or service you get but much more about the emotional things that the brand stands for.
Brands offer a guarantee, a contract with the customer, to provide all the material and emotional qualities that the brand stands for. They are very powerful but if a brand breaks that bond, that contract, then it doesn't matter how good the product is, it will stay on the shelves, unsold.
I disagree with some of the other comments, the link between us and our brands is complex and valuable - used correctly - why shouldn't we aspire to a better life and feel good about what we buy?
It may seem like a shock to those who haven't really thought about the underlying problem to all this but 'big' brands only get to be big or global because they give people something they either need, or, more often these days, want. People make brands big and global through their preferences ... blame them if you don't like it, not a brand for offering them one choice among many, which turns out to be very popular.
Waheeda Lillevik, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
We need brand names and patents to recognise propriety items to recognise the product and associate whatever quality that item may have. Similar items with different brand names can vary greatly in price, though the higher price does not necessarily mean you have the superior product nor the one you like. Unfortunately, too many of us are gullible, purchasing certain brands just because a celebrity uses the product in question. Manufacturers of fashion sportswear deliberately target adolescents and the yuppie generation as for them being trendy is the be all and end all.
By 2010 those left alive will be running across a radioactive wasteland hotly pursued by Microsoft-designed robots plastered with Nike logos and firing scalding Starbucks coffee at the huddled, freezing survivors of humanity. Sooner or later the corporations will decide that humans are inefficient.
As a child my mother once had to choose between a Musto and a Helly Hansen lifejacket for me. I wanted the Musto because it looked cooler, but the Helly Hansen was appreciably cheaper. I was very upset by the final decision. Imagine my surprise when I found hundreds of youths proudly displaying their Helly Hansen gear around the streets of London, far from any stretch of water that might necessitate a highly expensive waterproof dingy sailing jacket. Mugs!
Steve, Bristol, UK
The worst part of all this obsession with "brand" is that it perpetuates sweatshop labour practices. Almost every major brand out there turns a blind eye to their sweatshops that make these sought after brands. Buying into brand obsession, thus creating demand, means the cycle of sweatshops never ends.
Those who doubt the perverseness of 'brands' should go to the Philippines and have a good look. This is where the Saturday family outings to McDonald's are the highpoints and this is a country in Asia where you find one of the most developed food culture.
Alex, London, UK
Most of the global brands that we have today are historical ones. Coca-Cola and Levi's have been around for a long time. For those wishing to establish a new brand it is vital that instead of just spending millions on advertising they try to identify what it is their brand stands for. That way new brands can establish themselves with a cynical and tired market by identification and not by drowning them with adverts.
No one can avoid brands, no matter how hard they try they will advertise the 'bring forth' of our culture. That is, to mirror our actual reality. Branding plays a minor role of this sort of superficial lifestyle. What is urgent is which brands are to be found in free trade zones which inflict damaging and unavoidable lifestyle to the general public.
As I sit here wearing my 7 year old pear of (unbranded) jeans, and a 5 year old plain blue jumper, I realise that the only brand worth going for is the big black 'F' of the Fairtrade organisation. They try to counteract the brand-related greed of the West by giving fair deals to the developing world, who couldn't care less about brands. Any food and clothing is good enough for them.
Steve Richardson, London, UK
It is globalisation that's "at fault", but not in the way these protestors put it. Globalisation threatens our sense of identity, so we cling on to anything that would give us a sense of identity, whether it be a product brand, an entertainment/celebrity brand, a religious brand, a nationalist/ethnic brand. It's part of reacting to being open to differences, corporate branding on the same spectrum of evilness as patriotism and religious factionalism. Until we learn to accept differences and compromise - each and everyone of us, not just one group or another - there is no real lasting solution to the branding addiction.
Andy, Oxford, UK
The BBC is a brand. All you people claiming they are not interested in brands came to this site because of that brand. There are dozens of other sites you could have gone to.
Brands guarantee an acceptable level of quality. You know what you are getting. Even if another unbranded product has the chance of being better, the brand gives you peace of mind. Something which a lot of people understandably are prepared to pay for.
Mark Hughes, London UK
Worldwide brands, like most things in this world have their bad side and their good. I'm sure there are many unethical business and social practices associated with these companies. But if you can tell me that these anti-capitalist protestors haven't been abroad at some time in their lives and found comfort in the taste or image of a Coke or McDonald's - then I think they need to live in the real world. Although in the Western world these brands are under heavy scrutiny, on a worldwide basis they are helping to push the message of capitalism and democracy in places untouchable by our politicians (thank God!).
