by Gerard Donnelly Smith
(Swans - February 26, 2007) Switching loyalties often meant death for the treasonous bastard when he was caught, but one cannot betray a brand or a product in a similar manner. Though corporations and CEOs take brand and product loyalty no less seriously than a nation or a king, profits fall rather than heads when the peasants revolt over shoddy merchandize, high prices, or succumb to propaganda from competitors. To keep a high market share, and thus their high salaries and bonuses, executives commit significant resources to ensure consumer loyalty.
Marketing tactics like discount coupons, return customer discounts, free items with purchase, and other incentives help to create consumer loyalty by creating a "value-added" product. Transformation of the consumer into the product itself ensures product loyalty. Logos on sweaters, t-shirts, jeans, hats, literally transform the consumer into the product as they become walking advertisements, the embodiment of the consumer loyalty. Many corporations have created accessories such as Pepsi Stuff that can be purchased or earned by building up points, like the proof of purchase seals on cereal boxes that children can redeem for toys. Marlboro shirts, bags, belt buckles, and sunglasses turn the smoker into a walking cigarette packet.
One would think the fiercely independent teenager would rebel against this branding, but branding has become so effective that teenagers must have the hooded sweatshirts with symbols and logos representing the company. New styles like Valley or Punk or Goth or Gangster are quickly co-opted into "branded" products, which are then sold by association with celebrities whose testimonials create the product "personality."
Corporations use stars such as Cindy Crawford, Britney Spears, Shaquille O'Neal, Snoop Dog, Ice-T, or whomever seems popular at the moment to add personality to the product. By purchasing the product the consumer can "be like Mike" or Tiger Woods.
According to the marketers:
A brand needs more than identity; it needs a personality. Just like a person without attention-grabbing characteristics, a brand with no personality can easily be passed right over. A strong symbol or company logo can also help to generate brand loyalty by making it quickly identifiable.
The consumer can purchase more products by purchasing more products. When the consumer identifies with or defines him/herself by the product, then loyalty is ensured; the consumer is hooked for life. As one character said in an old cigarette ad, "I'd rather die than switch." Ironic, that such a loyalty phrase would be so prophetic.
In other words as one marketing agency states: "[Brand loyalty] occurs because the consumer perceives that the brand offers the right product features, image, or level of quality at the right price." The image reflected in the mirror must be the image of the product, so when the consumers see the corporate of product image, they see themselves. Moreover, according to the marketers, consumer behavior must be habitual, and those habits must appear familiar and safe. Unfortunately, the product quality is often unsafe, even dangerous.
The habit called loyalty can be created by ensuring addiction. By spiking nicotine content, caffeine levels, or by using flavor-enhancing chemicals like MSG, corporations use pleasure and need to reinforce loyalty. Physically and psychologically transforming the consumer him/herself into the product through chemical and visual stimulation, corporations hope to maintain their bottom lines.
Not only are people used to create this "personality" but icons are also created to lure the youth into brand loyalty, into habitual behaviors. In a 1991 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA),
children demonstrated high rates of logo recognition. When analyzed by product category, the level of recognition of cigarette logos was intermediate between children's and adult products. The recognition rates of The Disney Channel logo and Old Joe (the cartoon character promoting Camel cigarettes) were highest in their respective product categories. Recognition rates increased with age. Approximately 30% of 3-year-old children correctly matched Old Joe with a picture of a cigarette compared with 91.3% of 6-year-old children. CONCLUSION--Very young children see, understand, and remember advertising. (Fischer PM, Schwartz MP, Richards JW, et al. "Brand logo recognition by children aged 3 to 6 years: Mickey Mouse and Old Joe the Camel." JAMA 1991; 266:314.)
Connection: if logos have personality and young consumers identify with those logo personalities, then product loyalty will be created. Why else create cartoon characters to sell cereal and cigarettes that contain unnatural and unhealthy additives? Why not use clowns and comedians to sell fast food that has little nutritional value? Why not include free toys in the box, with the meal, with the fill-up? Once pleasure, fun, and "personality" have been associated with the product in the child consumer's mind, then the corporation has created a life-long consumer, a loyal consumer who unless educated about the products negative side effects will have no reason to switch.
Even pharmaceutical advertisement creates product loyalty by appealing to issues of "personality," by creating images of individuals who have more productive sex lives, social lives, and work lives. The new purple pill will improve the individual's quality of life. The advertisements are flashy, the actors and actresses have perfect smiles, and attractive bodies. The effect has been an increase in patients asking their physicians for specific drugs that they have seen advertised on television. Once the individual takes the drug, the effect will be habit forming; their "new" personalities, often, will be dependent upon the physiological changes brought about by the chemicals they ingest. What better way to create product loyalty than to convince a consumer that he/she has a problem, usually a social disorder that a pill can solve: the consumer again becomes the product.
From product loyalty to loyalty to the State, the individual personality becomes supplanted by a personality defined by the producer. The citizen serves the capitalistic State by consuming the produce regulated by the State; the consumer derives his/her image and personality from the product, thus consumption becomes a method of control. Consumption becomes a method of control when consumption becomes habitual. The goal of product loyalty is to create habitual users, as McDonald's calls them "heavy hitters."
So what can be done to reform the misuse of the word loyalty? How can one become loyal to other humans while being loyal to one's self? How can one advance the common good of all without being swept up by a cause? Perhaps one must break away from the system? Perhaps, as Jacques Derrida was fond of saying, the poison is the cure.
Read Part One: The Insurgent Word: Zhōng ("Loyalty")
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