There are few things in Canada that are accepted as unequivocal symbols of Canadian identity: the maple leaf, the double-double, the red and black flannel, and—perhaps more subtle than the rest but no less meaningful—the ever-present No Name.
The budget brand, which has served Canadians for more than four decades, has established itself as a top choice on grocery shelves across the country. But it is so much more than just a solution for overpriced groceries. At its crux, it is pure marketing genius.
"It's like the Canadian Off-White," writes one user in a No Name appreciation thread. It may not seem like it, but such could pass as a valid comparison, despite the fact that Off-White is a luxury label and No Name is, well, not.
Their likeness is actually in their minimalist branding that made them both famous in their respective industries. Off-White employs the heavy use of quotation marks, while No Name relies on to-the-point texts printed across plain yellow backgrounds.
In a digital world where we are fusilladed with catchpenny ads and empty promises, it is refreshing to see these toned-down approaches to conventional marketing.
Virgil Abloh, the master architect of Off-White, has an unshakable obsession with quotation marks. In an interview with Berlin-based fashion mag 032c, it is revealed that the marks have a greater purpose than to simply serve as some sort of commercial gimmick.
"Quotation marks are one of the many tools that Abloh uses to operate in a mode of ironic detachment," writes Thom Bettridge of 032c. "Abloh rejects the who-did-it-first mentality of previous generations in favor of the copy-paste logic of the Internet and its inhabitants. His new order is protected by a fortress of irony."
"You can use typography and wording to completely change the perception of a thing without changing anything about it," Abloh adds. "If I take a men's sweatshirt and write 'woman' on its back, that's art."
No Name's "anti-brand" concept uses minimalist typography in a similar manner as Off-White, but it gives an effect that is essentially opposite from Off-White's intended warping of perception.
The no-nonsense labels deliver a clear "what you see is what you get" impression that is inherently satirical and pokes fun at trendy hyperbolic advertising without even trying. Competitors could release their flashiest ads in an attempt to assert their superiority, but No Name literally couldn't care less.
It will not rebut or take a shot at a one-up with flashier ads. Instead, it will remain bound to the fundamental doctrine that gained it the people's respect in the first place: the rejection of superficiality.
"We can't lie, or tell something that isn't true," says Dave Wotherspoon, the creative director of Loblaw Companies. "Like medium cheddar. No, it cannot communicate with the other side, playing on the word 'medium.' It's not a lie, but maybe it's a bit more information than you need."
In September 2019, Loblaw partnered up with Toronto advertising firm John St. to produce No Name's biggest national campaign in 30 years. Within the month, ads with the classic black Helvetica type on plain yellow backgrounds were aired on TV, pushed to Twitter, and plastered all over the city's subway platforms, taxis, and buildings.
They even came out with a line of No Name merchandise, which were basically just yellow shirts that had the description "shirt with long sleeves" printed across them. They sold out in no time.
Eli Singer, a brand strategist in Toronto, voiced his sentiments about No Name to CPA Canada: "It definitely is one of those brands that people love. They swear by it. It saves them a ton of money and they feel smart. They feel people shopping elsewhere who are paying 30, 50, or 200 percent more for the same product are foolish. It's a customer base that has got a lot of pride."
That's not to say the brand's latest campaign will guarantee the approval of all Canadians. Singer, who is a No Name consumer himself, also expressed concerns that the "irony-soaked, deadpan side" of the ads could get lost in translation. Ultimately, they could detract from what the brand is really about: community.
"When I started seeing all the stuff at the subway station, I thought it was a bit of a turnoff. Where’s the community in this? Is the value of No Name the fact that it's yellow, or is the value of the brand the humanity in it, the people who are making the decision to shop there?"
Whether or not Loblaw's recent efforts to "re-energize" the brand will be successful, one thing is certain—No Name will always be one of the greatest things to come out of Canada.
Photo by Niki Kottaras-Danko
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