More than just a label

2011-06-16 00:00

THE business of creating branded clothing is huge. If you hit the right formula you can tap into a generation that will spend millions to “fit” into a world that is constantly challenging and changing.

Young people, especially, will pay a high price to be associated with that indefinable essence of “hip”.

Many singers, actors and athletes have endorsed brands, adding value to ordinary items simply by associating their star appeal with the product.

Endorsements equal huge money. Even the poor will cough up a small fortune for fake labels that imitate the real ones. It is all about the desire to be cool. TV shows, music, perfume, cars and sports are all part of the popular culture that is cashing in on the brand culture.

On the other side of this coin are the few young people who have decided that being cool is passé. They don’t buy into this philosophy. Instead, they strive to create their own world based on uniqueness and creativity.

The anti-brand label philosophy was verbalised by Canadian Naomi Klein in 1999 in her book No Logo. She examined the commercial exploitation of seamstresses and machinists who worked in foreign countries often earning below the minimum wage. These workers were making high-end fashion items that would be sold in the United States for ridiculous sums of money.

People were buying branded jeans for $200 and these same jeans were being sold in India for the equivalent of $10 — minus the label. The only people making the money are the owners of the brands who spend a fortune on advertising and promotions. They sell aspirations to millions of “wannabes”.

According to Wikipedia, there are four key elements to creating a successful brand — the product has to have a nominal level of acceptability and have a reasonable reputation in the marketplace.

There must be a myth created by insiders of the product about its history or legitimacy. This myth is exaggerated or hyped by advertisers. The third, and very important element, is that the brand must appeal to an element of the imagination, creating a desire within the buyer.

The last factor is the active management of the brand so that it retains its positioning in the marketplace. When a growing number of young people grew older and became constrained by budgets, they began to reject brands and their enormous price tags. In response, a counter-marketing strategy arose.

Companies responded by creating a “pseudo” no-brand strategy where they marketed their products without the bling or frills associated with high-pressure ad campaigns of the traditional branded products. They seemed to say: “Buy us, we are good value and quality — we don’t need all the fuss.”

This generic brand simplicity worked abroad for some companies who even dispensed with fancy packaging. This no-brand strategy means that little is spent on advertisement or classical marketing. They attribute their success to marketing by word of mouth.

South African supermarket chain stores have developed their own no-name products, clothes to appeal to the shoppers who are looking for value, but the youth market is not one for sensible, value products.

Sonya Thompson, a professor of human ecology at the University of Alberta in Canada, said she felt compelled in 2008 to create a class called Marketing to Teens: Gotta Have It! Designer and Brand Names, so that students could “step back and begin to clarify their values around consumerism”.

“Adolescents get stuck in a very superficial version of reality,” said Thompson. “One of the effects of this is they lose touch with what is really important and focus instead on how they look and what they wear.”

That might be what makes teens spend outrageous amounts of money on the hottest new fashion trends and brand labels. Peer pressure also plays a significant role in this name-brand obsession.

Experts say that pressure and brands functions as a type of “I’m better than you”, prompting teens to display how much they own, and how much they have to spend.

According to Brand Activation, a U.S. marketing analysis company, brands should be like political manifestos.

The brand should not just offer aspirations but should, in fact, represent a set of core values for the customer.

“Do people even know anything about the brands they wear. What does the brand say about them as a person?”

On a more sinister note, because of the unconscious influence of brands, they have been co-opted as powerful symbols in larger debates about economics, social issues, and politics.

On the other hand, brands have the power to communicate a complex message quickly and with emotional impact, and they can get media attention. This makes them ideal tools in the hands of social activists.

THERE are those who reject brand labels — their reasons vary from the prices to wanting to be unique.

Alistair Kennedy (18), a Howick teenager, is not a brand-label fan, and prefers to dress in his own style. “I don’t need a brand label to make me feel cool. I wear what is comfortable and sometimes I decorate my own clothes.

“I have lots of friends who like brand labels, and that’s fine. I don’t want to judge them because it’s their own taste in clothes. But for me, it doesn’t have to have a label to be nice. I think your clothes reflect your personality and a brand label is not a personality, it’s a brand promoting a company.” He wears casual clothes and they usually have an arty twist. He is a budding artist and he likes to be comfortable in whatever he wears.

Young beautician Natasha Kusel (21) is also an individual who resists the brand labels. “I like to be different,” she says. “Ever since school I wanted to dress differently from other children.

“I don’t think I wanted to make a point. It was just a need in me to try to be an individual. I have never gone with trends and I now choose clothes that suit my body and I think it is cheaper to dress creatively. What you would pay for one brand label you could probably get three items for. For me, it’s about the overall look. I choose classic pieces that will last longer than a fad. I also experiment with accessories.”


LOCAL teens admit that the desire to fit in is what prompts them to spend pocket money on brand labels. The pressure on youths to conform begins in the early teens and intensifies between 16 and 20. In their early 20s, young adults will choose certain brands that are closely allied to their hobbies, music tastes and careers.

A trip to Liberty Midlands Mall quickly unearthed young shoppers who profess loyalty to their favourite brands. Pietermaritzburg teen Kavith Sukhraj (14) said: “I am a football fan and I love all sporting brands. I think they are so cool. I also think they are good quality, so I think it is worth spending a bit more money on something that has a brand label. My favourite brands are Adidas and Nike.”

Sibusiso Cele (16) from Pelham said he would like to wear more brand labels. His mother buys him clothes for his birthday and he asks for clothes from Edgars as they have “funky” stuff. “If I wear a brand label my friends will think I am cool,” he said.

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