Fanboyism And Brand Loyalty

The Misconception: We prefer the things we own over the things we don't because we made rational choices when we bought them. The Truth?

The truth is that you prefer the things you own because you rationalise your past choices to protect your sense of self.

The Internet changed the way people argue.

Check any comment system, forum or message board and you will find fanboys going at it, debating why their chosen product is better than the other guy's.

In modern consumer cultures like America, people compete for status through comparing their taste in products. (You can read more on how that works here: Selling Out).

Mac vs PC, PS3 vs XBox 360, iPhone vs Android – it goes on and on.

Usually, these arguments are between men, because men will defend their ego no matter how slight the insult. These are also usually about geeky things that cost lots of money, because these battles take place on the Internet where tech-savvy people get rowdy, and the more expensive a purchase, the greater the loyalty to it.

Fanboyism isn't anything new, it's just a component of branding, which is something marketers and advertisers have known about since Quaker Oats created a friendly logo to go on their burlap sacks.

There was, of course, no friendly Quaker family making the oats back in 1877. The company wanted people to associate the trustworthiness and honesty of Quakers with their product. It worked.

This was one of, if not the first, such attempt to create brand loyalty – that nebulous emotional connection people have with certain companies which turns them into defenders and advocates for corporations who don't give a shit.

In experiments where people were given Coke and Pepsi in unmarked cups and then hooked up to a brain scanner, the device clearly showed a certain number of them preferred Pepsi while tasting it.

When those people were told they where drinking Pepsi, a fraction of them, the ones who had enjoyed Coke all their lives, did something unexpected. The scanner showed their brains scrambling the pleasure signals, dampening them. They then told the experimenter afterward they had preferred Coke in the taste tests.

They lied, but in their subjective experiences of the situation, they didn't. They really did feel like they preferred Coke after it was all over, and they altered their memories to match their emotions.

They had been branded somewhere in the past and were loyal to Coke. Even if they actually enjoyed Pepsi more, huge mental constructs prevented them from admitting it, even to themselves.

Add this sort of loyalty to something expensive, or a hobby which demands a large investment of time and money, and you get a fanboy. They defend their favourite stuff and ridicule the competition, ignoring facts if they contradict their emotional connection.

So, what creates this emotional connection to stuff and the companies who make doo-dads?

Marketers and advertising agencies call the opposite of fanboys hostages.

Hostages have no choice but to buy certain products, like toilet paper and gasoline. Since they can't choose to own or not to own the product, they are far less likely to care if one version of toilet paper is better than another, or one gas station's fuel is made by Shell or Chevron.

On the other hand, if the product is unnecessary, like an iPad, there is a great chance the customer will become a fanboy because they had to choose to spend a big chunk of money on it. It's the choosing one thing over another which leads to narratives about why you did it.

If you have to rationalise why you bought a luxury item, you will probably find ways to see how it fits in with your self-image.

Branding builds on this by giving you the option to create the person you think you are through choosing to align yourself with the mystique of certain products.

Apple advertising, for instance, doesn't mention how good their computers are. Instead, they give you examples of the sort of people who purchase those computers. The idea is to encourage you to say, "Yeah, I'm not some stuffy, conservative nerd. I have taste and talent and took art classes in college."

Are Apple computers better than Microsoft-based computers? Is one better than the other when looked at empirically, based on data and analysis and testing and objective comparisons?

It doesn't matter.

Those considerations come after a person has begun to see themselves as the sort of person who would own one. If you see yourself as the kind of person who owns Apple computers, or who drives hybrids, or who smokes Camels, you've been branded.

Once a person is branded, they will defend their brand by finding flaws in the alternative choice and pointing out benefits in their own.

There are a number of cognitive biases which converge to create this behaviour.

The Endowment Effect pops up when you feel like the things you own are superior to the things you do not.

Psychologists demonstrate this by asking a group of people how much they think a water bottle is worth. The group will agree to an amount around $5, and then someone in the group will be given the bottle for free.

