The power of brands is undisputed, as is the reality that brand loyalty is proportionate to age. That is, the older you are, the more you’ll tend to be blindly loyal to brands. This is well worn knowledge in corporate America. It’s the reason people continued to buy Chevy’s in the 70’s, when, by all accounts, Japanese cars were better on most every vector. But there is also a limit to people’s devotion to a brand. Brand loyalty will carry you over a rough spot, but if the quality doesn’t ultimately recover, the brand image is inexorably altered. But in that interim period, loyal customers will buy most anything you produce, and will even defend it to detractors.

Which brings us to Republicans. I spent a day recently in the company of several older people who identified themselves as Republicans. They defended the current administration despite the clearly non-Republican behavior it exhibits. And it dawned on me that these people were simply being loyal to their brand. They always have “bought” Republican. They “know” what Republicans stand for. And they trust that brand to provide what it has through most of their lifetime. But the Neo-con Republicans, while they have wrapped themselves in the brand, do not share the brand values. They are clearly not fiscally conservative. They do not support open/free markets, but rather structure government policies and trade agreements explicitly to line the pockets of corporate executives. But lots of people still buy the brand because it’s what they’ve always done.

But unlike consumer brands, political brands are more than habit. They become part of your identity. No one says, “I am a Peter Pan Peanut Butter Eater.” However, you are a Republican. This has the dangerous side effect of dramatically increasing the loyalty factor. Changing peanut butter brands does not really create a loss of identity. I don’t need to wrestle too long with being in the Jif camp. But switching political or even religious identities is a major life change. It causes you to re-think who you are.

Unfortunately, the world will live in is not a trustworthy one. We cannot afford to take every self-proclaimed Republican, Democrat, or Christian at their word. We cannot trust that their actions truly uphold the values of those brands. We must become critical consumers in every facet of our lives. And the first step toward achieving that has to be to remove those brands from being part of your identity.

Further, bear in mind that it’s not useful to switch brands only to tie your identity up in a different one. “I am a Democrat” is just as dangerous an identity alliance as “I am a Republican”. Rather, ask yourself why you need to be anything. It’s okay to say that you shop around for the best product available. Your opinion of Bush may vary from your opinion of McCain. You can loathe Kerry and admire Clinton. You can respect the Pope and still fear Jerry Falwell.

I challenge you to think at the individual level. Your mom always told you not to judge a book by its cover. That good advice even when the cover displays a brand you think you’ve always known and trusted.

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