EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

(P067)
Brands as sites of collaborative over-production
Location U6-42
Date and Start Time 20 July, 2016 at 14:30
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Luisa Piart (University of Berne) email
  • Maitrayee Deka (University of Milan) email
  • Adam Arvidsson (University of Milan) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Brands represent shared systems of value that are actively maintained through material, technical and institutional devices. Papers in this panel engage with brands as sites of production articulating needs and desires, and entrenched into shifting labor power relations.

Long Abstract

Brands and their omnipresent logos are hallmarks of mass culture and prosperity that are instrumental in the shaping of consumption markets and industrial capitalism in various local, national and regional contexts. Additionally, brands and their marketing strategy also inexorably foster planned obsolescence, promote excessive consumption, and thereby encourage disposability at an accelerated pace. The panel questions how brands can be understood as sites of production and overproduction structuring powerful regimes of accumulation at different scales. While consumers' compliance, subjugation and exploitation have long been targeted by brands, marketing strategies turning consumers into active participants to uphold and safeguard the value of brands through digital media recently gained considerable momentum. For brand-owned firms preserving these collaborative contexts of consumption and protecting their trademark is ever more crucial, as compared to the material production of actually existing goods bearing the brands' logos. These developments call for new ways of thinking about the articulations between production, distribution and consumption. Not only consumers' role and ability to perpetrate and reproduce a brand take up various meanings in different settings and challenge existing ideas of brand authenticity and originality, but also powerful marketing mechanisms tremendously impact the manufacturing and commodification of goods themselves and generate wasteful dynamics.

The panel addresses these issues related to brands simultaneously and seeks papers drawing from ethnographic fieldwork, which trace brands and challenge their creative valuation, institutional mechanisms of protection, material production, popular appropriation and counterfeiting in different sites.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

From kola nuts to polar bears: global histories of Coke

Author: Van Troi Tran (Université Laval)  email

Short Abstract

In this talk, I will address the mobilization of brand narratives in the context of world expos by focusing on the case of Coca-Cola. Unlike traditional brands that insist on the singularity of their historical roots or cultural heritage, Coca Cola promotes different versions of its globality.

Long Abstract

Since the end of the nineteenth century, brands have been promoted at world's fairs through the construction of narratives that highlight the singularity of the commodities they represent. In this talk, I will explore these practices of producing and mobilizing narratives for commercial purposes by focusing on the specific case of Coca-Cola. I will address both the evolution of narratives associated with the promotion of the brand and the participation of Coca-Cola in past and present world's fairs. On one hand, I will show how brand narratives of Coca-Cola insist on different versions of a purportedly global history, by highlighting the company's role in mass production and the development of international consumption in 1939, international tourism and intercultural exchange in 1964/65, and sustainable development at the 2010 and 2015 World Expos. On the other hand, I will to insist on the role and the development of new technologies of mediation for the production and consumption of historical narratives through "transmedia storytelling," "experiential marketing" and "branded entertainment". If the brand has become a salient market cultural form in the 21st century, an intangible object that 'mediates the supply and demand of products through the organization, coordination and integration of the use of information' (Lury 2004), in the case of Coca-Cola, the varieties of its existence also reveal transformations in notions of the "global," the "public" and the "common." The paper will draw on historical research on 20th century world expos and ethnographic fieldwork at the 2010 and 2015 expos.

Neo-rurality as a brand: how a narrative-based brand building fosters the alternative food system

Authors: Vincenzo Luise (University of Milan)  email
Brigida Orria (Università di Milano Statale)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the case of neo-rurality in southern Italy, focusing on how farmers propose a new combination of economic practices and value production in an alternative food system. Neo-rurality is a narrative-based brand that represents various ideals, values and marketing behaviors.

Long Abstract

Agriculture and rural life have changed their role in post-modern society. This study aims to picture how neo-rurality as a narrative-based brand represents various ideals, values and marketing behaviors, collecting in a common narrative different ways in which farmers create a mediatic space. There, producers meet consumers, they measure and communicate the value of local quality food products in a different way, bridging the gap between supply and demand in the market in a collaborative dimension. The new approach of neo-rurality exponents (Ferraresi, 2013) promotes a new relationship between production and consumption. They are not only anti-consumerist: they articulate in a different way sustainability, visions of market relations, values and practices (Sassatelli, 2015).

