No Logo at 20: have we lost the battle against the total branding of our lives?

Naomi Klein with some brand logos

It was the bestseller that brilliantly critiqued the political power of the ‘superbrands’ and shot Naomi Klein to fame. Two decades on, we ask her, how does it stand up in our world of tech giants and personal brands?

Source: No Logo at 20: have we lost the battle against the total branding of our lives?

Some political books capture the zeitgeist with such precision that they seem to blur the lines between the page and the real world and become part of the urgent, rapidly unfolding changes they are describing. On 30 November 1999, mere days before the publication of Naomi Klein’s debut, No Logo, the epochal “Battle of Seattle” began. Tens of thousands turned out to protest against the World Trade Organisation, and the global corporate interests it represented, and were met with tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and stun grenades. Seattle’s mayor declared a state of emergency, and a massive “no protest zone”, as the violence continued, while the chief of police resigned.

Reading No Logo back then in my first year at university was hugely formative; the book, mixing eye-opening reportage with sharp-tongued analysis of consumer capitalism, was a bible for understanding the world my generation was growing up in and the motor behind a new kind of grassroots politics. The battle lines were clear, as ordinary citizens around the world stood in opposition to corporate greed, sweatshops, union-busting, “McJobs”, privatisation and environmental destruction: and the avatar for them all, the increasingly unavoidable logos of western “superbrands”.

No Logo was published on the cusp not just of a new millennium, but a new phase of globalisation, in which household names such as McDonald’s, Nike, Shell, Starbucks, Disney, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Microsoft could trample over workers’ rights, local laws and civic opposition in pursuit of ever bigger profits, as western outsourcing crashed against the shores of the developing world, leaving behind human misery and environmental ruin as the tide rolled out.

The book charted the dramatic rise in the west of youth-oriented, cool-hungry consumer capitalism, in which companies sold an idealised lifestyle, not the physical product on the shelf. With the factories and production lines moved out of sight, and out of mind, the superbrands could focus their North American and European operations on ever more elaborate and intrusive marketing schemes and protecting their brand through censorship and legal action. In one infamous case, Disney sued a small-town creche for painting an unauthorised mural of their characters. Privatisation, Naomi Klein observed in No Logo, “slithers into every crevice of public life”.

Protesters against the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Seattle, 1999
Protesters against the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Seattle, 1999: ‘It felt like a dam breaking – every month there was another massive demonstration.’ Photograph: Héctor Mata/AFP/Getty Images

About Donna L. Roberts, PhD

Dr. Donna Roberts has been involved in higher education at military bases for over 25 years, including both faculty and administrative positions. She has been with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University since 2003 and is presently assigned duties as the Discipline Chair for Psychology and Sociology in the Social Sciences and Economics Department of the College of Arts and Sciences. As a faculty member Dr. Roberts has been involved in all aspects of the curriculum – from development to evaluation to delivery. Additionally, she has served as an Officer of the Faculty Senate and on various strategic University committees. Her research interests include media psychology, prison reform, human and animal rights, educational psychology and industrial/organizational psychology. Her background is in education and the social sciences with educational qualifications including: • Ph.D. in Psychology (Northcentral University) • MAS/MBA in Aviation (ERAU) • M.Ed. in Adult & Higher Education (University of Oklahoma) • M.H.R. (University of Oklahoma) • M.Ed. in Counseling (University of Maryland) Donna is originally from a small town in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York – Canandaigua (a Native American name that means “the chosen spot”). She currently resides in Europe with her husband and various rescue cats.
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