Billions of dollars are spent every year by brands waging war on our common sense. Consumer’s shopping habits are a triumph of perception over reality and of habit over judicious choice. Those who are trying to sell to us know this and use every conceivable means to manipulate our instinctive reactions to what we see. Brand is now the single biggest factor when it comes to our shopping habits, which is a victory for perception over common sense.
The Real Cost
Perfume is relatively cheap to produce. There is no earthly reason why a small bottle of scent should cost and arm and a leg and yet how many people would choose a simple clear bottle of perfume in plain packaging over a fancy bottle in a pretty box with an Italian designer’s name on it? No matter that the simple number is a tenth of the price. Our sensible side would reject the additional expense of the expensive bottle if we were clever enough to do the obvious and smell the rival products but we don’t. The posh bottle is Versace so it must be worth the money!
The Perception of Worth
Brands spend millions carefully building a perception of worth in order to tempt us to buy and to gain our loyalty. Names, logos, colours and packaging are all researched to within an inch of their lives and carefully chosen to project the right image. Back stories are created, shopping experiences are crafted and marketing campaigns written to appeal to our sense of worth. We all want to be somebody. We want to be cool, stylish and at least appear to be wealthy and so branding not only attracts us as a proposition it also ensures that we can emphasise our attributes to others. Little wonder that so many of the most popular fashion brands so loudly proclaim themselves across the front of the clothing!
A Sense of Worth
Naturally our common sense has flown cheerfully out of the window. There is no reason why a Hollister hoodie should be better than an unbranded hoodie which is probably made in the same factory from the same fabric. But the cheaper one wouldn’t have the right name on it and so we couldn’t advertise our coolness to others and step out in the sure and certain knowledge that we will be admired. Such is the power of the brand that not only do our little minds somehow believe that it is better, we also have to buy it just to keep up with the joneses or even the Kardashians.
Thinking logically it would actually display greater intelligence to be able to achieve an identical look or to find the same level of efficiency in a product or service by spending less money but saving cash isn’t as laudable as spending it! Since the 1980’s we have been locked in a world where showing what you have got is crucial even if you don’t actually have it in the first place. Materialism is all and not all materials are equal.
Brands are even using price to drive a perception of worth and to define their market. A designer label only retains its kudos if it is beyond the reach of mere mortals and to be seen only on the great and the good. Selling more is not the aim. Selling at a higher price to the right people is what keeps those brands at the top of the tree. It is utter madness of course. What a strange world we live in when people will spend £2000 on a handbag worth £10 because it is Gucci! But they will and they do because splashing the cash on the right brand makes you feel better, displays your taste and wealth and even makes your little grey cells trick you into thinking that you have invested in the best.
What’s In a Name?
I worked in the bridal industry for many years and the power of the brand was in full force. Brides would come into the shop and head straight for the Sophia Tolli and Ronald Joyce gowns because they had designer names attached to them. The cheaper dresses were often passed over because they were obviously not as good. The reality was that those cheap dresses were often of equal or better quality and were even made in the same factory and the designer numbers. I once spoke to another shop owner who had experienced the same issue and decided to make up an Italian name and label all of the cheap dresses with that. They started selling like hot cakes almost immediately. Just changing the name did the trick.
I may sound scornful of branding and I am happy to admit that I try to resist all attempts on the part of any brand to get me to buy. I always examine every option before I buy and make strenuous attempts to ignore the name on products but I realise all too well that nobody is immune to the tricks including me. Even I find myself favouring anything with a German name if I am looking for a car, a domestic appliance or a set of tools even though I know that a German name may not mean that the product concerned has ever seen Germany. It may not even have been designed there. I would question electronics which do not sound like they have emanated from the Far East and my mind cannot jump the hurdle of believing that all things Scandinavian aren’t incredibly efficient or indeed from Scandinavia.
No matter how hard we try the power of perception is always at work in our consumer choices and other than removing ourselves to a desert island we will never make completely free choices based on the inherent worth of the product. There are far too many people working overtime to ensure that we do not exercise free choice and indeed that we can’t.
Sally Stacey is a keen writer who is fascinated by the power of branding and tries extremely hard to rebel against it