After 26 interviews, undertaken in Campania region during summer 2015, our preliminary results point out that, through the common narrative, farmers are constructing a “neo-rurality” brand that works as platform for action (Arvidsson, 2005). Their purpose is the re-appropriation of material, cultural and social factors in the production of local high-quality food. Their innovation process follows a strategy that recalls the creation of new organizational forms, while contributing to set a higher standard for quality and authenticity of local food and its economic value.

According to the findings we conclude that neo-rural farmers are promoting a collective narrative of neo-rurality as brand trough which they construct an ethical and disintermediated approach to the food market, where products' value is not defined only by economic aspects, but is also founded on human and social components (Arvidsson, Peitersen, 2013).

Fast, cheap and sustainable? A cultural analysis of mediating Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability practices in a Turkish holding company

Author: Deniz Seebacher (University of Vienna)  email

Short Abstract

While marketing brings social and sustainable aspects of brands to the fore, the garment sector pulls into the opposite direction aiming to produce and sell faster and cheaper. This paper explores Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability as mediating practices serving contradictory trends.

Long Abstract

While marketing brings social and sustainable aspects of brands to the fore, the garment sector pulls into the opposite direction aiming to produce and sell faster and cheaper. This paper explores how these contradicting trends shape the mandate of Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability (CSR&S) departments, who are perpetrating yet mediating between these opposing market demands while addressing the economic and social risks created by the run for profit.

This paper draws on data from three years of ethnographic research including participatory observation on Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability in a Turkish holding company. Following Røyrvik (2011), I offer a cultural analysis of contemporary CSR&S practices with regard to branding. This study provides a particularly interesting case in point as the very same brand name stands for the brand, the holding, and the owning family. It thus gives insights into the economic realm of branding as well as its political and social dimensions - all interlinked in the CSR&S practices. I discuss these practices not only as a way of external branding, but as mediating practices which aim to ease the contradictions between the opposing trends and in doing so create new forms of (asymmetric) relationships within networks of production, distribution, and consumption. In a context which is highly politically charged, I will show how the social and sustainable practices shift labor power relations and lead to power accumulation centered in the holding companies on the one hand and to increasingly contradictory demands for individuals on the other.

Brand consumption amongst the elites of India

Author: Parul Bhandari (Centre de Sciences Humaines)  email

Short Abstract

In this proposed paper I unravel the consumption of brands amongst the elites of India. I argue that the varied segments of the Indian elite population attach different meanings to brands, thereby drawing finer boundaries of exclusion amongst themselves.

Long Abstract

In this paper I explore the specific ways in which brands create the life-worlds of three rather different segments of Indian elites: business elites, old elites, and the new upwardly mobile middle class. A post-liberalisation economy has increasingly allowed Indians to embrace global brands. I unravel the different motivations to the use of branded products ranging from conspicuous consumption to obsession over craftsmanship and quality. In explaining these motivations I pose questions on the politics of brand consumption: Whether owning certain brands is sufficient to claim an elite identity? Who attaches meanings to the brands? How are these meanings and identities received amongst the heterogeneous group of elites? Embracing global brands has certainly become a symbol of a transforming India, allowing especially the aspirational elites to partake in a global culture. However, Indian elites have historically been obsessed with consumption of good quality products and experiencing the luxuriant. In order to understand the symbolism of brands then, it is crucial to also focus on the hierarchy of products within a brand and desire to procure bespoke products, say for example, shawls and jewelry prepared by highly skilled craftsmen in India. By highlighting the varied relationships of Indian elites to different brands and different products, I thus locate the consumption of brands in also reproducing the hierarchies within an elite society.

The short term economy of counterfeiting

Author: Maitrayee Deka (University of Milan)  email

Short Abstract

The Chinese Shanzhai copies, a node of 'globalization of below' connects much of the world's population to cheap consumer goods. This essay argues that Shanzhai copy culture is of a 'use and throw' nature and relies on disruptive innovation that goes hand in hand with conditions of precarity.

