From an entertainment perspective, we live in an exciting time. Technology has advanced to the point where people can stream music, movies and television programs on their cellphones, televisions are ultra-thin with video quality rivaling the theatrical experience, and nearly every public location has accessible wireless internet connections. Admittedly, a lot of these breakthroughs are beneficial to society, and have changed how we look at the world and communicate with one another. However, not all movements have been toward our betterment and instead work to instill dependence and worst of all, loyalty toward companies regardless of the quality and quantity of their products.
“The dangers of brand loyalty” sounds like a loaded phrase, right? These days, it is commonplace for people, from the media down to the average consumer, to dramatize every little story or detail (like virtually every story about celebrities you have ever heard), as if the world will be otherwise plunged into disarray. If you feel similarly, then you would have every right to assume that this article is just another brick in the sanctimonious wall and the ramblings of a man disconnected with reality. Yes, in a world where pestilence, violence and poverty run rampant, there are far more strenuous issues we should all focus on. And yet, here are some things to consider. How many friends, relatives and peers do you know with smart phones? How many of those phones are the latest models released by their respective companies? How many people do you know who have the latest video game systems? The latest fashion?
Alright, now take those numbers and compare them to those you determine from this question: how many of those people, who have all of these expensive and self-indulgent items have jobs and/or suffer from debt, family obligations (ie, raising kids, marriages, etc.) and other financial duties? It is no secret that unemployment continues to be a colossal problem, with elderly men and women holding their jobs in order to live more comfortably and the average Bachelor’s degree and dollar not stretching as far as they did in the past. Regardless of their situations, people are struggling more, not just to better their standard of living, but to maintain that which they already possess. So, with all the hardships we face on a daily basis, one might ponder as to how companies such as Apple, Sony and Microsoft have been able to sustain themselves? What is it about them that regardless of our financial limitations, keep us clamoring for more? The answer might just be this simple: to consumers, technology represents a method of temporary escape from the troubles of everyday life and we are so desperate for that outlet, that the costs are not as important as they likely should be. However, it could be more complicated than that.
As an American, if you are not a fan of sports, you certainly know someone who is and the mania that can ensue once the season arrives and their teams start playing. People put their lives on hold, buy expensive tickets and merchandise or bunker down in their homes. The workplace and the internet are cluttered with ravings about teams being superior to others and any place showing the games with boisterous and overly invested fans shouting at the screens. With that said, the fanfare of technological announcements and releases are rather similar to the sports mentality. Think about it. Ever since 2001, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo have been fighting in “console wars”, vying for the moniker of “top video game console” and the hysteria has only grown with the rise of social networking and advertising bombardment. The latest generation of consoles (PS4, Xbox One, WiiU) were released from 2012-2013 to varying levels of success. Straight from their respective midnight releases (a publicity stunt which in itself speaks volumes about technology addiction), buyers used Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and other social media as means to brag about how excellent their systems are in comparison to the opposition. Superficially, these are irreverent acts, but when the bigger picture is laid out, the legitimacy of their claims becomes questionable.
On their releases dates, every console left much to be desired with the Xbox One releasing eight launch titles, the Wii U releasing seven and the PS4 merely released two launch games (note: only games which were not released on other consoles and/or PC are counted). With all of the consoles costing at least $300, how did buying them on release date really benefit consumers? Sure, there were probably people who genuinely enjoyed those few available games and some who had not owned the re-released games, but there is even more of a likelihood that the majority of consumers who own current generation consoles also own their previous versions as well. Even now, nearly a year after their arrival (two years for the Wii U), Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo still have yet to notably extend their rosters of games (exclusives stand at 39, 40 and 120 respectively). For the braggarts out there, is there really that much to boast about? Currently, what more are these wonders of technological advancement than aesthetically neat paper weights?
Technology is a dynamic that is constantly changing, seducing consumers with promises of new and exciting features they might not desire, comprehend or even be able to access immediately after purchase. Yet the manufacturers, which through years of business, have earned the trust of their customers and brainwashed them into automatically associating their products with positive, if not euphoric sensations. I singled out the “console wars” because it is a testament to the effects of consumerism, where advertising, the urge for new input and the names of popular brands whet the appetites of customers so much that will buy products well before they can be properly used. However, the list of scenarios in which brand loyalty rears its ugly, but immensely profitable head go on, from cellphones to operating systems, cable networks to internet providers, from clothing stores to the very food we eat. Of course, advertising dates back to ancient times, so the exposure of its potency and lethality is not entering new territory. Yet, it is because this knowledge is so general that, in today’s world, it should be obvious that companies covet revenue more than the bonds with their customers.
Brand loyalty has become such a problem that buyers are willing to purchase a new product not because of its capabilities, but because they “know” the company and trust it to deliver sufficient merchandise, thereby validating their expenses. Yes, everyone has momentary weaknesses and instances where they feel the urge to treat themselves, but for peace of mind, and for the sake of your wallet, please pick and choose when to do so, do your research, and most importantly, do not feel committed to a company based on past dealings. As the economy changes, companies change and so must we to prevent them from exploiting us for every dollar we have.
Blog By Anthony Colwell II