The downside of branding

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Actually a better title would be: The Downside of Brand Loyalty and the Meaning of Life

  • Is marketing evil?

  • Do you feel guilty that your job is essentially the promotion of conspicuous consumption?

  • Is selling stuff for a living just so shallow?


Is or was it something that bothered you? Have you ever thought you should just chuck it all in and go and work for a charity or volunteer for missionary work because of the apparently meaninglessness of your day job?

This is something that took me a long time to resolve, and it was important to me that I was able to reconcile my desire to live a worthy life with my need to earn a living.

By their nature, organisations are systems that demand consistency and predictability - and ultimately repeat business. Converting customers into brand loyal followers achieves all of this. Organisations have created (or rather adopted) the notion of brand to hi-jack consumer decision-making; to improve the odds of repeat business.

Because marketers strive to make their brands the preferred choice (top of mind) to the exclusion of all others, a brand is meant to become some shortcut for decision-making.
When marketers succeed, there is a significant downside to the consumer. Once people become brand loyal, they:

  • Forfeit the opportunity to experience variety

  • Deny themselves the opportunity to seek and find greater value

  • Miss out on the epistemic value of new products/services

  • Impoverish their long-term decision-making ability as they fail to evaluate and incorporate changing values and product attributes.


Consumers trade all of that for a few seconds of thinking time when it comes to making a purchase.
If conspicuous consumption is undesirable and creating brand loyalty (arguably the marketers number one job) is the strategy to tip the odds in favour of the organisation to the detriment of the consumers; does that mean what we do for a living is bad or unworthy?

The answer, in my mind at least, is absolutely not.

Whilst any one job in any one organisation in isolation may seem to be promoting conspicuous consumption to the detriment of individuals, there is a bigger picture here.
Collectively, as we all do our individual jobs, we are contributing to a rich and diverse society that offers people choices. It is not just me promoting my brand, there is you, and John and Jerry and Mary and Sue too. And it all adds up to a market place that gives society a rich palette of options.

So while the individual's pursuit of his or her own goals seems narrow and selfish, the fact that there are millions doing so simultaneously, means we have created a system that, as a whole, is a healthy environment.

That is the epitome of civilisation: people who are free to exercise their choices and have the opportunity to do so.

And despite what you may read in pseudo-science magazines from time to time, marketers cannot control consumers' minds. Subliminal advertising (and the story about coke & popcorn ads flashing during a movie) is just urban legend.

So, when you are promoting your product, you are actually part of a bigger ecosystem which is a crucial part of our social fabric - without which our lives would be so much the poorer.


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