RED is the New Black: Brand Culture, Consumer Citizenship and Political Possibility

Sarah Banet-Weiser, Charlotte Lapsansky


Any quick glance at cultural, social, and political life in 21st Century United States discloses compelling evidence that regardless of identity, or generation, or socio-economic status, we organize our lives within brand culture. While advertising continues to have a dominant presence in both public and private spaces, what characterizes contemporary culture is not so much the ubiquitous ad, but rather the normalization of brand culture, where consumer participation is not simply (or even most importantly) indicated by purchases made, but rather by brand loyalty and affiliation. By connecting brands to lifestyles, to politics, and even to social activism, brand culture permeates consumer habits, and more importantly, all forms of political, social, and civic participation. We examine two contemporary examples of branding strategies, the RED campaign and the Chevy Tahoe consumer competition, as a way to demonstrate the dynamic relationships between consumers and brand marketers. In particular, we discuss these campaigns as lenses through which we understand how brand culture is a space for the constitution of consumer citizenship. These two campaigns are also illustrative of the ways that brand culture is in a state of flux at this historical moment, and we explore this instability for its political impact.

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