What do your choices say about you?

Remember “Billy the Human Billboard?” He’s the dude who got his 15 minutes of by fame selling the skin on his face to companies to use for advertising. He is literally a walking billboard for about 20 brands, including a host of failed startups and porn sites(Do those ever fail?).

Truth be told, he sold his body for somewhat admirable purposes. He’s bipolar. He lost his job. He couldn’t find a new one. Riddled with debt, his family of 7(yikes) was on the verge of becoming homeless. His face tattoos prevented that from happening. Of all the reasons to get face tattoos, keeping your family off the streets seems like a pretty good one.

Like it or not, we all share something in common with “Billy the Human Billboard.” Sure, we may not have face tattoos. We may not be actively selling ourselves to companies. We may actually have it worse. We are paying to be advertisements. Your favorite “Lucky 13” shirt? Wearing it makes you an active advertisement for your favorite bar. And you paid $20 for that shirt. At least Billy got a few thousand dollars for his tattoo.

Think about it. Even if you want to “get away from it all” and venture into the wilderness, you and your friends will still be walking billboards. Your performance jacket, it’s got logos. Your shorts. Your shoes. Your daypack. Your food. Everything. And, whether you want to admit it or not, the presence of these brands invades your experiences. Even without logos, these objects are advertising themselves. After your trip, you may like the brand that made your jacket because you had a great experience while wearing it. It’s unavoidable.

Brands know the power of this free advertising. They actively study the number of “impressions” it takes to make a brand alive in someone’s mind. (Apparently, it takes five impressions to for you to feel comfortable with a brand. To trust the brand.) If someone sees you wearing a t-shirt supporting a brand, you are helping the brand.

This isn’t always a bad thing. For years, I only bought band t-shirts. These were bands that I thoroughly enjoyed and were unknown to the masses. I wanted them to succeed. Buying... and wearing... a shirt seemed like the best way to help them out. It has often been a great conversation starter, if nothing else.

For Modern Industry, this has always been an area of intense debate. Do we want to force everyone who carries a Modern Industry bag to become a billboard for our brand? It would certainly help us sell more bags. To date, we have resisted the urge to put our logo on the outside of our bags. For the first time, with our Apex hoodie, we included a small, tasteful, tag that on the outside that displays our wordmark. Of course, we sell t-shirts, but that was at the behest of people like you. People who loved what we stood for. People who wanted to help us spread the word about Modern Industry.

The more I think about it, keeping a logo off of our bags is a little bit silly. The things we buy say something about us whether we like it or not. It is a display of our value system. It connects us with other members of our tribe. The choice to carry a Modern Industry bag (or anything else for that matter) says something about who you are. Even without a logo, it defines something about you to others. Hell, if this is a bag you carry every day, it may be one of the most dominant cultural signifiers you own.

So what does all of this mean? To be honest, I don’t really know. I think it is important to understand the impact of the little things we do and how it affects how others see us. How we see ourselves. We should be aware that making a purchase from a company means tacitly supporting how they do business. What do you want your decisions to say about who you are? About what you believe? About your tribe?

I don’t have the answers. Won’t pretend to say I will, but to put my trust in...

And now for your daily dose of punk rock:

June 17, 2014 by Patrick Healy
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