The Spring/Summer 2018 shows – whether in New York or Paris – made it clear that logomania is back. After doing away with ubiquitous branding several years ago, on the heels of what has been referred to as “logo fatigue,” not even some of more logo-adverse brands can stay away as of late.
Lanvin, for instance, which has never been known for Louis Vuitton-level branding, opted to slap its name all over dresses, bags, and bag straps, of course, for Spring/Summer 2018. Many of the usual suspects – Gucci, Fendi, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, and Christian Dior, etc. – opted for retro-like uses, bringing some old-school iterations of their famous logos to the forefront.
Vogue’s Sarah Mower made note of “the gathering resurgence of logomania at Burberry and Alessandro Michele’s Gucci.” "Elsewhere on the runways,” per The Hollywood Reporter’s Booth Moore, “we saw more of the logo mania that has been overtaking designers this season, beginning at Max Mara of all places.”
The Cost of Branding
Meanwhile, not all brands are marketing themselves with bold logos. At least a few brands are taking the opposite approach, and banking on the appeal of un-branded or at least, less aggressively branded products. And while this approach may seem to be completely at odds with what consumers are demanding, it is not necessarily so outlandish.
Meet The Unbranded Brand. The Montreal-based jeans-maker – which was launched by denim veteran Brandon Svarc, who also started Naked&Famous – is making its name by way of “jeans with no branding, no washes, no embroidery, no ad campaigns and no celebrities.” In lieu of a branded patch on the back – there is a blank one. And instead of a logo-ed tag on the inside – another blank one.
Also consider the aptly-named Brandless. Launched this July and headquartered in San Francisco, the e-commerce site is bucking the ostentatious logo trend by shunning branding for an almost completely logo-free existence. (The legally minded amongst us might think about making a case here for how the drop in trademark-emblazoned goods might end up actually giving rise to a reliance on trade dress, instead).
Describing itself as “a group of thinkers, eaters, doers, and lovers of life with big dreams about changing the world,” Brandless is on a mission to make “better stuff” – its beauty products, for example, are free from “400 harmful ingredients like parabens, polypropylene, phthalates, and sulfates” – sans an over-powering logo, of course.
Implicit in the missions of both Brandless and The Unbranded Brand is a consciousness about cost. According to The Unbranded Brand, in lieu of ad campaigns and similar marketing efforts, “all you pay for is the product! Made from top quality rope-dyed selvedge denim.” With that in mind, a pair of China-made denim – which the brand has promoted exclusively on social media and by way of third party press attention – will set you back between $82 and $118.
As noted by The Unbranded Brand, “the difference between jeans that sell for $250 and others that sell for $80” is largely hype – aka marketing costs and such. So, Svarc and his team “decided to focus on the core essentials instead: great fits, solid construction, and top quality selvedge denim.” By eliminating “all that is unnecessary about branding,” says The Unbranded Brand, “we can offer a better product at a better price.”
Brandless is similarly concerned with retail price. It offers all of its products – whether it be daily moisturizer or hand towels – for just $3. According to the company, it can offer such low prices by abolishing what it calls, BrandTax™, “the hidden costs you pay for a national brand. We've been trained to believe these costs increase quality, but they rarely do. We estimate the average person pays at least 40 percent more for products of comparable quality as ours. And sometimes up to 370 percent more for beauty products like face cream.”
“We're here to eliminate BrandTax™ once and for all,” vows Brandless. And it is catching on. Just four days after its July 11 launch, Brandless was filling orders in 48 states, says CEO Tina Sharkey, and it is consistently working to increase its 200-plus product stable daily with new items.
Is Plain the New Black?
But there is more to the brandless or de-branded movement than merely cost. As noted by Pymnts, Brandless’ goods, for instance, “are meant to align with the emerging trend among consumers who have an increasing interest is spending less on private label goods.” Couple this with what millennials have been coined – the generic generation – and you have a budding new trend in marketing.