Then, after an hour, they ask the person how much they would be willing to sell the bottle back to the experimenter for. They usually ask for more money, like $8.

Ownership adds special emotional value to things, even if those things were free.

Another bias is the Sunk Cost Fallacy. This is when you've spent money on something you don't want to own or don't want to do and can't get it back.

For instance, you might pay too much for some takeout food that really sucks, but you eat it anyway, or you sit through a movie even after you realise it's terrible.

Sunk Cost can creep up on you too. Maybe you've been a subscriber to something for a long time and you realise it costs too much, but you don't end your subscription because of all the money you've invested in the service so far.

Is Blockbuster better than Netflix, or Tivo better than a generic DVR? If you've spent a lot of money on subscription fees, you might be unwilling to switch to alternatives because you feel invested in the brand.

These biases feed into the big daddy of behaviours which is most responsible for branding, fanboyism and Internet arguments about why the thing you own is better than the thing the other guy owns – Choice Supportive Bias.

Choice Supportive Bias is a big part of being a person, it pops up all the time when you buy things.

It works like this: You have several options, like say for a new television. Before you make a choice you tend to compare and contrast all the different qualities of all the televisions on the market.

Which is better, Samsung or Sony, plasma or LCD, 1080p or 1080i – ugh, so many variables!

You eventually settle on one option, and after you make your decision you then look back and rationalise your actions by believing your television was the best of all the televisions you could have picked.

In retail, this is a well-understood phenomenon, and to prevent Buyer's Remorse they try not to overwhelm you with choice. Studies show if you have only a handful of options at the point of purchase, you will be less likely to fret about your decision afterward.

It's purely emotional, the moment you pick. People with brain damage to their emotional centres who have been rendered into Spock-like beings of pure logic find it impossible to decide between things as simple as which cereal to buy. They stand transfixed in the aisle, contemplating every element of their potential decision – the calories, the shapes, the net weight – everything. They can't pick because they have no emotional connection to anything, no emotional motivations.

To combat postdecisional dissonance, the feeling you have committed to one option when the other option may have been better, you make yourself feel justified in what you selected to lower the anxiety brought on by questioning yourself.

All of this forms a giant neurological cluster of associations, emotions, details of self-image and biases around the things you own.

This is why all over the Internet there are people in word fights over video games and sports teams, cell phones and TV shows.

The internet provides a fertile breeding ground for this sort of behaviour to flourish.

So, the next time you reach for the mouse and get ready to launch and angry litany of reasons why your favourite – thing – is better than the other person's, hesitate.

Realise you have your irrational reasons, and so do they, and nothing will be gained by your proselytising.

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Republished with permission from you Are Nor So Smart.


Comments

    im gonna assume somebody will argue against this logic

    A good article, and I'm glad that people are looking at this growing trend.

    In my opinion the concept of generating fan boys will become even more important over the coming years, as the tech giants will branch out over each others domains to the point where each company will offer a 'complete package' of all possible technology needs. By the time this is complete you could just pick one company at birth and stick with it for life (as no doubt they will not be cross compatible).

    I'd also like to see study of how much peer pressure plays into the "fan boy" mentality. The article talks of paid adverts and the male ego, but I think that a lot of "me too" plays into it with comments and forums on the internet. (i.e. most people on Gizmodo post that they like xxx, I too will like xxx to be more like them).

    Bravo, bravo.

    All I know is I really hate Sony right now, since it took me forever to read this article because of their giant takes-forever-to-load-and-follows-you-down-the-damn-page-and-therefore-reloads-every-four-seconds ad.

    Such a good article to read.

    PS3 and Sony for life!!!!!!!!

    But no, really. If you showed that to a die hard fan of a particular product, it would probably shut them the hell up.