I normally do not use this 'branded' BBC website. I prefer the more generic current affairs from www.valuenews.nobrand.co.uk. Must dash, I seem to have snagged my Versace shirt on my Calvin Klein jeans, whilst trying to inflate my supposedly self-inflating Nike trainers. Keep smiling ...
Brand names personify trust and similarity, both of which appeal to people. This is just the newest empire (and we seem to be very fond of them, considering we remember Alexander as 'the Great', rather than as 'the mass murderer').
If you're stupid enough to pay way over the odds for something you can get of equal quality much cheaper, you deserve all you get. Kids are getting beaten up for wearing the "wrong" brand name. Crazy world we live in.
Ironic really that the "fashion conscious" are prepared to pay over the odds to be a walking advertising hoarding.
I always assumed consumers were brainwashed by brands and the marketing of big brand products. However, on a recent visit to big brand heaven, Singapore, I noticed few locals were wearing Nike. A cabbie told me Nike weren't popular because the local perception (or misperception) was that child labour was used in their manufacture. It seems there is hope after all.
There is no power intrinsic to any brand or label other than what we give to it.
The fact that the McDonald's arches are more instantly recognisable across the globe than any other religious or political symbol, says less about the growth in importance of global corporations in our lives and more about the demise of traditional spheres of influence in our lifestyles in this narrow post political, post idealist age we inhabit.
Chantal, Brit, living in Australia
We are submissive, they keep us fighting each other to get ahead. Michael Jordan is worth billions and yet his biggest link to the inner city is the fact that kids get in shoot outs for $178 shoes, produced for $15.00.
It is the quality of the product behind the brand name you are paying for.
I'll not spend my dough on a product from an unknown company which has guarantee of survival. I work hard for my money and therefore I cannot afford to take chances with it. That's the bottom line.
Indranil Ghosh, San Francisco, CA, USA
Personally, I am indifferent to designer clothes brands such as Nike, Armani, etc. because I don't see that Nike is superior to generic brands, or Armani is superior to Marks and Spencer's. I can't tell if a suit is expensive or not! But show me a Mercedes, BMW or Ferrari against a Ford or Vauxhall, and my reply will be different ...
Let's be frank, you don't just buy the product.
You also buy after-sales service quality, and if a brand offers good after sales service, you stay with what you know is "fit for your purpose".
Harry Knapp, Munich, Germany
I buy what I like, I wear what I like, I eat what I like. It's that simple. If people don't buy 'branded' goods, good luck to them, just don't knock me (and millions of others) for buying what we want.
Check out this website everyone condoning branding: www.adbusters.org. And to Judith of England, wake up and smell the Nescafe darling. Pavlov had it made.
Some time there is a connection between quality and a certain brand. But I think there are a lot of people with a lack of identity or who are simply feeling socially excluded. By buying a certain brand they feel part of a group, or they are buying themselves a certain image. Companies nowadays don't only promote their article or product, but they try to attach a certain feeling to it.
Ant, Merseyside, England
Has anyone ever seen people who live on welfare on a rough estate with Tommy Hilfiger jackets & Versace jeans? Are these brands a symbol of a desire for quality items and to be seen as being a cut above the rest or proof of neither wealth nor imagination?
I'll admit I'm a brand junkie. I buy good brands that cost a lot for a few reasons. Wearing good clothes makes me feel good about myself as I think they look better therefore I look better. That's why I pay more for them. A small visible label is OK but don't buy stuff with the Logo blazoned all over it. You get what you pay for.
The simple answer is if you don't like Nike, McDonald's, Microsoft, etc products don't buy them. The way that capitalism works is that the companies whose products people want to buy will be successful, those which don't will fail. Those who hate multinationals are the same communists who would force people to buy what they thought was good for them and not what people wanted. Capitalism gives you choice - use it wisely.
Pete Morgan-Lucas, Wiltshire, UK
To me it is an issue of trust. Not only do I buy something for quality and therefore need to trust the makers, but I think I buy to gain aproval and therefore am more likely to trust a well-known and trusted brand to deliver my needs. If we were honest most of us are as shallow-minded as I am.
18 Oct 00 | UK
I shop, therefore I am
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