Wednesday, 5 September 2007


I read an article on BBC News a few days ago which struck me as quite curious. It was by a guy who had decided to spend a whole year living "brand free." In the first instance this was due to growing debts and so on, and the fact that he was suffering from some kind of compulsive behaviour. To try and put his finances back in the black and break the cycle of addiction he burned his clothes and started buying his food away from the high streets.

Naively it almost sounds like a plan, you know? Forced away from the big chain supermarkets you support local businesses, which I think could be a good thing. But when it comes to most other products and services... I'm not a brandoholic, and I'm very cynical about things like fashion in general (really, who decides what's in and what's out? How does that work?), but something doesn't ring true with his statements about buying his clothes from second hand stores. Surely at some point those clothes must have been made by someone, or did he only buy small business/tailormade second hand clothes?

How do we define brands anyway? As I recall from No Logo (it's a while since I read it - didn't noisms reference this recently too?) they're things that try to fill some niche in your lifestyle (we shop at Tesco rather than ASDA, I buy Sony rather than Microsoft). Boorman says that he had to give up TV and DVDs because of his "no brands" rules - but what about news? Surely even my decision to get my news from the BBC rather than Sky or Reuters is due to brand influence?

What about his computer? Even if his computer was bought from a small business and ran on open source software the components used in its construction reflect some aspect of the impact of branding. I accept that he could just say, "Oh I don't care what make it is," but there is a choice to be made there even if he said, "Just give me the cheapest thing that'll work." And his book deal, doesn't his choice of publisher have something to do with knowing who that publisher will appeal to?

Is trying to live "brand free" a brand in its own way?

Maybe I'm being too hard on him and his idea, there just seem to be some disparities about what he takes to be a brand and what I take to be a brand. I think that caring less about brands is a good thing, and I agree with him wholeheartedly on one of the final points in his article:

"By placing less status and emotional value on the things that we buy, we free ourselves from mindless consumption, allowing us more time and money for things which we know, deep down, give us greater contentment."

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