I’m not really saying anything revolutionary or novel in this post, it’s just a bit of a stream of consciousness rant about how companies behave when they think we’re not watching them….
When I was growing up I remember my parents and grandparents frequently talking about companies that they trusted and telling me good makes for things:
“German cars are well engineered… you should drive a Volkswagen”
“Always fly British Airways”
“You should shop at Morrisons”
“Your Uncle’s just bought a Dyson hoover, they’re the best you know”
Setting Myself Up For Disappointment
Throughout my tweens, teens and early 20s I remember following this sort of advice and after years of encouragement, forming my own strong opinions about ‘good’ brands. I also remember falling, hook line and sinker, for a lot of the late 00s silicon valley companies who promised to change the world.
I can also recall the moments when almost all of the brands that I was loyal to betrayed my trust, either directly through a negative experience or indirectly through a scandal of some description.
…or when it turned out that the inventor of my vacuum cleaner expels more hot air than his trademark hand dryers…
…Or when it turned out that my silicon valley ‘heroes’ (in hindsight 🤮) were spying on us for years… and that the guy who sold the cool electrical cars was a loser who publically disparaged actual heroes and hung out with nazis…
Or in the recent ‘inflation’ years where almost every single branded food and drink company and supermarket shrinkflated the hell out of their entire range, raised their prices and then posted record profits…
A Legacy of a By-Gone Time
Brand loyalty probably made sense in an earlier incarnation of capitalism. Your grandma might have known the owner of the local garage for years and they might have done her a solid a couple of times by not charging her for adding wiper fluid that one time or coming out to fix her car on a public holiday. There genuinely was a time when the things people needed were built with pride to a high quality and you’d buy something for life and maintain it. If Grandma had a pan that lasted 10 years and the company that made it for her were still going after all that time, chances are they were still making good pans.
The problem is, if I only buy one high quality saucepan every 20 years, saucepan companies can’t make loads of money out of me. This all changed in the 1920s when psychologists like Edward Bernays convinced us en-masse via the power of radio and print media that we needed to consume and buy and keep up with the Jones’. This led to planned obsolescence. If people are going to buy something fashionable and chuck the old clothes away every season, it stands to reason that the clothes only need to last one season and therefore the manufacturer could make more money if they make the clothes out of cheaper materials.
Brand Loyalty in the 2020s
Now we’ve had about 100 years to get used to the idea of “consuming” rather than buying for life and companies are in a race to the bottom to make stuff as cheaply and nastily as possible in order to sell us things we don’t need that won’t last very long anyway. Companies change very quickly and they are forever optimising (i.e. enshittifying) their production processes, testing the waters to see what they can get away with not doing before customers realise like frogs slowly boiling in a pan of water.
Companies have also learned that talk is cheap. They will say whatever they think they should to get you to trust them and spend money with them even if they don’t actually mean it. That’s why we have things like greenwashing.
In our current incarnation of capitalism brand loyalty makes zero sense. You might have a rose-tinted memory of a time you interacted with a company 10 years ago but in that time they might have been through 3 different CEOs, opted plastic components instead of metal ones or replaced their experienced senior engineers with graduates who got 6 months of training and just use ChatGPT to tell them what to do.
Loyalty is for People not Companies
In 2023 it’s pretty hard to do avoid interacting with disingenuous rip off merchants… There are sites that can help you decide whether a company is ethical and you can rely on your own moral compass. I’m not the “gotcha” guy from the comic strip above. Ethical boycotting is a privilege that not everyone can afford (fiscally or emotionally). Do what you’ve got to do to survive.
Ultimately I think loyalty should be reserved for people rather than big faceless corporations. When it comes to buying your next car, booking your next holiday, feeding your family next week or dressing yourself, be sceptical and clinical. Shop around, ignore adverts, posturing and green-washing. Remember talk is cheap. Don’t give companies your loyalty. Abandon them as quickly and ruthlessly as they would you. If you have the energy, kick up a fuss. Write to them, email them, phone them, tell them why you’re abandoning them (always be nice to the individuals handling your messages).
Gift your loyalty to friends, family, neighbours and random strangers and remember those who help you out too. The brand loyalty of old was a lot closer to this model – Grandma probably trusted the manager at the local garage rather than the garage company.
If you are a businessy person, build quality stuff, don’t chase infinite growth and money at the expense of your customers and set up your business in a way that makes it enshittification resistant after you move on.
Finally, don’t forget to also be loyal to yourself!