Anarchism as a brand

For some in the anarchist movement “marketing” and “branding” are dangerous words, however even those of us more pragmatic in our outlook have often failed to critically evaluate the anarchist brand identity. Clearly marketing and branding are useful tools for our movement, to abandon them on idealogical grounds would be to deny ourselves an important weapon in the battle against capitalism. So what exactly is a brand identity?

To quote wikipedia:

Brand identity is what the owner wants to communicate to its potential consumers. However, over time, a products brand identity may acquire (evolve), gaining new attributes from consumer perspective but not necessarily from the marketing communications an owner percolates to targeted consumers. Therefore, brand associations become handy to check the consumer’s perception of the brand.

So what of our brand, “anarchism”?

Ask any non-leftist in the United Kingdom what an “anarchist” is and they will describe to you at best an insurrectionist, black-clad Molotov thrower. Even on the left anarchists are widely viewed as being ultra-leftists opposed to organisation. Clearly this isn’t a useful brand as it is an alienating image and has nothing to do with the ideas of anarchist communism. However, shouldn’t we fight to reclaim this word as our own? After all in countries such as Spain the term is better understood by the working class.

It would certainly be possible to reclaim our brand, as the Spanish situation demonstrates, however we must consider how useful such a reclamation would be, versus how much effort it would require. The price we would pay for such a reclamation is suffering for a long period of time under a brand which at present does not work, alienating most and ensuring that what few we attract based on brand alone will misunderstand anarchism.

Additionally such a reclamation would presumably require a large increase in resources (time and money) dedicated to it, given the propaganda output of ananrcho-communist groups (which far outstrips the output of any other “anarchist” groups) has thus far failed to make a dent in the popular impression of anarchism. So given this hefty price, what is the benefit of reclaiming anarchism?

But surely every brand we attempt to adopt will be smeared by the capitalist press? Whilst this is undoubtedly true, calling ourselves “anarchists” would seem to make it easy for them, given “anarchy”‘s literal meaning. Further, some brands have been markedly less tarred than anarchism, brands such as syndicalism still have generally positive connotations, at least within the trade unionist movement.

It could be argued that describing ourselves as “anarchists” is an important link to our movement’s past, and to part with it might lead us down the path towards the dilution of our ideas. However, were this to be the case it would suggest that our understanding of historical anarchism, and our confidence in our ideas is extremely weak. Would hundreds of years of anarchist theory and practice, our anarchist principles and methodology, slowly be abandoned as a consequence of a name change? This would seem unlikely, and were it to be the case it would be indicative of far deeper problems within our movement, as if we have a genuine understanding and appreciation of anarchism then why would we abandon it?

So if not “anarchism”, then what? Arguably ideology itself is a bad brand (hence why the main political parties seldom attempt to appeal to voters on an idealogical level, but rather on bread and butter issues) so one option is to simply present our ideas as non-ideological. However at some point it will presumably be valuable to have a brand which we can build, so what shall it be? There are numerous options, “syndicalism” would seem to be a good one, or if we feel especially confident we could create a brand new one. What is most appropriate will of course depend on what our target audience is receptive to, which will depend on what context we find ourselves in.

In summary Anarchists, much like the broader left, have inherited a lot of traditions from our predecessors. Some of this is of course valuable, there is no point in reinventing the wheel, however much of anarchist strategy has been adopted blindly, and a good example of this is our movements attachment to the “anarchist” brand. There would seem to be little case for expending the large amount of resources that would be required in order to recapture this word when other brand would far better serve our revolutionary purpose.