October 21, 2007

Out Of The Mouths Of Babes

There's nothing like a meeting with customers to straighten out your thinking from time to time.

On Friday, I called in to our local primary school to present to the sixth class assembly on brands and how they work. In many ways, it was like trying to teach my grandchild to suck eggs! As a parent of three tweens, I'm quick to moan about how beholden they are to the brands that are flavour of the moment. But the gathering of twelve-year-olds was quick to point out some truths about the influence of brands in general (and not just on tweens and teenagers).

Whilst we adults are inclined to be a little more coy about our preferences and motivations, I was reminded how almost all of us make our choices based on brand. Try weaning a middle-aged golfer off his favourite brand of golf equipment and clothing or a young mother off her choice of push-chair and you'll have a battle on your hands. I reckon much of the arguments in the home of the newly-weds or newly-moved-in-togethers revolve around which brand of ketchup, butter and marmalade make it into the fridge. The same domestic arrangements come under great scrutiny from the parents (whether in or out of law) and the young woman is often judged on her choice of brand of cooking oil or domestic cleaner whilst the young man is quizzed over his preference of car or power-tool. Like it or not, our choice of brand seems to say something to the world about who we are and what we stand for.

In many ways, we adults are in denial. This was brought home to me as I listened to the radio later in the day. TV personality, Lloyd Grossman, was interviewed on the prevalence of celebrity brands in the world of cooking and radio-host Matt Cooper was perplexed at how Grossman, who is not and doesn't claim to be a chef, had developed a very successful range of soups and sauces. The twelve-year-olds would not have shared his confusion.

Matt Cooper seemed to believe that successful brands were built on expertise. They are not. Or at least they rarely are. More and more, successful brands are built on credibility and influence (and the appearance of expertise). It is the same in the school-yard. My tweens challenge me on a whole range of issues when I am in conflict with the 'experts' in their own circle of friends and influencers. They would not be surprised to know that Lloyd Grossman has fashioned a highly-successful range of soups and sauces out of the credibility prompted by his television profile.

It is not only school-children who must be more critical of the opinions that are presented as expertise by brands and those who champion them. None of us likes to be seen as gullible. We are all of us susceptible to the charms of the brand but our vanity and intellectual pride often has us in denial that we fall under that same influence.

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