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When TP goes MIA: Brand loyalty vs. rough choices

by | Apr 6, 2020 | Expertise

On a day in early March I went grocery shopping and picked up a pack of Charmin Ultra Strong Mega Roll, the toilet paper I have become brand loyal to for a number of years. (I admit, I’m not a fan of the family of bears discussing their clean bums, but I still love the brand.) With the Mega Roll being the size of an award-winning cheese wheel at the Wisconsin state fair, I figured it would last a good while before I needed to purchase more. Little did I know the following weeks would see a run on toilet paper with little choice left for the consumer to even buy toilet paper or, almost worse yet, purchase a brand they are not loyal to. Any visit to the grocery store or online shopping in the past few weeks will tell you that it’s not just toilet paper; a number of other brand must-haves are missing as well. Absent are our favorite brand of pasta and sauce, laundry detergent, paper towels, cereal, cleaning products, crackers… the list goes on and on.

Like it or not, we are all currently participating in our own in-home brand focus group. With our favorites unavailable, we are consuming brands we would have never considered trying out before. Our new reality is based on needs and not wants.

I need toilet paper, but I want my Charmin.

Our purchasing needs are logical, but our wants are emotional. As marketers, we help to create a purchase based on a logical need. And at the same time, we are crafting messaging that creates an emotional want. One major aspect of building a brand is inspiring brand loyalty from the customer. Brands with a large loyal following can also reverse the above equation by creating a need. You love Apple. Did you need an iPhone or did you want one? That could be a chicken-or-egg question. Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman says that 95% of our purchase decision-making takes place in the subconscious mind. He also goes on to say that many consumers report handling competing brands and comparing prices at the point of purchase. However, observations of these same consumers often reveal that they don’t even look at alternatives to the chosen brand.

Given this, it shows that brand loyalty has very little to do with price. But our current product choices feel a bit like a grab-what-you-can game, and cash in hand will not make you the winner. Maybe we should all enjoy the game and be open to experiencing a new brand based on our needs. By the time we return to a pre-crisis shopping pattern, we will have had the opportunity to experience other brands and have some solid results from our in-home brand focus group.

The Charmin is gone and it’s no place to be found. I’m giving AngelSoft three out of five stars. But waiting in the wings is the 7th Generation Unbleached Recycled toilet paper that resembles a small Duraflame log just waiting to be torched. I’m hesitant. I do embrace the same values as the 7th Generation brand – recycling, sustainability, and an equitable future for all (although I think the latter is putting a lot of pressure on a toilet paper). At this point I have no choice but to try it out, and if the product delivers and the brand sways me, I just may be kicking that family of bears out of the bathroom.