To understand loyalties in love, irrespective of what it is for, it's important to at least size up that iceberg of a question: why do we love in the first place?
People have loved for different reasons that have often been guided by what people thought of themselves, their expectations, responsibilities, values, beliefs, and influences. People have loved out of devotion, out of duty, to fulfill social expectations, to carry out familial responsibilities, to feel part of a region or community, or simply because they were supposed to.
Likewise, brands we loved were guided by the dominant expectations and moods of the times, guaranteeing quality assurance during industrialisation, symbolising lifestyles when prosperity grew, and advocating bottomlines when tough times loomed.
While all these may have been reasons corresponding to the social themes of the times we lived in, as we now naturally evolve into individualistic societies, the self gains prominence and leads to a new definition of love. So what is it that we love now? Well, we now simply love things, people or brands that make us feel good about ourselves. Period.
What matters most today about love is a state of feeling good about oneself. Love is chosen, not thrust as an ownership and obligation in exchange of social and financial security or even a familial arrangement of beneficial convenience. Is it surprising then that we have growing instances of celebrities as well as common people moving on to other partners? Any wonder then that the world celebrated the current state of broken relationships all over, by instituting 'A Museum of Broken Relationships' in London recently?
Is this a sign of individualistic people not wanting to stick it out through morbid obligations as they don't have social, familial or financial securities to chain them on? People are trying out relationships before committing. And when the pre-tested relationships too run into snags, the new lot feels free to move on.
Quite similarly, brands today can no longer expect loyalties simply because they provide a security or trust of quality, durability, lifestyle, value or even the formulaic emotional pay-off to the customer. There is unprecedented choice today to begin with. There is such overwhelming, appealing and suitable range we have access to that it seems only natural to experiment. Especially when such values are being made fashionable in media.
It may have bemused us to see the gen Y training to be 'Superstuds', at the unabashed schools of flirting showing as a primetime TV programme. On a lighter note, there are wannabe youth car brands like A Star espousing new principles of 'love' by hiding a lover in the boot of a hatchback, as a backup (stepney) in case your regular lover signed off early in the night.
It's not just mindless variety. There's an increasing customisation and personalisation questioning the commitment to a brand mismatch. It is the 'create it for yourself' era. The 'you age'. And doesn't it make it irresistible to have not just immense choice but the choices competing to appeal to your personal sensibilities?
Significantly, there's yet another clinching draw that at least the progressive brands have begun to use, to make us feel good about ourselves - resolving our conflicts. Scooty resolves the restrictions on teen girls, HDFC Standard Life assuages the financial dependence and loss of pride of the elderly, ICICI Pru attempted to soothe the overworked nerves by advocating early retirement, 'Daag acche hain' takes a stance against hyperparenting. Lifebuoy's 'Ab kya darna' perhaps addresses children's confinement, and Nano lyrically encourages the struggling middle class ambitions.
Brands that sustain loyalty are the ones that earn it through sustained excitement, trust and respect. It's the excitement that really provides the preferential appeal to the new age moods and mindsets.
So is loyalty all that good as it's made out to be? In a way, isn't it tolerating the "bad", the "inefficient"? Could that be the mistake brands are making today? Hoping for loyalty from consumers?
The glaring example of Nokia versus Apple comes to mind to bring alive the 'attitudes and behaviours' of spouse vs lover. Any surprises then about which of the two have declined from their absolutely dominant share, and which one is the most valuable company in the world today?
The writer is Chief of Strategy & Head, Water Consulting