Once upon a time, there was Brand Loyalty

Even if you’re not in the business of advertising – a drop in the ocean of people – you can still read this. I am not going to drag you into industry jargons and any tedious branding lectures. Let me open this with a fun tweet. I promise I’ll stay on point, and you promise, no hard feelings.

I was going through my Instagram after Pakistan lost a cricket match against Sri Lanka (not the final, but the one before it) and my thumb stopped at a tweet made by our very own Shaan Shahid, tweeting, “Fakhar: 16 balls, 15 runs only, 2 balls from the middle of the bat… and you are supposed to be playing national cricket. Wow!” It sounded like fair criticism as we all were upset and truly, Fakhar hasn’t been performing well, lately. But the fun began, when I read a random reply below the same tweet. Someone wrote, “Sir, aapki 500 films may say 2 ya 4 dekhnay waali hain, Fakhar nay kabhi apko kuch bola?” It was funny and a bit below the belt, but still I couldn’t agree more (It cracked me up though). That’s the topic we are discussing today. Brand loyalty in modern times – goes down the drain when you start underperforming.

Let’s change the lens to see things more objectively in the advertising and marketing sense. The questions are:

  1. Do consumers still fall in love with their favorite brands?
  2. Why is it too difficult to keep consumers loyal?
  3. Is brand loyalty really dying?

We often see marketing individuals discussing these questions on relevant forums and some of them have started believing that brand loyalty is going through the process of slow death, but why is it happening in the first place and can marketers win it back through advertising?

Before we jump to a quick conclusion, let’s have a better context to it.

I’ll throw a couple of more similar questions.
Do people still worship their favourite movie stars like they did before?
Do you think anybody will become as popular as Michael Jackson? A superstar, like Shahrukh Khan? Can any brand or a celebrity graduate from just a popular name to a big household brand with a love mark?
Of course, people like their favourite stars but do they really love them?

Back in the day, celebrities were worshiped like gods and the same was the case with brands. The audience, now, is more rational and logical than emotional. It’s simpler now; if you don’t find your favorite drink good enough, you switch to some other brand. You want more from everything. There is an eagerness and openness to try new things, and there are more and more options available to be experienced. It won’t be oversimplification if I said, in today’s age of information and accessibility, brand loyalty has a completely new meaning. It’s not about what a brand is, it’s about what a brand can offer. It’s not about who you are, it’s about what can you do to stay relevant. A consumer is as loyal to a brand as a brand is committed to its quality and promise to deliver. A couple of flop movies and someone as big as Shah Rukh Khan comes under pressure. Similarly, if Shahid Afridi was part of our national cricket team today, he would never have become such a huge brand or Shaan Shahid in the same regard.

To remain a big brand, you must perform and be alive and engaged in daily conversations. A fair example here are Kohli and Babar Azam, who are bigger brands in the world of cricket because of their statistics. The day their stats start going down, they are in deep waters.

The flip side of this picture is the clutter in the minds of consumers, thanks to the media mix. Multiple screens make us watch dozens of ads and videos in the same 24 hours we had once for lesser content. The modern consumer is now able to compare the quality of a product in the most logical way. The buck really stopped in the name of favoritism and now people don’t care if a movie star has six packs. Your daily Instagram feed can show you much better bodies, much better dancers and singers than the ones you see on the silver screen. With an attention span of less than 5 seconds, you have to grab the attention. Whether you’re a product or a personality. Remember Andy Warhol said about 70 years ago that “In future, everybody will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”
Well, the future is here, and being world famous for a longer period of time is nearly impossible. You’ll be replaced by the next big thing.

If we talk about brand quality and its offering, another cause of this shift is competitiveness. Brands today have become super competitive in their offering and services. And that too is a responsive measure since brand teams know they have to present the best or nothing. For all kinds of audiences, settling for lesser is not an option. I’ll just ask you, why would you buy a plane ticket from your ‘favourite’ airline without comparing rates? There is no guilt in not buying your T-shirt from your favourite brand when there is a ‘buy one get one free’ offer on the store next door and don’t forget the quality is not bad either.

Today, it’s even more difficult to remain a big brand compared to yesterday. Once you become a loved brand, you must try even harder. You make efforts to keep them closer to you so they never forget about you. Again, you make a lot of functional efforts to create that emotional connect, which technically also stems out of something very functional. You love Coke and Pepsi because there are both emotional and functional connects. With apology to all happily married couples, as long as you treat your customer as your girlfriend, things go in your favour. The day you start taking them for granted, your brand loyalty is gone.

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