Brand Loyalty: The Cult of Personality

Brand loyalty says a lot about a person. If you're a Mac guy, would you date a PC girl? Apple doesn't think you should have to.

Your love of Lulus and Apple products sends a message, whether you like it or not.

Brand loyalty says a lot about a person. If you’re a Mac guy, would you date a PC girl? Apple doesn’t think you should have to.

Perhaps you like Cheerios. And your spouse chooses to start the day with Weetabix. This may hint at issues to be explored through counselling, but most will just let it slide. It’s not the sort of schism likely to cause marital discord, unless you are trying to eat breakfast on an end table. But now consider another scenario: you use a Mac, your partner a PC. Can such people share a bed? Think of the awkward pillow talk, never mind the potential for confused offspring. 

There is now a dating service based on this understanding. It’s called Cupidtino and if you’re a PC user you’ve never seen it – access is possible only via Apple products. Rejoice, Apple fanatics – now, hands that touch Windows need never touch yours. It was inevitable really. Considering the number of couples who marry within their own faith, the arrival of Cupidtino is only natural. While PC users are likely to shop for a computer based on features and price, Apple users tend to buy for religious reasons. 

To have your company and its products raised to Vatican-like heights of adulation is beyond the dreams of most marketers. Not that they don’t try. Attempts to elevate products to the status of hip identity markers are plentiful – and often painful (see hip-hop Barney Rubble rapping for Fruity Pebbles cereal). Yet some succeed in achieving that mysterious brand loyalty that goes beyond the mere retail all the way to the personal and ideological. 

Sports franchises and microbreweries aside, only a few B.C. companies have that kind of mojo. Lululemon is the obvious local example of a company that has broken the barrier usually separating possessions from, say, inborn traits like brown eyes or right-handedness. What’s remarkable about Lululemon is its ability to maintain the kind of cachet associated with a hip local designer even as it has become a global giant. While the company has clearly cultivated a grassroots cult image, replicating its example is no simple matter. Founder Chip Wilson claims he had no vision of world domination when he opened his original Kitsilano shop in 1999. “Make it happen by accident” is a tough concept for a marketing class to study.

Lululemon has maintained its outsider image with controversial marketing moves such as its stealth non-2010 Olympic patriotic wear that brought a rebuke from VANOC and an avalanche of publicity that helped underline its guerrilla image.

But not every brand that achieves cult status is a hipster favourite. Somehow Tim Hortons has become identified with the national psyche to an unparalleled degree. How did it happen? A stroke of luck always helps – in this case, the good fortune of having been founded by and named for a beloved hockey player. Aside from some good advertising, there is frankly very little else to explain why patriotic lightning has struck a franchise that is otherwise hard to distinguish from Dunkin’ Donuts.

But being a Tim’s patron does offer that precious benefit that makes all the difference: it helps you make a statement about who you are and, just as importantly, who you are not. In this case, being a Tim’s person means you are definitely not one of those Starbucks types. It’s a crucial distinction. A cup of Tim’s comes with cream, sugar and a little salt of the earth.

Of course, Tim’s customers are more likely to mingle with each other too. In that way, brand identification can serve the same ends as Cupidtino. Still in beta, the site describes itself as gay-friendly, but not Vista-friendly. Cupidtino’s efforts to speed Apple couples to the joys of everlasting interface could even have long-term consequences. If human evolution advances in step with human technology, the day may come when all our cables and sockets no longer fit.