Not long ago, I saw this tweet posted by Mark Hamilton (@gmarkham):
>> Dear marketers: I will never have a relationship with things I buy. It's just stuff I use. May like it or not, but that's not a relationship. <<
Mark teaches journalism. And even though I follow Mark, I've never met him. In fact, I'm not sure if I've ever tweeted him directly. But from his comment above, I can tell I like him!
I don't know that I would never have a relationship with the brand behind something I buy, but I understand what Mark is saying. For me, it's just not a necessary part of the transaction. And, as I move along through the demographic age groups, I think I know why:
At this point in my life, brands don't define me.
Looking back, I can see that when I was younger I was much more caught up in brands, their images and personalities. In my 20s and 30s, I more closely fit the mold of the kind of young consumer that has been institutionalized as the target of media buyers: trendy, fashion-conscious and, thanks to media myopia, always in the public eye (creating a vicious circle of covering those assumed to be “hip,” thereby establishing them as “hip.”)
At the risk of engaging in a little pop psych, I would suggest that this “brand brandishing” happens when one's own identity is still in flux. You're still trying on different projections of who you are to see how they fit. Brand personality and brand associations are the fastest route to that image. “Oh, yeah...that’s me. I’m that kind of guy.” To borrow a phrase from a vintage Subaru radio commercial (which was a wicked parody of other car commercials, including Ricardo Montalban for the Cordoba), “The Caballero is a car for the man who knows who...I am.”
I can definitely remember when it was oh-so-important who had on the Calvins, who was wearing the OP shirts, drinking the Stoli, listening to their Walkman (“It’s a Sony!”), watching movies on HBO, taping music on Memorex, shopping at Crate & Barrel, taking photographs (on film) with an Olympus OM-1, playing video games on the Atari and reciting gags from the past weekend’s SNL episode. In another time, another region or another social circle, the brands would be different. But the story would be the same.
But that was then. Somewhere along the line....I dunno, I stopped auditioning all those other identities. I settled on a “me.” My consumer purchases were no longer “facing outward” to make some sort of statement. Today...yes, my purchases provide satisfaction for the psyche. But often they simply fill a need. They’re only what they need to be, and no more. As Mike Hamilton noted in his tweet, they’re stuff I use. And I probably like them. But that doesn’t mean I want to have a relationship with the company. It’s not like I want to start picking out curtains or anything. Right now, the relationships I value are not with the things I buy.
For the longest time (and apparently more out of habit than because of any data that supported it) media buyers were convinced that consumers 50 and over are set in their ways, with entrenched brand loyalties and will not try something new. In the last few years, that belief came to be seen as pretty shaky if not completely shattered:
Is 18-49 Passé As Top Demographic?
Boomers Hope To Break Age-Old Ad Myth
So, maybe the real reason why advertisers should be chasing the younger demos is not because that’s the trend-driven age when brand preferences are set for life but, instead, because those younger consumers are the ones who still see a brand as a tribe. A shared brand experience reflects membership in that tribe. And a social relationship with that brand puts them “on the inside,” tight with that brand image. Consequently, they’re more receptive to continuous interaction with a brand.
But once you join other tribes...once you start to define the complexity of “you” through other interests and passions...those brand identities become less important.
It’s pretty well established by now that older consumers are not “set in their ways” and are, in fact, quite receptive to new products and new brands. What’s different about the “over 50s” might be that, even when we’re happy with a brand, we’re no longer as likely to carry it as a banner of personal identity. Nor do we necessarily want constant engagement from them.
To my favorite brands: "Love ya. Mean it. Now get outta here."