Comments, EdgeNotes, In Focus

Buy the brand

I went to a seminar, at the London School of Economics, called, “London,  fractured identity or collection of neighbourhoods?”


Steve Latham


Organised by a new group called Citydiplo, it claimed to be discussion of local neighbourhood branding in London.

The apparent question was whether London had a unified brand, or whether this was being fragmented into various regional identities.

Case studies were presented about Old Street in east London, and the Nine Elms development near Battersea power station.

The first charted the area’s evolution from the self-entitled ironic ‘Silicon Roundabout’ to the government-renamed ‘Tech City’.

The second examined how branding specialists created the ‘Nine Elms’ concept for new housing in Wandsworth.

In fact, both were apologias for market-led redevelopment of whole neighbourhoods, but in a way that ignored already-existing communities.

Neighbourhood branding is a weapon of international capital in its war against local, indigenous, working class communities.

Developers are not genuinely interested in discovering people’s suggestions for improving the area.

Instead, branders conducted a superficial consultation exercise, a hearts-and-minds propaganda pacification programme.

The final result will be the displacement of original inhabitants and local businesses, as house prices and rents rise, there and in surrounding streets.

Branding is cultural massaging of vulnerable people, to supply emotional buy-in for projects benefitting only the global elite.

On the tube, I saw an ad inviting people to join an “online urban community’, where they could put forward their point of view on important issues.

It was, of course, a lure, drawing them into a marketing exercise. Created by CBS Outdoor, the scheme promised them they could ‘influence their favourite brands.’

We live by brands. We find our identity through brands. We are completely submerged into the system of commodities, of things, of possessing.

It is not so much the physical object, as what it symbolises for us: the aspirations, the lifestyle, the semiotic significance.

We saw this in the urban riots of 2011. Although initially sparked by the police killing of a black man in Tottenham, these quickly degenerated into desire-driven, consumer-led looting.

The shiny objects, which the young people took, represented the ‘good life’ that they were excluded from.

Instead of a visionary political uprising, as in the 1981 riots, the narrative of 2011’s riots revealed a poverty of aspiration and an absence of hope. All that was left was the brand.

The branding has penetrated deep into our psyche. Another example of this is the term ‘Brand You’, developed by management guru, Tom Peters.

It was important, he claimed, in today’s job market, to transform ourselves into our own brand. Only thus could we sell ourselves to prospective employers or customers.

In this way, branding is changed from an external symbol of something we possess, and becomes a brand which is fully internalised.

We ourselves become the object of our own consumption, a thing to be bought and sold. The value of a human being is thereby reduced to the cash nexus.

Through this economic reductionism, we enter the realm of the post-human…

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