Big brands have taken over the everyday lives of many. But what compels some of us to loyally spend our cash on the products of such a relatively small group of companies? Robert Powell investigates.
We see them every day, passing them in the street, on the bus, on the TV, across the internet and on each other. Brands. Modern life is dominated by them. So much so that for several people, spending habits are tailored around, and devoted to, the products of a relatively small set of massive companies – and, of course, the brands that are indistinguishable from them.
Among the biggest of these companies is Apple.
Addicted to Apple
Last Friday saw tech-hungry shoppers congregate outside Apple’s flagship Regent Street store to be among the first to get hold of the new third generation iPad. Some had been camped out for over 40 hours before the store eventually opened for business.
One person waiting in line had just arrived in London for her honeymoon and had come down to the store early as her new husband was keen to be one of the first to get hold of the iPad.
Shoppers were greeted with cheers from Apple staff as they entered the store to purchase the device, before posing with the new tablet for press photographers. But when questioned about their dedication to Apple and keenness to be one of the first to get the new iPad, surprisingly few cited the technological developments of the tablet as a reason.
One shopper lovemoney.com spoke to who had been camped outside the store for over 24 hours said: “It’s not really about Apple, it’s more about having a laugh with guys you’ve met at previous launches… it’s a community thing.”
When asked how he afforded to fork out for the expensive new gadget – it has a starting price of £399 and a top price of £559 – he simply replied: “I work very hard.”
Communities and individuals
As purse strings tighten across the country, the question of why so many people choose to spend their hard earned cash devotedly on certain brands is as interesting as how they afford it in the first place.
For Hannah Bouckley, editor of the mobile news and reviews site Recombu.com, the tech credentials of Apple’s gear only partly explains the company’s devoted fan base. “Apple is a very secretive company, so when a product comes there’s an element of surprise for fans,” she says.
“Product launches are almost like events now, people want to go down three or four days before, it’s become an experience in itself.”
Barry Dwyer, a senior lecturer in marketing at London Metropolitan Business School, also sees the community feel generated by Apple as an essential component of the brand’s success. But he thinks the real crowning achievement of the company is how it still manages to maintain a one-to-one relationship with the customer.
“Apple has marketed their products by making people think what they’ve got is a unique niche product, when in fact the company sells to a huge mass market,” he says.
And this personal ethos is also at the core of a new campaign recently launched by another huge worldwide brand: Starbucks.
Got your name on it
Unveiled with a morning of free lattes for all, Starbucks’ latest campaign promises to personalise the in-store experience by writing every customer’s name on their cup.
“Have you noticed how everything seems a little impersonal nowadays?” the campaign’s advert asks. “From now on we won’t refer to you as a latte or mocha, but instead as your folks intended, by your name.”
This obviously has the advantage of enabling the baristas to accurately match coffee to customer. But according to Mr Dwyer, in-store practicality is not the only reason Starbucks have brought in this new promise.
“By putting your name on it, Starbucks are making that small cup of coffee unique to you. And if you can do that with a homogenous coffee, you’re going to make your customers feel special and you’re going to get them coming back time after time,” he says.
But if customers do keep coming back time after time, it could well hit them in the wallet.
According to research carried out by VillaWare a heavy coffee drinker will spend over £2,000 every year on around 21 weekly cups of the black stuff. Even an average drinker will get through between six and eight cups across the working week, spending £452.28 each year.
A Starbucks latte may not cost nearly much as an Apple iPad. But as a brand, it’s still got the potential to bankrupt consumers if they keep coming back for more.
For big brands it all comes back to experience. Starbucks and Apple no longer just flog coffees and computers; they sell a way of life. Products are turned into feelings and shops into living, breathing, commercial theatres.
For Jo Hodges, course leader of BA Advertising at London College of Communication, while successful brands and products operate together and are virtually indistinguishable to the consumer, they do still exist somewhat individually.
“Brands like Apple and Starbucks have an ethos, something that is above and beyond the product itself,” she says.
“Every decision they make gives a feeling that they give a damn and that they care. What they do is bigger than the sum of the products themselves.”
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