Long Abstract

While big brands value quality, and authenticity, the Shanzhai copy culture is all about flooding markets with easily replaceable copies. This culture is not just present in the place of origin but also where these goods are widely distributed. Silvia Lindtner observes in her fieldwork among Shanzhai design houses in Shenzhen, the product development process is oriented to fast runs. New phones for instance, are introduced as modifications to existing platforms, and, if successful, they are introduced to the market in greater numbers, only to be abandoned in three to six months as demand has been exploited. The same practice occurs in electronic bazaars in Delhi where Shanzhai phones and video games are substituted regularly. The abundance of cheap copies in 'lower-end markets' is a way to encounter everyday precarity of dwindling profits, and constricted spaces for the informal economy. The economy of counterfeiting responds to the short-term possibilities that the market offers, to conclude a deal, to exploit a change in demand,to reflect a general cultural trend or icon.

Suddenly you realize you are living in a hidden paradise: branding tourist space in Halfeti Turkey (an etnographic study on destination branding)

Author: Annelies Kuijpers (University of Zurich)  email

Short Abstract

This research looks at the interplay between three kind of destination branding themes of the same town on the one hand, and the local population on the other hand, additionally the outcome of this interplay in the daily lives of the people is being looked at.

Long Abstract

Halfeti is a small town in the southeast of Turkey, at the shore of the river Euphrates, and has been for 3/5th inundated due to the construction of a dam in 1999. After inundation the socioeconomic life of the town has been drastically reduced. For the town's socioeconomic well being tourism has been introduced and Halfeti has been branded as a tourist destination according to the concept hidden paradise (by the state tourism planners). This theme refers to the part of Halfeti that is situated under water and hence the traumatic events of the flooding are turned into a branding strategy. Secondly, as an oriental village in the southeast narrated by the creators of the black rose soap series. This popular series is shot in Halfeti and through the show re-oriental notions on place branding are being created by both the makers of the series and the locals who are in favour of the series and the story line. Finally, the town is branded as a Slow City by Cittaslow in which locals are using the slow food theme to sell their local foods. All three images contribute to a growing awareness among the local population concerning Halfeti and the beautiful and special place it is.

The 'Unox-effect': brands between profit maximizing and nation making: a case study from the Netherlands

Author: Sophie Elpers (Meertens Institute, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences)  email

Short Abstract

Brands and related marketing strategies of diverse Dutch companies focus on ‘Dutchness' with the aim to reach the national sentiments of the consumers. By taking the example of the brand Unox, the paper examines how these strategies affect the consumers as well as the employees of the companies.

Long Abstract

In the Netherlands, like in other European countries, a desire of a huge part of the population for national identity is capitalized. Brands as well as related marketing strategies focus on the 'Dutchness' of companies and their products with the aim to reach the national sentiments of the consumers. One of the most active companies in this field is Unilever with its brand Unox, famous for its soups and sausages. The company connects itself and its products with rituals and feasts perceived as 'typically Dutch', like the New Year's Day swim and the skating tour 'Elfstedentocht'. This has effects on the rituals themselves and affects those performing the rituals. For instance, as result of a strong marketing strategy more and more participants in the swim event wear orange Unox caps (orange as 'national' colour of the Netherlands), and thus, on the one hand, strengthen the 'national' character of the ritual concerned, and, on the other hand, uphold the brand (un)consciously. The commercialization of the rituals leads to serious conflicts about cultural property and the protection of culture against commercial exploitation, but it also leads to negotiations about the nation within the company which again has an impact on the everyday (work)life of the employees.

The papers will present fieldwork conducted in the company of Unilever and amongst the bearers of the rituals concerned.

The 'Chilean cinema' brand and the lived experience of national branding at the International Film Market

Author: Maria Paz Peirano (Leiden University )  email

Short Abstract

This paper analyses the brand of ‘Chilean cinema’ at international film markets, and the ways in which it is produced and experienced by Chilean film professionals. It discusses how the brand is appropriated to create films and filmmakers ‘for export’ in the global film market.

