Communism, Interrupted.

Branding and rebranding are a challenge for any agency. But what if your brand were “communism?”

Those born and raised in the U.S. might have ideas of what communism represents, if only in a distant, high-school-history-class sort of way. And most of those ideas would be something like “bad.”

My own awareness of it was shaped by my father, who escaped from Bulgaria in 1967 for the greener pastures of Chicago. He’s gone now, and the stories he shared about his life under the communist regime have faded a little. 

But those stories suddenly sprang to life when I saw a very convincing “Television Commercial for Communism” by The Propeller Group, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

The Propeller Group was established in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, by Tuan Andrew Nguyen and Matt Lucero—who studied at the California Institute of the Arts—and Phunam Thuc Ha. Their collaboration was established to be an artist collective, an ad agency, and a media production company. Their commercial projects fund their artistic projects.

TVCC” is one part of their larger effort to rebrand communism. This ambitious (and totally non-ironic) project, executed in conjunction with ad agency TBWA/Vietnam, packages communism with campaign tactics utterly familiar to any student of capitalism: a logo, a manifesto, a brand guideline document, and some cool merchandise.

The concept behind this project was of particular interest to me for two reasons: my family’s background, and the industry in which I work.

Marketers and designers take on branding and re-branding efforts often enough to understand that history, baggage, and deep-rooted challenges in overcoming perception will guide our decisions as we shape or re-shape public discourse. Our industry is (mostly) pretty brilliant at accomplishing this.

TVCC” poses questions that seem especially poignant at this moment in time and explore how a belief system works within the psyche of the individual, and the collective at large.

“We like how mythology creates a space that fact and fiction kind of operate simultaneously.” - Tuan Andrew Nguyen

On the surface, you might think there’s an obvious contradiction in using a “commercial” to sell a shiny, happy version of an ideology like “communism.” But maybe there is no contradiction. And maybe the tools we’ve sharpened and refined so expertly can be used against us, to convince us that what we’re being sold is a life-changing benefit.

So where is the divide — if one even exists — between “marketing” and “propaganda?” Are they two sides of the same coin? Is it a matter of perspective? Opinion? Fact? Illusion? Values? Business practices? What makes them different? Or the same?

The grey areas are vast and deep, and it’s important for marketers to consider our line of work and how it impacts society on a much broader scale. What we do really matters, and not just to the “bottom line.”

This post was edited from the original version for clarity and context. 

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