While millennials are said to be less brand-loyal than their parents, they are simply far less interested in brand names than they are in the quality of products, themselves. This summer, AdAge summed up this sentiment with a quote from 30-year old Jonathan Wu, who, per AdAge, is “among his generation in the majority,” in saying: "I only care about the product—who cares about the brand?”
“Millennials' lack of preference for national brands is evident in categories including travel, insurance and fashion,” wrote AdWeek. And it is here that a larger branding-minded move amongst some companies offer de-branded – or less ubiquitously branded – products has seemingly found a popular home.
Just look at Glossier, for instance. Emily Weiss’s cult beauty brand has thrived on something of a downplayed sense of branding. In fact, branding and packaging is one of the most common points of discussion – and praise – surrounding this wildly successful young brand, which Weiss launched in 2014 on the heels of creating her heavily-visited blog, Into the Gloss, in 2010.
Wired recently called attention to “Glossier’s branding, which is simple, like French drugstore products.” While the products put forth by Glossier are not always logo-free (some of the products bear a large “G,” others have a small(ish) "Glossier" name on them, others do not bear any logos at all), Glossier’s very aesthetically-appealing packaging – the various tubes of mint balm, cloud paint, and priming moisturizer, etc. with their pastel colored bands and minimalist design – takes center stage in most cases. Any visible branding is only secondary.
Overexposed, Distrustful, Unnecessary
So, why is it that consumers, particularly of the millennial and Gen-Z kind, are simply less affected by many name brands? Well, it is a combination of a handful of factors, of course, including the influx and growing attractiveness of store brands (the stigma of "generic" goods is simply not as strong as it was in the past) and the rise in availability of private labels and direct-to-consumers models, which have "greatly diminished manufacturers’ pricing power," according to British multinational bank and financial services, Barclays.
Couple that with the lower-than-ever barriers to entry for individuals and companies, alike, to create new brands in the digital age, including by way of social media, and consumers simply have more options. With that in mind, smaller, more local, and less heavily branded products are competing for consumers' dollars more significantly than in years prior.
But maybe most important of all: We simply might not need - and certainly do not engage with - branding in the same way as we used to. First of all, most young consumers are – and have been for the vast majority of their lives – completely inundated with branding and a lot of it, thereby giving it far less power than it has enjoyed in the past. Such overexposure of branding has resulted in a rising mistrust of even some of the market's most iconic brands.
In addition to being constantly exposed to brands, most consumers nowadays have constant access to endless amounts of information. This inherently changes the role of branding. Individuals in generations prior were essentially forced to rely on branding – or trademarks (words, phrases, symbols, and/or designs), to be specific – as a means of distinguishing between brands and their products, and evaluating the quality associated with each brand. Implicit in the doctrine of trademark law is the notion of goodwill, the valuation and other intangible assets that consumers have come to associate with a brand, after all.
Yes, logos were affixed to products in the past primarily for the purpose of making it easier for less technologically-connected consumers to easily buy a product without having to do a ton of research to determine its quality. You purchased one Arm & Hammer cleaning product in the past, and it worked wonders. You now know that the next time you go to the market, you can buy a different Arm & Hammer product and expect that same level of quality.
That was - more or less - the old way of doing things when it came to branding, and it is still in play to a much lesser extent. Consumers now have iPhones in their pockets and easily accessible online communities with opinions about products. As a result, the practical need that was most traditionally associated with branding is significantly less abundant. With a less immediate need-basis for branding, consumers have - for years in the making now - been engaging with branding in new(ish) ways, including for purely aesthetic reasons, status symbol projecting reasons, etc.
With consumers seeking out authenticity and product quality more than anything else (in most cases) and having access to exponentially more information than they had in the past, it seems that now, maybe more than ever, brands can afford to and might even stand to benefit from shunning one of the textbook things that has made brands so successful in the post: Bold brand names.