Transcendence through sports. The romance of community. Finally — a political outsider. Stumped how these all tie together? They’re all key components to today’s largest multinational icons’ success, all subscribers to the “basic tenets of brand management.” They’re Nike, Starbucks and the U.S.’s 45th president, Donald Trump.
These brands are selling ideas, not products. And, as Naomi Klein, author of No Logo, The Shock Doctrine and No is Not Enough, posits, these entities only have their emotional (oftentimes hollow) idea to sell — yet they are still some of the largest influencers in popular culture. So, while some of us will happily throw on a pair of Cortez’s but would never think of backing Trump, how do we discern which brands deserve our loyalty? And in politics, how can we turn down the internal vitriol and have compassion for those on the opposite side of the aisle?
WHAT DO YOU EXPECT OUT OF A COMMUNITY?
Klein asserts that the moral failings of most big box corporations, and empty US administrations, are that of no space, no choice and no jobs. Unfortunately, the more space and security is squeezed from us, the more we find ourselves moving towards brand consumption. Our identity shifts from our actual community — and life — to the community of brand identity. This is why we consume.
Scott Bedbury, former Nike Worldwide Advertising Director explains, “Nike, for example, is leveraging the deep emotional connection that people have with sports and fitness. With Starbucks, we see how coffee has woven itself into the fabric of people’s lives, and that’s our opportunity for emotional leverage. A great brand raises the bar — it adds a greater sense of purpose to the experience, whether it’s the challenge to do your best in sports and fitness or the affirmation that the cup of coffee you’re drinking really matters.”
While that’s all good and just, if the brand is our community, shouldn’t it actually support us? Klein argues that with the lack of competitively paying jobs with benefits in these major corporations, and no space to succeed in the capital market outside major corporations, this loyalty is mostly undeserved.
Today’s brands are more nuanced, though. Since the publication of No Logo, brand responsibility has evolved, leading consumers to a choose-your-own adventure system when opting which brand to identify with. This is the thought process behind most slacktivism: “Well, I’ll choose X over Z because it’s not quite as bad.”
It’s common to interpret slacktivism as a pejorative term, but this trend is simply a dialectic of human consumption: the fact that items will be consumed, but the hope that slacktivist efforts will lead to a positive turning point.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR TRUMP
Unfortunately, Trump’s brand is not nuanced. His brand — although clearly not honest if examined under travel costs alone — still spoke to the anti-globalism movement that many blue-collar workers align with. “Trump is not a rupture at all, but rather the culmination — the logical endpoint — of a great many dangerous stories our culture has been telling for a very long time,” Klein says.
In her book, No is Not Enough she states: “If Sanders had run against Trump…he might well have peeled away some of the white and Latino workers who ended up voting Republican in 2016. But Sanders didn’t run against Trump — Hillary Clinton did. And with her long history of both backing and personally negotiating precisely these [globalist] sort of deals, she had no credibility when she criticized them on the campaign trail. Whenever she tried, it became one more opportunity to paint her as a typical shifty politician.”
If viewed as a vulnerable base, it’s a bit easier to stomach Trump supporters; they could very well see his offensive speech as simply an extension of his brand, a community they can finally align with. And perhaps, a community with much uglier shoes.