Fighting corporate branding by counterbranding

Published on

Minnesota Public Radio – Marketplace (6:30PM ET)

DAVID BROWN, anchor: This is MARKETPLACE. I’m David Brown. After last night’s California recall election debate, we still can’t tell you much about how candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger would balance the state’s budget or create more jobs. But commentator and consumer activist Jamie Court found out a lot about the way he brands a restaurant long associated with his name, and it gave him a great idea.

JAMIE COURT: Zagat’s 2003 survey calls the restaurant Schatzi on Main the ‘culinary brainchild’ of founder/co-owner Arnold Schwarzenegger. But a few years ago when our consumer group sued Schatzi to have the restaurant known as Schwarzenegger’s terminate their junk faxing, the actor’s attorney shot off an angry letter. It argued we defamed Arnold because Schwarzenegger no longer owned the joint. But it’s interesting. No one seems to have told the star gods, Zagat’s, the media or even the people who run Schatzi’s Web site. That Web site features a flashing Arnold and a link to his gubernatorial Web site. But, nah, it’s not really Schwarzenegger’s restaurant.

You know, I’m grateful for that letter because it taught me an important lesson: Brands are sensitive to counterbranding. Everyone loves branding when it creates good publicity, but the minute someone talks about the dark side of a brand, that’s when the branding has to stop. So I had an idea. If corporations spend $1 trillion annually on marketing their bright side, why not create a counterbrand to describe the dark? When corporations overstep the line from straight selling to changing our culture by invading our privacy or coopting our culture through the very language we use, then it’s time to fight back. We can do that through word of mouth.

Remember when HMOs threw moms out of hospitals eight hours after giving birth? We counterbranded that practice of premature patient discharges and named them drive-thru deliveries. Congress got hip quick, and they passed a law requiring HMOs to let newborns and their moms stay 48 hours.

So here’s a few ways you can start counterbranding. For the love of lattes, refuse to speak Starbucks. Call a small a small, not a tall. Turn those business reply envelopes into no business reply envelopes, send them back empty so that junk mailers pay. When a corporation does something you don’t like, spread a counterbrand. Start with this. If you’re ever asked about Schatzi’s schnitzel, say, ‘It’s just fair and not particularly reasonable.’ In Los Angeles, this is Jamie Court for MARKETPLACE.

BROWN: Commentator Jamie Court is author of “Corporateering: How Corporate Power Steals Your Personal Freedom…and What You Can Do About It.”

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdog
Providing an effective voice for American consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Non-partisan.

Latest Videos

Latest Releases

In The News

Latest Report

Support Consumer Watchdog

Subscribe to our newsletter

To be updated with all the latest news, press releases and special reports.

More Releases