Flooding the streets of downtown Toronto, Loblaw Companies’ discounted supermarket brand ‘no name’ has taken over our subway stations with their minimalist yellow background and black Helvetica type. Starting out on Twitter, senior creative director of Loblaw Companies, David Wotherspoon cleverly started to advertise their ‘no name’ brand on social media platforms and their new ‘simple check’ symbol that appears on products that are made without ten specific ingredients. Their generic brand became an iconic figure as a Canadian trademark that took over the walls of our densely populated public transport, onto taxis through the streets, and online through satirical commercials. As a contemporary graphic design, this advertisement conceptualized many postmodern ideologies, but also demonstrated use of concepts that originated from modernity that was then carried out into postmodern society. With that in mind, I start by analyzing modernist characteristics that have a strong influence on representing the no name brand.
An important aspect of modernity is the comparison between the opposing views of ‘destructive creative’ and ‘creatively destructive’ (Harvey, 1990, p. 16). Harvey (1990) states that the main focus for modernity was ‘creative destruction’, defined as the destruction of individualization and the formation of unity, understood as the destruction of what was once there in order to start the creation of something new (p. 16). The simple check advertisement used their functional modern aesthetic to create an identity recognizable by mass culture. The fact that no name brand was strewn across major subway stations showed how they utilized city lifestyle, taking advantage of it also being a Canadian trademark to relate to people on a national level. The advertisement took away any aspect of individuality as the brand itself lacks originality, making it the perfect example of successful creative destruction in a capitalist society. George Himmel adds that there is a connection of ‘the metropolis and mental life’, showcasing how modernism brings diverse experiences of urban life together (Harvey, 1990, p. 26) with money becoming a form of status. I believe that there is a truth in how we have become individualized from our desire for personal gain, but within our own journeys through life, we find comfort in noting parallelism in our lives with others and feel a sense of unity in understanding that we all strive for success and happiness in life. We feel connected with people living within the context of our urban culture, and therefore more easily relate to the satirical humour that the advertisement portrays.
The extension of ‘creative destruction’ is further looked at in the perspective of materialistic capitalism as that is the current form urban culture has taken. Described in Harvey’s (1990) reading, it has influenced artists into a profit-centric system, as artistic choice has shifted away from creating political and social disrupt, and instead choosing to show no form of visual metaphor that might cause negative conflict against their brand (p. 22). In the way that marketing culture has shifted, no name brand has taken that concept to an extreme level by getting rid of any visual aspect to their advertisement. The lack of complexity in their brand’s aesthetic creates an easily recognizable graphic that has low potential for political or social divide. In the simple check video advertisement, they were able to relate to a large demographic by eliminating any sense of controversy and embracing the generic. Changes in the media and urban life has shifted the way artists cater to their audience. The office life aesthetic appeals to the mass urban market and brings relevance to their life which is an important aspect to the way companies market to larger audiences. From Baudrillard’s (1994) ideas on ‘phantom content’, we can see how the information we consume feels important and relevant when it in fact has no personal connection to us individually (pp. 80–81). The generality and relativity of no name advertisements demonstrate how the shift in our society towards materialistic capitalism has affected how we effectively market to a large audience in our current urban culture.
As a contemporary graphic piece, the no name advertisement showcases many concepts that originate in modernist times, and concepts that continue into postmodernity. Originating from modernism’s ideas around importance in relating to a target audience, Derrida discusses the art form of interlacing the significance of the producer and the consumer in making meaning, both acting as participants in popular culture and in the process of marketing to the masses (Harvey, 1990, p. 51). Postmodern ideology showcases that taking authority away from the producer shifts the power towards the people, creating a sense of democratic opportunity for popular culture to create meaning in an artist’s work. The issue with the deconstruction of power is the loss of authority over one’s own work and the potential for mass-market manipulation, says Harvey (1990, p. 51). This shift in society has given more power to the people as freedom of speech and online social media has created a platform for personal opinion to have great influence with the subconscious exchange of free advertisement. By talking publicly about a product or company, there is a voluntary act of providing awareness to the topic at hand, which the no name advertisement used to its advantage. Wotherspoon understood the power of ‘mass-market manipulation’ and used media influence to spread awareness of their brand, betting on the advertisement’s minimal aesthetic to capture the attention of consumers. This brings us back to Baudrillard’s premise of the overflow of information resulting in the destruction of meaning (Baudrillard, 1994, pp. 80–81) as the extreme contrast of no name brand’s visual generality against the high congestion of information that Toronto commuters see everyday, creates a sense of interest that gets people talking about it. In short, the more information we consume through the mass amounts we are exposed to, the less significance it has. As a result, we naturally find more interest in something that contrasts that overload. With that in mind, one can see how the success of the no name advertisement came from postmodern concepts celebrating the significance of consumers and the idea around less is more, but what does society end up losing when we factor in this shift to how companies now market to their consumers?
In the attempt to cater to mass urban culture, we change how we consume media. From the concept of ‘jouissance’, it is understood that we tend to lose depth and meaning in place for instantaneous impact in order to please the masses and find ‘jouissance’ (Harvey, 1990, p. 58). Noted within the advertisement piece, it shows how we conform to a basic level of satirical humour that can relate to a large audience, rather than practice depth in conceptualized meaning. What we end up losing is complexity in the act of thinking as we praise simplicity, encouraging shorter attention spans through instant gratitude. In the context of the no name advertisement, it is an ideology that coincides well with the brand, seeing as they promote generality in their line of products. The widespread growth of television influence has also played a part in developing capitalist society and is a major pillar of postmodern influence (Harvey, 1990, p. 61). It plays a heavy role in pushing demands of consumer markets to keep capitalism alive and profitable, showcased through the well-funded simple check advertisement that no name brand produced. They use aspects of postmodern representation of daily life, (Harvey, 1990, 59) using office-like aesthetic to cater the large urban culture in the Toronto downtown core, as well as the online consumer market with their tech-friendly marketing tactics. The ‘logical extension of power’ through production is what makes large corporations into mega-giants, says Harvey, (1990, p. 62) as corporations who have the money to market to such a large audience, are the ones gaining the most profit. The divide between the rich and the poor continues to grow as large corporations become symbols of envy and ‘high culture’ in postmodern society.
Both modernism and postmodernism have a role in the development of our capitalist society as many ideologies of the consumerist that transpired in postmodernism originated from modernistic concepts that are still in effect today. I found that not only the root ideologies of commercialization stemmed from both historical movements, but that the no name advertisement visually showcased aspects of modernism’s form and purpose, and postmodernism’s destruction and play in their use of satire. It was the union of both alleys that brought the success to no name brand’s campaign.
David Harvey (1990). The condition of postmodernity: An enquiry into the origins of cultural change (pp. 11–65). Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.
Jean Baudrillard (1994). Simulacra and simulation (S. F. Glaser, Trans., pp. 79–86). Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.
Liu, K. (2019). No name brand’s deadpan ad campaign takes over Toronto’s Union Station | The Star. Retrieved 28 October 2019, from https://www.thestar.com/life/2019/09/30/no-name-brands-deadpan-ad-campaign-takes-over-union-station.html
Lombardo, C. (2019). No Name name checks itself in new campaign. Retrieved 28 October 2019, from http://strategyonline.ca/2019/09/10/no-name-name-checks-itself-in-new-campaign/