Unbrandwagon: No-Brand Brands, Branding Together


Every so often Brandchannel gets the opportunity to go back to Branding 101.

Case on point: when we hear about a brand that pretends to have no brand.

Our last look at this phenomenon came in February, when Christian “Ed Hardy” Audigier launched a brand with “no name, no logo and no brand.”

The most recent offender? “Unbranded” denim. Sold exclusively at Urban Outfitters, the description of Unbranded denim claims, “No branding. No washes. No embroidery. No ad campaigns. No celebrities.” No kidding![more]

While the latter four claims may be true, the first clearly isn’t. There seems to be no killing the misconception that a brand is something owned and defined by that product’s creator, trademark or copyright holder. That is to say, the very act of calling a product brandless defines its brand.

Of course, an “unbranded” brand can become successful. The Japanese fashion brand name Muji translates to “No Label.” But success still doesn’t mean it is unbranded. What Urban Outfitters is going for here with this exclusive line is understandable from a positioning perspective, it’s just that its claim that the products have no brand is incorrect.

But it’s more than just an annoying claim — it can lead to confusion. Who would blame a consumer for confusing “Unbranded” denim with the UK’s “Unbranded Clothing,” billed as an “unbranded range of adults’ and childrens’ garments (that) includes various styles of polo shirts, hooded sweatshirts in twenty colours, crewneck sweatshirts and t-shirts.”

Or how about the “NoBrand” brand line of clothing. The Unbranded brand’s joke may come back to bite it in the butt of its unbranded jeans.

If a brand is going to play this way, it should understand the difference between a name and a brand. A great recent example: No Name® Steaks.