how branding stole christmas

According to NPR, you can now follow through with the empty threat waged at children worldwide during the holidays. “You’re going to get a lump of coal for Christmas.” A company called CoalGram is offering to ship a lump of 100 percent pure anthracite coal to the transgressor of your choice. And you needn’t limit it to naughty kids. The company suggests your boss who didn’t give you a raise, your boyfriend who forgot your birthday and the politician who is driving you nuts. Each specially wrapped chunk of coal will cost you ten bucks.

You can actually buy several wheelbarrows full of coal for $10. But of course they’re not specially wrapped and branded with the CoalGram logo. Ah, yes — the power of good design and branding. It just makes you wonder how far people will go. A new study in the Journal of Marketingsays people will go to great lengths to afford their favorite brand.

If you love Frosted Flakes for example and have eaten it since you were a kid, it’s probably because it’s meshed with a lot other experiences and memories, according to Joe Priester, one of the authors of the study. “You not only like Frosted Flakes, but you sort of consider it part of yourself, you probably think about it unprompted.” “Not having your favorite brand around is just like losing your good friend and can lead to a kind of emotional distress,” says Priester.

Your favorite brand of frosted flakes is probably Kellogg’s, but try as they might, “frosted flakes” is just a description, not a brand. Perhaps that’s why Kellogg’s has considered individually laser etching their logo onto each and every cornflake, just to make sure you know whose flake is on your spoon, and to avoid any unnecessary emotional stress.

I bought my first Mac in 1984. I even have it sitting on display, kind of museum-like—on the bookshelf. Even though Macs cost more, even if there’s a recession, I can’t imagine the thought of buying a Dell computer. Priester acknowledges my problem. “When you start having to cut back, it’s the brands that you’re really attached with, those are the ones you’ll try to hang onto as long as you can.” Would I buy a Dell with the exact same performance specifications as a Mac? No. Just like that lump of coal, it’s not packaged the same and it doesn’t have that Apple logo.