While our minds were elsewhere, the superbrands ramped up their cannibalisation of every aspect of our cultural lives. Earlier this year, KFC bought a five-minute DJ slot for Colonel Sanders – or a man in a cartoonish Colonel Sanders outfit – at major American dance music festival Ultra. Logos hover everywhere we look, like spots in our peripheral vision. It is strikingly rare, in 2019, to encounter an unbranded, unsponsored cultural experience. Every festival, programme, public-awareness campaign and event has a series of “partners”, a cluster of familiar icons at the bottom of the poster. Every charity is led by its marketing team. Every TV programme is “brought to you by…” – a name other than its production company.
There are two things driving the brands’ ongoing territorial expansion. The first is that consumer capitalism is boring and so constantly requires innovative, ever more ridiculous stunts to hold our increasingly fragmented attention. That’s why “experiential marketing” (PR stunts, in old money) is the ad-land buzzphrase. Senior marketeer Hilary Bradley told Campaign magazine last autumn that millennials in particular needed “memorable experiences” to help them “emotionally connect” to a product.
“The biggest change since No Logo came out is that neoliberalism has created so much precarity that the commodification of the self is now seen as the only route to any kind of economic security. Plus social media has given us the tools to market ourselves non-stop.” This worries Klein because it hinders solidarity: “Brands don’t cooperate very well – they’re built to be selfish and proprietary.”
“We’re more globally connected than ever before,” Klein says, “and also less connected to who makes our clothes, who grows our food, and I think part of that is down to information overload. And in terms of what social media is doing to our ability to stay focused, to not see the world in terms of these matrices of our own marketability and consumability, whether it’s views or likes or retweets…” She sighs. “Well, I think this may be the death of us. It’s not that people don’t care, it’s that they care for five seconds. That acceleration of emotion, and attention – it’s a pretty big shift in 20 years.