Friday, March 04, 2005

J.T. Gatewood: On Naomi Klein's "Tyranny of Brands"

J.T. Gatewood took the time to give a lengthy response to an earlier posting of Naomi Klein's Tyranny of the Brands, so I'm posting it here so that he can get some feedback (as I am busy doing dissertation writing and preparing for the CCCC's conference in San Francisco). Thanks J.T.

I read the article and would like to give my view on a few points that the author brings up by talking about Nike. Michael Jordan is a label, but he is still an athlete. The way his name is used to market products has changed, but if he wasn’t able to do what he did, then we would never know about Michael Jordan. Instead of Nike commercials featuring highlights of Mike on the basketball court, they now talk about what he stood for in the culture of the NBA. He represents an ideal of perfection or striving to be the best. The philosophy is sound, but the goal is very unlikely. The ideal of perfection is unattainable, but the idea of trying to be good or great at something is reasonable and positive. The marketing behind Mike would be valid if it was set to an attainable standard. Do impressionable youth think that they can be Michael Jordan? If they do, then they are mistaken. They can strive to be great, but the corporate branded ideal of perfection as a standard is detrimental to an individual’s concept of reality. I have never heard of a Michael Jordan superstore. I think the writer is merging the brand of Mike with the brand and products of Nike. Michael has had celebrities endorsing him and his represented products ever since he started playing in the NBA. This is not a new concept in Nike marketing. Spike Lee was the first back in the 80’s when he came up with the Mars Blackmon character and the “it must be the shoes” campaign. In this incident, the exposure of both individuals had a positive reciprocal effect. Jordan put Spike Lee on the scene, and Spike helped to drive the popularity of Mike and his shoes. This type of advertising has been a staple for Nike. Do you remember the “Bo Knows” ads of the 80’s? These commercials featured professional athletes from every major American professional sport and even musicians such as Bo Diddly. Nike featured many different individuals in these commercials, thus appealing to a wider range of an audience, thus selling more shoes. The message behind the campaign is not as impractical as the one in the new Jordan ads, but I get the impression that Nike was saying that these shoes will allow you to be like Bo Jackson, who was a phenomenal two sport athlete. This once again is a fallacy and an unattainable ideal.
I found it very interesting how the author talks about how corporations take but do not give back. As a consumer, I would prefer to spend my money on something that will boost American employment. It doesn’t seem ethical to sell something at a 400% markup, when only a small percentage of the revenue generated from that sale goes to the laborer, and practically none of it is put into the American labor market. What I am trying to say is that Americans don’t benefit from buying products such as Nike shoes because we are not paid to make them. Nike is taking money from consumers who largely make up the American working force, but give nothing back to this group in the form of employment and wages. How do you think Nike can afford to pay Lebron James $100 million for endorsing their shoes? No wonder basketball shoes cost upwards of $200 a pair. Corporate Nike and the athletes they pay to endorse make a fortune, but the average consumer that buys the product is putting his money in the pockets of the wealthy. The little man takes it on both ends. He is overcharged for something that has no monetary wage benefit to the economy in which he or she functions. Very little of the money spent on Nike products goes back into the American economy. As for marketing to and the branding of children, the need for fancy tennis shoes is typically a priority of youth. Parents will pay this money in order to make their children happy because that is what’s important to them. The visuals and the individuals in the ads are designed to appeal to children, and I am sure the nag factor also affects a parent’s decision to buy their child these shoes. Nike gets them hooked early by affiliating their products with sports role models. The main hobby of the vast majority of boys in this country is watching and playing sports. I myself was infatuated with Nike shoes as a youngster. Nike preys upon this fact and it works. As an ending statement, I would like to say that as we continue to move towards a more global economy and see the role of American labor as increasingly service oriented, I am sure that America will continue to see an increase in consumer dissatisfaction with this culture and continued protests.

J.T. Gatewood

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