Burn, Brand, Burn

On August 8th, Neil Borman will gather up everything he owns that has a logo on it.

He will take every Jacobson chairs, Christian Dior shirt, and Louis Vuiton bag, into a warehouse and cover them in petrol. Then he will burn it all.

After that, he plans on trying to live a brand-free lifestyle. It’s part of a cathartic exercise to find his true self, Boorman says. After spending “a fair amount of time engineering an image,” built around the “displaying of things made by brands,” each purchase increased the distance from his true self, he says

Neil says, “For all the time and money I have devoted to collecting these brands, these symbols of self, I have absolutely no idea who I am. For every new material extension of my character, I become more distant from the person than I really am.”

Noble aims or Buddhism redux cum Adbusters prank?

Boorman quotes Kevin Roberts, CEO of advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi, “For great brands to survive, they must create loyalty beyond reason. The secret is the use of mystery, sensuality and intimacy… the power to create long-term emotional connections with consumers.”

We’re uncertain of where the quote comes from, but based on a familiarity with the CEO’s rehetoric and just glancing at this speech Roberts gave the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce on May 18, 2005, this was probably in reference to “Lovemarks,” a term Kevin invented to describe Super Brands which earn cult-like devotion from consumers. Into this category go Saatchi clients like P&G, Toyota, General Mills and Visa. However, contrast Lovemarks with another, more entrenched advertising maxim: the Unique Product Benefit. People purchase products for many reasons but the primary is that it works for them in a certain way that outpaces it from the competition. In referencing Roberts, Boorman seems to feel he’s hit on the pulsing epicenter of advertising. In his blog, Boorman also posts the Ladder Of Customer Needs:

whitepyramid.jpg

Before Roberts’ can make people koo-koo for Cocoa Puffs, the product has to do something useful. However, that none of Boorman’s needs are being met by carefully accrued pile of consumer goods; his pyramid will stand no more. Neil’s targets are varied, his net, diffuse, his aims, lofty, and sometimes his grasp, it seems, tenuous. It’s difficult when you’ve arrayed the entirety of modern society against yourself. All of it is grist, or was that gristle? for the mill.

The blog and brand burning are but prelude to a book Boorman will publish in 2007 called Bonfire of the Brands. We learned of it because Neil sent us a four-paragraph email explaining what he’ll do, when and why. In some circles, that’s called a press-release. The blog and the belongings burning could be termed “pre-buzz” and “publicity stunt.” For a man in such battle with the forces of marketing and advertising, he has a firm grasp on their operation, a paradox he straddles, but not without difficulty.

In a recent post he writes, “I was adamant that [the book and blog] would not turn into a simplistic, all-out brand bashing exercise…. that I would use this book/ documentary/ blog to argue for some sort of third way.”

Only time, and gallons of petrol, will tell whether Neil Boorman finds enlightenment in a pile of smoldering ash.

Canongate publishes Bonfire of the Brands in 2007.
Neil’s blog is at bonfireofthebrands.blogspot.com.