I was in the middle of reading Rob Walker’s Buying In when I started thinking about this post. Walker’s book comes with lots of examples where people have put their own values and authenticity on everyday brands. Pabst Blue Label beer moved from being cheap student-faire to an authentic hipster brand by virtue of its lack of marketing.
I had my own brand anecdote around Golden Virginia tobacco. I was listening to a group of Australians talking on the next table about rolling tobacco in a Starbucks one Sunday morning. According to the overheard conversation Marlboro were apparently the devils spawn because they polluted their tobacco with chemicals and many of these chemicals came from the filter tip. Rolling tobacco was better as it was more natural, Golden Virginia was particularly good as it was organic and therefore missing many toxic chemicals.
We know that tobacco is basically a slow poison and if the heart attacks, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, cancer (particularly lung cancer, cancers of the larynx, mouth,pancreas), erectile dysfunction and can also lead to birth defects aren’t bad enough, why then would you care about ‘organic’ tabacco? Golden Viriginia doesn’t make the claims for itself. Secondly, the reaction against filters would have health experts in a spin as they act as a barrier against some of the tar in tobacco.
Finally, it shows how the law of unintended consequences took the EU’s ban on tobacco advertising, switched consumers on to an arguably more dangerous tobacco product as a more healthy organic alternative. You can’t regulate against the street finding its own (idiotic) use of brands.