Alternative Law Journal
by Naomi Klein; Flamingo 2001; $2 1.95 softcover.
'It's not true', replied Naomi via the website <www.nologo.org>, 'No Logo is not a registered trademark, that ® beside the title was just a joke'. We can all utter a collective sigh of relief-it would be preposterous if the champion of freedom for public space, words, ideas and images had herself succumbed to the wiliness of the corporate owners of Flamingo, the publishers of her book, and formally registered ownership to the title No Logo!
No, Klein remains free from corporate chains and machinations ... it appears. It is gratifying to learn that although she may have had a great deal of publicity surrounding the release of her book and a series of international speaking tours since 2001, she is not engaged in a campaign against the world of marketing per se. Klein explains this early on, stating that No Logo® is not 'meant to be read as a literal slogan (as in No More Logos!)' (p.xviii). Nonetheless, the success of her anti-corporate treatise (largely I suspect through effective marketing efforts) must make both Klein and her publishers feel smug.
Putting this to one side though, Klein's No Logo® is an interesting historical account of the practices of various of today's corporations.
What No Logo@ sets out to do is to document a rising discontentment with the practices of corporations: multinationals or transnationals in reality. Klein says that she has observed a surge in anti-corporate attitudes among young activists since about the mid-1990s and this is what she chronicles. She goes further and says she believes this 'outrage will fuel the next big political movement, a vast wave of opposition squarely targeting transnational corporations, particularly those with very high brand name recognition' (p.xviii). Maybe the demonstrations in 2001 at world trade summits both here in Australia and abroad are proof of her conviction.
However, Klein's account though obviously well researched and engagingly told, did not strike me as telling us anything particularly new about the profit-driven strategies of corporations to gain market share and reduce expenditure on such things as wages and infrastructure. While Klein gave a grip ping account of her visit to factory workers in the Philippines, and their appalling working conditions, this is not news. Nike's employment prac tices, for instance, were exposed some time in the past and sadly we discovered theirs was a common prac tice among companies, especially in the clothing and footwear industries. Nei ther is Klein's documentation about the rise in casual and temporary work throughout the industrialised world, especially in lower paid service sector positions, news.
Nonetheless, there were some revelations for me.
For instance, Starbucks, a well established US coffee and tea shop chain, 'where sophisticated people can share "coffee ... community ... camaraderie ... connection"' allegedly engaged in an aggressive market expansion campaign described as clustering to establish its market share in territory after territory in the US and Canada (p.135). Clustering involved the opening of multiple Starbucks out lets in an area to drive up total sales and long-term brand recognition, even when individual Starbucks stores in the same area may suffer in the short term.
The downside of clustering is that independent coffee shops face extreme market competition and alone may not be able to remain financially viable against a big brand name that relies on economies of scale. Klein asserts that this practice, as well as the effect of mergers between large conglomerates, creates unique conditions for today's consumers: 'a sea of product coupled with losses in real choice: the signature of our branded age' (p 159).
Having recently visited New York City I can attest to the great number of Starbucks outlets scattered throughout New York suburbs: perhaps I was consciously noticing them. That said, I also observed a great many delis, restaurants and other outlets where hot drinks can be bought and consumed. What does this mean? Klein unfortunately chooses either not to address this issue or did not make this observation else where in Canada and the USA in her four years of research.
It is at this point that I became dissatisfied as a reader with NoLogo®. Why? Well, because Klein does not provide critical analysis or debate her own observations. She does not seek to balance her evidence and then provide a strong argument for why her 'take' is the reality. Instead, the book simply becomes a litany of facts. As mentioned there are revelations and new observations but for me that was not enough.
Klein also gives scant recognition to the power of the consumer to exercise discretion and choice, in fact the basics of the psychology of consumer behaviour. Even if we assumed that consumers are not capable of exercising any choice, are intrinsically led by their noses and fundamentally stupid, there remains the body of research which shows that consumers tend to tune out or ignore marketing messages in any event. Certainly we all recognise brands such as Coca Cola, Pepsi, NIKE, The Body Shop etc but it does not mean we choose them. I have to wonder whether Klein ever spoke to ordinary consumers about their atti tudes to some of the corporations she chose to focus on in her book.
I admit that Klein is correct when she points out that public spaces that were once advertising-free are now often crowded out with promotional messages of all kinds; that even artistic and sporting endeavours have been co-opted by corporations for their publicity purposes.
One possible question that follows is whether to regulate this corporate behaviour and if so how.
This is where I found No Logo® was not all I had expected. It disappointed me because it was simply a chronicle of events; it offered no real charter for change.
It is written by a talented, investigative journalist but it is not a guidebook for those who may be interested or committed to change within the corporate environment. It does not engage with the possibility that the 'triple bottom line' now being implemented by some corporations can be a positive real outcome. It was interesting to learn that NIKE has a Vice President for Corporate Responsibility, for instance, but there was no further comment provided by Klein.
Even if, as Klein implies, 'the triple bottom line' is just another tool for corporations to build positive public images and codes of conduct written by corporations mean nothing if not enforced, I suspect that these faltering steps must be encouraged. Suspicion will derail these opportunities for positive improvement and change.
Apparently younger people, in particular, on reading No Logo® have become politically active. This is definitely a good thing: to take an active stance on things you believe in. A more comprehensive, critical and balanced analysis may be a better starting point however.
MARIE LOUISE SYMONS
Marie Louise Symons is a Sydney lawyer and consultant.