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The Rise of Brands

February 8, 2013

One of the trends I’ve noticed recently is the rise of brands in marketing of various products.  The key element in any advertizing campaign now seems to be brand recognition.  It’s seen as a way to establish trust for a brand by the consumer.  It’s also a subtle method of mind manipulation.  Imagine that you are looking for a product in the store.  You find a display that’s filled with many of these products, all different.  Then, you notice one with a name that you recognize.  Perhaps you believe that it was recommended by someone you know, but you can’t remember for sure.  Actually you saw it in advertizing.  The manipulation worked.  The brand owner has made a sale.

Another related trend that I’ve noticed is that independant stores are disappearing, replaced by stores that are part of a chain and bear a well-known brand name.  When there are enough of them, the stores become familiar.  One is much like another.  You know what products they sell.  They may have national advertizing to keep the brand in your mind.  Purchasing and supply for these stores is likely done centrally, bringing economies of scale.  Products should be cheaper because of that.  Maybe it’s only the profits that are higher.

I’ve also noticed that many restaurants now, especially the fast food variety, feature branded ingredients.  Instead of just listing beef, bacon, and cheese, for example, they give specific brand names for each of them.  I suppose that makes the food seem more appealing to customers.  It also implies that the restaurant chain itself has outsourced those ingredients to other companies.  The chain no longer needs to use their own purchasing and quality control departments for those ingredients.  Is this change better or worse for the producer and consumer?

As I recall, the traditional meaning of a brand name was that all of the branded products were manufactured by a single company.  The products were generally related, so that if you were pleased with one product, you could be confident that you’d be pleased with another of their products.  The reputation of the company was at stake.  They take responsibility for all of their products.  You could safely assume that they were all of equal quality.

We learned about the new use of brands when ground beef patties were recalled for health reasons.  A single factory packaged them under a whole variety of brands.  This information was hidden, revealed by only a plant number on the package.  The new use for branding is a single brand name for many unrelated products, all coming from different suppliers.  These are usually house brands.  The brand owner has little responsibility for the quality of the products, instead delegating that to a whole group of suppliers.  No longer can the consumer assume that all of these products are of equal quality.

Yes, I recognize that companies and people change.  This is generally a good thing, but when everybody is galloping in the same direction, it sounds like a stampede.  Maybe this is not a good thing after all.  Every company seems to be following the same course.  Many now have dozens of brands.  Often the brand name is prominently displayed on the package but the identity of the brand owner is hidden.  Now we are faced with so many brands that they are difficult to remember.  They all want the success that comes with brand recognition, but they all can’t have it.  The result is that we are losing our trust in brands.  Perhaps brands are only a means to charge higher prices now, with no added value.

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