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Modern Symbols Market Tradition

Published: November 16, 2007, Author: MHirch

To be healthy means to be rich. This reality is widely understood and accepted within contemporary western society. The trend is towards a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. Aspects that have been associated with traditional, alternative beliefs are turning into an exclusive “postmodern“ way of life which is uncritical of consumption and consumerism.
Not to save the world but to show that one belongs to the upper classes more and more people buy natural and organic products. These traditional goods are becoming the most expensive ones available. And, in a world where environmental pollution seems rampant everywhere, the most coveted, because safest products. 

Adherents of this fashion are called LOHAS (acronym for lifestyle of health and sustainability). And there is quite a few of them all over. The market segment related to sustainable green living and ecological initiatives is immense. In the year 2006 it was estimated at $300 billion in the USA, about  30% of the country’s consumer market.
For many years we used to think and live in terms of modern versus traditional. It was a matter of either or. But not any more. Advertisement strategies radically aim at subverting our beliefs.
With the aid of systems of collective symbols change is symbolically integrated. Discrepancies and contraditions are  bridged, plausibility is created.

One example for this strategy is Bionade a young German company which says to concoct the world’s first and still unique non-alcoholic organically produced refreshment drink, borrowing from age-old brewing techniques. The company advertises Bionade to be the official drink of a better world and sells the bottles mostly in organic food stores. The succcess in sales is incredible. Already the word is out about the Bionadization of society.
The company uses the silence of symbolic language as a powerful strategy to address its upper scale target group and to get away from the typical long-haired, unkempt image of a natural food store customer, wearing Birkenstock sandals. The secret of the company’s  story of magic success lies in the symbol printed on the crown cap. The symbol is the mods target symbol which acts like a secret code by which to recognize each other.
The symbol is circular in form. Found in all cultures the circle is the most common and universal sign. It is the symbol of completeness, eternity and infinity. The circle is associated with the perfect, ideal or the divine universe. It is a symbol of democracy and the preferred shape for an assembly of equals.

The Bionade symbol looks like the roundel (red-white-blue from center to rim) used by the British Royal Air Force (RAF) since World War I after it replaced the Union Flags to avoid confusion with the similar looking German cross. What makes the symbol so special to use for the organic drink producer Bionade is the fact that in the 1960s the mods (originally modernist- a subculture which originated in London) co-opted this roundel, making it part of the pop consciousness and their mod ethos. The term mod contrasted with the term trad at the time. The motto of the mod was appearance determines being. The typical mod therefore was very elegantly dressed, wearing a parka and driving on a scooter. This made him much more hip than his contemporaries.
Nowadays this roundel and mods’ target sign symbolizes the relatively upscale and well-educated population segment of the Bionade drinking LOHAS.

Sure, symbols surround us. They are an intricate part of our everyday lives. Cultures communicate their beliefs, dreams, and reality in symbols. Many of us who do not know the mods and like symbols do not perceive these symbols. Other symbols like the Mercedes star communicate to us a national or corporate identity. Many archetypal symbols which reflect our ideas about the nature of life and the universe we simply take for granted.
The reason why symbols appear ominpresent and exert great power and influence on the human being might lie in the fact that those symbolic forms in myths, music and art are logical representations of emotions and accordingly the human mind.
Moreover in a world of diffuse powers and possibilities symbols convey secret, subconsciously active messages that oftentimes cannot otherwise be articulated. Thus they are used to communicate with or to manipulate other people.
Throughout history symbols have been appropriated and used for propagandistic manipulation, like e.g. the swastika. The swastika (from Sanskrit svasti, meaning well-being) was perverted by the Nazi regime, originally representing peace, good luck and success.

As powerful as symbols might be they shoud not make us close our eyes to the stalk realites behind the beautiful structures forms and colors. Certainly we can consider ourselves very fortunate when living in urban centers of the developped world and able to afford organically produced products. At the same time we should face the fact though that the majority of the world, mostly the poorest of the poor, indigenous peoples do not have access to safe foods. In coutries of the south, such as Argentina where the highest per capita amount of foods (3500kg/inhabitant) is produced thousands of people die of hunger while life-sustaining, high quality food products are shipped away to where people are able and willing to give a lot of money for them.
Is this real health and sustainability when only a select few of the world have access to and can benefit from safe environments? Or rather the illusion of a better world?

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