No Logo in Latin America

One of the most talked about books within the advertising/marketing sector is No Logo by Naomi Klein.  The threat posed by this book is not the denial of the effectiveness of advertising to define brand identity or accumulate brand equity.  Quite on the contrary, the author recognized the pervasiveness and influence of brand advertising in today's world.  In her own words, "The title No Logo is not meant to be read as a literal slogan (as in No More Logos!), or a post-logo logo (there is already a No Logo clothing line, or so I'm told).  Rather, it is an attempt to capture an anticorporate attitude I see emerging among many young activists.  This book is hinged on a simple hypothesis: that as more people discover the brand-name secrets of the global logo web, their outrage will fuel the next big political movement, a vast wave of opposition squarely targeting transnational corporations, particularly those with very high name-brand recognition."

In the January 2002 issue of the British magazine Admap, Paul Marsden wrote: 

"The heart of the no logo trend (the subject of Klein's vitriolic attack) is that consumers are now marketing literate.  The result is that consumers are becoming increasingly brand immune and, in some cases, developing brand allergies.  Marketing literacy means that consumers have become skeptical of the marketing medicine for meaninglessness and the post-modern malaise: 'I buy, therefore I am', and 'To buy is to be perceived' no longer wash with the brand-savvy buyer.  

Instead, it is the marketing medicine that is being increasing diagnosed as the disease: brands are seen as mental pollutants; brand managers as brand pimps pushing their psycho-effluent of hype, spin and lies to the last of the brand whores, attempting to sucker them with their message, 'I have something to ease your pain.' ...

In this new hostile environment of marketing-literate consumerism, brands can become negative baggage as they are undermined by the very values they own in the mind of the consumers.  CK means heroin chic; McDonald's - deforestation and McJobs; Shell - pollution; Nike - sweatshops; Barbie - child labour; Adidas - All Day I Dream About Suicide; Baby Gap - baby billboards; Disney - 13 cents/hr salary; Starbucks - brand bombing category killer; KL Gifford, exploitation."

We will now exhibit some data from the TGI Latina study.  This is a survey of 48,885 persons 12 years or older in eight Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Venezuela) conducted in 2001.  In the process of the survey process, the respondents were shown the statement "Advertising generally gives an accurate image of well-known brands."  According to the study, 13.7% of Latin Americans said that they 'completely agreed' with this statement.

In the next chart, we show the breakdown of the responses separately by age and gender groups.  For both sexes, the teenagers (12-19 years old) show a higher than average agree rate, but then the rates fall of with the next age group before building up.  We are perhaps accustomed to think that children and teenagers are most susceptible to advertising persuasion, and perhaps rightly so.  For that reason, there are many forms of rules and regulations for advertising to children (for example, the issue of tobacco advertising directed at children).  But these data would suggest that attitudes towards advertising change significantly upon attainment adulthood.

Unfortunately, our data corresponds to a snapshot in one moment of time.  Without a time series, we cannot distinguish between two hypotheses: (1) the stationary model in which adults grow to accept the accuracy of advertising as they gain more experience; or (2) the non-stationary model in which modern young people have become much more cynical about advertising than their elders.

In the next chart, we show the breakdown of the responses by socio-economic level and attained educational level.  For both variables, we have responses that decrease monotonically.  Affluent, better educated people are less likely to agree with the statement.  This is not good news for brand managers, since the responses decrease with purchasing power.

Although the no logo trend is presently most observable in the First World, the message may be more readily received elsewhere.  The targets of no logo firebrands include those transnational corporations who have outsourced their production to third world countries, directly or indirectly through third-parties.  The production workers toil under appalling conditions for extremely low wages, and these facts are obviously well-known locally.  Naomi Klein quotes from a letter from Charles Kernaghan of the National Labor Committee to Michael Eisner of Disney, in which the following situation was described:

Prior to leaving for Haiti, I went to a Wal-Mart store on Long Island and purchased several Disney garments which had been made in Haiti.  I showed these to the crowd of workers, who immediately recognized the clothing they had made ... I held up a size four Pocahontas T-shirt.  I showed them the Wal-Mart price tag indicating $10.97.  But it was only when I translated the $10.97 into the local currency - 172.6 gourdes - that, all at once, in unison, the workers screamed with shock, disbelief, anger, and a mixture of pain and sadness as their eyes remained fixed on the Pocahontas shirt ... In a single day, they worked on hundreds of Disney shirts.  Yet the sales price of just one shirt in the U.S. amounted to nearly five days of their wages!

In February 2002, an Indonesian labor organizer Dita Sari was awarded the Reebok Human Rights Award.  She declined the award with this letter:

In Indonesia, there are five Reebok companies. 80% of the workers are women. All companies are sub-contracted, often by the South Korean companies such as Dung Jo and Tong Yang. Since the workers can only get around $1.5 a day, they then have to live in a slum area, surrounded by poor and unhealthy conditions, especially for their children. At the same time, Reebok collected millions of dollars of profit every year, directly contributed by these workers. The low pay and exploitation of the workers of Indonesia, Mexico and Vietnam are the main reasons why we will not accept this award.

This is an example in which a major branding effort (with celebrities such as Desmond Tutu, Robert Redford, Carly Simon, Sting) by a well-known brand simply blew up in its face, all the more so because the brand sponsorship has been widely publicised.  While it may be decent of Reebok to highlight human rights issues around the world, that does not change the fact that third world workers are being paid a pittance by Reebok and its sub-contractors to make a highly profitable product (note: the labor cost of a $70 pair of sneakers made in China, Vietnam or Indonesia is $1 or less).

(posted by Roland Soong, 2/2/2002)

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