I’m sure there were plenty of encounters with other brands and merchandise along the way, but the first real memory I have with brand names is being in late grade school and throwing a huge tantrum in the shoe store because I wanted the Nikes and my mom was pushing the Converse. Nikes were cool at the time, and I remember she told me that Converse was the shoes to have when she was a kid. The Nikes were more. What’s odd is that I can’t remember which pair of shoes we ended up getting. I think it was the Converse but I’m not for sure. I remember that money was tight, but I can’t remember whether my dad was laid-off or not during this time.
I don’t think it was a coincidence that it was shoes, either. I don’t know what it is about shoes, but they seem particularly and perpetually swept up in social status, even more so than other items of clothing and even in the face of what one might assume was a primarily functional piece of apparel. My grandmother told me that during the Great Depression, a lot of other families were worse off than hers, so while she had shoes to wear, many of her school peers did not. So she would get picked on and her shoes would get stolen. Her parents would buy her more shoes, but these too would get stolen. Eventually, she would stop wearing them. Before school started each morning, she would go to a hiding spot and hide the shoes so that they wouldn’t get stolen anymore.
Anyway, this childhood memory continues to inform my attitude about brand names today. Which is to say, I now couldn’t care about brand-name shopping if I tried. It’s not even that I’m a crusader against brand names, or those who have their favorites. It’s just that, for me, anchored by this memory, feeling pride in a brand name seems like betrayal on a personal level that’s hard to change at this point. In fact, while I wouldn’t consider myself a crusader against brand names, it’s not so much that I don’t care about any brand names. It’s just that they’re all negative. Starbucks putting my favorite local coffee shop out of business. The customer service I’ve received from Comcast and CenturyLink. Stuff like that.
What about building trust and loyalty with a brand that has a track record of success? I’ve been too disappointed too many times by the big-name brands. Everything feels like a random hodge-podge of quality from one product and service to the next. Which isn’t to say that I don’t research the things I buy. It’s just that I spend much of that time scouring the online ratings and review from consumers about the individual item in question, rather than relying on a brand name.