    Yep Sony blows and so do their ads.

    i always love running into Mac lovers and have them go on bout all the shining things they do, but cant give you anything actually good

    Are you missing the point of this article Mr McStoner or are you just being ironic?

    Good article and it does bring up a number of points about consumerism but I would just like to point out a few things

    1) you say "On the other hand, if the product is unnecessary, like an iPad, there is a great chance the customer will become a fanboy because they had to choose to spend a big chunk of money on it." if you are trying to write an unbiased article that you just failed right there, you cannot deem something unnecessary just because it does not fit what you like, use, want, or need. I know a number of companies who have come up with unique ways to use the ipad as a marketing tool, design tool, and promotional presentation device, to them this is not unnecessary it is providing them with a business opportunity.

    2) I think you missed a big part of brand loyalty and that is actually satisfaction. If i buy a car and I drive it for 300000km and it runs fine, low maintenance, etc. and it was a good purchase for me of course I am going to go back to that car company first to look for a new vehicle. Again it does not mean I would be set to buy just from them as I would weigh my options. But they provided me with something good and I feel more comfortable going back to them then risking switching car companies who I would then be unfamiliar with.

    I think branding can be a good thing for consumers to and brand loyalty also has it rewards to the customer so that is something to be noticed as well.

    Great zune tattoo, you'll never regret that.

    Very good article and I will admit I am a fanboy myself. I enjoy spending my money on what I enjoy like video games and clothes but thats just me.

    Although this article brings up several good points, there are a few things that I disagree with. Yes, brand loyalty and "fanboyism" can persuade people into purchasing from a certain company, but the consumer still has the ability to say "no". People won't buy products they think are low quality just because they like the brand. They will be flexible and shop around to meet their personal buying needs. Consumers are not the mindless zombies the article makes them appear to be.

    This was a great article to read. I agree %100 that when a consumer purchaces an item of high quality or high price, they are emotionally strung to it. Hell ya they're going to defend the product they spent $1000.00 on, wouldn't you?

    Great article, everything seams very true about brand loyalty. You notice soficiated people are less agresive about brand loyalty.

    I own mac products but never took any art classes in college!

    I believe that "fanboyism" is a growing trend in our society. For someone to wait outside a store all night long to buy an iphone is just one example. Brands and material items are taking over people's identities and people are beginning to judge other's based on the brands they prefer. It is a ridiculous concept and society as a whole should stop putting so much emphasis on brand loyalty.

    Your support of the endowment effect is ridiculous; aren’t you forgetting the fact that people are simply just greedy. This is the reason they try to sell the bottle for more, to make a profit, just like everything else we sell. We may have an emotional attachment to something we own, but this is not the reason we sell for more; we all simply just want to make a profit.

    Also, suggesting that a buyer’s purchase decision is based on emotion and that it would be impossible to make this decision for someone with no emotional attachment is crazy. If this was the case; there would be no reason for sales as nothing else effects a buyer’s decision. In direct opposition to your cereal example, hours ago my girlfriend and I were grocery shopping and we bought a brand new type of cereal. Neither of us had every tried this cereal and had no emotional attachment what so ever. How was this possible, if there was no previous emotion towards this product?

    Interesting article. I worked for Future Shop for a while and still do part time once or twice a week, and i see this tons! I work in the computer department and there is a non stop battle between Apple and Microsoft. We have what are called "Guru's" in our store to help customers out with either their Microsoft or Apple question. When asked which is better, they will defend their product. When customers come in looking for only a mac, all i hear is them talking about how bad PC's are. It depends on how you look at each product.

    Good article, however you are making the entire market of consumers out to be minions who pick a brand early in life and follow up with purchases religiously. I recently made several brand switches, and not because I couldn't handle the pressure of "fanboyism" but because in my personal experiences I found Chrysler and Apple to be poor products. I Didn't stick with them to protect my ego and my sense of self. I changed in pursuit of more satisfaction. To reiterate, I think you have the misconception that humans are egomaniacs who don't want to be emotionaly hurt because of a poor purchase decision. This may be true for a small percentage of consumers, but I beleive most people are only seeking products that are best suited to their needs. This is where these "fanboy arguments" come from; individual needs, not egos.

