A Paradox of Branding

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The value proposition behind generic, no-name products is that consumers save money because they're not paying for marketing campaigns or branding expenses. At the same time, they're able to choose products that are as good as a name brand, or at least good enough.

The thinking goes that Hunt's tomato paste is equivalent to Walmart's Great Value tomato paste except for the name on the can. And Bounce-brand dryer sheets are as functional as Target's Up & Up dryer sheets.

A company called Brandless is taking the idea of generic brands, decoupling it from any brick-and-mortar retailer, and putting the brandless products for sale on the Internet. The Brandless website says:

"BrandTax™ is the hidden costs you pay for a national brand. We've been trained to believe these costs increase quality, but they rarely do. We estimate the average person pays at least 40% more for products of comparable quality as ours. And sometimes up to 370% more for beauty products like face cream. We're here to eliminate BrandTax™ once and for all."


Brandless's lack of branding creates its own brand. The product designs feature a unified look of sans serif fonts and a muted color palette. Moreover, the company is dedicated to a price point of $3 flat, shoring up its brand idea of simplicity. Meanwhile, Brandless elevates itself over typical generic brands with appeals to healthier living and a penchant for organic, non-GMO, and gluten-free ingredients. Brandless also touts its giving-back bona fides like Toms and Warby Parker. Altogether, it would seem the company has a pretty strong brand identity.

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If you were to look at the employment page, this brandless brand is hiring branding professionals such as copywriters and art directors. Its lingo is filled with superscripted TM trademarks including BrandTax™ and Just What Matters™. So then, who's paying the legal fees for these branded terms about brandlessless and the lack of BrandTaxes™? Who's paying for the well-cultivated brand identity? The company's customers, that's who. These costs must be built into the prices.

Is Brandless hypocritical? At least a little. Is Brandless paradoxical? Most certainly.

The most interesting thing about the Brandless concept is that it shows it's impossible for a company not to have a brand. When a company expresses its identity and values through consistent imagery and messages, it is branding done well.

Or a company can handle its branding sloppily with a clip-art logo, clichéd copywriting, and a hodgepodge of visual elements. This company still has a brand, maybe a poor one, but a brand nonetheless. In this case, the sloppy branding is the brand. Ultimately, there's no such thing as brandlessness.