Wednesday 11 July 2012

A Rational Look at Brands

So, I was eating a Birds-Eye pie the other day (with a little dollop of Heinz tomato ketchup), wearing my lovely Esprit shirt and started writing this article on my Dell computer.

Three-eyed pie monster is sad
"Aaagh!", I cried! "I am one of them!".  I'm one of those consumers that are advertised at on the telly (Panasonic) and follow through with purchases based purely on what image they have been given!  I quickly started to try to justify myself - "Well, of course I would get Heinz tomato ketchup! It's a guarantee of quality!  It even says its Estd. 1869 on the bottle, just to show that their product has stood the test of time and the little slogan that says 'Grown not made', because obviously that shows that they put care into their...."

...uh oh.  Am I defending a brand based on something which was entirely fabricated by their own marketing department so that they could sell more of their products to people like me?

Right... deep breath.  Don't worry... there is still time to redeem yourself...

Brand names are a difficult concept, because once upon a time they had a very real purpose.  The brand name was the name of the company who made the product, and was therefore a guarantee of quality (if not of high quality, then at least a consistent one!) which you could then use to judge its relative value. This, it can be argued, is a perfectly legitimate application of brand names in a world where people are constantly trying to flog you stuff of such compromised quality that you wouldn't want to touch it with a bargepole.

But it didn't take long for companies to take advantage of their own success, cutting costs and letting the reputation of their brand name alone bring in the revenue.  If the lower quality of product led to reduced revenue, they would turn to marketing to bump up their reputation, rather than improving product quality.  Marketing is expensive, but it is cheaper than making real improvements to your product!

With such a powerful voice in the media through their advertising campaigns, companies took things a step further - they can bribe people into buying their products with promises of social status and happiness that are totally unrelated to the quality of the product.  They essentially sell, not something itself, but the mere hope of something.  It's extremely powerful, and when you understand a little of human psychology, it is not difficult to see why it works.

But it is, in my opinion, immoral.  It is not immoral on the part of consumers, because it is the marketeer who is being irresponsible with their promises, but unfortunately it is the job of consumers to rectify the situation, because producers sure aren't going to do it voluntarily.

Is it ever appropriate to defend a brand name?

"Ecover takes ecological, economic
and social aspects into account from the
origins of the raw materials, to the
biodegradation of the final products."
from Ecover's environmental policy.
When you look at a branded product, ask yourself what that brand really means.  Some brands really do mean something, and I think we would be stupid not to respect those meanings.  However, where the meaning of the brand is entirely fabricated by the marketing department, I implore you to look elsewhere and vote against it with your feet.

Look out for brands whose name is based on real, provable quality, best ethical practices and stands for the things that you actually care about, rather than what the advertisers think you should care about. And one big question: do you actually need this thing at all?

Images: Pie by the author; vintage advertising from; Ecover image from Ecover website

1 comment:

  1. Nice post, Simeon. It also brings up how we so often go by the surface of things and respond to the form based on habit and past experience whilst the content goes unquestioned.

    I sometimes look at the chocolate bars I would eat, say twenty five years ago, with the same packaging today, and wonder how much the ingredients inside have actually changed, with the increase in palm oil use for example.