Side Note

There’s no such thing as a brandless brand

For the past month, my Instagram story feed has been peppered with ads for Brandless, a digital retailer that bills itself as the “Procter & Gamble for millennials” and claims to save consumers money by not selling branded products. Everything Brandless sells — popcorn, tampons, soup, plates, peanut butter — costs $3, and most things come stamped with the Brandless logo. Now, Business Insider is reporting that Brandless is launching a pop-up in Los Angeles where customers can “interact with the brand in person” — except they won’t be able to buy anything.

To be clear: Brandless, a brand that claims to be the response to over-branded products, is having a pop-up to raise awareness of its brand. Customers can’t buy anything at this pop-up, but they will likely be able to order items they sample in the store online. On its website, Brandless claims their no-frills branding eliminates the “removed BrandTax™” — or “the hidden costs you pay for other brands” — estimating that the average person pays “at least 40% more” for branded products of “comparable quality.”

The paradox is that Brandless’s $3 toothpaste may cost less than Colgate or Tom’s, but it’s just as much of a branded product as any other. (In a 2017 interview with Fast Company, Brandless co-founder Tina Sharkey clarified that she isn’t “anti-brand,” but that Brandless was “trying to reminage what it means to be a brand in today’s world.”)

However you parse it, this no-brand-branding strategy seems to be working: Sharkey told Business Insider that the company ships packages to 48 states every day. “I checked that math — I just can’t believe it,” Sharkey said. “It’s gratifying to reach the whole country.” Sure, those customers are buying into Brandless’s budget-friendly products, but also the company’s branding — whether they want to admit it or not.