Putting our lives in their brands


From www.theguardian.com

What if brand loyalty was actually as serious as life and death? Nick Dutnall looks at how we might trust a brand with our lives

As consumers we’re loyal to particular brands that play a role in our lives. Kevin Roberts, CEO at Saatchi and Saatchi, even goes as far as describing the brands we allow closest to us as “lovemarks” – brands that create “an intimate, emotional connection”. It’s a potent scenario that evokes brand loyalty of the highest order – one where life ceases to be the same if the brand were removed.

To date, those brands that we can’t live without have only come from within the pharmaceutical industry. These multi-national machines research, manufacture, promote and dispense branded drugs in the hope that healthcare professionals around the world will prescribe them. These giant suppliers of drugs have for years invested millions into marketing their brands to ensure they reap the rewards in global sales, to compensate for the colossal research investments made by them and their shareholders. They have played a vital role in the global provision of healthcare for years, but times are changing.

The world of health is no longer dominated solely by these historic behemoths. As our relationship with our health evolves and technology continues to progress with startling speed, the companies that are migrating into this space are evolving too. Increased life expectancy, a global obesity problem and the rise of consumer healthcare create a uniquely compelling world that’s ripe for attracting potential suitors. Manufacturers of brands that we would never have previously linked to our health are now vying for our attention.

These changes in market dynamics pose one elementary question: which brands do we trust with our lives?

We glibly bandy about grandiose phrases such as, “I’d die without my iPhone” – but what if a prescribed statin had the Apple logo on the box? Or the pacemaker to be fitted was manufactured by Nintendo?

I’d wager we’d think twice before continuing with the treatment. There would certainly be questions to ask. But ultimately, our desire to be well would help reframe those brands.

Modern human beings not only have an in-depth fascination with our health, but society at large has always been intrigued by the workings of the pharmaceutical industry and the products it produces. The artist Damien Hirst focused in on this fascination in his exhibition, Schizophrenogenesis. In this nod to Warhol and the world of pop art, Hirst brings prescription drugs to life and seems to celebrate the role they play in our lives. Why not? After all, for some, these modern marvels are the difference between life and death.

Brands have always tried to win the trust of potential consumers, but in the world of health that trust is taken to new levels. It’s fine to wear a band around your wrist to monitor how much you move, but what happens when wearable technology becomes implanted technology? Or that band becomes a chip that sits under your skin? What about Google providing us with a pill that treats cancer?

As these brands move ever closer to us as consumers, will the way we relate to them change?

In the rapidly changing world of health, questions like these are the only constant. Those companies that get their stories straight will be those with whom we’ll happily trust our lives.

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