Thursday, June 4, 2009

Brand Name Loyalties

The sun is shining. The sky is clear and blue. The water is a reflection of the blue above. There are a few assorted sailboats in the distance and one speedboat zipping across the artificially created bay within the concrete barriers across the street. There are 3 power boats anchored in the bay, just hanging about. The air is clear enough to see all the way to Indiana this afternoon. There is a light wind out of the northeast and it's 59 degrees at the Mini. Not bad for an early June afternoon in Toronto. Too bad I'm in Chicago. Weather dudes promise warmer weather tomorrow. Believe it when I see it.

I was in the kitchen a short while ago and I was looking for something to munch. I found some pre-sliced ham from Hormel in the meat locker and a small slice of it was very good, thank you. I got to thinking that a couple of weeks ago I went to the grocery store, Dominick's, for the record. When I was looking for my fave ham, I discovered that they had none, but they had another brand of pre-sliced ham that I had never heard of. I bought it, and subsequently rued that decision. It was not as good. Should've bought something else.

There are a lot of reasons that we develop brand loyalties. In some cases, as in the case of the aforementioned brands, it is because one is clearly better. Usually you pay more for such a brand. In the case of clothing, it took me a long time to come around on this matter, but I have had to admit to Babs that the pricier items are usually better looking when you wear them, and are a better quality. OK, I admit it. I've developed a fondness for Italian clothes. Damn they're expensive. Damn they're good pieces of clothing. Thank god I have no children. I would be shorting them a college education to pay for my shoes.

But I digress. In the case of the Hormel ham, there are other reasons that I have developed a loyalty to this company. Babs is from Northern Iowa originally, just south of Austin, Minnesota, home of Hormel and Spam. Certain members of Babs's family manufacture and sell the feed that goes to the porcine beasts that become Hormel meats. One can easily see the connection. Haven't eaten any Spam in a while, but do not denigrate Spam to anyone who lives on an island in the Pacific. It is revered in those climes. (I once taught school in Guam. I know of these things.) At any rate Hormel has a place in our hearts and in our refrigerator at the Ray household. Brand loyalty.

There are other brands, for which we often develop a loyalty for no apparent reason than, "My mother always bought that and when I got my first apartment it's what I started buying. Take Green Giant frozen vegetables. Are they any better than say, Birds Eye. I see no discernible difference, but faced with a choice between the two, the Green Giant ends up in my freezer. Why? Some old girlfriend's mother always bought Green Giant and when I was first buying frozen veggies for my freezer, she instructed me to buy it and I remembered all of those commercials from my childhood, "In the valley of the jolly, Ho! Ho! Ho! Green Giant." Got that sprout?

When it comes to autos many families develop attachments to certain brands. The cars my family bought when I was a child varied from time to time but the models that tended to show up time and again were Fords and Plymouths. My father liked them, and the price was right. I had friends whose families were Cadillac or Lincoln Continental families, but more often than not my friends' families were Chevrolet, Pontiac, or Dodge families. They came complete with jokes about Ford families, "Ford, oh you know what that stands for don't you? Fix Or Repair Daily." I once heard the same thing about the Italian auto, Fiat, "Fix It Again Tony." The point is that I have never noticed Ford or Chevrolet being greatly superior to one another. They are both inexpensive American car brands for working class families. Loyalties develop, though, and people convince themselves that their brand is better, whether this is based on any reality or not.

In a more contemporary instance, there are people I know who rave about French wines as the be all and end all of wines. Yes the French make some damned good wine. A lot of people in the U.S., Australia, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, and who knows where else borrowed all of that French wine-making knowledge and put it to work in their own countries, and it's usually a lot cheaper. It's impossible to contain or own knowledge. It gets away from you. Ask the Brits. They tried to keep the steam engine and their early industrial knowledge to themselves. They were getting rich. Pretty soon that knowledge went to the U.S. to Belgium, to Germany, to France. The U.S. tried to keep that atomic bomb thing to themselves, but pretty soon those ideas were spread all over the globe. When it comes to brand loyalty, though, I'll take a U.S. nuke any day. Just kidding. For the record, I'm for nuclear disarmament, just to save humanity from extinction, mind you.

Anyway, I was just thinking that we all develop these brand loyalties, and often for not so very good reasons. If the superior product always sold better, as per the teachings of Adam Smith, a lot of the crap out there would cease being sold. People are not always so discerning when it comes to quality. I haven't the space here and now to go into that whole thing about buying quality for a higher price versus buying at a lower price, but with a lower quality thing. That's an economics lecture best saved for my students. Somehow, I too have a few brand loyalties. On the whole, though, I do not follow my parents' trends. I have owned a German car, a couple of Japanese cars, a British car, a few American cars. I buy clothes based on what I like and that changes from time to time. I buy groceries based on what I think I want at the moment, and that changes from time to time.

I think the marketing gurus have me pigeon-holed, however. I get a lot of advertisements in the mail and on-line for stuff that is running and biking and outdoorsy related. Any particular brand, though? Nope. I get a lot of stuff that identifies me as a liberal, college-educated, wine drinking, sharp cheese and olive eating, grind your own coffee beans, espresso making lakefront snob dude. But do I have a specific brand loyalty? Nope. I like what's good at the moment.

In retrospect, all of these years that I have been in Chicago, I have developed only one lasting brand loyalty that I can identify. Go Cubs! Maybe not this year, but next.

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