News: We Should Use Brands, Not Love Them

Pacific Standard »

When I was an editorial staff writer at BuzzFeed, I wrote a post called “15 Things That Diet Coke Addicts Don’t Want to Hear About Anymore,” wherein I defiantly accepted the health risks of excessive Diet Coke drinking and only half-jokingly pledged allegiance to the beverage over my own family. While I should have recognized my deranged and pathological attachment to the toxic stuff, I focused more on the 778,000+ views and 23,000+ Facebook shares it got and felt better that I was not alone in my feelings that Diet Coke is not just a soda but a magical friend dressed in aluminum.

While Coca-Cola is a corporation that has been making us emotional for years by connecting their products with our feelings, the list of personified brands that come complete with attitudes, voices, and values is growing rapidly. These brands show off their wits and their care for consumers so effectively that we’ve come to value their adulatory, shallow offerings as authentic and reciprocal relationships.

There are many who see friendlier, more approachable brands as a welcome shift away from advertising that was once poorly targeted and considered mostly a nuisance. In a market economy, we will inevitably encounter brands, and it is understandable that we want a pleasant customer-oriented experience. But the shift from transactional relationships with brands to emotional ones has the potential to distort our relationship expectations in a way that makes us value brands over people. That might seem like an underestimation of our ability to differentiate brands from humans, but there is no denying the appeal of a relationship wherein we are endlessly catered to and entertained without the attendant accountability of responding in turn.

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