On brands, advertising, and LSQ

In a breakfast discussion the other morning I was reminded of how much the dystopian experience of growing up in the 80s with its vision of corporate overlords and power suits had on me and mine. There’s a reason we had Max Headroom and the famous Apple commercial (ironic now, isn’t it?) and why many of my generation still do our best to not sell out to “the man”.

That cold, hard vision of the future I grew up with, where we’re all little more than cogs in an uncaring machine, feels like it’s the source of one of the biggest gaps I have in understanding younger generations. The idea of turning yourself into a brand is anathema to everything I know and believe.

Some say that becoming a brand is a way to not sell out, but instead acknowledges that, in our world, brands have legitimacy that people don’t. Ideally, we subvert that to return that power to individuals by learning to communicate as a brand.

My Gen-X self just finds that far too narrow a needle to thread and I seriously doubt that those acting like brands understand the impact of that on their personhood. The ones who’ve taken it to an extreme of being a brand start sounding like corporations, complete with marketing speak and appearing as perfect ideals to their audience. They are subsumed by their own brand instead of leveraging it to break the idea down.

This is totally my opinion, but communicating as a brand makes you look like a brand, not a person and the only reason I see that brands have more legitimacy nowadays than people is folks started taking the “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach.

I mentioned that I’m Gen-X earlier. That’s important context for all I’m saying here. At the same time there was a steep slide toward conservative, corporate attitudes during my growing up, there was also an undercurrent of subversive ethics that fought against that. You can probably guess which side I leaned toward, even as a youngster.

Yet, those ideals don’t always hold up in our modern society and in the face of “everything is a brand” ideas. In the work I do as a software engineer, I’ve accepted that in order to maintain some semblance of those ethics I embraced as a kid, I have to put borders up around when and where I compromise.

In consultancy work, with the clients I work with, there’s definitely compromise going on, for sure. I acknowledge that I’m living in a system that lives on brands. However, when it comes to my personal work, my life, and my family, that’s when the paladin armor goes on.

Which is all a lead up to say that Luna Station is a brand insofar as it needs to have a cohesive feel to the graphic design and it gives everyone a name to attach this collection of words spanning over a decade. To support that collection of words, I’ve chosen to keep advertising out of the story. That means LSQ’s budget depends on the choice I’ve made to hew closely to my ideals. It’s not an easy road, but it is worth it.

We have had offers from advertisers in the past. Recently it’s been emails from potential partners looking to put a “promoted post” on our blog. I’ve turned them all away. I’ve also ignored the sections of the website’s theme that tell me how easy it would be to add banner ads to the site.

Please note I understand that for some magazines out there, advertisers help keep the lights on. I don’t begrudge anyone finding a way to make their dreams come true that works for them. It just doesn’t work for me.

Besides keeping things turned on, I don’t run LSQ specifically to make money. I run it because I want to share the stories and essays and reviews of women-identified authors, and I personally want to do so without the encumbrance of worrying about pleasing advertisers. I started this magazine on nothing and could go back to running it on nothing if I needed to, but fortunately, there are other options!

I’m grateful that instead of advertising we have a wonderful Patreon that just reached its goal of covering all our current operating expenses. We also sell advertising-free print and ebook versions of our issues to help keep things solvent. Rather than junk up our website to the point where you need an ad-blocker, we get to keep things clean and simple for our readers. Most importantly, instead of worrying about making advertisers happy with big numbers, issue after issue we get to publish first-time authors.

LSQ has survived for over a decade following this model. We’ve grown beyond my imaginings and won our first award and I’m incredibly proud of what this small army of volunteers has produced. We have no plans on quitting any time soon, without advertisers indeed. I thank you so very much for your support.