Monday, December 6, 2021

You Are Not A Collection Of Brand Name Preferences!

No one really gives a rat's ass about your preferences in soda-pop.

It starts early in life in this country - and probably other countries as well.  As kids, we are taught early on, by the almighty television, to have certain brand preferences, and to build our personal identity around those brand preferences. Whether it is a brand of soda-pop, a favorite candy, a brand of clothing, or a type of bicycle. You don't want to be the dweeb showing up at school wearing Sears® Tuffskins® jeans, riding a Huffy® bicycle, or carrying the wrong lunchbox!  You want to be the cool kid with the Schwinn® Stingray®, the Levis® Jeans, the Peanuts® lunchbox, and of course, a new Trapper-Keeper®.

And it never ends.  As you get older, the brand of clothes you wear becomes even more important, to the point where junior high school students will have a meltdown if their parents don't buy them the right kind of jeans.  And today?  It extends to cell phones, video games, and so on and so forth.  In our era, of the 1970's, we all had brand preferences for stereo equipment - often unobtainable for most of us - but we all had ideas of what our "dream" setup would be like, and we could exchange knowledgeable facts and figures about brands and models of turntables, speakers, receivers, amplifiers, and so on and so forth.  Consumerism was not a problem for us - lack of money to spend, was.

The powers-that-be had us all wanting but never having, and as soon as you got that first job, well you could have all that cool stuff, provided you signed a few loan documents.  And many "adults" go down this route, pledging allegiance to a panoply of brands, from their favorite car, pickup truck, or SUV, to brand of lite beer or delivery pizza. Sports and other pastimes involving celebrity worship are no different - you pledge your life to a sports team or a celebrity or band - collecting all the memorabilia, going to the games or shows, and paying dearly for all of it.  You can't just be a casual observer or occasional consumer of this stuff, you have to be a rabid fanHey, maybe if you are lucky, you could be one of those people crushed to death at a Who concert - or maybe  a rap festival.

People proudly display the logos of their favorite stars, brands, corporations, and products, on their clothing, hats, and even tattoo'ed to their body. Harley-Davidson is the leader in this sort of thing, leveraging their trademarks to the point where they make more money on licensed goods than they do on motorcycles.  As one wag put it, "It is a clothing store that sells motorcycles!"   He wasn't kidding, either.  At the Atlanta airport, there is a H-D clothing store.  There is on bike in the store, with a sign on it saying "do not sit on motorcycle" and "not for sale".  Yes, I bought a shirt, too.  It's actually very nice - 100% silk Hawaiian shirt with a very subtle image of a motorcycle on it.  We all get sucked into it.

(A side note:  Back in the days when Harley went nearly bankrupt and was bought out by a team of managers, a friend of mine in the Trademark business went to work for them.  She was horrified to find out that they were not collecting a single penny in royalties for use of their logos and marks!  She put an end to that quickly and the money raised funded the revitalization of the company.  Today, they pretty much license to anyone, provided they are willing to pay a royalty.  Car companies have followed suit, which is why you can buy floor mats with the "Chevy" or "Ford" logo on them from places other than the dealer.  Brands are money-makers - for companies, not you!).

What started me on this is a friend of mine - who I wrote about before - who always sends back entrees at restaurants.  They confuse being picky and annoying with being a connoisseur.  I nearly fell down laughing the other day when, at a hot dog stand, they asked for "Coke Zero."  When the lady behind the counter said all they had was diet Coke, she demurred. She was a sophisticate, with refined tastes in sody-pop!  I almost hit her.  This sort of shit was getting out of hand and it wasn't the first time it had happened.  Thank God they at least had Coke products!  If the lady had said, "All we have are Pepsi products" a ten-minute diatribe about the subtle distinctions in flavoring between Coke and Pepsi would have ensued - and I was quite done with that.

But it struck me that she was not unlike most Americans (perhaps humans) in that we tend to think our choices in consumer goods are sophisticated or better than other choices, when in fact, they are just different paths in a rat-maze that all lead to the same cheese at the end - or captured-bolt gun.  It is just a distraction to get you to think your life has some deeper meaning, when life isn't all about product choices.  It is, of course, a way to get you to spend more money by insisting on brand-name products - and to get you to avoid trying competing products at a lower price.   Pretty slick psychology!

It doesn't end with products and celebrities, either.  Many people define themselves by the shows they watch - although they would never admit to it.  "What's your favorite show?" is a conversation-starter and -ender for me, as the Off Channel isn't watched by many folks.  When people start to regale me with details from episodes of "reality" television shows, my brain just shuts down.  I nod and smile and say "how fascinating!" while my mind is thinking, whoever this person it, they're a bloody idiot.  But sometimes it is best I keep these opinions to myself, or at least to my blog.

