Hope and Branding

NEW SLAUGHTERBefore getting to the important stuff, as a member of “the single-payer left”, but also someone sees Obamacare as a substantial step forward, can I just say that I’m delighted to see a resurgence of skepticism among the “lamestream” press over the hysterical claims coming from Obamacare’s entrenched opponents?

First there was Eric Stern’s instant classic, “Inside the FoxNews Lie Machine”, where Stern fact-checked three sets of guests in a Sean Hannity interview. Then a couple of days ago Jim Tankersley of The Washington Post reported a story out of Rome, Georgia on a guy convinced his small business failing was entirely Obama’s fault.  (By all means read through the comments section on that one.) Then yesterday we had Michael Hiltzik in the Los Angeles Times doing the same thing as Mr. Stern in a piece titled, “Another Obamacare horror story debunked”.

In each case the reporter was simply more professional journalist than “intrepid” or “hard-nosed”. They did nothing too tough, in other words. They just picked up the damn phone, called and asked the subject at hand what was really going on. And in all cases (the Post’s was more subtle)  the stories took a dramatic turn from what was being hyperbolized on FoxNews and CNBC. (Remind me sometime to tell you my Maria Bartiromo story.)

Has the Obamacare website roll-out been an inexcusable mess? Yes.

Should Obama have repeatedly added the line, ” … unless the insurance you’ve got is crap and won’t cover a day in the hospital” every time he said, “If you like the insurance you’ve got you can keep it”? In a perfect world where the other side wasn’t telling voters a new health insurance plan was literally going to kill people, yeah, I suppose.

But …

Is the Obamacare website Obamacare itself? No.

And, do the horrifying, tragic stories of hard-working (no doubt small-business owning) Americans being thrown off their beloved insurance plans and forced to buy “government insurance” at usurious rates being told by grandstanding Republican officeholders comport with any kind of reality? I’m thinking … not. Certainly not without ascertaining that apples are not oranges and that the “victims” made even a cursory attempt to help themselves.

So … amid all deflective, retaliatory, post-shutdown hyperventilating by the crowd who has voted 40-plus time to leave those same hard-working small business owners in the clutches of the UnitedHealths and Big Bob’s Robo-Insurance Super Deals of the world, it’s refreshing to see a few, as I say, professionals, do their job and set an example for covering a byzantine issue.

That said …

I developed a kind of addled fascination with this year’s “brand health” listing spit out by YouGov. The news point was that among Republicans FoxNews had fallen out of the Top 10 favorite brands. And by “favorite” You Gov means:

“YouGov BrandIndex’s entire universe of 1,100+ consumer brands were measured with its Index score, the chief measurement of brand health, which combines the average respondent scores for quality, value, general impression, satisfaction, reputation and willingness to recommend. All results were filtered for respondents’ political party affiliation. All respondents were adults 18+.”

There’s a whole post to write about why Republicans are losing faith in FoxNews. (As I said in the comment section, Glenn Beck’s ratings must be spiking.)

But the whole concept of ranking brands based on the criteria listed above fascinated me.

Index Scores by Party Affiliation

I mean, Craftsman tools? Clorox? Dove soap? WTF? And why is Lowe’s a big deal with Republicans and Independents? (Disclaimer on “independents”: The majority of them eventually vote Republican.) And The History Channel? Huh?

As one of those insufferable dorks inordinately proud of my shopping savvy and my shelf-full of Consumer Reports back issues, I got to thinking about the 10 brands in our consumer wonderland I value most, and why?

I came up with this:

1:  Costco … I understand its effect on small liquor, flower and booksellers. But it is a reliably excellent value with superb customer service (have you ever used their Concierge phone service?) and a relaxed in-store atmosphere, thanks no doubt to being staffed with long-term, happy workers. It’s a first-rate big business model. I find it is also a kind of 21st century agora, or Rick’s Cafe. Everybody goes there.

2:  Apple … I’m a recent convert, and I kick myself for not switching years earlier. Not only does the hardware run better (and longer without collecting glitches) there is nothing anywhere else on the customer service landscape that compares with the expeditious, patient service provided by AppleCare tech support. A gold standard if there ever was one. And AppleTV … la bomba!

3.  Honda … We’re on our second CR-V and third Honda overall. If reliability is a primary criteria, Honda has engineered it in. The vehicles are simple, safe, fuel-efficient and acceptably comfortable. Although I have to say Honda’s dealer service, like all dealers, is absurdly over-priced and to be abandoned the second you’re out of warranty. (Full disclosure: I shopped long and argued hard for a used 6-speed BMW X3, but lost in a 1-to-1 vote with the Mrs.). Damned good lawn mowers and small engines, too. (I drive an Audi — design/interior comfort/immunity to rust/mid-life crisis. It’s my second, and I’m already lusting for a third.)

