WHY THE CLOUDSPOTTER’S GUIDE IS THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO OF OUR TIME
Marx had a romantic view of work, in fact ‘being creative’ is much better at capturing what he had in mind. He saw ‘being creative’ as the essential process by which we shaped our environment, left our mark and produced meaning in the world. He abhorred the fact that so much of life’s creative spirit was channelled into menial, production line tasks. One reason he believed workers in C19th capitalist society were ‘alienated’ was that the meaning they produced didn’t reflect who they were.
So what would Marx make of C21st consumer society? As consumers we don’t even attempt to create our own meaning, we simply buy it. The objects that surround us come imbued with personality, values and ‘lifestyle’ defined by brands, not us. Like hostages suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, we not only accept our alienation, but actively participate by seeking out brands with which to badge ourselves rather than questioning the whole premise. Marx would say we’re painting the picture of our life using someone else’s colours and shapes.
So where’s the revolution? With so much of the world colonised by brands, the mundane represents forgotten, uncontested white spaces, yet to be defined. Cult books like ‘The Cloudspotter’s Guide’ and ‘Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way’ are celebrations of making things meaningful for ourselves. If Che Guevara were alive today, he would dress Normcore, follow #DrummondPuddleWatch and speak at Bethnal Green’s annual ‘Boring’ conference. In these blank pages, we are free to author our own lives.
This poses a bit of a conundrum for brands. We like a good trend, but how does a brand get on the anti-brand bandwagon? Well, you could get adopted by being so famously bland you gain ironic caché cf hipsters following Greggs, Microsoft and Ariel on social media. Not advised.
You could do simple things really well with no fuss. Lidl, Aldi, Skoda have an unbrand-y respect. Audi is trying to move in that direction with their very straight print work. Seems obvious, but too sensible to ever catch on.
Or you can actually do something genuinely meaningful because you are driven by an authentic Purpose and in doing so motivate people to get involved on their own terms. A perfect example being how SKINS’ recent campaign against Sponsor complicity in FIFA corruption inspired ad-jackers to rework sponsor logos into protests against World Cup human right abuses. Bingo.
Embracing the mundane is an antidote to feeling alienated by an over-branded world. If brands want to address this, they need to stop behaving brand-y and start to act simply and meaningfully – more sausage, less sizzle. That way brands give people more space to decide for themselves what role brands play in their lives and what brands mean to them.