Branding and Culture Jamming

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We are surrounded every day by big brands, corporations and media on all sides. In fact, it would be hard to avoid being told that you need the latest pair of diesel jeans, ipod nano or Gucci perfume. Of course, we need the jeans or we won’t look good, the ipod to be cool, and the perfume to be classy, don’t we? This is what the adverts tell us and is why promoting your brand of product is so important. They need to show us, the consumer, something that we aspire to be, to have or to be associated with. This is what branding is, making your product different from the rest of them, giving it an identity.

This is very important from the company’s point of view. I mean, we buy things to make ourselves feel good and to present an image or a ‘brand’ of ourselves to the world. If we see an advert showing someone who seems confident and attractive, then we are told that to achieve this image they buy a particular type of clothing of course subconsciously we will want to be associated with that. A brand such as Dior has created a brand image of luxurious expensive products that are fashionable but classic. The name Dior sounds French and classy. In this advert for a Dior perfume, the model is swimming in molten gold, straight away showing opulence.

The entire advert is in shades of gold apart from the brand name and product name which subtly stand out from the rest of the advert in white simple font so they still appear to blend in with the light background and don’t look too overstated, suggesting subtle glamour. Even her skin appears gold and this again shows the exclusivity and opulence of the brand. All we can see of her clothes is the top of a simple gold dress, showing the model’s thin figure and obviously that she is a very glamorous person.

She looks tall and slim with striking features, which is how a lot of women would like to appear. Her face is made up but not too much, and her hair appears slightly unkempt, giving the opposite message in a way to the rest of the advert. I think this is in a way to appear that she doesn’t try too hard but is just naturally sophisticated, and also to give her a more modern look. This has succeeded in appearing like a gateway in to a fabulous world and the advert would appeal to a lot of women as who doesn’t want to be beautiful and glamorous?

This is all well and good, but underneath the glamorous exterior of the designer brands are the people who do the real work: third world workers who often work 12 hour days and are typically paid pitiful wages. In our class survey, an astonishing percentage of our own branded items were made in the third world, especially China where human rights are notoriously poor. The Pacific island of Saipan produces clothes for Gap, Ralph Lauren and Tommy Finger, that are sold under a ‘Made in America’ label. Tommy Finger shirts that retail in the UK for �40 have a factory gate price of �3. Young girls from the Chinese mainland are tricked into working on Saipan.

They end up as bonded labourers, working a 14-hour day, 6-7 days a week, in cramped, hot, unsafe working conditions, living in vermin-infested barracks, lacking adequate supplies of clean, running water for washing or drinking. Most of their pittance of a wage goes to the people who recruited them as ‘recruitment fees’. And in Bangladesh, workers will get sacked and probably beaten up for joining a union. Many people object to this, saying it takes employment away from British workers and exploits people who have no other choice. But as people keep buying, money keeps pouring in and the companies have no reason to respect their workers’ rights. The only way this would happen is if there was a national boycott of all companies using sweat shops and the like. But how likely is that?

Culture jamming is a new form of media which is actually against conventional media. It is when you take a popular advert, or image and alter it slightly, or create your own so it still superficially appears similar but actually gives a completely different message. This example, a culture jam opposing big brand Nike, looks from afar like a typical Nike advert. It features Nike colours like orange, white and black with the Nike logo and ‘swoosh’. Also, the words ‘its so cool to wear Nike’ are most prominent on the page. But when you read the rest of the text you see it’s the story of a typical third world worker, and encourages you to think about where your products come from before you think about the cool factor.

This one shows the petrol company esso with the two ‘s’s turned in to dollar signs, showing effectively how the big corporations are obsessed with the almighty dollar, probably more so than human rights or the environment. Then we had a go at creating our own culture jams. Mine showed George Bush and Tony Blair’s heads replacing the well-known poster for the film Pretty Woman. I then replaced the title of the film with ‘The Oil Men’ as the Iraq war is partly just an excuse for the richest nations of the world to get richer and more powerful, at huge expense to others. I think it was fairly successful as it is a strange image that makes you want to look at it again and also has comedy value.

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