Are we our brands?

After being cut off in traffic yesterday by a BMW for the third time in three weeks, I began to wonder whether people choose brands that fit their personality, or whether they adopt the personality of the brands that they buy.  It seems to me that a disproportionate number of BMW drivers are very aggressive on the road.  (Okay, so this observational research is subject to any number of biases – so I’ll admit right here that this is a highly debatable assertion).

Do BMW buyers buy BMW’s because they as individuals are aggressive, speedy, impatient “A types”?  Or do they adopt those behaviours, because they aspire to that personality type? 

As a marketer, I’m interested in the question because it has important implications for the ethics of the way that we market to others.  For example, Guess (the clothing brand), targets young women with highly sexualized advertising, including portraying young women as sexualized children (complete in baby doll clothing and holding stuffed animals).  If we assume that the buyer already holds these values, and is merely buying something that reflects their belief system, it doesn’t appear to be an ethical problem. However, if the brand is encouraging a buyer to adopt a set of beliefs, then we may have an ethical issue.

Most marketers would argue that consumers are sophisticated enough that they can manage their own ethics. I’m not sure that it’s that simple. That’s why we have to start with brand values when managing a brand.  And then we have to be constantly aware of how those values are perceived in the marketplace.  We need to remember the doctrine of unanticipated consequences – we have an accountability to our customers.

I know all BMW drivers aren’t idiots on the road, but I wish that they’d check their blind spots once in a while.


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