It’s a tricky world out there. And so are its loyalties. The days when Lux was the filmi sitaron ka suandarya saboon, or the Marlboro Man was the icon of many a puff-happy are over. There is a brand new breed of consumers now, who flit and fly according to the whims and fancies of the products they vouch for, and it’s ever changing. The days when brand loyalty lasted at least half a lifetime are passé. Gen-next is fast becoming a brand voyeur and therefore, a “brand slut”, though it could be construed as too negative a term. Used in marketing parlance to define a category of consumer that switches brand loyalties night and day. According to Urban Dictionary: “The 18 to 40 Logo-mania crowd who flit from one brand to the next with no sense of fidelity to any one are disloyal brand sluts. They hop and whore around the place, trying the new heels or that new ‘It Bag’ or the most expensive pair of shades that can be bought.”
Although the trend started a few years ago, when consumers had more brands to pick from, it’s at an all-time high today. It might be apt to say that brand promiscuousness has risen from fashionistas lamenting over another’s newest Chanel bag or Gucci perfume. Everyone wants to outsmart the other. Envy is shaping our lives and thanks to overt consumerism, a new retail animal is emerging. And this extends to not just outfits but eateries, spas etc. Gone are the days when you frequented your favourite restaurant or spa or hair stylist. Today, people are constantly in a mood to experiment with newness.
Flirting and experimenting
Brand loyalty has been booted out, and brand promiscuity has taken its place. Writer Shobhaa De couldn’t agree more, “This is all a part of a global phenomenon that encourages promiscuity on all levels — from flirting with multiple brands to flirting with multiple partners. Relationships are no longer forged on a womb-to-tomb basis. Experimenting with brands extends to experimenting with partners (this is an out there Tinder generation). The idea of loyalty to anything or anyone has become outdated. It is passé to stick to an old favourite. I link it to ADS, a condition that has become an epidemic.”
Yet, the increase in incomes, more exposure to products comes with its own body bag of previous inclinations. Brand guru, Harish Bijoor agrees that loyalty isn’t what it used to be. “In reality, all consumers are promiscuous. Brand loyalty in its absolute meaning is dead. The reality is that the consumer is promiscuous, and is meant to be. Boredom happens. Consumers get tired of brands and move from one to another. In Prof. David Aaker’s book on branding, chapter 2 is Brand Loyalty. In my book on branding, chapter 7 is Brand Promiscuity. Brand loyalty is old hat. Brand promiscuity is the new more. Brand Slut is a term that describes it all for sure, although it is a tad negative and totally sexist a term. My research in this realm reveals that consumers are but butterflies. Their real mode is happiest when they switch from choice to choice. This is so in the case of brand franchise, just as it is in the case of relationships as well. The only thing that sobers people in society is societal reality, social mores, and religion, ethical at play and significantly the factor of what people will say if they are butterflies on relationships.”
Consumers are not contracted employees of brands, but what happens when a brand ambassador also gets promiscuous? A lot of people went bonkers when photographs of Kanye West appeared on many sites playing in Adidas shoes and Nike gear.
Brandwagon: Today, consumers are constantly in a mood to experiment with newness
Lure of newness
Brand loyalty is just impossible, feels actor Ira Dubey, who confesses not to have fallen into the brand rut. “I’m not really a stickler to one brand. I do own Louis Vuitton and would love to own one of each of the iconic classics like a Chanel tote or a Bottega wallet, but more than owning it, I believe in experimentation — in life, work and fashion. Having variety is what makes you grow. Today, there is plenty of choice and getting stuck to one brand no longer makes sense. I come from a sensibility where my mum always says I’d rather spend a few lakhs on education for the poor than on a bag! I’ve been proud to work and buy myself whatever luxury stuff I covet. I never obsess over any brand; mixing and matching is what works for me and in the diverse, ever-evolving world we live in, change is exciting and necessary. Brands won’t go anywhere; icons remain icons and that status can never be lessened because it’s exclusive in the luxury sector, but as high street become trendy, fashion becomes eclectic. Otherwise, we are clones of one another, right?”
It’s just easy come, easy go for Vivek Singh, executive chef and CEO, Cinnamon Club, UK who has served the likes of British Prime Ministers, Bill Clinton, Pierce Brosnan, Jude Law, Sienna Miller, A.R. Rahman, Sachin Tendulkar and others. Vivek says, “Newness is creeping in our lives. After all, loyalty is overrated and is for dogs, isn’t it? Discovery, adventure and experimentation is so now. Therefore it’s important for brands too, to keep on their toes so they keep their customers engaged. Brands too need to constantly be on the lookout to reach newer audiences.”
More aware consumers
Sonia Manchanda, an NID graduate who has helped in building many brands like Manipal, Future group — Soney Ki Chidiya, YLG, Dalmia, Commonwealth Games design and look, and is the lady who gave Freedom Park in Bengaluru its name, besides many more. Currently working with Spread Design and Learning, Sonia likes to believe it’s a ‘Been there, done that’ situation for most of us. “The customer has ‘slept around’ and is now far more aware. The consequence of that is that we can see a slip far more easily and when there’s a slip or drop in integrity of the idea of the brand, the consumer drops out as well. Brands just have to tighten their knickers and pull up their socks. Loyalty is another story altogether. A very tricky business, a brand has to be like a secret revealed, a storyteller par excellence — constantly engaging; access to a higher level of existence, an exclusive club and a party where one has to work their way up for an invitation.”
And for designer Wendell Rodricks, it’s very little brand loyalty these days for Indian designer brands. “However,” he says, “The wannabes stay loyal to big brands like LV, Gucci, Dior, Chanel, Burberry and Versace for accessories such as eyewear, bags and shoes and Calvin Klein, Armani for underwear and Dior, Chanel and MAC for makeup and for shoes Louboutin, Jimmy Choo and Manolo. As for clothes, it is a slugfest between the top couture brands and H&M, Zara, Mango and Target with the low end brand winning the wars. Increasingly people are using the high-end for accessories and perfumes.”
Actress Neha Dhupia agrees that there’s no brand loyalty in consumers or even stars who endorse certain brands. “I will have to admit that even I indulge in brand promiscuity. If I know I’m getting the same quality in a certain product for a lesser price, I would jump at it. But if I get good quality and am happy with a certain brand, I don’t mind paying that little extra and stick to that brand just like my two-year-old niece, who is a brand loyalist. I had to buy a pillow of a certain brand for her, as she wanted only that particular pillow of that brand and I had to get it for her. I guess once she grows older, she will just know there are so many options out there.”
Gamut of choice
The man who wears many hats, ad filmmaker, Prahlad Kakkar believes that people will come back and show loyalty if they like a particular product. Affirming that an ad is all about telling a story and catching the audience at the right time, he proclaims, “Today, there’s a whole gamut of brands to choose from. One can’t expect anyone to be loyal to one. Everyone is just flitting around to try which one works for them. But, if they really like something, then they do come back. That’s the only time when loyalty comes to play. Also, a lot of consumers try out new products if they like a certain ad campaign. Some sellers try to lure customers by giving discounts. But if they don’t like the product, the consumers won’t come back.”
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