Granted, we do get "feel good" reactions from products we like, or find to be a particular value.  I buy the same pair of blue jeans every few years, and the same exact pair of sneakers almost yearly (with the previous pair going to lawn mower duty, and the one before that, in the trash).  It is not that I am married to those brands, only that they are a known quantity, cheap, and durable.  I like the taste - and price - of Juame Serra Cristalino Cava, but I'd kick it under the bus for something better for a dollar less.  I don't have any of their logos tattooed on my ass, though. There is a point, however, where anti-consumption becomes consumption, under a different name.

But perhaps that is something different from being "brand loyal".  I am not a "Chevy Man" or a "Ford Man" - I've owned cars of almost every brand imaginable, outside of Yugo.   If I find one I like, well, I realize that is no guarantee that down the road, the same manufacturer will provide a similar experience.  I try to be brand-agnostic and am always on the lookout for something newer, better, and cheaper.  Emphasis on cheaper, too.

Others, less so - they become brand-loyal to the point where they stop shopping on price.  I know folks who only shop at certain brand-name grocery stores because "people of their caliber" shop there.  (I used to do that nonsense, too!) I go there and all I see are prices that are 50%-100% higher than other stores, particularly Walmart.  I shop a lot at Walmart, only because their prices are low - I will dump them like last week's news if someone else came along with better prices and better quality.

Consider Amazon - when they first started out, they had alarmingly low prices, and I bought a lot of stuff online there.  But then they started pushing "Prime" and a lot of friends of mine kept shopping there (emphasis on "shopping" - not buying actual things they needed) and just kept shopping at Amazon, even as prices escalated from "bargain!" to "meh!" to "outrageously overpriced!"  I still don't understand the $100 jars of mayonnaise, but maybe that's just me - I'm weird.

I try to be open-minded instead of brand loyal. I know a lot of people like my Coke Zero friend, who are "persnickety" about brands of lite beer (which our friends in Europe don't even consider to be beer).  If they are Miller "Lite" fans, they will turn down a Coors Light.  And God Forbid you should offer them a regular Budweiser or an old-style "Champagne of Bottle Beers" in a bottle!  The calories!  Sheesh!  I'll take whatever they have on tap that sounds interesting.  You can't experience new things without trying them, and even a "Lite" beer can be refreshing on a hot day.  Besides, its rude to turn down things offered to you on the premise that they are not exactly what you want.

My Coke Zero friend was this way - expecting us to stock a fridge full of Coke Zero for their visits, and going ballistic if we offered something else.  I had to wean them of this expectation - it wasn't too hard to do.  "We don't have that!" I said, and after a few visits, they stopped demanding it and asked, "What do you have?" instead.   It was a start.

Sowhatsthepointofallthis?  Beats me, only that once again, a friend has pissed me off and risked ruining a friendship, over some stupid consumerist game.  When I go out to eat, even at a hot dog stand, I don't want to be treated to a diatribe about how "the should carry Coke Zero!" and "It tastes different!" or whatever - it just ruins the meal as much as sending food back for frivolous reasons ("It wasn't what I thought it would be!").

But more importantly, mindless brand loyalty blinds us to opportunities in life.  I know I used to be on that bandwagon before I woke up one day and wondered what the fuck I was doing and where all my money went.   I was shopping at the "upscale" food market buying "brand name" foods and never checking prices.  I was loyal to car brands and other product brands and actually wasted hours of my life on "discussion boards" going back and forth on the merits of our product choices - as if a machine made in a factory by other people was somehow an extension of our own psyche.  It wasn't.  It isn't. It's just a thing - an appliance for living.

I am fortunate that I had that Epiphany - others do not and never will.  Another friend mocks my KIA Soul, even as the ride in it ("say, these leather seats are really comfortable - and the legroom!") because their fancy German car is in the shop waiting for parts.  I've been down that road - it was fun, but it required a lot of money, for not a lot more value.

There is a lot of talk these days about the disappearing middle class and income inequality.  And yea, maybe those are things that should be addressed - and with a labor shortage, might very well be addressed, unless they rig another economic crash to make people feel "lucky"to have a job again.  But regardless of sweeping social changes which may or may not occur and are not directly in your own control, consumerism is on thing you can control.

I don't know how many young people I meet who complain about student loan debt and the high cost of living, but at the same time are telling me this "Send from my iPhone XXXIV!" while regaling me about how much they spent on their latest tattoo (of the Chevy logo) and what "mod" they want to make to their car.   Maybe you can't get rich by cutting costs, but it is a way to make what little you make, go further.

Brand loyalty is just plain nuts!