This Canadian Generic Brand Is Super Weird (but Intensely Loved)
In the cult sci-fi comedy Repo Man, young punk Otto Mattox (Emilio Estevez) gets fired from his job stocking shelves at a grocery store after he shouts at his boss and shoves one of his coworkers. Before that, he’d been stacking shelves with brand-free products, all with identical plain white labels and matter-of-fact product names like “Yellow Cling Sliced Peaches” and “Corn Flakes.”
That design choice was mostly a critique on the consumerism that was already rampant in the early 1980s, but it was also because the filmmakers couldn’t find a corporate sponsor. SoCal grocery store chain Ralphs did agree to donate some products, but they were all generic and past their sell-by date, with some cans just labeled “Food” and others marked “Beer.” (Those beer cans, though, have become borderline iconic.)
But before Repo Man, there was Canada’s No Name brand — and 40 years after its understated debut, these beyond-understated grocery items are still in the Loblaws supermarket chain. “No Name is the gem of Canada,” one Torontonian recently tweeted. “Every product is so unbelievably ominous I really laugh my ass off every time I go shopping.”
And these items do sort of look ominous — but that’s not what the designer had in mind, at all. According to the Canadian Design Resource, Don Watt thought that by reducing the clutter on the label and by reducing it to a yellow label and a simple Helvetica font, it would actually be more memorable than brands that relied on flashier packaging. He also wanted to remove some of the stigma for shoppers who couldn’t afford those more familiar brands too. “I resented people making things look bad, for people who don’t have money,” he says.
When the No Name products were first released, they were reportedly criticized for being too severe or — gasp! — too Soviet. But the items proved to be popular and have been credited with “revitalizing the Loblaws supermarket.”
Sounds good to us. But does it go against what No Name stands for if you, uh, ask for it by name?