A special Valentine's Day-themed guest post.
February is the month of love! At least that is what overenthusiastic marketers and rampant messaging on social media would have us believe. But in this "time for romance", it is interesting to note where the deepest and the most passionate relationships are being forged, especially amongst the younger lot. Just as machines began making several physical human tasks more convenient at the turn of the last century, brands today are rising to fill in the emotional demand for 'meaningful relationships'. In a scenario where an ever-impatient generation is quickly finding itself disillusioned with what real people have on offer, the steady reassurance of something which can always be counted on is always a tempting proposition.
This has triggered a completely new genre of love stories.
When Hariprasad landed his dream offer on campus, he felt that his smartly turned out Allen Solly wardrobe did help manoeuvre him into a promising position. And Radhika leaned on the smile-inducing quotient of the hit series 'The Big Bang Theory', to better cope with a highly stress-filled period just before her final examination results. Then there is Karan, who never looks at his Hero motorcycle as a mere vehicle to lend speed and economy to his entrepreneurial plans, but more as a trusted business partner. Lastly consider the case of Preethi, who finds warm support and companionship at her favourite Starbucks outlet where she sits alone for hours on end, penning her first novel.
In a strange way, brands are actually turning on the very species that invented them; by setting extremely high standards when it comes to expectations from a relationship. And as human are proving fallible, brands are passionately wooing the consumer by living up to some very potent promises along the way.
I promise to be there anytime and everywhere
Against their best wishes, very few humans can actually live up to the demands of such an assurance. The business of life does throw up other things which need one's attention. Also, sometimes, as many married couples would concur, one simply needs a break from the other person.
But brands have begun to aggressively intrude into this space. Some categories like smartphones have become a day-long obsession with consumers. Right from the moment they wake up, its screen has their attention. In fact, in a very short time, in evolutionary terms, the cell phone has already replaced dogs as man's best friend. And while the door can be shut even on one's better half, the cell phone travels with its owner just about everywhere, right from the boardroom to the bathroom. Surely, very few, if any, human relationships, maintain such an unabashedly umbilical connection.
I promise to always make you feel the same way
People are prone to errors and inconsistencies, perhaps endearingly human traits in the first place. That is why human interactions rarely revisit the heights once achieved during that one elusive, seldom repeated, 'magic moment'. Time and circumstance often take their toll. What was once perfect, often appears anything but, later on.
But brands are not similarly encumbered. The very concept of the brand is built around constancy of expectation and delivery. The reason why people keep going back to brands is that they are assured of sampling the same bouquet of feelings all over again. The soul-soothing quotient of your favourite music brand (or band for that matter) rarely wavers. The manner in which your taste buds dance on taking a bite of your favourite piece of chocolate remains a familiar experience. The primal urges that the power of your purring SUV engine evokes, fuels your frequent weekend getaway drives. Brands have become, to use an analogy from the media entertainment business, 'masters of reruns'. And this very trait has ensured their blockbuster success.
I promise to enjoy your social circle
'Meet the friends' are the three dreaded words which have the potential to derail any relationship. Peer approval being what it is in our mimetic code, most people are extremely uncomfortable when first encountering their partner's social circles. That pressure is often like facing the new ball all over again, even if one has already settled down.
Brands once more emerge triumphantly from this predicament. They display their poise and panache in holding the attention of the group. They are rarely tongue-tied. They aren't prone to any social faux pas. They make the right statements about their owners. They stoke feelings of envy, something which every human wishes their partner would induce in the first place. From watches to handbags and accessories; from automobiles to premium lounges to cite just a few, they embellish the persona of their patrons in a manner that is rarely humanly possible.
I promise to change for you
One of the biggest causes of grief, when it comes to relationships, is the aspect of change. Every person wishes he or she could change some qualities in their partner; sometimes several. However, since there is an independent thinking Homo Sapien at the end of all such requests, many such desires are usually met with utter disappointment. The resistance to change is the only constant with real people.
And here is where brands score, perhaps the most emphatically. Many new age brands have an 'open source code' kind of approach, which help their consumers interpret and employ them as they choose. This flexibility in interaction is a trait most humans absolutely covet. People love it when their brands allow them to add their own dashes of individuality. Consumers cherish brands which have the confidence to involve them in their internal functioning. Hence, from high-end culinary experience destinations to cutting-edge technology, brands have realised this adaptability and openness to change is the biggest recipe for success.
To conclude, from the manner in which trends are shaping; a Valentine Day when consumers share a special moment with their favourite brand, is perhaps, not such an outlandish thought. A famous quote that is doing the rounds is that of a person saying, 'I have more respect for the Gucci brand, then for any person alive'. Perhaps this is a worrying sign for our race and our eternal quest for those 'special human relationships'.
(The author is an independent creative thinking trainer and brand ideation consultant. He has written two books, 'Lessons from the Playground' and 'The Madness Starts at 9'.)