Long Abstract

This paper analyses the 'Chilean cinema' national brand at international film markets, and the ways in which the brand is lived by Chilean filmmakers and film professionals in the international scene. National branding has become a matter of major significance for film industries in the contemporary post-industrial economy. Like other peripheral cinemas, Chilean film depends on expanding beyond its small national market, and Chilean film professionals, along with the Chilean government, have aimed for the internationalisation of local cinema. Thus, they put a special effort in the promotion of national cinematic products, in order to expand its circulation and consumption abroad. This paper is based on a three-year multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork with Chilean film professionals at the largest European film marketplaces, the Cannes Marché du Film and the Berlin European Film Market. The paper explores the marketing strategies of Chilean film professionals, the agency CinemaChile, and the Chilean Trade Commission ProChile, to brand both national films and filmmakers as a local yet somehow international product for export. The paper analyses the articulations between institutional branding and film professionals' appropriation of 'Chilean cinema'. It looks at their self-branding practices and the performances of 'Chilenity' embedded not only in the visual promotional materials but also in the everyday social interactions of film professionals at film festivals. The paper discusses the commodification process of cinema and filmmakers' identities, addressing how they negotiate the Chilean trademark under the logics of both the global film industry and the business-oriented narratives of national branding.

Self-brands and work organization

Author: Guillaume Dumont (Universidad Autonoma de Madrid/Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1)  email

Short Abstract

This paper posits self-brands as devices organising work activities. Examining the case of professional athletes engaged in a threefold process of negotiation involving companies, consumers and the self, it explores the practical implications of the collective dimension of self-branding.

Long Abstract

For more than two decades, self-branding has been presented and promoted as a key asset to securing work opportunities in the changing labor markets of the new economy. Recent research have argued toward an understanding of self-branding as labor reliant on the self but also on social networks. Engaging with these propositions, this paper examines self-brands as a device organising and shaping work activities. To do so, it draws on multiple years of ethnographic fieldwork in the USA and Western Europe with high profile professional rock climbers. The latter, as athletes sponsored by companies to enhance brands and products, are at the crossroad of a threefold process of negotiation involving their own inspirations, companies expectations and consumers perception and experience of these self-brands. Therefore, when the value-creating activity of consumption work is undeniable, as is the weight of the marketing strategies of companies, in their work of creating and making their self-brands recognisable, meaningful, and valuable, athletes have to carefully acknowledge and manage these possibilities.

The hipster ethic and the spirit of ordinary social media use: brands on Instagram

Authors: Adam Arvidsson (University of Milan)  email
Alessandro Caliandro (Università Degli Studi di Milano)  email
Guido Anselmi (Università degli Studi di Milano)  email

Short Abstract

The hipster ethic consists of an elaborate self-fashioning while avoiding, at any cost, pinning down an identity. We suggest that this ethic shows a strong ‘elective affinity’ with the practice of ordinary social media use, particularly the ways in which people relate to brands on social media.

Long Abstract

Research on consumer attachments to brands in digital environments emphasise identification and self-expression .A similar emphasis on strong identification is central to an emerging literature on Instagram use. Like most of the literature on brand relations in digital environments, these studies have mostly been qualitative and focused on groups that are likely to exhibit high degrees of identification with brands.

However digital data also allows the possibility to study ordinary practices; a glimpse into the 'hidden abode' of mass behaviour that, until recently, has been inaccessible to social science. In this study we exploit this possibility.

Our study consists of a software device to track the smartphone activity of 30 students located in Sweden and Italy, 24/7, during a period of one month (gathering a data set of 166.223) and followed up with 4 focus groups and 20 individual interviews with participants whose social media use is average. Our preliminary results indicate that in ordinary social media use brands are not objects of identification, but rather used as tools for continuous self-fashioning. It is oriented towards what Boy and Uitermark (2015) call 'momentousness'. It seems rather than the very visualisation of intimate brand relations at a mass level that social media enables, tends itself to support and enforce a spirit of blandness, the avoidance of identification and the cultivation of liquidity. What hipsters showcase as an aesthetically refined style might be rooted in the general aesthetic of blandness that mediates the relations between brands and self for ordinary Instagram

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.