We've fetishised brands for too long

Brands are not demigods. They are the facades of corporations. They do not love us. They never have.

I've been taking part in an interesting discussion on LinkedIn about Apple: the theme being that Apple has somehow lost its original charm and excitement.

The message coming across from Apple fans/lovers/diehards (of which I have been one) is that the company is failing us by delivering iteration after iteration of existing products, rather than the big new WOW! products that we had got so used to over a couple of decades (iMac, iPhone, iPad etc..).

Some people are saying "I still love Apple but Apple doesn't seem to love me anymore."

Some people attribute it to the absence of Steve Jobs. Others to the fast pace of catch-up by other tech companies.

Apple doesn't love me. Apple used to excite me. Apple isn't trying anymore. 

But the collective disappointment seems to go much deeper than a mere boredom with the product range and the beginnings of the loyal Apple buyers considering looking elsewhere. It's spoken of in emotional terms. Apple doesn't love me. Apple used to excite me. Apple isn't trying anymore.

I've been an Apple buyer since 1993 when I bought my first ever computer. I've never owned a PC of any kind, and barely ever used one (and always found PCs to be literally and figuratively clunky by comparison). I've no idea how other brand smartphones work. Similarly I suppose.

I nearly bought an alternative phone recently, but was filled with such dread and anxiety at the prospect that I resorted to iPhone again. Phew! The relief. I didn't want excitement. I wanted something I felt comfortable with.

Why is this all so very emotional? Why can't we see all this stuff simply as product? I think it's because we've done something very particular with certain brands. Something very natural, very human, but potentially very dangerous to our psyches, even to our souls. We've turned certain brands into fetishes. Almost into religious objects.

They're perhaps the same group of brands that Kevin Roberts called Lovemarks. The Lovemarks model might not stand up under rigorous 'marketing science' scrutiny (because research indicates that the loyalty it is concerned with is a relatively weak force and doesn't help that much in acquiring new sales): but it's a fantastic metaphor for the emotional/psychological power of certain brands.

We've never been rational in our buying decisions of course. Never. And the art of branding is to tap into that irrationality, by creating stories and brand 'personalities' that we can relate to.

I don't have an issue with that. I'm a marketer by trade and of course we're all going to use the most powerful tools in the marketing toolbox.

But we do have to watch out for the unintended consequences of what we do. Apple and other leading brands have made remarkable products. Products that enhance lives in many ways. But brands are not demigods. They are the facades of corporations. They do not loveus. They never have. They cannot. They are are part of the industrial-commercial complex. Sometimes, and for a while, they will make for us and sell to us, things that we want (maybe even, occasionally, things that we need).

But when the moment arrives that we feel that they don't love us anymore, it's not the time to criticise them. It's the time to look at ourselves and to ask, why do we want a relationship with a corporation? What's missing from our view of ourselves, our society, and our world, that means we even consider that desirable?

A fetish can be defined (in this case by Merriam Webster) as:

  • an object (such as a small stone carving of an animal) believed to have magical power to protect or aid its owner

  • an object of irrational reverence or obsessive devotion

Can you think of anything that better defines our attitudes towards: iPhone, Facebook, Twitter, Nike, LinkedIn etc., etc.?

Brands are a collusion. A collective magic ceremony. We engage in it every day. Every hour. I love your brands. You love yours. We have as many brands to worship as the Romans had household gods and tribes of every continent had animal spirits.

Perhaps it's harmless. Perhaps we should think about it a bit more.

Simon Middleton