Branding our own War Path
Last week the New York Times Book Review featured Design Observer Steven Heller’s latest book “Iron Fists“. If you study design, or modern culture for that matter, Heller’s writings are in your library, no doubt.
Heller’s latest book compares modern branding strategy with those used by Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, the Soviet Union (under Stalin and Lenin) and China.
He is aware that comparing supposedly “benign” corporate brands with government-disseminated propaganda may seem a stretch: “A popular brand of frozen food or laundry detergent is not forced down the consumer’s throat with an iron fist.” Still, as he notes, “the design and marketing methods used to inculcate doctrine and guarantee consumption are fundamentally similar.”
Read the New York Times review to get the gist. In his past writings, Heller has delved into the Nazi’s powerful brand management, and Hitler’s ability to turn the Swastika, once a symbol of Peace, into a universal symbol of hate. This study goes further into the branding of such dictators and compares their strategies to our modern corporate giants.
Hitler was an aspiring architect and avid watercolorist before adopting what Heller calls his “sociopolitical art project.” The Führer sought to control all aspects of the Nazi brand, from the swastika “logo” to his own image, with mustache but without glasses. Heller argues that Mao with his “Mona Lisa smile” and Lenin with his proletarian cap functioned in much the same way as “trade characters” like Joe Camel or the Geico gecko, putting “a friendly face on an otherwise inanimate (or sometimes inhumane) product.”