Why Do We Care So Deeply About Brands like Twitter and Apple?

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Yesterday, Bill Keller of the New York Times struck a nerve with his post on the Twitter trap he laid a few days prior; particularly the way it eats into its users’ “normal” social interactions and its potential to “make you stupid.” Responses from Twitter’s loyalists across the web were swift, thorough, and at times brash – the type of knee-jerk reactions you can only get when people care more deeply for something than most would care to admit.

Quite frankly, I was one of them.

It’s a strange sort of fanaticism, especially when you take a step back and realize that, all things considered, you’re really only barking about a product. It begets all sorts of defensive stances, ranging from frumpy indignation (“Bill Keller is stupid”) to highly thought-out dissertations.

A new BBC documentary, The Secrets of Superbrands (which we wrote about earlier) explores the relationships between megabrands like Twitter, Apple and Google, taking a look at the rabid loyalty they inspire. The first episode of the series enlisted a team of neuroscientists to take a look the mind of Alex Brooks, the editor of World of Apple who says he spends 24 hours a day thinking about the manufacturer’s products.

In the experiment, they hooked Brooks’ brain to an MRI scanner and showed him various images of Apple and non-Apple products to elicit a synaptic response.

The scan revealed that “[t]he Apple products are triggering the same bits of [Brooks’] brain as religious imagery triggers in a person of faith.” As one scientists puts it, “This suggests that the big tech brands have harnessed, or exploit, the brain areas that have evolved to process religion.”

It’s a startling – if disturbing – notion to think that we’re at the whims of the megabrands’ marketing teams, hard-wired to care about something in a way that’s as powerful as our personal convictions. Aren’t they just products?

But the internet’s fiery backlash to Keller’s assertions about Twitter yesterday seem to only confirm what we don’t want to believe: We really do care.

It raises an interesting question: Is placing faith in a product – especially a piece of technology – necessarily a bad thing? “Brand loyalty” is one of those terms first year MBA students like to throw around that looks great in a PowerPoint presentation, but – at least I’d like to believe – we’re not as blindly dumb as a study like this paints us to be.

We can weigh evidence and make sound decisions as to whether something really benefits us or not. Apple’s cultish following often invites finger wagging from PC users, but isn’t that just another form of brand loyalty? This knee-jerk loyalty is – on a subconscious level – likely another way to reinforce what works for us personally, so that we’re not wasting active thoughts on something that doesn’t.

Keller’s firestarting tweet that sparked the dialogue used the hashtag #TwitterMakesYouStupid, though something less controversial probably would’ve been more apt: #TwitterMakesYouCare.


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