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.