It's Been Emotional

I have been wondering lately about brands, and the things people in branding and the like say about them - like what they are and how they build them. I love that don’t you? They always say “we build brands.” But do they?  Anyway I had these thoughts and I have to confess that I haven’t torture tested them, so be my guest. #youjustdontgetit

I have often heard it said that people buy brands due to their emotional attachment to them. You have probably heard similar. If that is so and people buy things that aren’t much different from other things due to their emotional attachment to the brand, aren’t we (Advertising) skirting around a con game of emotional manipulation?

Reader, what brands do you buy that are discernibly different from an own label brand; be it ketchup, beans, mango chutney, bread or ice cream? Do you believe that those items you buy that are branded are qualitatively different from own label items? Or are you falling for their emotional branding?

If branding and marketing people are out there blabbing about how brands use emotional messaging in books, blogs and lectures then won’t people catch on and change their buying behaviours?  A bit like once you know how an optical illusion works you don’t fall for it over and over and over again.

So, if brands are more keen today to get people emotionally engaged with their products in some way (because this is deemed the best thing to do, over say - telling people why your product is actually better than other makers for some reason or another), won’t it all end in tears?

If brands give up on being superior in some practical or tangible way, won’t own brands start to eat away at their market share?  There is an article here on the recent growth of own label products and a Mintel report hereI’m sure that some of that growth is due to current recessionary pressures.  But some of it is also due to the rising standard of own label products too. And so I wonder once those consumers have made a behaviour change to buy an own label product and it stacks up on taste for example, will they go back to branded items?

See I think many of today’s brands have a good story to tell, regarding why they really are better. If they stop telling those stories, be it in a charming and imaginative way, they may end up losing market share to own labels.

Added to this is the trend of own label products copying brand leaders style of product packaging. So in-store it is harder to be distinctive. 18% of Which? members said “they've deliberately bought an own-label product because it resembled a branded one...of those, 60% said they did so because the own-label was cheaper, while 59% wanted to try it to see if it was as good as the branded product.”
A Which? spokesperson said: “Own-brand products can provide good value and several have topped our tests to become Best Buys.
The very reason for my initial wondering, was that I just bought some Waitrose own brand shower gel at the bargain price of £2 for 2. I think it is as nice if not nicer than Molton Brown’s that cost £18 a bottle. And yet I confess I wouldn’t be best pleased if I got own label shower gel as a Christmas present whereas I would be if I got the Molton Brown stuff.

It's been emotional.


  1. Just gonna toss that in for discussion:

  2. I don't think anyone buys own brand food products with quality as a major consideration. (Marks and Spencers and Waitrose excepted).

    In my mind, people tend to buy own brand products because of price. They are either struggling with money or are very conscious of money. It's not about buying what you truly want - it's about being thrifty.

    For a brand to beat an own brand product, all the brand really needs is recognition and awareness, combined with a pricing strategy that reassures consumers that there is additional quality involved by charging slightly more for it. That isn't enough to beat competing brands though.

    Does a well marketing branded product need to actually be better quality than the own brand to succeed against it? I don't think it necessarily does, especially when it comes to non-food items. But it can't be worse quality. Consumers will pick up on that fast.

    The only exception if if you have a brand that denotes a truly proprietary product formulation, like Coca Cola. Supermarkets may be able to make a better cola (and some would say they already have) but they won't be able to make a better Coca Cola.

  3. Strange coincidence, but just today I was listening to one of the recent Freakonomics podcasts about just this - all about who buys own brand/branded goods and what causes people to make these choices. Really interesting - cost will often cause people to opt for own brand, but so will knowledge (ie. a doctor will know that unbranded ibuprofen is just the same as branded). But just as interesting was why people choose brands - sometimes there's a feeling of greater trust, imperceptible 'magic' ("maybe, just maybe, this branded Nurofen is better and I'll be willing to pay for that potential quality") or judgement from others - a chef might buy unbranded salt, because they know it does the same job, or may buy imported Peruvian salt for the cache it gives (sort of like your gift analogy). Anyway - it's here, just a half hour - and well worth a listen

  4. Doom Bar is my pint of choice because A - it's tasty; and B - it's widely available (in London pubs, anyway). I can't recall a single Doom Bar ad that could shape my emotional attachment to it. If I'm in a pub that doesn't serve Doom Bar, do you know what I do? I get a Tribute, or London Pride (or even Taddy Lager, if it's a Sam Smith). I definitely don't leave and go looking for a Doom Bar pub. And last night I had Golden Goose, a Lidl exclusive, and it was fine too.

    My p(o)int is, we all seem to forget that for your brand to sell, you need to be on the shelves. Very few brands are worth walking an extra mile for. Is Foster's selling well because of the charming Aussie lads in their ads, or because there isn't a shop in this country that doesn't stock it?

  5. I rarely buy own brand, purely because I can't bear the disappointment and would rather pay the extra 20p for a product I know will taste good/do what you expect, however I did once buy Tesco own brand Jaffa Cakes in a Jaffa Cake emergency when the McVities had sold out which to my delight and surprise were actually way better than the real thing.

    I think own brands are a gamble, you win some you lose some I don't think many people set out to buy them because that is their preferred choice. I suspect the recent growth in the own brand market is probably due to the recession and people tightening their budgets rather than own brands actually becoming more desirable.

  6. Claire - that was interesting. I liked the phrase that 'branding is often there to confuse rather than inform.'

    I liked their point too, that was similar to the article, that once you are in the know you may well change your behaviour .

    So Pharmacists do buy own brand pain-killers and chefs buy own brand salt etc. You buy own brand shower gel and Delicious now buys own brand jaffa cakes -it is going to be a revolution I tell you.

    Except that I still think loads of brands have something genuine to shout about and charge more for and yet they prefer not to as they prefer to confuse than inform and rely solely on emotions and advertising to increase their share of voice.


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