Thursday, June 17, 2004

Branding and Community

Economics textbooks (and lots of highbrow economics) bemoan the efficiency losses from "monopolistic" and "oligopolistic" industry organization. It is not until information asymmetries are examined that successful product differentiation is seen as having two sides: consumers are willing to pay for reputable goods and services and sellers can earn profits by maintaining that reputation. Both sides benefit.

Reviewing The Culting of Brands (by Douglas Atkin; WSJ 6/16), Daniel Akst notes that it often goes much further. Akst quotes Atkin: "People today pay for meaning more than they pray for it."

The reviewer notes that,"... Atkin has written an unusually readable book that focuses on how a cultlike devotion to products and brands arises from the human needs for belonging and satisfaction -- needs that may be especially acute in today's free-wheeling culture, in which ties to family, church, community and workplace are looser than ever. Cult brands such as Macintosh, answer some of these needs by helping people recognize who they are and form communities of their own kind. He observes that BMW motorcycle riders, whose cult is even more mysterious than that of Harley-Davidson, published a directory of 12,000 BMW owners ... willing to help other BMW owners who are hurt, lost or just have a flat tire far from home. This network is reminiscent of such fraternal groups as the Masons or Orthodox Jews who take in observant wayfarers on the Sabbath."

Again, what's not to like?