What do Dadaists, Lady Gaga and Muji all have in common? Well, if you read on, I’ll get to that.
When Hugo Ball initiated the Dada movement in Zurich, I bet he would never have imagined that his idea of random art would become a major influential art trend that has already lasted more than 100 years. After the first night at the Cabaret Voltaire, the idea of creating anti-art and opposing both expressionism and futurism quickly became popular – always bearing the key-principle in mind: to mean absolutely nothing.
The idea of being devoid of meaning and simply conveying fun and nonsense were necessary after World War I. Dada was supposed to oppose the commonly recognised idea of art and was not intended to be part of impressionism, expressionism, symbolism and others. Mankind, however, needed Dada to be categorized and so attached the suffix “ism”.
A similar course of events happened to pop icon Lady Gaga. At the beginning of her career she announced: “I don’t mean to sound pretentious, but I’ve made it my goal to revolutionize pop music.” And so she did. Bringing art to the stage, she showed everyone how to create a vivid identity for yourself by also using elements of Dadaism. By changing her appearance almost every day and creating valuable, literary pop-songs, she stood out from all previous pop artists and became one of the most influential musicians according to Forbes. But is Lady Dada really perceived as a pop music revolutionary? Today, she is often compared to Madonna, and listed alongside Pink, Beyoncé and Gwen Stefani.
Dada and Lady Gaga became leading examples and thus brands for certain time periods. The dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs gave Hugo Ball and Lady Gaga the urge to create something radically new within their industry. But in the end, mankind needed the misfits to be categorized and lined them up with existing concepts and idols.
When focusing on the world of business in recent years, we have observed Muji, a Japanese retail company that offers a huge variety of household and consumer goods. Muji literally means “without brand” and was created to sell non-branded, good-quality products. Today they have stores in about 650 different locations. The brand of no-brand has grown into a huge brand which has a large product portfolio and famous designers working for it anonymously. Moreover, in 2019, Muji will open up its third hotel in Ginza, Tokyo. By doing things differently, Muji focuses its energy on quality and has obviously been successful. And this all started with a non-branded impulse.
Today, brands that aim to oppose the traditional idea of a brand are on the rise. Companies in the fashion industry focus on being no brand like the Portuguese shoe-producer No Brand or the premium apparel brand The Unbranded Brand. The latter is a sub brand of Naked and Famous based in Canada, producing raw denim jeans and communicating the following message: “No branding. No washes. No Embroidery. No Ad Campaigns. No Celebrities.”
Non-branded fashion seems straight forward, but in 2017 the company Brandless went to market by selling unbranded food, kitchenware, and beauty and care products online, thus broadening the area of no-brand land. Founded in San Francisco and inspired by Muji, Brandless has one mission: “Better stuff, fewer dollars. It’s that simple.” All products sell for 3$, are carefully curated, clearly labeled and made from sustainable, high-quality materials. “Better everything, for everyone” is a relevant business case that recently won 240 million US dollars to fight Amazon on price and quality.
Generally speaking, the no brand trend might not necessarily overtake the economy, yet the reason behind it is obvious; a branding reduction is demanded by part of our society. Are we so fed up with price mark-ups and the flood of products that we want to go back to our simple and qualitative roots?
Being a brand while not being a brand is sort of revolutionary – and a little Dada (a bit Gaga, some might say). This also raises questions like “Will they need a brand strategy?”, “If so, do they call it a brandless strategy?” and “What does it mean for the term ‘brand’?” “Will we add a new dimension to the definition or do we need a new name to describe the plain field of no-brand land?”
Dada brands literally mean nothing, but the underlying ideas mean a restart for new business concepts and possibly a change in how we understand branding today.
Overall, new impulses shape our centuries and minds. Mankind needs disruptive ideas to be inspired to create new concepts, but in the end they all end up as an “ism” – theoretically speaking.
Hence, Dadaists, Lady Gaga and Muji (or all other disruptive brands) have an impulse, an impact and a theoretical “ism” in common. Dadaism, Gagaism, Brandism. Nihilism. What’s next?
Tina Weise is Brand Strategist at MetaDesign Berlin.