I require my toaster to make toast.
If my toaster frequently burns the toast, I will replace it without thinking too much. I have a strictly functional relationship with it. Does it do the job it is supposed to? If it is made by Westinghouse, Tefal, KitchenAid, or any other known brand is of much less consequence than its function. This is especially true if I buy one which calls itself “the best”. I will switch it out. No regrets, no forgiveness.
My car, on the other hand, is a different story. It has to work, of course. But my relationship with my car is more an emotional connection with it. I have had several brands in my life – VW, Audi, BMW, Renault, Mazda, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, and Citroen. Moreover, I have desired a few other brands – Chrysler, Maserati, Jaguar, or Land Rover.
But my brand is Alfa Romeo. And for the worst of all possible reasons.
For about six years, I owned an Alfa Romeo 166. When I bought her, she was already six years old, but she was a thing of beauty. Sleek lines, Italian tradition, wood finished interiors. She was fast, silent, and powerful. I really did love this car.
But some of the things I remember about her are not the happiest of memories. Getting the car checked out after I bought her led me to hours at a garage and an estimate in the thousands. Driving to Zagreb and back led me to spend the night in Slovanski Brod near the only mechanic in town after a spectacular break-down on the highway.
I actually sold her at one point, only to buy her back a few weeks later.
Each time she let me down, I steamed and screamed. But I always forgave her. This was not just a vehicle to me, getting from A to B. There was much more at play with this car. You will notice I call her “she”. Other cars were always “it” to me. They were all just toasters.
From a branding perspective, this is the height of achievement. My emotional connection to the car – but further to the brand itself – was such that I actually forgave her all her faults and quirks and malfunctions. I continue to be loyal – even though my 166 provided no good reason for it!
We forgive our beloved brands that occasionally let us down. A Bic pen that stops writing goes into the trash. A Montblanc goes to the shop for care and repair. A bag with a hole in it might be replaced without thinking. A Lancel , Longchamp, or Louis Vuitton must be nursed back to health.
As in many aspects of branding, it can be compared to human relationships. We can forgive our friends and be understanding of their shortcomings (since no one is perfect). We might not do the same for strangers however. A good brand crosses this metaphysical boundary from Object to Identity. We see the brand as an extension of ourselves.
Puma, for example, makes an attractive shoe that is comfortable. But they do not last. I buy 2 pairs a year. The equivalent pair of Nikes or Adidas will last for years and offer the same style and comfort. But they are not MY brands. When my last pair of Nikes gave up the ghost after many years of service, I switched. And I will not wear Adidas. Don’t ask. It’s complicated.
A good brand will evoke this kind of connection – it is based on feeling, self-identity, and it is often as complicated and complex as any human relationship. If it does not, we will simply buy another toaster.