Cynical Consumers and Brand Antipathy

By Eric Goldman

Interesting article in the NYT about negative consumer attitudes towards brands. The article says that “cynical consumers [desire] not simply to avoid companies and brands they dislike but also to punish them.” Thus, consumers may use their dollars to vote against brands by transacting with the brand’s competitors. At the same time, cynical consumers “demonstrated very strong brand loyalty to the few companies they could trust.”

Trademark law is built around a brand’s power to attract, but trademark law doesn’t really account for brands’ repellent power, and this may be a potentially significant omission. As the article suggests, there may be a double-whammy when a brand loses a consumer’s trust–not only does the brand lose the consumer’s dollars, but competitors may be a direct beneficiary regardless of the competitor’s substantive merits.