Even Anarchy Is A Brand

If you work in or pay attention to advertising, it helps to have an appreciation for irony. This New York Times article, for instance, demands it.

Consumer cynicism is a topic of great interest to Amanda Helm, an instructor of marketing at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. In connection with her research, she has conducted in-depth interviews with about two dozen consumers on the subject and has looked specifically at fans of Adbusters. Some of her preliminary findings were summarized in a 2004 article in the journal Advances in Consumer Research.
One thing she has encountered is a desire among cynical consumers not simply to avoid companies and brands they dislike but also to punish them. At the far end of the cynical-consumer continuum, this might mean defacing advertisements, but for most it plays out differently. For example, shopping at Target because you can’t stand Wal-Mart — Wal-Mart came up a lot, Helm says — thus denying dollars to the disfavored company. The marketplace itself is not the enemy in this situation; it’s a tool for expressing discontent. Thus one of Helm’s most interesting findings: that the cynical consumers who are her main focus “demonstrated very strong brand loyalty to the few companies they could trust.”

The article also looks at the Blackspot shoe, marketed by Adbusters, another deeply ironic situaton.
My advise to customers who truly want an unbranded, unmarketed, sweatshop-free shoe? Commission a local cobbler.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. Commission a cobbler. a great solution.
    the only flaw in that being that it wouldn’t produce the giddy feeling of smug superiority that buying Blackspots would.

  2. the local cobbler long ago went out of business thanks to the sweatshop-employing shoe conglomerates.

  3. OK, online cobbler.
    maybe they’ll put an ” ironic” blackspot on them for you. 😉