There's no doubt that advertising is a powerful tool used by companies. Legendary ad campaigns for products like Campbell's Soup, M&Ms and Nike have become part of the collective American psyche. While many of the brands I've grown to love are no longer an option now that I'm living in Argentina, I can vouch for the fact that it's no small feat to rid oneself of years of ingrained advertising mumbo jumbo.
Many brand preferences are developed in childhood and passed down from our parents. I'm often drawn to a specific product simply because it's what my mom always bought when I was a kid (if it passed muster with Mom it has to be good, right?). Now I'm acquiring new Argentine brand preferences from Daniel and his family as well as through my own trial and error.
Stores here typically carry two or three brands for most items, such that supermarkets in Necochea are easily half the size of their U.S. counterparts. Not only are there fewer convenience products, prepared foods, etc., but you just don't find the mind-boggling array of brands for each and every item. Of course, this statement does not apply to yerba mate, of which there are approximately one bajillion different types to choose from, even in the smallest corner market.
Brand recognition makes shopping easier in some ways. When the consumer is faced with many choices, having a go-to brand takes a lot of the guesswork out of shopping. Despite the fact that there are fewer options here, it often takes me a long time to make decisions in the store because I wonder if I am choosing the best product. [Although I must say that encounters with Argentine brands such as Barfy (hamburger patties) or Poo (spices) help solidify my choices of what not to buy.]
While American brands are relatively easy to come by for items such as personal care (Colgate toothpaste, Johnson & Johnson face wash, Dove deodorant), for many types of products – particularly food – you simply won't find brands from home and if you do they are often frightfully expensive because of import taxes.
Of course, before the price tag ever hits me, I am seduced by 30 years of advertising floating around in my subconscious. You don't know how I am drawn to the familiarity of American brands! When I spot a well-known American emblem on a package among a sea of unfamiliar products it's like a classroom full of students where most of the kids are staring at the floor hoping they won't be called upon while the class overachiever waves his hand, desperately hoping to be chosen with shouts of "Ooh, ooh, pick me! Pick me!" Even though you know you should give one of the others a chance, it's hard to ignore that one kid that you know has the answer. I have to admit though that price usually wins out in the end. I refuse to pay triple or quadruple the price for Scott toilet paper when other (much cheaper) brands do just fine.
As a final thought, it's my opinion that the majority of Argentine consumers are not as easily influenced by labels and name brands as Americans. This may not hold true in the more stylish and image-conscious capital, but out in the provinces I would say people are not so brand-focused in Argentina. I think above all they are cost-conscious. Perhaps we'd all be wise to adopt that mentality given the current economy.
Photo credit: Stuck in Customs