Logo No Go for Nau. A Peek at Branding and Consumerism

"People see what you look like before they realise what you are like. So they judge you before they really find out your personality. So you show your personality in what you are wearing." Such was the insight of ten year old Jessica, who participated in a Cultures of Consumption research programme, undertaken by London's Birkbeck College. The study was looking at 'Children, Fashion and Consumption.' They concluded that awareness of what is 'cool', and what is not, was evident amongst children as young as six. And furthermore that, "logos could be significant in respect of children's experience of social inclusion or exclusion."

In short, our patterns of clothing consumption relate to our innate desire to belong, to be accepted by our tribe. Marketers prey on our fear of being left out. Branding can be used to get us to buy more than we need, so that we might continually 'fit in', that we might align ourselves with whatever our peers are currently identifying with. In her controversial work, No Logo, Naomi Klein writes, "Until the early seventies, logos on clothes were generally hidden from view, discreetly placed on the inside of the collar. Small designer emblems did appear on the outside of shirts in the first half of the century, but such sporty attire was pretty much restricted to the golf courses and tennis courts of the rich." Within the book, published in 2000, she observes that in the 1970's icons of polo players and alligators allowed wearers to parade their wealth status and that soon "the logo was transformed ... to an active fashion accessory. Most significantly the logo itself growing in size, ballooning from a three quarter inch emblem into a chest-sized marquee."

The New York Observer ran a piece a few years ago on designer types who were doing a 'Cayce Pollard' -- in reference to a character in the 2003 novel Pattern Recognition by futurist William Gibson. Cayce is a marketing consultant, "who has a psychological sensitivity to corporate symbols." To ease her symptoms she takes to razor-blading and sandpapering logos off her clothing. And such has the all pervasive nature of labels emblazoned across our apparel become, that such effort is indeed required to remove them. The NYO article quotes Josh Rubin of Cool Hunting as saying that really the only way out of this ever dominating 'brandosphere' is "buying your own goat. Or moving to Amish country."

Logos have become such a integral part of modern life that we can more readily relate to them, than we can the natural world. According to the US National Wildlife Federation, "By the time they are seven years old, most youngsters ... can identify 200 corporate logos, but they cannot identify the trees growing in their front yards."

And is it any wonder, when global advertising expenditure exceeds $444 billion USD (2002), over half of that being spent in the US alone.

With such deep penetration into the mind of their customers, many companies now focus more energy on their branding and logo placement, than on the substance of the product itself.

We wondered then why recent start-up eco-company, Nau chose to present their line of outdoor and lifestyle apparel devoid of any external logos. Particularly as they have a very clever ambigram logotype. (The only place their logo appears is usually on the small internal hanging loop. It doesn't even show on zip pulls, buttons, etc.) Rather than leave the pondering to conjecture, we chased down some answers, straight from the horse's mouth, or to put it more politely, from Ian Yolles, VP for Brand Communications, at Nau.


Treehugger: Which attribute of the company's design philosophy does the no external logo approach most reflect: Performance, Sustainability, or Beauty?

Ian Yolles: Many of the decisions at Nau have been guided by all three of those attributes, but when it came to the "no logo" decision, beauty was the primary consideration. The logo-free environment adds to the feeling of clean, uncluttered design and lets the product speak for itself. In a secondary manner, sustainability was also part of the equation. Logos have the tendency to go out of style, so by not having them we are potentially extending the life of our garments. Furthermore, extra logos require energy and resources to apply. Even small environmental efficiencies like that can add up when applied throughout the entire product line.

TH: What was the thought process that resulted in this approach?

Ian: The idea was championed by our designers Mark Galbraith and Peter Kallen. The theory was that if you have a strong design point of view that's applied consistently over time across the breath of a product line, it isn't necessary to default to a logo to communicate your brand identity. In our case, we were confident people would come to recognize Nau product because of the cut of our garments, the sophisticated color palette, our unique trims and finishes and overall construction and tailoring.

We also thought that the world is over-logoed and that, increasingly, people are sick and tired of being somebody else's walking billboard. The clothes you wear are an expression of who you are. If you're into Nau, that's cool, but we prefer a more understated approach.

Beyond that, we're very interested in engaging in dialogue with our community and creating venues for dialogue. If somebody's wearing a Nau product that intrigues me and I don't know where it's from, I'm likely to inquire. The lack of logo becomes a catalyst for meaningful engagement.

TH: Was it much debated, given that you were an unknown start-up that would benefit from visual exposure to your brand name? Not even subtle tone-on-tone embroidery?

Ian: I'd say hotly debated, at least at first. Given our backgrounds (Nike, Patagonia, Adidas, etc.), the idea of going the no logo route was deemed by some to be complete heresy. We had hundreds of challenges as a small startup; how could we possibly entertain adding to them by eschewing fundamental marketing logic? As a new brand, awareness and visibility is half the battle, so why would we consider making our product invisible? At least that's how traditional logic flowed. But, we've been about challenging orthodoxy from the beginning, so eventually Mark and Peter's wisdom prevailed.

TH: Have you been able to determine if the strategy is succeeding?

Ian: Probably not in a definitive sense, but I can't tell you how many people have responded to our no logo decision by exclaiming, "finally!" Our sense is that our customer is definitely ready for this decision, if not relieved.

TH: Was part of the decision to create some mystery and therefore stimulate questioning from curious people?

Ian: Absolutely. We love the idea of sparking conversation about our product and the stories behind our products. It was definitely part of our original intention to provoke inquiry by virtue of going the no logo route.

TH: Did Naomi Klein's book 'No Logo' provide any inspiration?

Ian: We're fans of Naomi Klein's work (see a recent post on our blog the Thought Kitchen about her latest groundbreaking book The Shock Doctrine). Many of us have read No Logo. Beyond the literal reading of "no logo," I'd say we have definitely been inspired by her larger critique of traditional corporate structures and standard marketing doctrine.

TH: I remember reading somewhere that Patagonia once considered the no logo approach, but relented to customer demand, because customers wanted to be seen proudly wearing the label. The so-called Patagucci effect. Brand recognition and the ever present Swoosh are also such a huge part of Nike's market dominance. How has the cultural shift of no logo played out with many key Nau staff coming from such companies?

Ian: I can tell you that having moved through our initial internal debate, everybody here is aligned with the decision and believes that for our customers and us it's the right way to go. Everybody is completely behind the design implications of the decision, the underlying philosophical rationale behind the decision and the way that our customers are responding. Nobody's looking back. ::Nau

See also our extended interviews on Nau's corporate ethos, materials selection, retailing concept and more:
Part Two
Part One

Tags: Clothing | Consumerism | Oregon

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