Archive for April, 2005

Who can you trust?

Friday, April 22nd, 2005

I recently watched The Corporation on DVD. I didn’t have the privilege of seeing it at the movies. It’s certainly an interesting addition to the two extremes of Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky. Everyone knows Michael Moore, but less know of Noam Chomsky. One of his activities is the exploration of bias in the media and one of his conclusions is that the media is controlled by right wing vested interests. The Corporation explores the antisocial agenda of the corporation in modern America.

What interests me is that it seems we are on the cusp of a change in the way that people are relating to brands. People buy brands because they trust them, yet on a daily basis they feel let down by the brands they buy, especially those that can break down. Beer and cigarettes at least in New Zealand have achieved the levels of trust that people are looking for, but electronic equipment has not. So consumers are more and more saying to themselves why pay for a brand when I can get the same level of quality out of a commodity. Supermarkets are also driving this perception amongst consumers with private label brands. And manufacturers strangely enough are willing to help them out.

While this phenomenon hasn’t yet reached critical mass, it probably won’t be too long before it does so. I am seeing evidence for it on a daily basis. Women, in their role as mothers and talking to me as a household shopper, tell me that they’re teaching their children to be critical of communications. The advertising literate consumer is becoming the corporate literate consumer, which is hardly a surprise when brands on a daily basis try to pull the wool over their eyes.

The day before yesterday an e-mail arrived on my computer asking me not to buy from two major oil companies until they got their prices down. I forwarded it to one person just out of interest. She then passed it on to 25 people. If this continues then not only will the consumer lose interest in the brands, but they will begin to actively fight back. The internet has become a powerful weapon for the consumer.

It continues to surprise me that corporations still see themselves as brand owners. It seems that the lesson of Harley Davidson to the corporation is about emotional loyalty to the brand. That’s the obvious lesson. The less obvious lesson is that it’s people who buy brands that own them not the corporations who “own” the trademark. Individuals own Harley Davidsons. The company makes them so that people will buy them and then own them. The company that makes them is no more than a caretaker that earns a living from delivering what people want. When people stop buying and consequently owning a brand, that brand ceases to exist.

I’m not the only one who’s observing this. And consumers are beginning to use the new tools available to fight back. Those two converging trends lead me to think that we’re approaching the cusp of a whole new relationship between people and the brands they buy.

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Narcissus in Auckland

Saturday, April 9th, 2005

This is my second attempt at keeping a blog. Why blog?

There is a view that these things are narcissistic. Indeed our culture has become incredibly narcissistic. What defined Narcissus was that he became obsessed with his own reflection. Is this to say that we shouldn’t reflect upon ourselves? Reflection is instead the beginning of the meditative act in which the reflection is seen for what it is – a reflection; empty and without substance. Narcissism is not that, it is its opposite. Narcissism is the imbuing of the reflection with substance. That is to say that the illusion of the reflection becomes real in our minds.

Narcissism therefore is paying attention to a sense of self. Narcissus died while pondering his own reflection. Engaged in the world of form the larger Self died to the little self. Everything was seen within the light of his self rather than through the light of the Self of all.

Has the world become narcissistic? Perhaps the question really is are we living in a world of people who have become obsessed with their role in the world, a world that lives in reflected light or a world where people create their own light and live unselfconsciously? Do we care what clothes we wear, what car we drive, how we smell? Do we want to make sure that the image we project is just so, or is the image we project a spontaneous reflection of our inner selves?

This takes us to the changing role of brands, which once were a trade mark and now are an opportunity for what a friend of mine some ten years ago called psychic badging. There is no doubt that brands have acted as indicators of social identity. If a person owns an Audi what does that say about him, versus if he owns a Lexus. Narcissism is that the individual has reflected on his choice of brand so that it says about him what he wants to be said, whether others see it or not.

However, it could equally be argued that what is occuring here is actually a matter of affinity rather than of badging. In other words our consumer feels a bond between herself and the brand because the values which the brand expresses are similar to the consumers values rather than the image which the consumer wishes to express. We could look to how we treat friends – is it because we have affinity with them, or is it because they say something about ourselves that we want to be said.

It is this latter that I would call consumerism. Affinity on the other hand arises out of a need. At a creative level, we want to amplify our output. We want to contribute. And our contribution is made more powerful by seeking like minds. We invite criticism rather than reject it. We let go of ourselves. And yet we reflect without becoming obsessed by our reflection.

And is this blog being written as a creative expression without self thought, or is it an act of consistency with my self image and the seeking of the perfect reflection?

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