Is Your Brand Evil?
In Martin Lindstrom’s excellent Brandwashed, the underlying theme is that brands and other advertising imagery can exert an unhealthy influence on consumers, usually without conscious awareness. Brands infect us, he suggests, from shortly after conception until death.
Though Lindstrom’s arguments are persuasive, I think there’s a counterbalancing effect that’s just as important: brands ADD value to products.
Why Generics Failed
The term “generic” is commonly used for some consumer products today, most often in referring to store brands or minimally known manufacturer brands. A few decades ago, though, the term achieved instant popularity as stores introduced ultra-plain black-on-white packages of truly unbranded products. These were promoted as products as good in quality as the major brands, but far cheaper due to the lack of advertising expense. After a brief flirtation with no-brand white boxes, consumers largely rejected them. Why? One reason might be the minimalist packaging itself – the only emotional value conveyed is “cheap.” No pictures of fruit-laden, milk-drenched flakes adorn the generic cereal box; there’s no spoonful of cereal hovering, poised to enter the consumer’s mouth. Just the words, “Corn Flakes,” in block type. Uninspiring and unattractive.
The more important factor, in my opinion, was that most buyers wouldn’t trust a product without a name on the package. Who is standing behind the quality of the product? How do I know this is the same cereal I bought last week, or, if I like it, will buy next week? If nobody wants to put their name on this stuff, what’s wrong with it? Stores vouched for the quality of their generic products, but soon realized that if they were going to add value in that way they might as well build their own brand. To the consumer, any brand – even one they never heard of – is better than no brand at all.
The Joy of Brand
There’s little doubt that brands affect us emotionally. Soda in a Coke can tastes better than when it’s in a Pepsi can, regardless of which cola the consumer is tasting. Wine thought to be more expensive tastes better than the same wine at a lower price. People are more creative when they are exposed to the Apple logo. More expensive drugs relieve pain better.
And, on the flip side, research from Taiwan shows that generic products reduce our self-esteem. Even brand lookalikes aren’t good enough; one study showed that people who thought they were wearing fake Chloé sunglasses were more dishonest than ones wearing authentic ones. (All were real Chloé.)
Let’s not belabor the point – it’s clear that brands really do work on our brain and change our perception of reality. But, is that a good thing or a bad thing? If a brand makes you feel better, have you been manipulated (or “brandwashed,” to use Lindstrom’s term? Or instead of worrying about that question, should we focus on building even more brands that make people feel better? Got an opinion? Click one choice in the poll below, and feel free to add your thoughts in a comment.