Adam Arvidsson, “Brands: A Critical Perspective,” Journal of Consumer Culture, Vol. 5(2): 235-258, 2005.
- Value of brands in case of Martha Stewart
- “it is meaning-making activity of consumers that forms the basis of brand value”(237).
- Douglas Holt: “postmodern brand management” – offers brands as ‘cultural resources’; capitalizes on what consumers produce with those resources.
- Naomi Klein (in No Logo): brands – tendency to colonize public space,…
- Arvidsson: a model for “how ‘looking’ can be conceptualized as ‘labor’“; “how the human ability to create … an ethical surplus – a social relation, a shared meaning, an emotional involvement that was not there before – around a brand can be understood as the direct basis of its economic value“(237).
Autonomist Marxism: from a Fordist production process to post Fordist system of production (more diffuse and expended).
= include both “productive aspects of consumption” + “controlling or exploitative aspects of brands”
Part1 : Brands = a form of capital; a resource that generates value
- What kind of labor can be the source of such brand value?
- Consumption = can be conceptualized as one manifestation of the ‘immaterial labor’
Part2 : how brands can function as capital (both formally and in reality)
- “brands provide different kinds of mediatic spaces that pre-structure and anticipate the immaterial production of consumers: spaces where it unfolds as the production of a particular form of life”(238)
Part3 : how brand-capital actually generates value from consumption-labor
- M-C-M’ formula
- how brands can be said to exploit consumers
- Conclusion : suggests that “the relation between brands and consumption can be understood as exemplary of how capitalism has responded to the condition of post-modernity.”
- Brand value… represents an important immaterial asset in contemporary capitalism.
Interbrand : the value of the world’s 100 most precious brands = $434 billion in 2001
= 4% of US GDP = 3 times US adv. Expenditure
- David Aaker: consider the “emotional and self-expressive benefits as well as functional benefits”(239) – building brand equity =attachment around the brand (experiences, emotions, attitudes, lifestyles, loyalty…)
- “Brands are monetizable symbolic values” (Groz)
- Who produces these immaterial assets?
Brand managers? Or consumers?
Consumption as Immaterial Labor
- Consumption = “labor” = an activity that produces value
Different paradigm of consumption
traditionally, consumption = activity occurs in the domain of circulation
≠ produce value (240)
- value of female reproductive household work
Lash & Urry : contemporary production process must include circulation
“inclusion of circulation” – blurring of the boundaries between circulation & production – information economy
- Circulation of information = production of information
Autonomist Marxism (integration of production + circulation)
- Negri + Alquati : integration of communication and production is a central characteristic of the post-Fordist labor process
- “socializing worker“: ability to put communicative action to work in producing a meaningful framework for the production process (communication -> production process) ( Cf. Cyber-Marx, p. 79-80, “socialized worker”).
Maurizio Lazzarato: “immaterial labor” – practices that produce either the immaterial content of commodities, or the social context of production itself (241).
- utilizes a common ability to interact and socialize; common symbolic framework; common knowledge; common jargon…
- these common competences are based in symbolic repertoire diffused by a virtually omnipresent media culture. à “General Intellect” (ubiquitous symbolic resource)à immaterial labor produces “ethical surplus” (a social relation, a shared meaning, or a sense of belonging).
- the ‘cycle of immaterial production’ presupposes the existence of a ‘socialized and autonomous labor force.’
- “one of the most important instances of immaterial labor transpiring outside of salaried organization is consumption. Contemporary consumers do not simply use up resources, rather they produce a social relation…within which goods can make sense.”
Consumer studies (cultural studies, anthropology, critical consumer studies) (242)
modern consumers ≠ passive victims of producer interests
= they actively engaged in the social construction of the value of consumer goods, and functioned as part of the productive dynamic that has driven capitalist development.
- Consumption = productive activity
- “consumption produces a common in the form of community, a shared identity or even a short lived ‘experience’ that adds dimensions of use-value to the object”
- The immaterial productivity (that consumers engage in) is ‘free’: unpaid + beyond the direct control of capital (Terranova).
