Buy Substance, Not Image

Last week, my Apple MacBook gasped, wheezed, and hiccupped uncontrollably. Then there was silence. After more than eight years of devoted service, this was the machine’s way of saying goodbye. I said my thanks, expressed gratitude, and made arrangements for its various parts to be recycled. Moments later I was online at the Apple Store purchasing a replacement, a new MacBook Air.

And I didn’t think twice about shelling out a fair bit of dough for another pricey Apple laptop. Because the brand has earned my trust. Not owing to superficial matters such as the ‘cool, hip, styyyyllllish factor’, slick marketing or product packaging. But because my experience with Apple products has led me to associate the brand with superior quality, durability, reliability, and ease of use.

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Brand Power

Branding is important. It sells an image. From a consumer’s perspective, the brand communicates what the organization is all about. And it speaks to more than the utilitarian function or benefits of a particular product or service; it’s also intended to speak directly to each consumer, to make each consumer feel special, to tap into our emotional network for the purpose of bonding consumer with brand thus giving birth to Loyal, Repeat, Profitable Consumer.

If this seems part science fiction, part Dr. Evil (cue Mike Myers), well … welcome to the mercenary underbelly of marketing (cue sinister laugh of Vincent Price – have a listen, and a laugh of your own, @ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRamB30E9mU).

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Okay, maniacal chuckles aside, it’s time for a real life example: Nike (NYSE:NKE). The shoe manufacture of sizeable fame and fortune that takes its name from the Greek goddess of Victory.

The corporation that became known as the ‘Just Do It’ brand. And in bringing to life one of the most successful slogans ever, Nike knocked the socks off the advertising world. More importantly from a shareholder’s perspective, they gained millions of new, faithful, true believer customers, enabling them to sprint miles ahead of the competition.

Why has ‘Just Do It’ been so successful? Well, even though their primary product back in 1988, when the slogan first aired, was shoes, Nike didn’t position themselves as shoe sellers. Instead, Nike was selling courage.

Here’s what I mean: the slogan speaks to laziness. To varying degrees, happens to everyone, right? We get lazy. And laziness is our foe. That’s where magic shoes come to the rescue, shoes marked with a simple swoosh, shoes ushered into the public consciousness with a battle cry, shoes urging you to wrestle with your inner sloth, shoes beseeching you to suck it up, get off the couch and DO IT!

Do whatever it is that’s necessary to reach your goals, be they business or personal. And know that when you DO IT, when you engage in hard work and personal sacrifice, when you roar like a lion (or a highly paid athlete) you empower your self.

For close to thirty years, the Just Do It message has resonated with huge numbers of consumers worldwide and facilitated Nike’s continuing success.

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Whatever You Do, Don’t Identify With A Brand

That’s all well and good for Nike. But what about the consumer? Is it in the consumer’s best interest to attach them self to a brand? To be hypnotized by a swoosh? To believe that one kind of shoe or computer or car or anything else being sold in our hyper-competitive commercial markets is better or awesome or desirable simply because of a logo or a slogan or an all too common celebrity endorsement for those companies lacking the oomph! of a Nike slogan?

Frankly, it’s delusional on the part of the consumer to think this way. To think that marketing campaigns are anything but surface bluster, hype and showmanship the sole purpose of which is to stimulate sales, NOT to accurately reflect quality or value. Or to think that celebrity endorsements have any substantive value whatsoever when it comes to the worth of a product.

Ahhh, but mine appears to be a lonely voice in the wilderness (said with an Irish lilt).

Because brands, together with marketing campaigns, are powerful. Moreso because consumers want to believe the fanciful imagery being sold.

They want to believe that slipping into a pair of new Nike shoes will let them soar like Michael Jordan or slice and dice a tennis ball like Roger Federer. Consumers want to believe that dabbing on Chanel No. 5 will increase their sex appeal because Nicole Kidman is paid $4 million/year to shill for the perfume. Or sipping Nespresso, owned by Nestle (OTCMKTS:NSRGY), the $275 million consumer products giant, is fashionable therefore desirable because George Clooney takes home $5 million/year for being its poster boy.

Fascinating really. Actors, athletes … celebrities of all stripes, are people hired by for-profit organizations to capitalize on their ‘star’ power, to seduce wide eyed consumers. Consumers who spend too much money, sometimes more than they can afford, sometimes taking on destructive debt, sometimes losing or misplacing their sense of self, as a result of buying into the celebrity brand.

Why, is the question someone as naïve as myself asks? Why does the magnetic celebrity pull exist? Is it because the consumer wants to feel like the celebrity? Is it because the consumer admires the celebrity’s image (because that’s all the public is privy to – an image), and feels connected to the celebrity when wearing clothes or perfume that the celebrity endorses? And this makes consumer feel better about them self?

Hmmm. This is what I’m going with: bewitched consumers, having fallen prey to the misguided notion that in buying a product they are connecting with the ‘star’, feel a sense of belonging, camaraderie, and all around feel good.

An accurate understanding or not, what’s more important is for consumer to ask: what is the benefit, and what is the cost of my expenditure?

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Who Do You Trust With Your Life Savings?

Financial institutions do their own form of branding.

Wealthsimple, one of the larger independent American Robo-Advisory companies, recently circulated a money focused article apparently written for them by Kevin Bacon, the actor (https://www.wealthsimple.com/en-us/magazine/money-diary-kevin-bacon). All I can say to this is that Bacon may not want to give up his day job.

Why would Wealthsimple want an actor to write an article about money? Straight up, they’re banking on his status to attract new customers.

Colonial Penn, an insurance company, uses Alex Trebek as their spokesperson. And why not? He has hosted the most popular television game show ever, Jeopardy, for more than 30 years. So, clearly he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to insurance products. Okay, sarcasm aside, Trebek is an excellent front man. Widely recognizable name, calm presence, pleasant on stage personality; everything about Trebek says he’s a perfect fit for a staid industry.

But does this mean you should do business with Colonial Penn? I really don’t know. Because I haven’t researched the company. That said, there’s no way I would make a decision based on a T.V. personality pitching their products. Because it makes zero impression on me, the fact that someone who earns their living playing someone who they’re not on an entertainment show is now their public salesman (because that’s what actors do, they play, and as they play, they sell an image void of authenticity; and this is what earns the public’s trust, an inauthentic image, and the more the public fawns over the image, the more the actor is paid for their role, the more this reinforces the actor’s inherent narcissism … and the public continues to buy in???).

What matters is substance, not image. If Colonial Penn, or any other company for that matter, backs up image with substance, then it’s all good. Apple backs up image with substance, with quality and value. So does Nike. As do some other companies.

For the sake of your wealth, whether your buying products or services, financial or otherwise, ignore the show, the glitz, the imagery intended to sucker you in. Instead, dig deep into the notion of value, fully understand costs and benefits before making the call or clicking ‘purchase’.

I mean, we’re all consumers of one sort or another. And in the consumer role, it’s always to our advantage to be fully informed.