Revolution is just a t-shirt away

Doesn’t the marketing of No Logo undercut the book’ anti-consumption point?

Marketing Magazine, February 21, 2000   

It’s not enough just to write a book to make a point these days.


Once it’s written, you have to sell it. And to do that, you need a hook. This season, that gimmick is being painfully earnest...and unwittingly hypocritical.


First out of the gate, there was a rash of books advocating young women cast aside the feminist achievements of their forebears — forget sexual autonomy, forget workplace equality; instead, turn yourself into some unholy mix of Helen Gurley Brown, a Jacqueline Susann heroine and June Cleaver. Canada’s own Danielle Crittenden led the pack. Crittenden said women should be stay-at-home moms — unless they happened to be named Danielle Crittenden.


Then there was Jed Purdy, the 24-year-old Savonarola whose For Common Things was marketed as a clarion call to all the disaffected, irony-impaired wisenheimers who can only mock the continuing crisis. We were all supposed to forget about 50 years of cynical politics and a succession of cheap shucks to return to a simpler, better time. Jed wasn’t really clear on how widespread credulousness would make things better. We were just supposed to trust him that it would. Next thing you know, old Jed’s a millionaire.


Push aside Crittenden’s carping and Jed’s jeremiad to make room for Naomi Klein’s No Logo (Alfred. A. Knopf Canada, $35.95).


Klein’s spent the last five years as a spokesperson for her generation — she’s 29 — in a Toronto Star column. Simultaneously, she’s been straw boss of the anarcho-syndicalist collective that brings you the leftist curio This Magazine. In her book, Klein castigates cool-hunters and research wizards who explain youngsters to corporations and marketers eager to sell them stuff; she says that’s bad. But apparently it’s good if the person doing the explaining is Naomi Klein and the audience is suburban newspaper readers or people who buy her book. Being so hip and with-it and cutting edge and all, Klein knows a trend when she sees one. And this Humorless Earnestness is something she’s almost been bred for. Like Purdy, Klein was reared by disaffected hippie types. Like Purdy, she is dismayed by her contemporaries. And like Purdy, she knows how to fix what ails us. We can start by feeling guilty for consuming.


No Logo is 445 closely printed pages of thumb-sucking about the global economy that’s spread across the planet in the wake of Marxism’s collapse, larded liberally with charts, graphs and visual aids to give its airy adolescent contentions the weight of truth. Klein wants us all to take up arms and resist being identified as target markets by the big corporations she labels “brand bullies.”


Like anything else, Klein’s book is a product before it’s anything else, and it’s being branded, hyped and marketed for all it’s worth. Knopf paid a healthy advance for No Logo. It wants to earn that advance back and turn a profit. Like any product, Klein’s musings have been packaged for easy consumption. And Klein’s been on the front line of the marketing blitz for the book, making the requisite rounds of media outlets and shilling furiously on her volume’s behalf. Somehow, that’s not a sin when Naomi does it, even though it’s bad when done by Starbucks or The Gap. Even though Klein says buying Gap pants or Starbucks coffee makes you, concerned consumer, guilty by association, it would seem buying No Logo earns you some kind of indulgence that obviates your previous sins of consumption. Klein takes great pains to detail the degradation of Third World workers exploited by transnational corporations. But her exploiting their misery as a means of juicing up her book is, apparently, just fine.


Klein rails against copyright laws stifling creativity and cultural foment. But she hasn’t offered the content of her book for free on the Web. Instead, she’s got it prominently displayed on big chain book retailer Indigo’s Web site, with a helpful hyperlink to Bronwyn Drainie’s glowing review. (Drainie’s fulsome praise appeared as journalism in the Globe and Mail’s book review and as advertising copy on Indigo’s Web site — Klein’s not the only person who can suck and blow at the same time.)


So how are we supposed to wrest any shred of autonomy from the marketers who’ve colonized our every waking moment? Defacing advertising and having “reclaim the streets” gatherings — part party, part riot — ought to do it, says Klein. Consumption is the problem, but Klein doesn’t advocate not consuming. That’s the province of Adbusters, which she doesn’t like because it commits the same kinds of marketing sins it’s supposed to be battling. Again, here’s something that’s bad when anybody else does it, but okay for Naomi.


If you’re still wondering how you can break the cycle of slick marketing and mindless consumption, remember that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a blister. Instead of buying No Logo, why not borrow it from your local library?