LOVE IN A COLD CLIMATE: What if your most loyal consumers didn’t give a damn?

30th December 2013

The lover of Oscar Wilde did not do much to be proud of in his indolent life. By most accounts, he was entitled, obnoxious and serially unstable, often depriving Wilde of the inner peace an artist needs, in order to create.

As a member of the Aesthetes of late Victorian London, Bosie, like many of his confrères, self-styled himself as Don Juan and as poet. He has little to show for it, except a ruined Irish genius and one penetrating phrase that has lasted through the generations.

I have been reflecting, this winter, on the nature of love. It being the highest order of human feelings (so say I, although I do recognise that contentedness has its attractions), it surely warrants attention. I am struck by how much we grapple with the nature of love. A New York Times essay just yesterday asserts that marriage is the killing of all love – that one must choose, as the two cannot co-exist. A rather disappointing prospect given that 90% of the adult population in the USA end up being wed at least once.

I have heard countless stories of love lost, won and lost again. Indeed, I have my own war wounds in this department. For all of its importance, isn’t it shocking how regularly we simply do not comprehend love at all? It seems to defy understanding or description, and is best explained in retrospect, or pinpointed just as it arrives to its close. Love is a tragic blessing, and Joni knew it:

Don’t it always seem to go That you don’t know what ya got ’til it’s gone?

Because the tools of marketing are principally built on metaphor, we often, in the world of brands, talk about loyalty and love. It is not that we imagine Mum in an intimate or passionate liaison with Ariel (although it sure holds more promise than an adulterous affair with Mister Proper), but rather we believe that marketing is the act of building relationships between brand and individual. We need a means of calibrating and codifying the relationship, and the parallels of love, loyalty, and commitment are useful.

Similar to the real world, it transpires that many supposed brand love affairs are anything but. I am shocked, when I talk to consumers, how little time or indeed respect they truly have for the brands that populate their lives. Most make choices based on habit and this is a source of great concern; habit is little more than indifference, on a schedule.

Indifference? Ah, that scary word. That word that strikes horror into the heart of every Romeo. Because indifference, not hate, is the true opposite of love.

Take my Refuse Collection Service, for example. I think they’re called Panda, but maybe that’s the competition. I hate them. If I could be bothered that is. They only come twice a month, they arrive so early in the morning that I forget to leave the bins out, and they refuse to take any ancillary cardboard which does not fit in the green bin. I have been with them for four years and am quite sure that I’m in the ‘beloved and loyal’ silo when they look at their customer statistics on gleaming PowerPoint slides.
A good friend attempts to find love on Grindr – a mobile app for gay men which uses GPS to connect guys by dint of attraction and proximity. He has used the ‘orange application’ for many moons, and detests not only it, but himself, when he uses it. It accesses his base character, he claims, making him less of a man. Grindr preys on him, exploiting his vulnerabilities. He deletes and reinstalls the application frequently, like a hapless smoker. And yet the Don of Grindr Incorporated (a rather slithery guy whose schtick reminds me of how snack foods defended chocolate consumption in the 1980s) will surely have my friend as one of his glowing statistics.

When I look around, I see many brands and many categories which exist in part through co-dependent or indifferent consumer relationships. These bad relationships have not yet broken up. But they will, or at least should.

Financial Institutions are an easy target, so let me lay into them for a bit. Christmas is over, I am not in the mood for fairness.
– My mortgage provider sends me a statutory notice that my mortgage repayment has changed, but refuses to make clear the amount or direction of the change in the payment – thus making the notice nigh on meaningless.
– I am not a friend of my local bank which, despite my being with them for 11 years, treats me like a trickster every time I enter their doors with questions regarding my mother’s maiden name. They insist on making me suffer for their appalling rate of staff turnover.

Financial services are, of course, the poster boy of disquieting brand relationships, defined by inertia and ‘resentful bondage’. They are not alone. In my work, I am discovering a lot more brands and categories defined by habit, entwined in boredom or disaffection.

Bosie’s one act of poetic eloquence was to articulate the frustrated passion of Victorian homosexuals. He called it ‘the love that dare not speak its name‘. In time, these people did indeed find their voice, and the world became a different and better place for it.

As brand owners, perhaps an inverse frustration stalks our marketing world?

Perhaps behind our year-end PowerPoint slides which declare growth, driven by the impressive love and loyalty scores of our consumers, there may lurk indifference? An indifference that dare not speak its name.


So here’s my project. Across 2014, I look forward to exploring love. What is it that captures consumers so completely, and how might it be sustained?

Sure, who wouldn’t want to be a student of love in the middle of winter? There’s no better project, no matter how cold the climate.


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