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Naomi Klein: How Corporate Branding Took Over the White House

Ten years after the publication of "No Logo", Klein looks at how Obama created a brand that won him the Presidency. Will his failure to live up to his lofty brand cost him?

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Personally, none of this makes me feel betrayed by Barack Obama. Rather I have a familiar ambivalence, the way I used to feel when brands like Nike and Apple started using revolutionary imagery in their transcendental branding campaigns. All of their high-priced market research had found a longing in people for something more than shopping - for social change, for public space, for greater equality and diversity. Of course the brands tried to exploit that longing to sell lattes and laptops. Yet it seemed to me that we on the left owed the marketers a debt of gratitude for all this: our ideas weren't as passé as we had been told. And since the brands couldn't fulfill the deep desires they were awakening, social movements had a new impetus to try.

Perhaps Obama should be viewed in much the same way. Once again, the market research has been done for us. What the election and the global embrace of Obama's brand proved decisively is that there is a tremendous appetite for progressive change - that many, many people do not want markets opened at gunpoint, are repelled by torture, believe passionately in civil liberties, want corporations out of politics, see global warming as the fight of our time, and very much want to be part of a political project larger than themselves.

Those kinds of transformative goals are only ever achieved when independent social movements build the numbers and the organizational power to make muscular demands of their elites. Obama won office by capitalizing on our profound nostalgia for those kinds of social movements. But it was only an echo, a memory. The task ahead is to build movements that are - to borrow an old Coke slogan - the real thing. As Studs Terkel, the great oral historian, used to say: "Hope has never trickled down. It has always sprung up."

Extracted from a  10th anniversary edition of No Logo to be published by Fourth Estate on 21 January.

 

Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist and syndicated columnist and the author of the international and New York Times bestseller The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (September 2007); an earlier international best-seller, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies; and the collection Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate (2002). Read more at Naomiklein.com.

 
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