Loyalty, Our Greatest Handicap

November 18, 2011
As you walk by the shelves of your closest Target and remember you need to buy paper towels, you reach out and grab the nearest bunch of Bounty brand. Why? Because today we are constantly bombarded with advertisements from the largest corporations in the world. Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, McDonalds, and Toyota are internationally recognized brands that are all over the media. From the age of five years, we become familiar with many of the popular brands that exist and even at such a young age, develop loyalty towards them. This blind loyalty exists not only in our economy, but in the very core of our thinking. It is the cause and oftentimes the effect of the majority of our narrow-minded population, depriving us of new experiences and severely weakening our abilities to understand and empathize with one another.
Part of the problem is the capitalistic culture of North America. Advertisements are everywhere. On clothing, billboards, TV, the internet, all forms of radio, in magazines, and pretty much any place you can think of, logos are proudly displayed. Through all this subliminal communication, we become susceptible to recognizing only these familiar brands. Even in the case of simple products such as tissues, people are afraid to buy anything besides Kleenex branded tissues. Since the Kleenex brand is associated with tissues nationwide, we assume that anything besides Kleenex tissues is not worth our time. Americans will willingly pay two times the price of a generic box of tissues for the Kleenex name, despite being nothing more than something to blow our noses with. Companies are aware of this and do everything they can to ensure that they gain the brand loyalty of the customer. Shopping for clothes one time, I remember seeing a plain, solid-colored T-Shirt at a low-end store for about $5. After walking around for a while, I found the same shirt with the exact same composition, size, and color at a high-end store for about $50. Consumers willingly throw away money when they follow the big brands and ignore all others.

One of the more frightening aspects of this facet of our consumer culture is the loyalty to more than just the product of a brand, but the lifestyle. Clothing companies try to persuade customers to buy more than just a line of shoes, but the matching shirts, pants, belts, and accessories to go with them. For someone looking for skater gear, you may find them to be avid followers of stores such as Zumiez, PacSun, Vans, and Industrial Rideshop. If one is looking for “super high quality” trendy casual and business wear, look no further than Barneys New York for all the latest in designer clothing. By following these trends, we brand ourselves with the logos and ideals of the company and become synonymous with them as we become molded into the company’s perfect customer. Everything is bought from a specific company and most others are ignored.

As a result of this loyalty to brands and products, we also somewhat lose the ability to innovate. In a capitalistic society, it is necessary to have pure competition in all categories to provide a successful economy. When consumers subscribe to a single popular brand and avoid shopping around for what they believe is the best deal, they hurt more than themselves. Companies see no need to change what gains them lots of revenue. Why fix what isn’t broken? This behavior causes laziness in the development of the producing side of our economy by eliminating competition among companies. When corporations aren’t constantly vying to “one-up” each other, they are not as focused on making new products and investing into new research. They will put out the same tried and true formula because it works and put very little effort into creating new products. This perpetuates trends that are not ideal or current. For example, many argue that the Macintosh hardware and Mac OS X are superior to that of Windows-operated PCs. While this has been established and reasonably documented and argued, for most people, Macs are not the ideal choice for a personal computer because of the brand loyalty of customers. In the business world and in most other markets, PCs are much more widely recognized and supported simply because there are more PCs than there are Macs. Because of the status quo, the world is forced into buying computers with an archaic and flawed design. Brand loyalty holds us back as humans from progressing as quickly as we could be.

This cultural mindset is detrimental to society. The idea of branding on such a large scale is certainly a problem, but the phenomena of the big brands is also evident of the phenomenon regarding philosophies, religions, political parties, and other ideas. By sticking only to what we know, the belief is that we will be safe. However, if we decided early on in existence that mud huts offered the best type of protection from the elements, we would all be living much more uncomfortable and unsafe lifestyles. By ascribing to a particular “brand of thinking”, we deprive ourselves of essential learning experiences.
From 6th to 9th grade, I made a choice to spend my time online playing a game called Runescape. Every day I would come home and bolt right to the computer and play until late at night. My grades weren't the best they could be, homework didn't get done, I didn't get involved in school, lacked sufficient physical exercise, and missed out on tons of social opportunities. I would turn down invitations to hang out with friends and instantly dismiss dances, clubs, and birthday parties. I later learned that life is something that needs to be experienced with your own eyes, not through a character's eyes. I don't regret playing the game, but I do regret making it a lifestyle. After coming out of the shell I built for myself, I used high school as my time to recover and get involved in a wide variety of activities. Now, I am a much happier person and I embrace every chance to try something new.
We need to open our minds to all the opportunities given to us in the world and never become so hidebound in our thinking that we believe we have the best method of doing something. In the example of the mud huts, they probably were the best solution for protection from the elements at the time, but if not for adventurous people who questioned themselves, technology never would have progressed. Thinking a certain way or buying only certain products provides us with an empty feeling and keeps us wanting more, siphoning our energy away on a wild goose chase to nothing. We can take comfort in our loyalties, but we should always be open to change.

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