4:  Samsung … Formerly a kneejerk Sony consumer, Samsung’s engineering, design and reliability have won me over in the past half-dozen years. The gamed-up price structure for iPhone service plus my satisfaction with the Android system will keep me attached to Samsung phones for a while longer.

5:  The New York Times … Essentially the country is down to one fully-functioning daily print paper — meaning national and international coverage, with the steady addition of handsomely produced web content. Plus it features my old pal David Carr .. and Gail Collins.

6:  NPR … I feel everyone’s pain when it comes to their coy treatment (at best) of big business. But in the real world comparison shopping is what makes the call, and NPR, and local affiliates like MPR are so far … far … superior to their commercial competitors … well, I’ve stopped even looking for another source of radio news. (I don’t have satellite radio.) This commendation very much extends to MPR’s pop music channel, The Current, with which I spend as much time as their “news service” … and yeah, yeah, OK I’ll write a check.

7:  Bosch/DeWalt/Milwaukee tools … What is with this Craftsman thing? I’ve owned too many Craftsman power tools than were smoldering pieces of slag long before their time. Unless you’re one of those DIY gadget heads who has to have the newest and most lithium-powered gizmo of every kind, pay an extra 25%, get the good stuff and let it last 20 years.

8:  Trader Joe’s … Here’s where frozen food is done right. Another place where value blends with imaginative product selection and vibe. I like being in the store.

9:  Amazon .. Damn this thing. It works. And it is fast. And it is cheap. Need six half gallons of blood orange juice by Friday?

10:  Kevin Drum/”Mother Jones” … Not in the Fortune 500. But the one blogger I read every day. Here’s Drum yesterday on the bogus-ness of Obamacare “rate shock”.

I guess I forgot Dove soap … .

53 thoughts on “Hope and Branding

  1. PM says:

    I have one to add to your list:

    Jimmy Johns!

    You know what is great about this place? All of the people there seem to really enjoy their work. Just like Costco, it is a hugely better experience because the people who work there enjoy their jobs. And it is freaky fast. Compare Jimmy Johns to Subway….slam dunk.

    (and the people at Walmart really seem to be enduring their time in purgatory…if you can ever find someone!)

      1. PM says:

        Never owned one, but a significant other had one. Piece of crap. rusty, always in the shop, and terrible in snow/ice. But it was a thing of beauty on a highway!

        I’m with you on the Honda thing…never a problem. family has worn several out!

  2. bertram jr. says:

    Bertram sees no problem with a guy who started a company that employs 60,000 woprkers having access to the best in private medical care.

    He has the RIGHT, as an entrepreunerial individual, to allocate his profit as he sees fit. I like the real estate he chose, too.

    Are you a communist?

    1. Jim Leinfelder says:

      Guys like him rely on the social safety net, and those of us who pay for it, to catch his employees. You can’t get by on bad pay, no benefits and blasting metal music.

    2. Lambert (to continue the third person theme) has some ideas about bertram’s 10 Favorite brands …

      1. Glenn Beck
      2. Laura Ingraham
      3. Federal Ammunition
      4. Cobra firearms
      5. Ruger firearms
      6. Bonzo & Bonz divorce attorneys
      7. Sean Hannity
      8. Colt firearms
      9. FrontPoint Home Security Systems
      10. SubmissiveWomen.com

      1. bertram jr. says:

        @3. Prefer Winchester
        @4. See above
        @6. What’s their hourly billing rate?
        @9. Got that more than covered, thanks
        @10. Yawn
        Have to find Megyn Kelly / Dana Perino a spot!

        Also, Gibson Guitars, Summit Brewing, and Filson.

      1. That’s good stuff. He says there’s a growing body of work on the gulf between liberal and conservative thinking, and I think he’s correct. I’ve come across a couple other pieces recently — other than Lakoff, who is always good reading.

        The technique of using parenting as a subtle window into the authoritarian personality is both clever and valid, it seems to me.

  3. PM says:

    I happen to love White Castle as well as Jimmy Johns. And i manage to do that despite the fact that I disagree with their respective CEO’s/founders/whatever about the ACA. But that is no reason not to patronize them.

    If I refused to patronize any establishment where I disagreed with the franchiser/owner/manager/server, I’d probably never eat out. Life is too short. Believe it or not, i find it perfectly possible to disagree with someone politically, and still have a beer or two with them.

    That said, I simply do not care for Chick fil A. If i am looking for chicken, I’ll go to Popeye’s or Nando’s.

