Rob Walker, who writes the "Consumed" column in the New York Times Magazine every weekend (a sweet "job"), has a new book out in which he draws the sad—but unavoidable—conclusion that we are all a bunch of sheep blindly obeying a world of marketing messages. You think you're able to use your education, morality, and philosophical beliefs to rise above advertising? Ha! That's what all the sheep think. Walker's not a gung-ho Corporate America kind of guy, which makes his thesis that much more depressing. But it's hard to argue with him. Go drown your sorrows in PBR like the hipster that you are. Your chosen brands make up your very soul:
Pabst Blue Ribbon co-opts Naomi Klein and plays on hipsters' idea of independence from the machine:
PBR was more sure-footed: The brewer carefully cultivated its image among the indie crowd by taking great care not to cultivate its image: no ads on local radio, no celebrity endorsements (despite nibbles from Kid Rock) and certainly no TV. PBR's divisional marketing manager, cribbing tactics from Naomi Klein's anti-corporate manifesto, "No Logo" (full of "many good marketing ideas," he told Walker!), worked to make PBR "always look and act the underdog." He was so successful at retaining the brand's cachet (or anti-cachet) that one 28-year-old Oregonian whom Walker interviewed had a foot-square Pabst logo tattooed onto his back. "Pabst is part of my subculture," the kid told the writer, pointing to the absence of Pabst advertising as evidence that "they're not insulting you."
Red Bull spends millions on extreme sports events, but conceals it to retain its cachet:
"The perception that these events don't cost much to produce is good for us," a Red Bull executive told Walker. "We don't want to be seen as having lots of money to spend." Walker attended a kite-boarding exhibition in Miami (enthusiasts of this new, wind-boarding-like sport were aiming to ride from Key West to Cuba) and found that it looked (very intentionally) like a nonevent: no press releases, no onlookers, no news crews, no free samples. (A videotaped press release about the stunt did get picked up on by 40 local TV stations after the fact.)
There is no escaping the system. Stop fooling yourself:
Another young brand-maker he interviewed, the founder of an outfit called Barking Irons, which sells products vaguely connected to the "forgotten" history of New York City, considers his enterprise "a revolution against branding" — by which he means not the rejection of commercial expression but "the elevation of commercial expression." Instead of big-time corporate logos with nothing to say, he offers boutique designs with a message.