Do brands suffer from Shakespearean hubris?

Can you tell I studied English literature at university? To be honest it’s not often I draw upon my degree as part of marketing, however, sometimes there is a strong whiff of Shakespeare in the business world.

I am thinking more about the Tragedies rather than Midsummer Night’s Dream (although there are times when marketing sometimes becomes slightly farcical…Snapchat’s Ouija promo being a case in point). When I look at the rather obvious contender, Tesco, I can’t help drawing comparisons to one of the bard’s most infamous protagonists, Macbeth. Without being overly dramatic, one can plot each step in which the brand has dis-engaged with its consumer in the belief that they are somehow invincible. At least this is how it seems, and certainly UK consumers appear to be voting with their feet on this one.

Tesco, of course, are not the first nor will they be the last. Apple, or rather Macintosh, was not always the lauded brand it is today. It disappeared from view after IBM overtook it in terms of sales, only to rise again, and it remains to be seen what will happen next without the influence of Steve Jobs. Blockbuster, famously disregarded the digital revolution until it was too late. And the demise of Woolworths left a gaping hole in our high streets until Pound Land took over. HMV, whilst still hanging on by a thread in various guises, is certainly not the ‘go to’ brand for music in the same way as i-Tunes has now become.

The common theme? They mistook repeat sales for loyalty. And in doing so they forgot that customers will always be far bigger than the brand. Macbeth always thought (with the encouragement of his Mrs.) that if he could kill the competition (literally) and anyone else who stood in his way, all else would follow. And, as is the nature of all Shakespearean tragedies, his hubris was his undoing.

I realise I sound like the voice of doom, however, customers will always do what they want, fickle bunch that they are. That means brands have to know their place. And their place is a grateful participant in their customer’s lives. This means giving them what they want, how they want and when they want. Not the other way around. Of course this is not an easy task. Brands that succeed in appealing to customers by their actions and their philosophy, I am thinking of Ben and Jerrys, have something of the humble about them. Something that Macbeth could have done with.


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