Even the most boring product can now offer self-expressive value with enough customer insight and a bit of brand personality.
I would wager that those in the media and marketing business experience deeper existential crises than what is par for the course. I hope I’m not the only one that is concerned about predictions of the death of brands for the vast majority of low involvement categories. Think about the homogenisation of products that is occurring from the tech giants as they take away the impact of the physical act of purchase and replace it with a click in an aggregator or a voice command. It’s a scary thought for all, but reassuringly every product is now potentially self-expressive as we continue to over present ourselves, making branding more important than ever.
While with one hand technology seems to be taking away the importance of aspects of branding, but with another it is giving an opportunity for brands that haven’t or shouldn’t have been cared about before. Self-expression is now more important, and demanded, now that a constant stream of your peer’s worth is paraded before you, several times a day. Feeding the beast that is your ideal online self are reasons why brands are aligning themselves to values based purposes and luxury categories continue to grow around other stagnant retail areas.
Of course, this was all predicted back in the 90’s. The 1890s that is, by a shit-stirrer named Veblen. He observed that as the lines between social classes become demarcated, those that could display their financial strength through leisure and the conspicuous consumption of goods would top the social structure, dictating the standards for obtaining positive reputation for the community. It also might be relieving to some that our generation didn’t create Influencers, as Veblen rightly foresaw that “the members of each stratum accept as their ideal of decency the scheme of life in vogue in the next higher stratum, and bend their energies to live up to that ideal”.
While Veblen saw the Kardashians coming, I don’t think he saw how social media would really put the conspicuous into conspicuous consumption. This is a currently happy hunting ground for brands in the leisure and luxury space, but what of the majority of purchases that do not fall into these categories easily? How can they compete for availability and engagement with a consumer preoccupied with only showing the best side of themselves? Or what happens when over saturation causes a trend against expression through expensive labels and filtered lenses? I believe this value can be filled with brands that offer self-expression through their utilitarian existence and organic brand personality, and that this is the big opportunity for marketers in these categories.
A worthy example of this was actually achieved in the 80’s, the 1980’s that is, right here in Australia -when a synthetic blend of pressurised ether in a can was marketed as ‘Start ya Bastard’. This is a simple, shining example of attaching a natural personality to a utilitarian product that can elevate it to self-expressive status by basing it on an understanding of the customer’s life.
Those three words encapsulate such an authentic understanding of the customer’s situation and offer the solution in a way that makes ‘Taste the Feeling’ or ‘Refresh your world’ seem like advertising. The product name is telling you the people that made this have been where you have: The team lost. More grey. Can’t pull off those jeans anymore. Now the mower won’t start. Life’s a bastard sometimes, am I right?
Having this empathy for the customer is something many try, but showing understanding without condescension is hard to pull off. Why does it work? I think that simply, Start ya bastard is something that the customer would actually say, or wishes they could say, when they need the product. Not many product names or company slogans can be used in any conversation, let alone conversation about the category, without feeling like a ventriloquist’s dummy. If you can picture one of your customers talking about your category using the same language as your marketing then you can start to believe they may use your marketing to help tell their friends about what they’ve done or bought.
So you drive down to the shops or you whip out the phone and see a few choices to solve this current state of affairs. The product that reflects this mood you are in at the moment is a choice among some larger global brands or store labels. At that point price doesn’t matter because leaving one of those choices behind would be like leaving a piece of yourself on the shelf.
Leaving it behind on the shelf would also mean you miss an opportunity to confirm to yourself and maybe even your network that you’re not part of the bland brigade that is influenced by boring marketing. That no matter what fate throws in your path, you can overcome and laugh about it. And the best part – this is a practical item that can never be doubted as unneeded, pretentious or frivolous. It is guilt free expression, and as the pitchforks come out against the real housewives of the world, or the credit runs out, it will be much easier to express yourself through products that haven’t conformed to the previous rules of social reputation building.
Maybe its wishful thinking that a can of compressed ether can make a person feel like a company has felt the same way as them about the bigger picture, and that the feeling would be shared alongside or instead of a humblebrag shot of a steering wheel badge. But it is reassuring to think that there will always be a need for an industry that can add this bit of accessible colour to the world, and that there is now no such thing as a boring product.