Although the obsession with brands is something I've already written about at length, I was struck nonetheless by a particular example in a recent survey I took. In the midst of a long survey about dish washing products, the survey asked me:
"What drives your loyalty to the particular brand of automatic dishwasher detergent that you use?"
If ever called to provide a succinct explanation for my belief that marketers aren't actually human (thus ruling out my usual verbose rants), I would offer up that quote. A marketer writing a survey to try and learn the opinions of consumers assumed (a) that all consumers buy soap (a parity product) based on brand over all other factors, (b) that all consumers will only ever buy one brand of soap unless extraordinary external factors persuade them to change, and (c) the reason for this is because all consumers have loyalty to specific corporate trademarks. Keep in mind that at no point did I suggest anything that might support this conclusion even out of context; the question came completely out of the blue and not as a response to something I said.
Incidentally, the question was multiple choice; possible options included such delights as "I trust the brand" and "it's the brand I grew up with," plus the odd-sounding "it's the premium option."
To offer some semblance of actually answering the question, the idea of "brand loyalty" is ridiculous, especially when applied to a parity product like detergent; while I know I have dishwasher detergent in the cupboard under the sink I couldn't tell you what brand it is without getting up to check and I'm far too lazy to bother.
Moving on to another topic, many surveys on a wide range of subjects have blithely assumed I have a television, that said television is connected to some form of broadcast receiving equipment, and that I regularly watch said broadcasts when in fact, only the first is true and only barely. Many a survey has asked me how much television I watch in a multiple choice question that offered no selection for "none," forcing me to provide the awkward, if technically true, answer of "less than five hours weekly." At least three surveys have asked a series of half a dozen questions in a row where they would present a set of still images from different adverts and ask if I've seen that advert on the telly— without asking whether I actually watch television.
I suppose this is to my advantage in a way, since surveys are written for specific target demographics and they don't pay if you don't fit them; I'd have missed out on quite a few survey payments if they'd specified "television watchers" as a target demographic rather than simply assuming everyone watched. Still, it's symptomatic of a general culture among corporate interests that assumes television is the norm and "cord cutters" (to say nothing of "cord nevers" like me) are weird outliers— and that culture permeates through the media and content industries who habitually cut us cordless folk off from the best content because they assume we're a tiny and irrelevant minority.
Moving on to one more topic, it's hardly news to most people that many online retailers keep track of what products you look at to help them market at you. It's a form of ad targeting that's obnoxious as any other in principle and very hard to escape given that many online retailers won't let you buy anything without an "account" that ties your viewing habits to your name and identity, but it's one that in practice we generally let slide because the targeted ads are mostly limited to the online retailer itself; ads are more tolerable when we're in a buying mindset since they're not qualitatively different from the list of products being presented for sale anyway; basically just an aisle-end display.
That said, I have to question their value in actually driving sales. I've mentioned before that ad targeting is hit or miss under the best of circumstances; the list of "products you recently viewed" are not inherently likely to be the products you want to buy for precisely the same reasons that any targeted ad is likely to fail— a complete inability of computers to automatically determine why you looked at something from the fact that you did look at it.
The list of "products you recently viewed" is liable to be full of the products you want-ish but not that much, the products you considered inferior alternatives to the one you actually bought, or the products you did buy and don't need another of.
And then, of course, there's my list of recently viewed products from a well known electronics retailer.
Well done, popular retailer. Well done. That ad will surely be responsible for driving many sales.