Peter York On Ads

We can mock brands all we like – but we've still got to have them
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The Independent Online

Brands furnish a life. Where would the Beckhams be without them? They wear famous brands, go to branded restaurants and David advertises untold masses of them. There's the wonderful story that Tom Ford, when he was running Gucci, assembled his PR people for an emergency summit. He showed them pictures of Posh in a variety of Gucci outfits. "What do we do?", he allegedly moaned, "to stop her?" It was a brand thing. The Posh brand wasn't 100 per cent compatible with the Gucci one as reconceived by Tom.

Brands are useful ways of short-handing practically anything – look at the way Tom Wolfe first used brand name lists to sharpen up a character and a situation. Look at the most brand– referenced novel , Bret Easton Ellis's 'Glamorama'.

Of course there's a huge snobbish reaction from people who think they're miles above all that, either in an Old Money bespoke everything world or in an organic jute and calico No Logo Land. Socially smart people have always mocked the threateningly mobile, and anti-branding is a central strand of high-end status conflict now.

Of course, old upper-class people never needed brands for personality support. Chatsworth, Mitford, Van Dyck, Gainsborough, Reynolds, Castle Howard, Trinity, Barings, Eton and other useful staples of a certain kind of ancient world conversation aren't for one moment comparable. And when sophisticated post-war globalists talked about Kees van Dongen and Peter Doig, they weren't doing handbag house games either, of course. It's so obviously stratospherically different.

All I'm saying is that Louis Vuitton and L'Oréal didn't invent branding at some point in the mid-Eighties. Big, reassuring names have been around a long time.

The clever new Tesco Direct commercial picks up on all this, having it both ways, making English fun of lower-middle brand obsessives but making it clear that Tesco Direct only sells top-of-the-range branded goods.

In a bright new suburban house, the wife (Fay Ripley in a riding hat) and errant husband (Martin Clunes in diving rubbers and flippers) discuss his adultery in a flurry of brand and product descriptors, as in "Can I make you a coffee, darling, with the 1.8 litre, fully automatic De Lunghi coffee maker?" Or "Get out and take your Bosch variable- speed power drill with you."

The house looks like a Bathstore brochure, the actors look sitcom-silly, the scarlet woman is called Mildred and the branded merchandise, it goes without saying, is carefully lit and shot to look its loveliest.