Here’s Why I Avoid Logos
In a world where everyone wants to own your identity, why give it away for free?
I remember going to a party back in 1998. It was in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. I was dating a Russian girl at the time and the party was at the house of a friend of hers. A lot of folks spoke Russian to each other, which made getting involved in their conversations awkward for me, but I had a good time.
The thing I remember the most from the party was the entrance of several of the guests. Three boys, probably about 19 years old, entered together. They wore matching black trousers held in place by huge DG belt buckles. They wore matching, slightly too tight Armani Exchange t-shirts. They had on Ray-Bans, styled to really show off the logos. When they seated themselves in the back of the party, apart from everyone, they ostentatiously retrieved their car keys, placing them on the table — they all had Mercedes-Benz keychains.
This is held in my memories as the single most tasteless act committed because someone thought it was cool. I often wonder what those boys are like now. I’ll break down what the logos said at the time, as the meaning may be lost on some people today.
The Dolce & Gabbana belt buckle was an attainable item from the pricey brand, sold to people who wanted to show they had something with the venerable DG on it, but couldn’t afford more than a belt. It was also often faked. The Armani Exchange t-shirt was likewise an item of the aspirationally wealthy. You see, Armani is a luxury brand, but Armani Exchange is their version of Old Navy. Ray-Bans were huge at the time because of Men In Black and Mercedes-Benz cars and SUVs are a status symbol in Russia far more than even in America, a detail that remains true even now.
What, then, these logos said was “I have an inferiority complex.” No surprise the boys made a bee-line for the back of the room, spoke to no one, had some drinks, and left without a word.
Brands say a lot about those who embrace them. A brand is a sort of identity. There are Apple users who would stay loyal if the new iMac required people to kill their siblings to install software. There were Lance Armstrong bandwagoners who burned all their Live Strong merch and fell into a funk when it came to light that he was a cheat. A brand is a kind of identity you pay money to have, rather than acquire through your own development.
That’s not to say all brands are bad. Some have good qualities. What I take issue with about brands is that the buyer, if they make the brand a part of their identity, is letting the brand determine who they are. If the brand takes a hit because it turns out their products are made by Chinese political prisoners, what does it do to the psyche of the buyer? Do they handwave the atrocity, or do they fall into melancholia? More importantly, brands can say a lot about you without you meaning to let them.
A few years ago I would meet with a group of magicians at the Sony Center (the atrium around the corner from Trump Tower in Manhattan) and walk to the Columbus Circle subway station to go home. I’d pass the hotels and restaurants on Central Park South on that walk. In front of each of these establishments was a line of limos with the chauffeurs sitting inside, reading off their tablets.
I learned a long time ago, from a client who had me picked up in his limo, that limo drivers advise their clients to get a regular S-Class Mercedes-Benz as that model has the best turning radius for its class, making the passengers comfortable and the car maneuverable. Usually, those would be the limos I’d see parked in front of those fancy venues, sometimes in standard spec, but once or twice I saw Maybach versions, which were very rare at the time. What’s special about them other than the brand and the turning radius? They’re large, executive sedans designed to move the well-heeled from place to place in comfort. The suspension smothers potholes and makes you feel like you’re flying first class.
On most nights I’d see at least one AMG spec version of the S-class. This is where things got interesting.
AMG is an in-house tuning company for Mercedes-Benz that takes regular cars from the marque and tunes them for performance (some say “ruins them”). In practice, this means giving them firm suspension, monstrous power, hard braking, and lighter weight, all of which means a great experience for the driver and a less pleasant experience for passengers. Still, I’d see them with a chauffeur sitting inside, waiting for their client to emerge. This means there were people who not only got an expensive sedan designed explicitly not for performance, then spent a lot of extra money on an AMG version just to have someone else drive it for them. The only “extras” they would get to enjoy in a place like New York City were a bumpy, unpleasant ride and the badges that read “AMG”. Confusing.
I did a little experiment. I’d approach the AMG S-Classes to talk to the drivers. I’s say I’d just been sent from inside to check if the car was still there. I’d pretend not to really know the client, but say something like “His name? I dunno… Ivan, something?”
The response I’d get would usually be “Oh, you mean Maxim,” or “Boris,” or something to the effect. Every time I saw these AMGs the passengers were Russians. Why? Because, among the Russian new-money set, it’s a big status symbol to have the most expensive Benz on the road, and you have to pay a lot more money to get that AMG badge on the rear bumper of an S-Class. So what if it ruins your experience as a passenger that caused you to go to a dealer specifically seeking an S-Class? It means when you step out of the car, everyone knows you paid an extra $60,000 for that car. Utterly tasteless crap.
Therefore, knowing enough about the brand to understand why someone would spend the extra cash on it (making me exactly the audience the owner meant to impress) made me think less of the owner. I’ve even used this and other observations of mine to guess who owns what car when I perform magic gigs, a useful talent for someone who fakes mind-reading.
TLDR: There’s almost no brand that confers anything but negative judgment from anyone except other people who are part of the in-group that likes the brand. This is one of the reasons New Balance rejected the assertion of white supremacists that New Balance sneakers were the official shoes of White people. Even people who like brands can have negative assertions about them. Just think of the guilty pleasure TV shows you’ve been binging on Netflix. How would you feel about your dentist if you found out she was also a huge fan of V-Wars?
As a result, I… tend to buy things from certain brands. Strange, right?
Some brands I have to buy because they have features I need, like making shoes that fit my size 14 feet. Other brands I buy specifically because they don’t have logos. I won’t even say what those brands are, but the banner image above is a picture of a watch made by a brand I frequently buy from.
Given the choice, I try to buy from brands that say as little as possible to as few people as possible. This is for two reasons: first, it gives others as little to go on as possible. It forces them to judge me on me, not on what I wear or use. Second, it means that should I make a statement with an item of clothing or the like, it means something more in context because it isn’t muddled up in lots of other brands.
Identity is a fickle thing, but since I’d rather be in control of mine rather than let a marketing department handle it for me, I stick with as few logos as possible. After all, the only logo I should care about is my own.