    1. Jim Leinfelder says:

      Good to know, PM. You’re a swell guy. I like White Castle, too (not that I believe anyone could possibly be moved to care), as well as their policies toward their employees. I found it stupidly paradoxical that the current management let their close ties to a local pol trump their principles and their founders principles.

      As for Jimmy Johns, meh, their bread is crap and the cranked-up metal tunes an annoyance. It’s not hard to pass ’em by.

      Having a beer with someone with whom you disagree politically is not the same thing as supporting a business that exploits its workers and burdens the social safety net as it pads its profit margin. Yes, life is short, and even shorter for people without access to adequate health insurance.

        1. Even organic farmers need marketing and distribution to rise above subsistence. If you saw “Food, Inc.” There was the classic moment when Stoneyfield yogurt — good stuff — struggles to decide whether to cook a deal with … WalMart.

      1. Why do you hate shareholder value?

        As I said, my fascination with this “trusted brand” survey was kind of addled. Obviously there’s no practical way to avoid doing business with all of the enormous, octopi purveyors, and with exception of Mr. Drum I was adhering to the criteria of the survey … which was all about gigantic, well-known brands. That said, I make my effort to boycott the most notorious swine … WalMart … and patronize ma and pa operations … many of whom are just end retail sellers of mega-corporate products, or, like Patisserie Margo, quaint little store fronts where I stuff my piehole with warm scones … likely made from flour handled by Cargill somewhere along the line.

  4. PM says:

    I also love the scones at Margo. You know that you can buy them frozen and bake them at home? Fantastic–they brush them with cream and sprinkle on a bit of sugar to give them the color.

    At some point there is a limit to the extent that our lives should be determined by politics. Politics is just one aspect of a healthy, well rounded life, There are things like beauty and humor in the world as well. Does a writer’s political positions determine the value of their work? Before we decide that we like a dish, do we need to see if the cook is a progressive or a conservative? Or if the ingredients were touched by Monsanto or Cargill? Or if the trucking company has bible verses on the sides of the truck?

    I know that there are lots of people who pay attention to the politics of food and shopping, but this creation of tribal brand loyalties seems (to me) to be less about politics than about “purity”, about how “good” a person is because they don’t buy conflict diamonds or pay attention to “food miles” or refuse bottled water or only get the “best” or greenest brand.

    all of this concern about purity seems to me to be little more than a form of one upsmanship, a slightly different approach to status, another way to look down on people because they are not as pure as you are or as enlightened as you are….

    and the reality is that these people are the ones being manipulated by the marketing/political experts, who concoct the ideas of “green” and purity and organic and natural. They also create the politically correct ideas that govern the actions of the oh so perfect….

    And sometimes these ideas are really horrible for the most vulnerable people:

    http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/new_scientist/2013/10/golden_rice_inventor_ingo_potrykus_greenpeace_and_others_wicked_for_opposition.html

    1. I tend to agree. As I say, I try to avoid the swine as best I can. But when you’re in Grand Junction, Colorado with 20 minutes to grab the last items for an eight day camping trip, you say, “Fuck it. Pull into WalMart”.

      The “purity” factor is interesting and figures in the Moyers link Jimmy posted. A classic recently was a video of an indignant Prius driver ripping a guy in a pickup a new one over a parking space. Prius gal went into full moral dudgeon over “piggish jerks in gas guzzling … .”

      1. bertram jr. says:

        Aha! And mow we are linked right back to the ‘self satisfying superiority of liberals’ meme!

        Bravo!

    2. Jim Leinfelder says:

      Purity? Hell, I’m just not going to spend my money on pizza at Papa John’s because he’s used misinformation and downright threats to derail health care reform. There’s plenty of crap pizza available. Nobody knows about. We just quit calling them when we’re feeling lazy and hungry. But, hey, we’re in Delano’s delivery zone now, so, hey, no sacrifice.

      I’m not going to apologize for it, though. Sheesh. Put your broad brush away, PM. Eat whatever crap you like.

  5. PM says:

    But that really isn’t the point. I’ve always been able to eat pretty much wherever and whatever i have wanted, as is probably true for you, too.

    My point was rather about some people (not you, Jim), who out of a sense of moral superiority feel that it is incumbent upon themselves to tell others what is best for them to eat/buy/do. I mean best in a broad sense–healthiest, politically correct, best for the environment/greenest, you name it. And the problem really isn’t their decision–rather it is the assumption on their part that others have not made an identical decision (are not blindly agreeing with them).

    See, to my mind that assumption that the other is lazy or uninformed or simply awaiting the enlightenment of a conversation with those who already know the truth about Papa John’s Pizza and will become enlightened and act as do the elect is the problem. It seems to me to be a form of arrogance– I know the truth and you don’t. And i am better because of it.

