Secrets of the Super(sports)brands?

Post date: Jun 01, 2011 9:22:25 AM

I love the BBC... for its radio shows, for its TV programmes, quite simply because it tries to diversify popular culture. At times it does a pretty good job, obviously within its limits. To me it presents a good mix of tastes, although one criticism may be a disregard for regional and cultural diversity. Example, I get angry watching sports broadcasts... Never mind, we can leave this for another time. This reflection is more about a specific, very good, recent programme.

Although it is generally not permitted to advertise, promote any specific brand or company on the BBC, a consumer researcher's dream came true with its recent programme 'The Secret of the Superbrands'. Broadcast on BBC3, Alex Riley did a brilliant job in playing the resistant or quite simply ignorant consumer of brands as carrying importance and meaning in everyday life. Immersing himself into the world of brands, he adopted ethnographic approaches, although in more humorous ways (not that real life ethnographies cannot be fun). The first programme on technology made me chuckle as it showed beautifully how tech geeks are duped into the religious cult of technology brands - quite emotional for something so rational. Examples were Apple, Google, facebook, etc. and Alex's take on a new Apple Store opening was simply hilarious. This 'evangelism' or religiosity has already appeared in several works by Belk, Brown, Kozinets, and Schau. The second programme looked at fashion and while it wasn't made explicit, I could certainly see a division between gender and sex here. What handbags, designer brands and celebrity movie stars may be to women, technology could be to a largely male audience. While this programme then did a wonderful job at showing the importance of brands in people's lives, I wondered again how these brands related to practices, and how these in turn were gendered. We only have to look at Alex holding the Mulberry 'Alexa' below - guys probably don't know what this means...

While we could argue that the first programme depicted a rather male realm of consumption, the second on fashion was not only about women. Some of the largest fashion brands are sports clothing brands - think Nike, Adidas, Puma - and these are not necessarily associated with women, are they? What I found particularly interesting was that when playschool kids were prompted by logos and brand names, they did not recognise Gucci, Chanel or Luis Vuitton. But they all knew about popular sports brands. Not only did they know them, they associated them with a 'cool' person, someone who has lots of friends, someone whose party they would like to attend. Sports practices seemed appropriated much earlier than haute couture, probably also presenting the power of institutions since sport is part of the educational programme from an early age. This however does not explain a direct connection between sport and Adidas or Nike. On a recent Saturday shopping trip, I went into our local DC Sports and Footlocker shops to ask for football boots and golf shoes. Neither had any of these 'real' sports shoes, yet both shops were filled with trainers. So they are a 'sports' shop, but not catering for sports? Sport appears to be able to 'cloak' fashion or quite simply become so inherent in everyday life, it's almost invisible. Arguably, it is this invisibility that makes it so powerful - and gender certainly plays a role here. More on this in upcoming papers - watch this space...

I have since seen the final programme on foods and of course the most interesting of all this was Irn Bru!! Coca Cola has managed to populate the earth as 'the world's favourite drink' - only not in one very small part of the world, in Scotland. Here, we drink Irn Bru. Isn't this a wonderful example again of how powerful regional distinctions can be and how much culture matters?

P.S. I'm trying to enable comments but having trouble. I'd be grateful for fixing suggestions so please e-mail.