SINN: Winter Olympics: a showcase of brand over substance

The 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, have been a showcase of world-class competition — not just on the ice and the slopes, but in-between the televised events.
Feb 25, 2014


The commercial break has become its own stirring spectacle. Corporations, from technology to automotive to fast food, have taken advantage of the average spectator in dramatic form this year, drawing parallels between themselves and the world’s superior pool of athletes. 
Branding is not a new phenomenon. Its pervasiveness in media has held the public hostage for over half of a century. But alarmingly, the corporate world’s ploy to render itself the pulse of the planet has been viewed by a listless public that is hardly aware of its implications. 
As much as corporations have recently toted the spirit of competition, this façade is laced with irony. Our meek stature against the looming shadow of giants like Nike, Microsoft and McDonald’s has been one of submissiveness under the hex of smartly deployed advertising dollars. 
But wipe that glimmer from the corner of your eye, turn off the tube and take a moment to reimagine a world of quality content without the sheen of iconicity. What would that world look like? 
In her 1999 international bestseller titled “No Logo,” Naomi Klein made a strong case against the “hollowing out” of corporations and their selling of brands rather than products. She explained how companies reinvest massive amounts of revenue not into creating better products for their loyal consumers, but instead on selling ideas, pushing their brands across all borders on the tide of globalization. 
And here it remains in the 21st century, superficially superimposed upon cultural events like the Super Bowl and the Olympics. 
While exploiting the modern world with brilliant imagery, corporations commit and ignore human rights violations in the poor communities of Third World countries where they operate, reinvesting savings into the brand. 
Nike is perhaps the most identifiable culprit on this front. Nike does business with Daewoo International, a goliath forced-labor cotton processor in Uzbekistan. Nike Corp. has defended Daewoo’s practices in recent years in the wake of Daewoo employees being beaten and killed by Uzbek law enforcement. 
That is one reality — distant, vague and unrecognizable. Then there is ours. 
With their recent Olympics campaign, Nike has released the slogan “Find your greatness” — pushing their vision that “greatness is for all,” as dubbed in an epic commercial depicting athletes around the world competing on sandlot-level stages, from backyards to inner-city ball courts. It deploys an ethos that celebrates ethnicity and champions Nike as a human rights advocate. It piggybacks on the image Nike has consistently reimagined since its nascence, encompassed in a little swoosh sewn into ankle socks, tennis shoes and the walls that wrap around sports arenas. 
Nike is just one cog. Like all the others, it is playing the game. 
Old Spice body spray is not a fragrance, it is world peace. A bite into a McDonald’s chicken nugget is a bite into victory. Coca-Cola is the drink of patriotism and cultural pride. You are a champion, and the corporate world wants you to know it. Citi Bank does not want you to feel that “Olympic athletes are just like the rest of us,” it wants you to feel that City Bank is just like the rest of us. 
By bonding their logos with the images of world champions, the Olympic brand itself is lathered in contraptions that are merely persuasive fantasy. 
Is this acceptable? 
In “No Logo,” Klein captured the small pockets of protest that arose in 1990s Seattle, a very real movement that exists to this day, but is losing its battle. The book is considered by many to be a “movement bible,” but in the rise and subsidence of Occupy Wall Street, it seems that such kinds of social movement cannot topple what the corporations can afford — everything they want. 
Klein said in an interview about her book, “You cannot separate economics from social and environmental context.” The corporations know this, and so they have owned these elements, stamping them and clambering upon them to their own greatness. 
The Olympics is a showcase of what is going on all the time. Industry has pulled a veil over the planet as thin as freshly fallen snow, but the people are not hitting the slopes on this wide-ranging issue.
In the shadows, companies like Nike go against everything they supposedly stand for. They try to convey a sense of justice to the world, but the question is: When will we do the same?

— By Alexander Sinn, Tribune community columnist


Former Grandhavenite

Perhaps a better headline would be, "Current state of human relations: a showcase of brand over substance"

You honestly can't buy happiness, although it took several decades for me to realize the truth in that. At best, you can only rent happiness for a short time if you're intent on acquiring it through a financial transaction. Now that most of this country's manufacturing capacity has been hollowed out in favor of "financial services", one of the main things we have left to manufacture is branding and desire. Does drinking one particular brand of carbonated artificial sweetener, water, and artificial flavor as opposed to another make you a patriot and give you the right to be proud of your country? More importantly, does the lack of that particular consumer product mean that you DON'T get to feel proud of your country? A lot of folks (including me via assets in my retirement account) sure have a huge stake in making you think so.