    Of course, the reality is that many of the unenlightened have actually gone through a similar thought process, and come to a different conclusion. Same process, different decision–probably because their priorities are somewhat different. They may be huge supporters of the ACA, but Papa johns tastes better or is cheaper (great coupons) or more convenient than Dulono’s or Galactic Pizza (or maybe they don’t like guys in costumes at their front door). And some people simply do not care about politics. And i am not so certain that that makes them worse than you or I. Less political, certainly, but that is hardly the be all and end all of life.

  6. PM says:

    Here is another aspect of the power of brands and the role they play in connecting us to others, how we define ourselves as members of groups:

    http://talkingpointsmemo.com/cafe/why-do-poor-people-waste-money-on-luxury-goods

    “Why do poor people make stupid, illogical decisions to buy status symbols? For the same reason all but only the most wealthy buy status symbols, I suppose. We want to belong. And, not just for the psychic rewards, but belonging to one group at the right time can mean the difference between unemployment and employment, a good job as opposed to a bad job….You have no idea what you would do if you were poor until you are poor. And not intermittently poor or formerly not-poor, but born poor, expected to be poor and treated by bureaucracies, gatekeepers and well-meaning respectability authorities as inherently poor. Then, and only then, will you understand the relative value of a ridiculous status symbol to someone who intuits that they cannot afford to not have it.”

    I think that what we buy (pizza’s, Walmart, Filson, whatever) can send similar messages about what we are—our intelligence, our political beliefs, etc. We are constantly dividing ourselves up into “tribes”—the ins and the outs, the pure and the unpure, the elect and those not so enlightened. It is not just liberals who do this, but conservatives as well. And the socio-economic divisions, educational divisions, cultural, etc.

    I suppose what I have been railing about is how we blind ourselves to reality when we pay too much attention, when we mistake the signaling for the reality, when we make judgements on the surface. But, of course, it is really hard not to do this.

    I think it is bad enough when we do this on socio-economic matters, and I wish we wouldn’t extend the same bad habits/judgements to political and moral matters. If anything, i think that is worse.

    1. PM says:

      Bertie:

      this is something that conservatives do just as much as liberals.

      (didn’t you mother tell you not to gloat–that it isn’t polite?)

  7. PM says:

    I am hoping that some of you will share your thoughts as we get some election results in here….!

    (maybe so updates from the Mark Andrew mayoral celebration party?)

  8. bertram jr. says:

    Well, Bertram likens this to Road & Track proposing a 35 MPH highway speed limit.

    Dumbass – know your audience. Even lambert knows that!

    1. PM says:

      good analogy.

      but shouldn’t people be exposed to a variety of points of view? and should dissenters be excommunicated? surely it is better to understand the pro’s and con’s of an issue that concerns you, rather than continuing to believe in fairy tales!

      1. bertram jr. says:

        Are you calling the Constitution a fairy tale?

        Bertram, like tens of millions of others, believes the 2nd Amendment to be unassailable.

        I’ll leave the fey intellectuallizing on other ‘less vital’ topics to you and Leinie.

        Whattaya think of That Hodges Gal?

        1. PM says:

          But that was exactly the topic of the offending article–that no part of the constitution is “unassailable”–that there are limitations on ALL of the rights granted by the Constitution–speech, religion, etc. The 2nd Amendment is no different than any other amendment in this regard.

        2. Jim Leinfelder says:

          It’s just a scene from a movie, but, it illustrates why the 2nd Amendment figured so prominently then, the lack of an armory, and the point of a “well-regulated militia.”

            1. Jim Leinfelder says:

              Uh-huh. Your lips must be exhausted. Nonetheless, the two scenes where the frontiersman militia being mustered into service for their British overlords makes the point of what the 2nd Amendment was all about when it was written.

      1. PM says:

        Almost makes you wonder if all those “seizures” weren’t just some sort of manufactured motivational gimmick, eh?*

        (*or so would the conspiracists tell the tale….)

          1. bertram jr. says:

            Well the “thought” that the 2nd Amendment was written in support of the British ‘mustering’ a militia of farmers against the French is, well, uh, hmmmm.

            1. Jim Leinfelder says:

              Uh-huh, yes, and then later, we fought the British and used…come on…follow the line…you can do it…what…? I’m sure you enjoyed that further installment in a series of messianic movies that Mel Gibson keeps remaking, “The Patriot,” in which he’s a former fighter in the French-Indian Wars and resists being mustered to fight the British. You’ve got this…

  9. bertram jr. says:

    The legend of ‘Press Box Jer’ (formerly Country Jer’)will be right up there with Bernie Bierman, and Herb Brooks, Bertram is quite certain.

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