When I was in high school and studying psychology and marketing (in a very high-level, shallow way that only happens in college-credit-type public high school classes), I scoffed at the idea of brand loyalty. What mindless sheep!
Then I went to college and started buying my own shit. And companies know - college is when the habits start! For the first time, you're the one standing in the hair care aisle at Wal-Mart, trying to pick out a shampoo out of the thousands of brightly colored bottles in front of you, all vying for your attention. It's no longer just picking among the plethora that Mom always has laid out in the shower, all to varying degrees of emptiness. No, suddenly, for the first time in your life, you're making the decisions. On personal hygiene products and food products and paper products. You're answering the all-too-important question of 'when is store brand okay and when do you need to splurge and go for the real thing'?
And then you make that decision - Crest! Tide! Equate! - and there's no looking back. Companies know college is when you make the life-changing decisions and unknowingly become a Dawn-for-life person. One afternoon, in a hurry at Kroger, trying to get back for that recruitment event or study session, you pick up that one brand of deodorant and suddenly it's thirty years later and you've never experimented with another brand of deodorant and can't imagine ever using anything else, despite how many times your wife insists it doesn't work that well and hasn't for at least a decade.
So in college, we were inundated with brands vying for our eventual loyalty. College students aren't picking out cars yet (though this does happen later - I have a friend whose family is 'Honda only'). So Volvo might not have been knocking down our doors but everyone else was. Any event that had vendors, suddenly people from P&G were popping up with Tide samples and Crest toothpaste tubes. I lived in a sorority house and it wasn't uncommon to get boxes of shaving razors or face wash samples. Get 'em while they're young! Not habit-forming young, like cigarettes, but consumer-loyalty-forming young.
And, boy, was it effective. Thanks in part to this onslaught in college, I've been using the same razor brand, the same deodorant brand, and the same soap brand for the past decade. My first apartment after college was near a Target, so now I insist on Method brands for all hand and dish soaps. Thanks to a friend in college and a fun marketing campaign in middle school, I was on a Herbal Essences kick until about five years ago, when my stylist informed me I could no longer buy hair care products at Target. Since then I've experimented on various fancy stylist-approved shampoos and conditioners, never really sticking to one thing. Brand loyalty is a lot easier when it's at Target, to be honest.
And then there's the really important brand loyalty because it works, like toilet paper. Cottonelle or death.
But sometimes brand loyalty backfires.
Starting in middle school, I always had an agenda book. A weekly planner, whatever you want to call it. Middle school through college, this was school-provided. About the size of a large paperback, the agenda book had a week spread across two pages, another page for each month in the back, a section for addresses and phone numbers, a section for notes, and then miscellaneous other things, depending on the institution. Maps, important phone numbers, state capitals. Measurement conversions, time zones. Etc. I became increasingly reliant on these books over the 12 years they were school-provided, to keep track of appointments and homework assignments but to also remember important milestones - this was the night I stayed up all night writing fan-fiction, this was the day I finally went to lunch with the cute kid from band. etc. It became something of a crutch. Or maybe it's more like a a strong need or urge - must document daily life in planner book! If it wasn't in my agenda book, did it even happen? And I would actually use this documentation. Years later, I could answer the question, what were you doing February 12th, 1998, because it was written down! What I consider agenda worthy, what daily events are important enough to record, has changed over time, but it's been 20 years since middle school and I still record things every day in my agenda book. Important things that happened at work or at home, when someone's birthday is or my next dentist's appointment. But there's comfort in knowing that in ten years, I can tell you what I was doing on November 11th, 2017, because it will be in my agenda book. Maybe it's just wondering when I read that book or maybe it's part of the Mueller investigation, but I know it's there.
After I graduated college, I was packing to move to South Carolina. And I packed my agenda book from my senior year, my last provided planner. I looked and the book ended in June of that year. There were only a few weeks left! And I realized, this would be my last institution-approved agenda book. There would be no more. I was on my own. That afternoon, I happened to be shopping with a friend and we went to Barnes and Noble. And there they were, agenda books! I found one that somewhat mimicked the school books' timeline, covering 18 months - January to December of one year, then until June of the next. And I liked other things about it - glued spine instead of ringed, about the same size as the school books (aka, fits in my purse). And just like the school books, the week was split across two pages, which was crucial to maintain my recording habit, which I didn't think I could break. There were the usual's in the back, plus a few random odd bits of information (who needs zodiac signs in a weekly planner?). And there were other things - I liked the variety of covers, going with an off white background with a large abstract flower in the front. I liked the method of keeping your page (instead of the popular and simple ribbon, each corner had a tearaway piece; you would tearaway to the page you were on). On a bit of a whim, I picked up this agenda book. I didn't know I would be creating an important new tradition.
It's 9 years later. Every year about this time, November-ish, I go to Barnes and Noble. I find the calendars and I find my brand of weekly planner. The only thing that's changed from year to year is the cover. And so I go and peruse the cover options. Usually there are four to six options, with one or two repeats from prior years. Occasionally I would even go to multiple Barnes and Nobles, to check out the options. And then I switch from one year's agenda book to the next, carefully copying over important dates and the phone numbers and addresses in the back. I make a note in the old book - switch to new one on this date! All my agenda books, from middle school to college and then the Barnes and Noble after that, are carefully placed in drawer in my home desk. When I think of things I would grab in a fire, I think of these books, among other things. Because if these books are lost or destroyed, where's the record of my life? How will I know when my dentist appointment was, when I finally got around to watching The Apartment? What I did for my twenty-third birthday or where I went for dinner my last night in Portland?
But here is the problem on depending on companies. They let you down. I knew it would happen eventually. I would go to Barnes and Noble in my annual pilgrimage (though I do go more often, really) and my brand of planner would be nowhere to be seen. I wondered how long I could rely on Barnes and Noble to keep me stocked.
This year, I went to my local Barnes and Noble. The calendars are always a challenge to find, never quite where you think they should be. And I only go once a year, usually to a different location, after all. Finally, I find them. Look through the shelves and then I see it, my brand, in just the right size. There are three cover options, including one that I used a couple of years ago. I pick up one of the two new covers, to see the interior color scheme. And that's when I realize it. Barnes and Noble has finally let me down.
After 9 years of Barnes and Noble and 12 years of school weekly planners in one orientation, Barnes and Noble changed the game on me. Gone are the horizontal days of the week. Instead, I now have this boxy, quarter page thing. What the hell, Barnes and Noble? I knew this day would come eventually. The brand would stop producing agenda books and I would have to find something else. But this? This was a new type of betrayal. Why mess with a good thing? Were they really losing market because of the page organization?
I'm not helping matters - I bought one anyway. And I'll use it, I just need to figure out how to reorganize my daily notes. And I still have everything else good about the book - the extra pages in the back, the tear away corners, the perfect size.
Brand Loyalty. They can usually depend on us, but can we depend on them?