Whiting Out Your Favorite Brands
By day, Andrew Miller is a branding strategist at a New York design agency — working to figure out how to create memorable branding around perhaps not-so-memorable products. But by night, the former designer is stripping away that visual branding by covering it with white Krylon spray paint — to see which of our favorite products are still recognizable in their purest form. From a red Twizzler rope to an old Macintosh computer, the result is Brand Spirit — a blog of 100 ghost-like objects, photographed with an old 1970s camera, over 100 days.
Tell us how Brand Spirit came to be.
It started as a school project at SVA, where I was studying brand strategy. One of the things we talked about a lot in class was how, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, they banned all outdoor advertising, aiming to reduce visual pollution. Not surprisingly, businesses were very worried. But with the ban still in effect, the city is thriving — a recent survey even found that most residents find the ban beneficial. So, I wanted to ask, what happens when you start to imagine a world without brands?
What does a world without brands look like?
A world without brands looks like silence. With the growing complexity in our lives, we all need time to stop and reflect. My hope is that these photographs invite the viewer to pause and contemplate the objects in new and surprising ways.
How do you decide which brands to feature?
In the beginning, I considered taking the project in a more political direction. So Barbie, who I painted, was a comment on feminism — with her unrealistic depiction of the female form. The McDonald’s French fries were a statement on obesity, and the Remington bullet is about our culture of violence. I considered doing a Bible, but I decided it was moving too far away from the original question — which was why we buy the things we buy. In the end, I decided Brand Spirit is about what it means to live in a branded, consumer-driven world, and not an overt commentary on morality or social issues.
Where’d you find all these objects?
Really quickly into the process, I started thinking it was going to get repetitive if I kept buying things from the drugstore. So I started shopping in antique stores, flea markets, and on eBay. My parents sent me the Scrabble tiles, and some things, like the Kindle and the Underwood typewriter, were donations. Some poor unsuspecting girl who was looking to make a few bucks off her toys sold me three Barbies for $5 on eBay. And for the Macintosh, I borrowed a friend’s car, drove to Garfield, N.J., to a computer junkyard, where I paid $20 for it. My rule was that I could only spend up to $10, but I got my girlfriend to underwrite the cost. The bullet was not easy to get my hands on — a “friend of a friend” is all I can say.
And where do you spraypaint them?
I work in a storage room in my office, where they keep the cleaning supplies and the ping pong table. I come in on weekends, move everything out of the room, and cover the floor in plastic. I basically spray paint an item with a paper mask, then run out of the room so I can breathe.
Are there particular objects that are so iconic they are easy to recognize even after they’ve been painted?
The Tabasco bottle is a good example, with its hectagonal top. Hershey’s Kisses have that distinctive teardrop shape and the paper plume rising from the aluminum covering. Even the hourglass-shaped Method soap bottle. These design details are unmistakable — and in these three cases, they are copyrighted, too.
And what about the brands that lose their meaning?
Certain categories, like coffee, cigarettes, batteries, and condoms, have extremely similar packaging constructions. So, like Duracell and Marlboro, I wanted to show that there is no physical differentiation in their physical design — which means the sales of those products are completely reliant on the brand.
How do you think the shape of a brand affects us as consumers?
When a brand creates a product with a unique industrial design, it can add to the effectiveness of creating a lasting connection with the consumer. With some of these objects, even after you paint them, you’re left with the visual elements that are the brand. In the mind of people, a lime and a Corona bottle are the brand as much as the design on the outside of the bottle.
What are you going to do with all of these whited-out objects?
I’ve filled up a number of drawers in my office — if you open them, you’d think I am a crazy person. Something I’m considering a lot is actually placing the objects into context and creating interesting photographs. Like creating a whole composition of multiple objects in a desk scene, so like a rotary phone and a Macintosh computer. Or take the Tabasco to a place where it would actually exist, like a diner.
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