Steve Wiley: What to Do When Your Kids Become Corporate Branding Machines
Steve Wiley is Jackalope Ranch's Parent Hood. He's a slightly unorthodox father of five who will weigh in weekly with his mildly rebellious views and observations. If you'd like to see how he came to write this column, watch the intro video. This week, he expresses frustration with his children being corporate branding machines
Help. My kids are corporate shills. It's making me crazy.
If you know me from my old days in the indie record store business, then you know I'm pretty feisty about supporting independent businesses (among other things). My store was a charter member of Local First Arizona. We were proud members of The Coalition of Independent Music Stores. I've called out sell-out artists like U2, Bob Dylan, and The Eagles. I've harassed every major record label on Earth. I've even openly challenged my own peer group. All in the name of maintaining independence and/or supporting the indies that do.
So don't think for one minute my darling children haven't heard plenty on the importance of shopping local. But so far I'm losing the war. I'm getting my ass kicked by shoe companies. I'm being invaded by corporate entertainment hacks. I'm watching my kids cozy up with one sleazy giant after another.
What's an indie dad to do?
Mind If We Put Our Logo on Your Kid? Admittedly, I wasn't concerned about any of this when I was a kid. But corporate branding is a whole new ballgame in the 21st century . . . and the playing field is my kids.
My eyes were originally opened by a Canadian writer named Naomi Klein and her amazing book No Logo (there is a phenomenal recap video above, check it out). It explains in great detail the art and motivation of branding, and how it affects each of us in our community (not to mention humans in deplorable factory conditions all of the world).
I've never looked at the world the same since. (Wow, as a writer, it would be pretty cool to have that affect on just one person).
I've eliminated my support of a number of giant retailers completely (the all-time evil empire, Walmart, was first to go, in 1992), and I'm constantly doing my best to stay indie.
Hopefully, you've heard the indie support cry from others. There are tons of small businesses and valiant organizations out there doing their best to get the message out.
But in spite of it all, it sure is an uphill battle.
Look Daddy, There's a Swoosh on My Shirt
As a small-business owner, I've seen the ruthless tactics of the corporate whores (a term I've used often) firsthand, and as much as I hate to admit it, I'm not sure whether my vocal colleagues and I ever did much to slow them down. That's probably the reason I'm sitting at this keyboard instead of standing behind a counter.
Worse, although I'm still an indie-aware adult (chronologically, at least) consumer, and even though I'm fully aware of the tactics, I find it hard to fight off the corporate attack on my brain. I know damn well that I'm still being affected by corporate branding.
It's everywhere. Online. On TV. On my phone. At the schools, the concerts, the sporting events. Once you start thinking about it, the pervasiveness is amazing.
Side Note: You can't brand at this level if you are little -- only if you're big. My favorite example is the gift card kiosk at the grocery store (see the pic). Take a look at that thing. If there's something local on there, chances are it's a chain that started here and has already expanded. Why? The rich are rich enough to get richer. So grab another corporate gift card while you're here.
If they still get through to me, how can I expect my kids to fight it off?
Especially when my kids don't really seem to give a shit, in spite of my well-intended teachings (which they would call ramblings at best, lectures at worst). They've got other things on their minds (or not, depending on the moment).
Especially when it's hard to find products like shoes that aren't a major brand even if you are looking. (For that matter, made in America. I challenge you to go to a shoe store and find American-made).
Especially when companies like Disney, Nike, and the rest of the Grocery-spinner gang are spending millions of dollars to infiltrate their brains.
Hey, That's My Kid, Not Your Billboard I'll tell you how I can expect it.
Because in my humble opinion it's imperative to have high expectations for my kids (and myself), even if the battle is uphill, and this one is important enough that I will gladly fight it.
Plus, I've got at least one advantage: I'm relentless and I live with them.
So when my boys pronounce their swag-full-ness while dressed head to toe in corporate logos, I harass the piss out of them about being corporate pimps.
(Lest you think I exaggerate, that's my son in the picture, today, taken after I wrote this blog, without any forewarning or prompting, literally covered in Nike. His brother had a Nike shirt on as well, but I could use only one picture, and this one fit what I had typed).
Whenever one of my kids ask me to be quiet so that they can watch a TV ad, I impolitely decline, pause the commercial, remind them about the real purpose of advertising, and then skip the ad.
Whenever relatives ask about clothing gifts, I encourage logo-less items.
Whenever we can, we shop indie. Not always (so I don't want any shit if you happen to see me at Target or something), but as much as possible.
Last but not least, I talk about it. Over and over. I write about it. I have them watch videos (like that No Logo video). I do whatever I can to make sure my message gets through.
I'm not there yet, but I've got hope . . . and I'll keep fighting.
Because nobody brands like a relentless, concerned parent. Not even Nike.
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