Why Does This No-Brand Brand Creep Me Out So Much?

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Photo via Brandless.

Millennials continue on their mad killing spree. Just a month ago, it was “casual dining” establishments like Buffalo Wild Wings and Applebees; now they are cleaning the avocado traces off their knives and looking menacingly at consumer packaged goods giants like Procter & Gamble.

The Wall Street Journal reports on the launch of Brandless, a new e-commerce startup that’s stripped the branding out of all its products in order to charge $3 for everything. Some things you can get for $3, randomly selected: spicy jalapeño & cheddar flavored quinoa puffs; organic applesauce pouches; a serrated bread knife; a two-pack of açai berry lip balm; and organic Texas style barbecue sauce. Basically, it’s supermarket house brands, minus the supermarket.

If you’re picturing a sort of Three-Dollar General for a design-conscious online-shopping generation that doesn’t have as much money as the baby boomers, well:

David Garfield, head of the consumer-products practice at consulting firm AlixPartners, said the concept could appeal to millennials who are less brand-loyal than older generations, and more inclined to shop online. Brandless is, he said, “seeing the factors and phenomena in the market in the right way.”

He added, however, that consumer-goods companies spend heavily on advertising and prominent shelf placement because those techniques pay off. “They are underestimating how difficult it is to thread the needle and execute,” he said.

You would think that excessive orgy of branding—popup ads for Crest flashing before our ocular implants, that sort of thing—would be the most dystopian possible outcome for capitalism in the 21st century. But staring at that Brandless (TM) (don’t forget the TM) branded tube of toothpaste is somehow giving me the absolute willies, like I’ve woken up in a horrible video game version of reality that isn’t quite filled out around the edges. Which, frankly, would explain a lot.