What would you like to get for your next birthday? A top of the line MacBook? A Birkin bag? A Spyker car? Why do we sometimes want things so badly? Having worked in the fashion industry, I have seen some acts of dangerously irrational desire. The passionate desperation of a man who could not sleep until resting his trembling fingers on the cool, smooth surface of an iPad has nothing to do with reason either. It is also as good as never about value for money‒ we get emotional about things that are more than products; things that are accessories to a person we want to be.
We buy into ideology; rational reasons are secondary. Dell’s Adamo is a very cool product but, in my humble opinion, without a cult of supporters it will never outshine MacBook Pro. Aspirational choices are backed up by messages that do not explain why they are worth more, but rather why we should want them more. Future proof concepts can be boiled down to rather simple sentences, no matter the magnitude; even the Bible has its Ten Commandments. Bang & Olufsen stands for solid quality and extraordinary design, Tiffany for everlasting class, Virgin for customer-centric, human attitude.
As much sweat and blood as it takes to get on top, staying there is even harder. In many instances, brands lose their cool chasing short-term profit. We live in rather challenging times- some of us do well, some not so much, some grow by staggering 370% a year. So when the boards of those who do well look at the financial reports of the wunderkinds they naturally arch their eyebrows: “These chaps do pretty much what we do, just smaller and in pink- why on earth would we not follow?” Business-wise it makes sense. Next year’s profit soars 40%, the year after- falls 80% and never comes back. Hermes would probably double its revenue in a year if it became more democratic. It would also go out of business in five: the spirits of aspirational brands rest on uncompromisable dogmas.
People are rarely completely free. On daily bases, most of us play a certain role. The more complicated our lives, the more nuances to the role. Having a job I love and cherish, means I cannot write some of the things I might have had, had I been unemployed. When I have kids, I will probably eat more at home, watch appropriate movies and drink my milk. Aspirational brands allow us to act out in a safe and acceptable manner. We may have to wear plain suits to work but our Omega watches make sure people know we are deadly charming and quite dangerous.
In many ways brands are like people. Most of them want love, recognition and respect. Brands go to ad agencies to buy new outfits, PR specialists to present them in the right light and brand consultants to make the most out of their new wardrobes. Because very much like us, mortals, brands have people depending on their success.