When you think of your favorite brands, what is the first word you associate with them? According to psychology Professor Paul Bloom of Yale, the word we all associate with our favorite brands, even if subconsciously, is “pleasure.” We all seek pleasure in our lives. How we define pleasure is of course subject to individual variance. But pleasure, however defined, is what we seek, as well as all of the satisfying feelings and emotions that go with it. The knowledgeable brands know this, and capitalize on it. Using imagery, music, words, sights, smells, and taste, they create around the brand, and infuse it with those stimuli that trigger any number of perceived pleasure points in our psyches, moving us closer to embracing the brands into our lives. Making them part of who we are, who we imagine ourselves to be and how we want others to see us. And as an extension of our pleasured selves, we endow on them immense legitimacy. Professor Bloom in a recent NPR TED Radio Hour, http://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/308752278/brand-over-brain, gave an example that all of us with kids know only too well – if you can’t get kids to eat something, just tell them it’s from McDonald’s®! Why? Because in a kids’ world, just the thought of that brand, and all of the memories of happiness that go with it, strongly bolstered by lots of impactful advertising and promotion, not to mention the smell of those fries, brings immediate pleasure and legitimacy.
Adults who purchase by brand behave pretty much the same. We purchase certain brands because having that branded product brings pleasure. It can be in the form of feeling safe – for example, many people will buy a branded product and not the absolutely identical store brand, at much higher price, because they assume the branded product is a safer, more legitimate choice. Other brands induce feelings of social acceptance, or of living a fantasy, or, analysis aside, just feeling really, really good. Even if we know all of the brand imagery is mere fantasy, and what is promised will never really occur – honestly, will we really become immensely rich and fly into the wilds of Africa in our private plane dressed to the hilt with expensive safari clothes and luggage with the person of one’s dreams hanging onto us with seductive smiles and loving eyes merely by buying Ralph Lauren® luggage? — we allow ourselves to drift into the pleasure of that fantasy, believing at some level that if by some toss of the cosmic dice this all could come true, buying the brand is the ticket. And just by buying the brand, tagged by these thoughts, we experience pleasure.
Where the carriage transforms back to pumpkin is when the brand makes lots of pleasurable promises up front, but then fails to deliver. How quickly pleasure is lost when dealing with terrible customer service. Or with warranties that aren’t honored. Or the texture, taste, or smell of the product is not what is promised. Or product defects. There’s little worse than having one’s pleasure, one’s fantasy, one’s high expectations, destroyed with harsh reality.
And that’s where the truly great brands make their strides. Brands like Zappos® and Amazon® Prime, which have redefined customer service. Or (most of the time) Starbucks, which by inviting us into the fantasy it created, changed how we drink coffee and publicly commune (and learned that free WiFi brings even more pleasure). Brands that understand the pleasure principle know that they need to follow through, and keep the happiness factor high if we are going to come back to them. And in these days of real-time, viral, uncensored criticism, brands that don’t deliver on their promises will not survive.
Those of us who protect brands for a living know this well. We fight to keep the brand’s reputation intact, or, unfortunately in too many cases, fight to overcome the damage that’s been done either by themselves, their co-venturers, their competitors, their critics, or unhappy consumers. We have a much better chance at prevailing if the brand’s behavior has been consistent with its enchantment; it’s tough to win over a judge or jury when their experience has been the same as the disenchanted consumers. And so there is every reason for a brand to deliver on its promises. And that, my friends, is not fantasy.