Anti-Buzz General

The Anti-Buzz: Brand Loyalty

Antibuzz has been running as a weekly column (more or less) for three years. We have decided to give Andrew a few weeks off and run some “best of” columns from the past. This column was published originally in May of 2012 and has some basic info that is still relevant and that I often see at work in the dental office.


The Buzz: <Brand> is <better/worse> because of <thing>.
The Anti-Buzz: Emotional brand loyalty is the source of a lot of white noise.

Computing technology in general has this remarkable capacity for inspiring a kind of emotional brand loyalty. I’m not talking about preferences: people prefer car companies and sodas. Here, brand loyalty means the sort of strong commitment where you identify with other patrons of the brand and question the integrity of those who adopt an alternative. Like I said last week, the best analogy is loyalty to a sports team; most people don’t genuinely judge other people due to team loyalty, but it’s still a fun outlet for competitive behavior and teasing.

And yes, at this point most readers are starting to think “Cult of Apple” but that isn’t entirely fair. Strong reactions against Apple branding are equally telling of your emotional attachment to your computing. And sure, many people don’t care, or don’t care that much, but that people often have to explain their lack of brand loyalty where computing is concerned only bolsters the argument that personal computing is very personal.

There have been a lot of amazing and important technological achievements in the last century, but nothing gets us gabbing quite like the PC. Perhaps only the automobile has done as much to enable the expansion of personal freedom, but where the automobile only destroyed physical barriers of space and time, the PC is the very vessel by which we enhance our interpersonal interactions. The PC is our wallpaper, our game table, our reading room, our stationary with which we write our letters. People want to be comfortable with their computer in the same way they want to be comfortable with their home. This is where the brand loyalty comes from – and when people “don’t care” about their computing experience they get something akin to renting a bland apartment; it might serve its purpose, but it leaves your life a bit colorless.

So far I have avoided comparing Mac and PC, or Droid and iPhone, or Kindle and Nook, and that is how it’s going to stay. I don’t want to weigh in on any brand in particular. Instead, I want to emphasize how unreliable discussion of tech brands can be. All the personality in personal computing leads to a lot of rumors and a lot of buzz and once your <opposing brand> friends get involved you might hear all manner of unintentional misinformation in the name of e-home defense. My real advice is to be suspicious of brand-specific praise or criticism, keep an open mind, but also to understand that comfort and brand loyalty is okay. You need to be honest, which means you need to avoid drinking the kool-aid on any brand, but you also need to articulate what makes your computing experience more comfortable, and commit to whoever can deliver it to you. Pretending you “don’t care” might rob you of a better computing experience.

For me, the broader irony is that we are so united by a technology that is more or less the epitome of lifeless machinery. The PC is math and stoicism incarnate, and yet we have populated it with a schmaltzy overabundance of personal expression. The impersonality of the computer was not lost on early computing cynics. I remember two decades ago when the outsider attitude about “social” computing was that it was perverse and phony, a travesty of real human interaction. Now there are no outsiders, and we can’t imagine our social morays without the grease of instantaneous communication.

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