When did the customer start caring?

The following words have been inspired by a tweet. This tweet hit a raw nerve inside me and made me passionately irritated, which I believe is my best state to thrive in. You know, like how Wayne Rooney plays his best football when he’s a little bit drunk, I write my best when I’m inexplicably annoyed about something.

This is the picture that was tweeted. This is the guy who tweeted it, for credit’s sake.

The bit here that irked me, and would irk any other right-minded individual, was the part about consumers expecting brands to have a purpose. That sentence right there was a lie, and for a lie of such gravitas to be found in Campaign magazine of all places suggests to me that something is seriously wrong.

Has bullshit now infiltrated the highest minds in marketing? Have we made that much up that we now believe it ourselves? If the press are perpetrating these myths, who is there left for us to put our faith in?

Let us answer these questions and more as we go onto the next paragraph. It’s even got its own subheader.

Consumers couldn’t give a shit

For as long as there has been commerce, customers have only cared about two things: price and quality. Poorer customers care more about price, the mid-market try and even price and quality out, while the top earners will float towards quality to show off their wealth. For example, today I bought some cheese based on the fact it had the name of the shop all over it and looked, to the untrained eye, exactly like cheese should have looked. It tasted a little bit like the sole of my shoe, but I could afford it therefore I bought it. Everything tastes the same when it’s melted, right?

Price and quality have been the main needs of customers ever since the first wheel was flogged at a stone age supermarket.

“Does it roll?” they asked.
“Yes,” they were told.
“How much do you want?” they probed,
“Two clubs and a bit of that rotting meat you’re dragging around,” they were charged, and the deal was done. The process is still the same, and it’s really all that anyone wants to know about.

So where did this idea that consumers have a greater conscience come from? Well, people like us, probably. We sell things for a job, so we need different strings to pull at occasionally to help think of new ways to flog the same product. If a customer cares about a brand then oh look, that’s something else for us to work with.

Do consumers care about nothing at all?

Not exactly, but they do care a lot less than we’d like them to. The chances of our audience forming a deep connection with the brands we’re trying to market are very slim if, say, that brand sells toothpaste. No-one cares if their toothpaste provider has a brand promise so long as their product does a good job at shining teeth. No-one wants their toothpaste provider to stand for something. A lot of people probably don’t even know who their toothpaste provider is off the top of their heads, and that goes for 90% of everything else you’ll buy.

People’s relationship with the brands they buy is very shallow. We can polish those brands as much as we like and add all kinds of meaning behind them, but ultimately that won’t be what clinches many a sale.

How the hell do you know, Ash?

We all are consumers, aren’t we? I know sometimes it’s easy to forget that you too are part of a target audience, but you are and this very second hundreds of brands are trying to devise ways to convince you to buy what they’re selling. Tomorrow morning you’ll wake up to loads of emails that want you to click on them, and you’ll put them straight in the trash and ruin the hard work of a copywriter and a designer.

Sadly we don’t really care about a brand’s purpose, and I doubt we really know they have one if they do. I’ve formed ‘bonds’ with audiences for a few clients, but only due to the fact those clients had a humorous tone of voice that allowed me to build friendships. They kept coming back for the banter, and if the product saw any sales that was just a handy coincidence.

We can kid ourselves all we like that our work has a greater meaning, but it doesn’t. Consumers want an initial ‘ooh, interesting’ moment followed by a reason to buy. They don’t want to be patronised, and neither do you. Stop reading this tripe and get on with your lives.