In a real David vs Goliath trade mark dispute, McDonald's BIG MAC registration has been cancelled.
I recently attended The Sustainable Angle’s Future Fabrics Expo in London to explore sustainable materials for the fashion and textile industry and hear from big names like Stella McCartney. It struck me that, with the focus on sustainable fashion and circularity, the idea that a brand represents a profit-only motivated corporation in a race to the bottom for faster, cheaper fashion is now outmoded.
It has been twenty years since Naomi Klein wrote her controversial book ‘No Logo’, in which she highlighted the negative effects of brand-orientated corporate activity. Justifiably, she was highly critical of the use of sweatshops and corporate censorship — such activities which lead to market domination by big brands, restricting consumer choice.
Klein’s ultimate concern was that brand names themselves had become more important than the actual products they were promoting (and their methods of manufacture). It’s difficult to argue against this sentiment, however — the brand itself isn’t necessarily to blame.
Recently, the wheels of the ‘no logo’ bandwagon have been set rolling again by the popularity of newer market entrants such as The Ordinary, which sells products by their descriptive ingredient names, and Beauty Pie, which sells products direct from the factory. Beauty Pie’s premise is that all cosmetic products are made from essentially the same ingredients, so branding and marketing serve only to add to the consumer’s end cost. This concept has been extended further by Brandless, the online retailer selling unbranded home, health and beauty products. Co-founder and CEO Tina Sharkey said of the Brandless brand strategy, “we turn 'brandless' into an attribute, where every product speaks for itself".
Two years after the first publication of ‘No Logo’, The Economist published a special report entitled “Pro Logo — The Case For Brands”. The report pointed out that the original function of a brand was for consumer protection — branding signifies the reliability and quality of a product, enabling consumers to identify origin and allow for repeat purchases. These principles underline current trade mark law and practice in most countries. Brands are used to build and retain trust and loyalty and “define who we are and signal our affiliations” (W.Olins, The Brand Handbook, 2009).
Crucially, and contradictory to Ms Klein’s position, brands are also used by consumers to hold brand owners to account for their business practices and entire supply chain — and nowhere is this clearer than in the world of fashion.
Recent examples such as Burberry’s questionable approach to disposing of excess stock and the dubious origins of the Spice Girls’ Comic Relief T-shirt have demonstrated the importance of identifying brands. While ‘brandless’ and ‘no logo’ make nice soundbites and attractive marketing propositions, companies rely on consumers making repeat purchases. In order to achieve this, they must offer something for consumers to refer to. My point is that, even if the products themselves are unbranded, the companies which sell produce them most definitely are not. Even Klein herself registered ‘No Logo’ as a trade mark — so she clearly recognised its value!
So I think my main takeaway from the admirable approaches to sustainability on show at the Future Fabrics Expo is this — when used in the right way, and with the right intentions behind them, brands are truly far more suited to be a force for good, than responsible for evil.
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