Monday, December 15, 2008

Does Brand Loyalty Still Matter?!?

Someday very soon, the not-so-lovable losers in Detroit will get a bailout after all. No, I'm not talking about trading Brett Favre to the Lions, I'm talking about The Big Three getting your tax money to further run the American automotive industry into the ground. My thoughts on the bailout are well known: I'm against it. What's next? Bailouts for other obsolete and sagging industries like newspapers, Lad Mags, and MMA?

That said, most of the discussion surrounding the misfortune of American automakers involves their awful union contracts and the quality of the cars they're creating. That's all quite true. But at the root of their downfall rests another issue nobody seems to be discussing: folks don't care about "buying American" anymore.

Exhibit A.

That's not how you sell a new car. Never mind the fact that I don't believe for a moment that that Chevy truck clocked 2M miles without a new motor. For the right amount of money, you can rebuild practically any car. That's hardly a selling point. "This is my truck?" Yeah, that's sure exciting. I'm headed to buy be a Ch... zzzzzzzzzzz.

You want selling points? I'll give ya' selling points. Peep Exhibit B.

So, for the mere cost of an overpriced Tahoe, I too can pull a truckload of waifish models of undetermined ethnicity? Hand me them lease papers now, sonn!!!

The concept of buying a foreign car was like speaking Swahili to AverageGranDaddy. The man literally lived, ate, and slept Buicks. His job was fixing the massive automobiles, and the old man took pride in his work. He'd pull up to the house in his pea green land yatch LeSabre everyday around 6pm, tired from a long day of fixing axles and changing oil at our local dealership, but you could tell that he really believed in his product and felt he was a small part of something bigger. The day I got my first car (a Mazda) and pulled up to his house to show him, the disappointment on his face was undeniable. I'd basically crapped on his life's work and gone and bought a piece of Japanese junk. It would be years before he stopped razzing me for this, and honestly, he was right. That Mazda 626 was a piece of Japanese junk. I'm not saying I'd have been better off with a Buick, but still.

Anyways, that "my Dad bought a Chevy, so I'll drive a Chevy" ethos is part of what used to keep generations of families hooked on particular line of cars, but you seldom if ever see such a sentiment nowadays. This is partly because there's more competition now, but mainly because US automakers haven't kept pace with Asia and Europe and are creating cars that are neither reliable, nor desirable. And it makes me wonder, does brand loyalty even matter anymore?

I'm not particularly brand conscious, and usually just buy whatever's the most cost effective, high quality product, despite where or by whom it's made. Since that Mazda debacle, I haven't touched another car that isn't made by Honda, and probably never will. And while I don't pledge allegiance to any particular brand of shoe, I am a total and complete fiend for Champion Brand athletic apparel.

I grew up in a small, lazy town where the Champion plant was the only employer of note. At one point, probably half the town's population worked there, and they were great corporate stewards. They sponsored uniforms and outfits for all the schools' sports teams, and liberally opened their employee store so townies could get massive discounts on anything they wanted every week. The crowing jewel was when the Original Dream Team's uniforms were all manufactured in my hometown's factory. Watching MJ, Bird, Magic and company emasculate foes in Barcelona carried an additional level of civic pride I'll never forget.

Although the plant eventually folded, leading to massive layoffs and extreme unemployment, I still hold the brand dearly. I literally have dozens of Champion Brand shorts, dry-fit tees, track pants, pullovers, sweats, and socks in my closet. The stuff is sold at Target now, and it's always great quality for a good price. I probably wear some piece of Champion apparel every day. It's comical to the point that my kids (the ones I coach) sometimes "count the number of C's" I'm wearing when I show up for practice.

Yeah, they kinda stiffed my hometown, and after losing the NBA and NFL outfitting contracts awhile back, they're not nearly as popular as they used to be, but Champion has got a loyal customer here.

Question: Are there any brands of automobile, clothing, food, etc. that you will absolutely swear by? Assuming you don't own one now, what would The Big Three have to do to get you interested in buying an American car again?

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