Branding Run Amok

Once upon a time, not that long ago, a logo was intentionally small, noticeable but understated, signifying membership in a privileged class.  Tennis great René Lacoste’s crocodile logo was once such a mark, eventually seen on polo shirts at every exclusive tennis club. 

What was once discreet has now become loud and odious, announcing the wearer like a human corporate billboard, little more than an emissary for a brand. 

A $5,350 Balenciaga logo-print sequin high-neck dress is a blatant illustration of the trend, 

But as they say, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Now branding has infiltrated journalism.

A Nov. 24, 2022 New York Times story by Cara Schacter about Evan Mock, described as a “Gossip Girl star” and “party-circuit fixture,” illustrates the trend.

  Evan Mock     Source: New York Times

 A single paragraph managed to highlight six brands, singer-songwriter Frank Ocean and Celebrity Stylist Donté McGuine:

“A king of the “collab,” he has worked with brands including the Danish jewelry manufacturer Pandora and the Italian footwear designer Giuseppe Zanotti. He has modeled for designers including Paco Rabanne and Virgil Abloh. His skateboarding prowess has landed him a hefty sponsorship from Hurley and an elusive spot on the Instagram grid of Frank Ocean. A few months ago, he started a fashion line, Wahine, with the stylist Donté McGuine.”

The 1,815-word story went on to reference Mock’s order at “Madhufalla Organic Juice and Smoothie Bar on Mulberry Street”, a swig of coconut water he took from “a Tetra Pak”, his “North Face x Paraboot shoes” that are unavailable on “streetwear website Hypebeast”, the “Louis Vuitton purse” on the kitchen counter of his apartment , the “Rimowa suitcase “ in his livingroom, the “Rimowa cross-body messenger bag” he dons when skateboarding through Manhattan, what looked like a ”McDonald’s Happy Meal box” that turned out to be “a box of Cactus Plant Flea Market x McDonald’s collectibles from the streetwear label’s limited-run release” you can find on “eBay”, the mileage Mock has put on his “VanMoof e-bike”, the “vintage dark gray Number Nine T-shirt” “boxy Wahine zip-up hoodie”  “dark-wash Palace jeans” “Ambush edition Nike Air Adjust Force sneakers”, “Palace hat “and “Isabel Marant sunglasses” he put on.

Near an “REI store” he passed by a “Calvin Klein billboard”, watched a skateboarder wipe out in front of the bistro “Jack’s Wife Freda”, rode with a friend on “Citi Bikes”, pulled over to hug his brand-deal agent, Jenelle Phillip, who was outdoor-dining at “Cafe Mogador” and eventually reached the “Ace Bar on East Fifth Street”.

There’s no question we have entered an age of incessant brand promotion and awareness.

“In a marketing culture that assaults our senses without mercy, there’s no such a thing as a brand-free interaction,” writes Micah Bowers. “We’re bobbing in the waters of an endless brand ocean.”

All this reminds me of advice a public relations professional gave me when I took a job as Communications Manager at a major technology company. “Whenever you watch a TV news segment, ask yourself how that story got there. Most of the time a talented PR professional pitched it,” he said.

The fact is, as documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock has noted, “From the minute you wake up, wherever you go, someone is marketing to you.” The intrusion of brands into our everyday lives is so pervasive we are hardly aware of what’s going on.

Fast Company outlined how content businesses accept all kinds of marketing deals to ensure products reach us. “Novelists make deals for product placement (also known as “embedded marketing) within their hallowed pages,” the publication said. Rock stars routinely license songs for commercials and create tunes commissioned by brands. And while product placement has been a fact of life in Hollywood since the era of silent films, it’s now a major revenue generator for movies…”

The most popular and thrilling car chase in cinema history was a nine-minute, 42-second thrill ride through San Francisco by Steve McQueen in Bullitt. It was also a prime marketing tool paid for by Ford for its Mustang.

And then, of course, there was the brilliant placement of Reese’s Pieces in E.T., used by Elliott in the film to lure the alien out of hiding. Hershey’s saw a 65% spike in their sales within two weeks of the film’s release.

From an Oregon perspective, Forrest Gump was a prominent promoter of Nike when he was gifted a pair of Nike Cortez running shoes and a close-up of him lacing them up followed.

Product marketing has become so invasive it is overwhelming us, and it’s just going to get worse.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.





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