I've gradually come to believe that any contact with advertising can only lower the quality of life and the amount of enjoyment we get from whatever we already have. Our modern industrialized economy is extremely dependent on consumer spending for a huge chunk of economic activity, and consumer spending is dependent on constantly manufacturing the desire to have whatever good or service is being pushed and telling you that whatever you have is inadequate.

At least in my case, my level of contentment or happiness is partly a function of the gap between what I currently have and what I'd like to have. Marketers work hard to increase the "happiness gap" by manipulating all of the levers available to them. Unless you feel somehow inadequate, unpatriotic, unattractive, or that there's a gap in your life needing to be filled by some purchase you don't have the incentive to run out and buy, buy, buy! If you don't feel that other folks are looking down on you for your lack of material possessions there just isn't the incentive to remedy that issue by buying something. Once you buy that particular piece of happiness it loses its shine very quickly (aided by constant reminders of the fact that the person down the street has a better and more expensive brand of happiness), and you start to feel inadequate or somehow lacking yet again. Fortunately the good folks of Madison Avenue have plenty of suggestions on how we can once again be happy if only we assign ourselves a new positive identity by connecting with a particular brand. You see, I'm not just some guy wearing running shoes and drinking a pop- I'm actually an Olympic athlete fighting for the honor of my country. I'm not just driving a particular car in bumper-to-bumper traffic on my way to the store. In fact according to the ad I saw for the car, I'm basically an arctic explorer with a free spirit, yet also viewed as successful in society, looked up to by my peers, and desired by women.

It took a long time before I was able to see the psychological warfare going on around me even though I'd been a combatant all along. Even though my strings had been pulled from the first day I begged my mom to go to McDonalds for the Happy Meal toy I saw on TV, I didn't realize it for a very long time and still have a very limited understanding of it. After gradually learning more about the psychology of motivation I realized that you can basically pick apart any ad and check off the list of manipulations. Appeal to patriotism? Check. Appeal to attractiveness level as viewed by the opposite sex? Check. Begging the question? Check. False dichotomy? Check. Gaining access to an exclusive club with some desirable trait? Check. Being on the right side of popular opinion? Check. Feeling that I've worked hard to deserve whatever is being offered? Check.

The most powerful weapon in the marketer's arsenal is the fact everybody wants to be above it. "Sure, some people might be influenced by advertising but not me! No siree! Every action I take and purchase I make is motivated by rationality and my own superior decision making ability!" We're all extremely vulnerable to advertising, and becoming aware of just how heavily the deck is stacked against us is one of the only ways to resist it. When you get better at recognizing the feeling of your strings being pulled the marketers can still make you dance to their tune, but at least you can constantly reevaluate your actions and beliefs to somewhat shift the balance of power back in your favor. After decades of exposure to advertising chances are that most of 'your' beliefs and actions were never yours to begin with but you were lead to believe so at some point. As long as you're a human being with emotions and desires you can't win against the might of an entire economic system armed with every trick in the book. You're never going to see an ad telling you that you can join an exclusive and awesome group of people if you read a book for free online through the Gutenberg project. Celebrities aren't going to tell you during the Super Bowl that you can improve your life by reaching out to the people around you and developing connections based on anything other than financial exchange. They don't put up billboards telling you to go for a walk in the woods, but they sure don't hesitate to tell you to drive a luxury car down some gorgeous back road completely devoid of traffic. As Naomi Klein says, "You cannot separate economics from social and environmental context." In my view that basically translates to CHECK and MATE in favor of the marketers.

deuce liti

There is still discussion about the social and psychological impact of modern commercialism?

They won... Years ago.

All you can do is separate yourself as much as possible to retain your humanity. People work many jobs not just for essentials, but for object attainment. They barely/rarely see the families they work so much for to the get the objects they're told they need.

They only true path to real happiness is giving.


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