Originally published in Time Out New York, November 22, 2007
Starbucks-sponsored zine-making workshops, Sony-endorsed graffiti, Big Pharma-subsidized skate parks, Clear Channel’s very own ersatz pirate radio station. Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of 21st-century branding, in which corporations gladly court and co-opt the dissent they often provoke from activist quarters.
Learning of these strange bedfellows in Unmarketable — the new book by Punk Planet coeditor Anne Elizabeth Moore — readers may wonder if “perhaps marketers weren’t working themselves right out of their jobs.” In fact just the opposite is true. While no Madison Avenue guru would consider D.C. hardcore fans a likely target market, or think that tapping the vegan or straight-edge demographic would yield increased sales of latte and headache remedies, they do realize that close association with subcultures is increasingly crucial for reaching young consumers. A quick fix of authenticity is now the Holy Grail of contemporary advertising, and companies seem to be finding it in the sidewalk cracks of WTO-era Seattle and the well-thumbed pages of Stolen Sharpie Revolution. And since most independent artists still need a paycheck, they’re reluctantly willing to sell corporations their work. Ruefully, Moore suggests that these partnerships have thrown integrity — long the hallmark of punk and DIY culture — into a state of crisis.
Unmarketable is sharp and valuable muckraking. But in peeking behind the wizard’s curtain, it presents a puzzling conundrum. That is, if you find yourself chatting about the absurdity of these campaigns with your friends, then they’ve realized their purpose: to get you talking about their product. And in filing her complaints, Moore contributes to the underground buzz that any post-No Logo marketing department worth its salt avidly seeks. So does Unmarketable help sustain the protean advertising trends that it attacks? Discuss.