    This was a good and well written article.
    This idea of "fanboy" has alot of real insite into the way human minds seem to grow attatched to material things. I wish there were just more facts in this article telling me where he got the numbers or where did he get certain information. But overall it is a great opinon on how this new generation is all about always having whats "new" and brand loyalty no matter the expense.

    This article does makes some really good points. Certain brands like apple do try to market their brand along side a life style. And some people do buy into to the point of excess. Apple recently came out with tube sock acessiories for the i-pod and people were willing to pay 30 dollars for them. I personally find that to expensive for what you are getting but hey I am a PC.

    However there are some people who buy apple since they have had a PC previously and only encoutered problems with them. So in a way this is a weird way of fanboyism where you will buy any brand except a certain one. I know I refuse to buy apple since I have only really had bad experiences with them will Dell has always treated me well. I therefore buy Dell because I like how they have treated me.

    Though I find the comment about logical beings not being able to pick a product being false. A purely logical being would be able to make a selction based on the critiral they are looking for. Which is the cheapest ceral? The healthiest brand? How much fiber or sugar is in one serving?

    All purchases are made with both logical and emotional factors. The item must meet the perameters of your needs, both in its useablity and how it makes you feel.
    Say you are looking for a new cell phone, logically you look for one the can call, send texts and has an operationg system that you can use. After you establish it can do these base funstions you look for the bells and whistles that amuse you like a camera, types of apps available, brand image, etc. Then you have to weight your opitions to see which model is the best.

    This article is very interesting and has rose some interesting points with fanboyism. After reading this article I didn't I am as branded as I am. It also made me think that it isn't in just what he own and purchase that we are a fanboy of but, also it shows through with our profession. In an industry one company usually has a opinion that they do their industry work better than anyone else can and some of the passionate workers by into it and become branded and a fanboy of their work place.

    In my opinion I believe that people do make their own emotions towards products. For example, when I
    bought the Iphone all my friends were all over me because they all have blackberry's. They were loyal to
    their product. They are loyal to their product because when the next blackberry comes out they are
    already saying they will buy it no matter what the price is. People can take things to the extreme just like
    the people in the article which have tattooed products on their body to show that their product is better
    or to show one product is worse than the other. I believe that this emotional connection that people
    attach to from the products they buy, is something all brand companies want. If every company can
    create this loyalty for their product and create these emotions which people experience, they can be a
    very successful company. To conclude, I believe that brand loyalty has become a big part of consumers and the products they buy.

    This article was interesting and I think it was very true. People always argue over who bought the better item without comparing the items instead they just think theirs is better because of the brand or they think it is better.

    There are a few exceptions for this fanboyism, for instance if someone were to have a bad expeirence with the product. That type of negative connetation could not only turn the consumer off the brand, but also the product. Generally I see the need to defend a purchase decision and I see exactly what you mean just by watching customers in everyday life. People dont want to be seen as making a bad, irrational, or for lack of a better word, stupid decisions and they will go down screaming. The internet somewhat helps the arguement though, in the aspect that you have so much information at your disposal to get the proper facts on whatever gadget your deciding to purchase, with that information, confident decision and arguements can be made.

    Humans are creatures of habit and rarely step out of their comfort zone. Many people become emotionally attached to certain brands or products and it can be difficult to detach from this habit. I know from my own personal experience that it is difficult to change my ways because I have been with a brand or product for such a long time and have become a loyal customer. Many people become defensive when they are backing up their brands because they don’t like to hear any negativity about it. They usually believe that the products they buy are the best and they may not rationally consider other products in their buying decisions. Overall, no matter the reasoning behind our buying decisions, people will continue to make decisions based on habit and comfort.

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