On My Soapbox: Over-Branding

Words by: Andrew Williams

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The failure of the UK’s summer to get off the launch-pad required that I buy a mid-weight coat on Saturday. I selected a rather nice heavy twill cotton Pea Coat from UK retailer Jaeger. I loved the design and the price was right. However, what wasn’t so agreeable was the additional £20 I had to spend on replacement buttons – that’s not including labour.

Sadly, Jaeger had done what so many brands appear to be doing, which was to over brand their own products. The buttons, perfectly serviceable in all other respects, had the company name all over them. Not so noticeable from afar, it was too obvious up close and personal. They had to go.

This disagreeable trend for retailers to plaster their name and logos obtrusively over products has in recent years become a pandemic. Society in general has moved to a position where style is prized more than substance. And in so many ways much of the public and the mainstream media accept the mere wearing of brand names as a substitute for both. I suspect too that the culture of ‘Bling’ has had much to do with it. This being a direct result of the popularity of Rap, R&B and their like amongst the middle classes; with all its in your face, splash the cash, ‘how do you like them apples’ attitude to money and wealth.

As to the labels themselves, you would have thought they’d know better. Leaving aside for a moment the fact that bloody great labels and logos ruin the aesthetic of a garment, one of the requirements of exclusivity and glamour is subtlety and discretion. It’s the key difference between nouveau and old school. Savile Row tailors are famous for hiding their labels inside the inside pocket of their jackets, and for not advertising. And yet we are in no doubt as to who they are, what they are and their pedigree.

There is another factor to consider and that is the prevalence, even amongst exclusive labels, for outsource manufacturing to low wage economies. Such practises make the high prices charged for their goods ridiculous – if not damn dishonest – in my view. Over branding is perhaps a means for labels to sooth their own consciences, as though it were adequate compensation to the poor trusting punter; “Here you are Sir. Have a little more style by association, on us”.

Curiously, in an age when most brands worry about the ready availability of counterfeit goods, over-branding increasingly makes the real thing look like the fake. The controversy sparked by Ralph Lauren’s dressing of the US Olympic team for Beijing is well known. Those jackets looked like cheap knock-offs in my view.

For another example take Ray-Ban Wayfarers, the ultimate pair of bins in my view. But unless I want to pay inflated prices for a pair of vintage glasses I have to have a silly – and quite possibly irritating – ‘Ray-Ban’ scrawled across the lens. So, I buy the fakes instead, or rather an interpretation by a more subdued retailer.

Time to draw stumps on this rant, but I’ll end by saying I object to the fact that having paid for a garment I am then expected to provide free advertising as a human billboard.

The great irony in this particular case is that I really love the phase that Jaeger is going through at the moment; and if anybody were to ask I’d happily tell them where I bought the coat.

I suspect that is true of most people in most other cases.