Brand monogamy

Last Updated: Sun, Sep 09, 2012 20:24 hrs

Quick. What’s common to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tiger Woods, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Bill Clinton, N.D. Tiwari, Frank Sinatra, Casanova and most consumers of branded products?

You guessed it. Let’s just say that fidelity is not their strongest suite. While it may seem like stretching a point too far to compare the fidelity or lack of it that these (and a lot of other) men (mostly) displayed towards their partners with the infidelity of consumers to brands, let me try to tell you why it isn’t such a far-fetched comparison.

First, let’s look at the idea of monogamy among people, or rather, among humans as a species. There’s enough biological, anthropological, genetic and evolutionary evidence that points to the fact that beyond socially- and culturally-enforced monogamy, we’re not wired—like most other species—to be tied down to one partner. Even the legendary fidelity of swans—who purportedly weep at the demise of their partner, so deep and singular is their bond supposed to be—has been debunked and proven to be a myth more than fact.

Daily we strain at the strings that bind relationships that are fragile to begin with, built on fickle foundations of emotions, and fraught with risks ranging from jealousy and envy to deeper psychological fissures. The best of us have to work at our relationships all the time to “not stray,” to not give in to temptation, to not betray trust, and to stay faithful to our partner, and as much, to the institution of marriage.

And yet, as brand custodians, we expect even more from consumers and their relationships with our brands. We most of the time don’t infuse our brands with the flesh, blood, emotions and behaviors that mark real human relationships. Brands’ communication with consumers is like what you’d see in a broken relationship—mostly one-way, and repetitive like a broken record. And yet we hope—nay, expect deep-rooted relationships to spring up between consumers and brands, an unwavering loyalty to our brands to be a fundamental right of the brand.

Even with an almost-equal gender ratio for the most part (also rendered somewhat irrelevant in an age of differing partner preferences), people have a hard time staying with one partner. Compare that with the plethora of choices people have when it comes to brands, it would seem a no-brainer that brand fidelity is the last thing on people’s minds. Especially in developing economies where choice is not yet a burden but a pleasure to experience and exploit, experimentation and “polygamy” should be expected to be the rule rather than the exception.

All said and done though, perhaps due to the superior moral and ethical fibre that elevates humans from other species, monogamy, at least in the social sense, has survived as a strong pillar of the social fabric across the world. Values such as love, trust and honesty become the daily lubricants of keeping the machinery of monogamous relationships smoothly functioning.

Perhaps there are two lessons we can take away from all this: (1) Expecting consumers to have a monogamous relationship with your brand is unreal. At best you can hope for serial monogamy, where a consumer sticks with only one brand at a time, but keeps moving to others over time. (2) We accept polygamous relationships as the way of life in consumer-brand relationships, and like the monarchs and nobility of old, work at becoming the favorite that they want to be with most of the time.

(The author is National Planning Head, Dentsu Marcom)

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