- Consumption = “labor” = an activity that produces value
- Modern, or Fordist marketing – attempt to take control on the productivity of consumer
- “While these attempts met with varying degrees of success, it is clear that the intent was to
discipline consumers, and to educate or ‘rationalize’ their tastes and desire“(243).
Marketing’s disciplinary paradigm began to fragment in the mid 1950s.
- New forms of ‘expressive’ middle-class consumer pattern
- Booming youth culture
- Consumers had to be granted a certain degree of autonomy.
Marketing technique centered on the concept of the brand
(originally): trademark or maker’s mark; significance that commodities acquire in the mind of consumers
- Brand (contemporary):
context of consumption; a specific way of using the object, a propertied form of life to be realized in consumption (244).
- Brand only exist as long as consumers act on them… -> tricky problem
- Brand is an ‘open-ended object’ à this mobility must be controlled and kept within the boundaries of the intended brand identity.
Brand management techniques (innovation – conservation)
- selective appropriation of consumer innovation
- make consumer’s use of branded goods serve to reproduce the forms of life that the brand embodied
- Brand management is not a disciplinary practice – not seek to impose a certain structure of taste or desires… à
brand management works by enabling or empowering the freedom of consumers so that it is likely to evolve in particular directions.
- Brand management – provide an environment which anticipates the agency of consumer: “You Must!” à “You May!” (245)
Management of the media image of the brand
- … defines the contours of what brand can mean, by creating inter-textual links in media culture.
“inter-textual commodity” (Marshall): “a mediatic space that anticipates the agency of consumers and situates it within a number of more or less precise coordinates.”
- “within those coordinates consumers are free to produce the shared meanings and social relations that the branded good will help create in their life.”
- E.g.) Nintendo, BMW…
Management of consumer’s lived interaction with the branded environment – “bio-political governance”(246)
- Use of architecture and design (physical space) – department store; bazaar; Disney them parks; Starbucks; McDonald’s; Niketown…
- George Ritzer – how most such ‘new means of consumption’ rely on the active involvement of consumers to produce the desired experience.
- “The purpose of these spaces is to make consumers produce a particular relationship to the brand” (247).
Construction of branded community
- Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Jeep, Harley Davidson à create spaces for customer socialization
- eBay, amazon.com à involving customers in producing a dimension of trust or authenticity through users’ review, discussion and rating system…
- mobile Internet game (Real Space)
brand management –
building inter-textual, physical and virtual spaces that pre-structure and anticipate the agency of consumers. (Within this space) Consumers are free to themselves produce a set of social relations and shared meanings – a common.
- “Brands work as platform for action that enable the production of particular immaterial use-values: an experience, a shared emotion, a sense of community”(248).
Productivity of consumers as “innovation” and as “reproduction“
“By thus subsuming the productivity of the social, brand management works to ensure that the productivity of consumers becomes productive labor”(249).
How Brands Generate Value
- (1) contemporary consumers tend to engage in activities that can potentially function as immaterial labor à produce an ethical surplus in the form of a social relation, a shared meaning or a common.
- (2) brand management contains a series of techniques by means of which this autonomous productivity is posited as immaterial labor à add to the form of life that the brand embodies (either through innovation or through reproduction)
- “How brand generate value?”
- In so far as M’>M, then some form of surplus value has been extracted (251)
Brand managers be said to exploit consumers?
- surplus value = ethical surplus or surplus community that consumer produce
- quantitative point of view: absorbing the free time of consumer
qualitative dimension: making the productive sociality of consumers
à filtering the creativity of consumers; depriving it of certain undesirable qualities
new forms of mediatization + new forms of social organization – enhanced the capacity of social actors (net-worked multitude) to produce an ethical surplus(252)…
- productive co-operation – file sharing communities; open source software; self-organization of slums.
- Brand management comes to work against the productive potential of the social, on which it ultimately builds.
- brand à consumer market àmanagement, welfare, politics and construction of local identities
- brand – understood as paradigmatic of the post-Fordist mode of production
- unpaid immaterial labor = source of surplus value
- in the form of brand, the unstable and reflexive nature of post-modern social relations works as a precondition for the self-valorization of immaterial capital.