Since I wrote the piece on brand avoidance and Starbucks that appeared on Reuther’s site, I have received a bunch of emails agreeing and disagreeing with my argument – my argument that the brands themselves have created a desire for the non-branded products right now. (http://blogs.reuters.com/small-business/2009/11/27/the-hidden-meaning-of...) But as several people pointed out, I didn’t distinguish this recent wave of brand avoidance from other waves, or talk about whether it extended much beyond coffee buying. John Moore at Brand Autopsy was particularly helpful – as always – in shaping my thinking. (For more on John, seehttp://brandautopsy.com/)
So what is really at work here? Is the pushback against brands – against Starbucks -- a manifestation of a logical and rather predictable process? This process that means that things and ideas that are cool and hip – products with cultural value – must be somewhat scarce. Once they become too easily availability (and no longer exclusive) they lose their value. So is that what happened to Starbucks? Essentially it had became too commonplace and therefore customers avoided it because it no longer made them look cool. Instead it made them look rather commonplace. Again was this predicatable?
Or is there something historically specific about the brand avoidance we are seeing taking place right now? Does this stem from recent changes in society and the organization of consumption? Is it really about a pushback against brands – and globalization maybe -- because of what brands – and their multinational sponsors -- are doing now? Is it about a new sort of consciousness and appreciation of the emotional and perhaps financial benefits of the local? How widespread is it? Is this something confined to coffee, or is there a larger shift in thinking and buying and actions? And again, is this thinking going to move from a rejection of Starbucks to a rejection of the Olive Garden and Jiffy Lube and Gold’s Gym – to brands in general and their threat to the local and particular? Will people pay more at the point of purchase for the local? Does this represent a shift in public thinking or simply the creation of a new niche market? Now that the middle of the middle-class have joined Bobos and others upper-middlebrows at Starbucks (and at Panera and at sushi bars) are the upper-middlebrows moving on and looking for other products and others ways of symbolic buying that can distinguish them from the mainstream?