Logo Free and Proud of It

If you’re in your 20s or have kids in their 20s, you’ve probably heard the buzz about a rapidly growing clothing line called American Apparel. Maybe you haven’t seen the billboards or online ads, but chances are you know a revolution is underway. The company is on target to sell $160 million in youth-oriented apparel in 2004. It’s the product of an all-American success story, even though the founder is a fellow former Montrealer.

A number of things make the LA-based American Apparel a company to watch, the least of which, surprisingly, is its clothes. There’s nothing particularly avant-garde about its simple, fitted cotton T-shirts, underwear, and accessories for women, men, and kids (and dogs). It’s reminiscent of what’s offered at American Eagle Outfitters and the Gap.

What makes this company unique (aside from its reputation for being “sweatshop free”) is it’s achieved success without having the luxury of a real “brand.”

Visit any Gap store, and you’ll find a selection of branded tees, now as ubiquitous in the outside world as on the chain’s shelves. Stop by American Apparel, and there’s nary a logo to be found. Not only does the company seem to shun the brand obsession that drives many of today’s trends, but its marketing messages are equally unconventional. On the American Apparel site, you won’t see the standard beauty shots of flawless teen models that have made Abercrombie & Fitch a clothing mainstay. Instead, you’ll more likely find a grainy slideshow of a company worker sewing the goods or a visual on how to make Montreal bagels.

Branding, in the most conventional sense of the word, is an important catalyst for online campaigns. It was largely responsible for bringing offline marketers online and remains many campaigns’ objective. It even brings consolation to those who don’t experience the desired results (“At least we got some branding value out of the buy”).

Online ads can be mysterious and coy, but without a recognized logo to part the sea of clutter and leave a lasting impression, the ads won’t encourage much brand and product recall. For online ads to be worthwhile, advertisers would have to rely on the call to action to draw Internet users in. And without brand loyalty to spur them on, few users would bite.

Studies continue to show Internet users are so overwhelmed with advertising they ignore ads altogether. For many, this is more self-preservation than a consumer counterattack. It takes a truly formidable format or creative message to attract attention online these days.

Yet the vast majority of Internet campaigns remain predictable and dull.

What if advertisers learned to be less dependent on corporate logos to get their messages across? Without a branded visual aid or the reputation associated with it, wouldn’t they be forced to up the creative ante?

I’m not suggesting Apple and The Black Dog ditch the use of their logos to keep their advertising fresh. But what if they shed them in the boardroom, prior to developing an online campaign? Perhaps marketers would remember the value of creating unique and outstanding campaigns.

They may even choose to wear logo-free American Apparel clothing while they do it.

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