If Don Draper from Mad Men was (a) a real person and (b) still alive in the 21st century having somehow avoided smoking or drinking himself to death, I am sure that he would have a lot to say about ‘No Logo’ by Naomi Klein. Described as “equal parts cultural analysis, political manifesto, mall-rat memoir, and journalistic exposé”, ‘No Logo’ has been one of the most controversial and widely talked-about books of the last decade, tackling the debates surrounding consumerism, branding and the anti-corporate movement. This tenth anniversary edition contains a new foreword which comments on some of the developments that have been made since ‘No Logo’ was first published in 1999.
‘No Logo’ is not the sort of book that is easy to read in one go and despite my good intentions to finish it fairly quickly, I found myself dipping in and out of it for well over a month which is not something I usually do. The style of writing is journalistic rather than academic but I think it is worth stressing that ‘No Logo’ is best read in small chunks. It is an extremely thorough and well-researched piece of work on a subject which Klein is undoubtedly passionate about but the relentlessness and repetitiveness of her message could probably become quite exhausting if tackled all at once.
The book is divided into four sections: No Space, No Choice, No Jobs and No Logo. These parts cover the history of branding, how big businesses reduce the number of available alternatives, the problems this causes for the job market and the rise of the anti-globalisation movement. The chapters on corporate censorship and the exploitation of sweatshop workers and temps were particularly fascinating albeit extremely depressing. However, although her argument is mostly well-presented, Klein has an annoying tendency of depicting the average consumer as a brainless moron which grated on me quite a lot. Yes, big businesses can be manipulative but I think most consumers are a little bit savvier than she gives them credit for.
Also, although this is clearly beyond Klein’s control, I do feel that ‘No Logo’ is already showing its age. While I’m sure that some of the content was revelatory at the time it was first published, I don’t think it has quite the same impact today. Many of the biggest brands that Klein references here no longer dominate today in the way that they used to (or at least they don’t in the UK). The financial crisis has also changed the context considerably and “austerity chic” is now the order of the day amongst many consumers. The impact of social networks, online shopping and targeted advertising are also noticeably absent from the debate presented here. Consequently, I found myself asking a lot of questions about these issues which unfortunately couldn’t be explored here. Maybe an entire sequel to ‘No Logo’ is already needed in this fast-moving world rather than just a foreword for the tenth anniversary edition.
Whether or not you agree with Klein’s arguments, the book is highly thought-provoking and the overall message of ‘No Logo’ is still very powerful if no longer completely up-to-date. Somewhat ironically, however, it has become an iconic book in its own right which I’m sure Don Draper would find very amusing.