Imagine a World with No Brands

Imagine a World with No Brands

Imagine a world of no brands — no Wal-Mart, Google, HSBC, or Canon. Is that the sort of world we would want to inhabit?

For example, think about being able to walk down your local high street looking for a restaurant to eat in. There is no McDonalds, no Byrons, no Five Guys, no Pizza Express, Giraffe, Prezzo, or Itsu. Instead you see Hot Wok, Burger in Time, Taste of Italy, Leo's and ten other individually owned establishments. In fact, if you stepped back a century in time that might well have been the culinary landscape you were faced with — all independent, every one different offering you a diversity of choice, price, and quality. In contrast, today’s high street is dominated by big chain restaurants and whilst sole traders obviously exist in large numbers, the populace like the consistency of a brand. Perhaps they even like the fact that there is less choice, that they feel more comfortable in the belief that they have an individual relationship with the brand, that they can sample their favorite dishes in Hull, Houston or Le Harve. Brand shopping is the same — you are paying for that reliable relationship, even if Cheap-As-Chips ketchup is made in exactly the same factory as Big-Brand ketchup.

What would the photographic landscape be like if there were no big brand camera manufacturers? Is this what it was like at the birth of photography, perhaps around 1850-1900? Was there a rapid rise in hardware businesses, funded by a profligate company investment sector that innovated rapidly, brought new products to market quickly and, in the same breath, disappeared beneath the waves if their product, price or, marketing wasn't up to scratch. Was this a period of dramatic technical change where designers continually built upon what preceded, safe in the knowledge that it was always going to be high-risk so… there was nothing to lose in going all-out!

If we transposed that market to now, what would it look like? Well, my gut instinct is that it might not be too dissimilar to the current smartphone sector. Yes, we have the Samsungs and Apples dominating the Western marketplace, but all eyes are looking east to India and China. They are a vast market and the sheer number of companies and devices being manufactured, particularly in China, is breathtaking. The IT press call these generic devices "China phones" as they are no-brand, big on features and low on price. Spinning up a new manufacturing run is easy when you have so many integrators and capacity all in close proximity to one another. Of course, R&D is expensive and, well maybe we aren't seeing the innovation. But let's wait for that market to mature a little more.

And the photographic sector? Well, to be honest, I'm bored with it. For me, the most exciting products in recent years have been the smartphone, Google Glass and GoPro. Integrators using existing technology in new and exciting ways. Perhaps I'd just squeeze the mirrorless camera in here too. But the mainstream camera market? Dull. And, well, maybe that's how we like it — incremental change, rather than disruptive innovation. Does the iPhone change my photography? No. Can it have a dramatic impact for the guy-on-the-street? Absolutely.

Which is why I'm so excited by the DJI Zenmuse X7. Technologically it is a 24MP APS-C body, so nothing super exciting there. But it is built from the ground up to be as small and light as possible — a new lens mount with a 16.8mm flange distance supports carbon fibre lenses — it’s an integrated part of the drone. For the aerial imaging sector it marks a game changing move by a drone company.

In stark contrast, I like the fact that I've bought into the simplicity and reliability of the Nikon F-mount that allows me to use lenses all the way back to 1959. I can be safe in the knowledge that things will just work, with any F-mount lens: a standard. Innovation comes at a price, just ask those that paid to move from Nikon or Canon to Fuji. If those tectonic shifts afford you a competitive, technical or artistic advantage then maybe we should be celebrating innovation and change. Long live the startup and I'll drink to that at my local Weatherspoons!

Photo by Nic Low on Unsplash

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Jen Photographs's picture

I don't quite see the connection you're making between a no-advertising landscape and the new DJI

Mike Smith's picture

Just the parallel that a dynamic part of the photographic sector can produce innovation, in stark contrast to the F-mount

Jen Photographs's picture

No, still don't follow the connection between no-advertising and photography/innovation and...uh. F-mounts.

stir photos's picture

yeah, i stumbled there to... i sort of forced myself to just let it go, but my critical thinking spidey sense was goin' off left and right as i was reading tho...

William Howell's picture

As for food, I’ll skip diversity of quality!

Chinese products are, it would seem, are becoming pricey.
And their homegrown quality and reliability, still is not up to snuff.

The Chinese can rip-off the likes of Hensel, Broncolor and Elinchrom, as those companies sub out the work, (for their entry level products), to Chinese manufacturers.

Who then turn around and bring Godox to the market with not “organically grown technology”, if you know what I mean!

We have a maker of mono blocks in the USA, that simply cannot be touched, in quality or price. At almost three thousand dollars for this drone attachment, I think we’ll see an American version of this, if there is money to be made.

Mike Smith's picture

Another betamax buyer!! Seems that price, not product, often wins out :(

barry cash's picture

Great article and subject. Some brands we don’t need other we can’t live without. I never go to a brand like Gucci but I go to brands like Hasselblad and Leica. Nothing wrong with family owned no brands and no name cell phones life would be fine. Handmade cameras and film yes digital no not possible!

Fix your own 61 Chevy yep fix your own 2018 Range Rover nope!

Kirk Darling's picture

Maintenance, yes. Repairs, certainly not "most." And I speak as someone who has overhauled automobile engines in my garage, swapped out cylinder heads in carports, and swapped out starters in auto parts store parking lots. I can do most of the general maintenance, but not "most" actual repair work on latest model cars.

Kirk Darling's picture

What was actually your point? Are you wearing nostalgia goggles to look back at a time when there were only cottage industries and products were no more advanced than what could be produced in someone's home workshop? Chinese cell phone manufacturers are not operating without massive industries behind them, even if the brand names are not well-known in the West. And a lot of them are unreliable junk.

If we transposed that market to now, what would it look like? Well, my gut instinct is that it might not be too dissimilar to the current smartphone sector. Yes, we have the Samsungs and Apples dominating the Western marketplace, but all eyes are looking east to India and China.

Total BS, china no brand phone are ALL brand names, just smaller names that you don't know about. A non brand phone would be some guy made their own one of phone with a soldering iron in their own bed room.

"Hot Wok, Burger in Time, Taste of Italy, Leo's and ten other individually owned establishments" are all their OWN brands. It is how individual business utilize that branding in their marketing. People utilized it well could grow, one day they grow big enough to become a brand name that you recolonize.

Don't get your point at all. Do you mean Imagine a World with no Marketing?