Henry Higgins in the movie ‘My Fair Lady’ laments in the immortal song – I’ve grown accustomed to her face! This is the typical laconic Britain Academician’s style of expressing love, but, this phrase typifies the whole concept of familiarity.
It is a common saying, ‘Familiarity breeds contempt’, however, in the world of branding and trademarks – ‘Familiarity breeds likeness’!
As consumers, we tend to buy products which we are familiar with even though other goods or products may offer more ‘attractive allure’ i.e. the allure of the unknown. We are tempted to go along in the unfamiliar direction but tend to fall back on the familiar. Do you recollect the umpteen number of times, you picked up unfamiliar products and put them in your cart, but just before you make payment or checkout (online), there is a sense of uncertainty where you question the quality/quantity/ longevity of the product and decided to ‘experiment’ another day?
Familiarity gives us a feeling of comfort. Such comfort is sensed when we taste something familiar, or when we notice a familiar colour shade or combination of colours, or even when we are accustomed to the surroundings.
Want to give it a try? A chocolate in a purple wrapper? A typical McDonald’s outlet with the Ronald McDonald sitting on a bench outside the eatery? The Aroma of your favourite biryani? Brand/Brand packaging, advertising/publicity always attempts to establish a bond of familiarity between consumers and the service/product offered. A typical example of using familiarity effectively was the launch of ‘coke zero’ in a black can. The advertisement displayed a bunch of people sitting in the theatre, of which a few bought the regular coke can, only to realize that the coke can was in fact wrapped in ‘red’ paper and on peeling it was actually ‘coke zero’. Thus, instantly creating a bond of familiarity between the consumers of the coke in the red can and the launch of the new coke zero in a black can. In an episode of a TV serial, the sponsor ensures that the advertisement in relation to a brand is telecasted nearly 6-8 times, often to the point of irritating the viewer, but there is a method in the madness. The idea is to focus the brand in the mind of the consumer ‘subliminally’.
Familiarity is thus created with direct or indirect associations. For e.g.: An SUV is advertised by a familiar attractive looking model. This results in the familiarity of the model getting glossed onto the new vehicle. The same is true for products such as tooth powder. When someone like Amitabh Bachchan endorses a tooth powder or bhujia (an evening snack often relished with tea in India), the familiarity of Amitabh Bachchan gets glossed onto the product/brand.
Colour schemes also induce a sense of familiarity. People tend to refrain from using a product if after years of familiarity; the trade dress of the product is changed. Counterfeiters prey on this familiarity experience. Therefore, a counterfeit product will always contain a nearly identical colour combination, in an attempt to bank on the consumer’s familiarity with the colours.
Another important aspect is Word of Mouth (WOM). A negative WOM affects an unfamiliar brand more than a familiar brand, whereas a positive WOM benefits an unfamiliar brand more than a familiar brand. Conclusively, WOM tends to affect unfamiliar brands more than familiar. For e.g.: A bad review on a ‘Philips’ hair dryer or a ‘Sony’ music system is less likely to dissuade a consumer from buying the product and the consumer may choose to purchase the product irrespective of such bad review. However, a bad review of a ‘PQR’ hair dryer will result in the consumer to not purchase the product.
This brings us to another concept of ‘peer familiarity’.
A consumer himself may not be conversant with a brand, but the fact that, his peer is familiar with the brand, is bound to result in his positive opinion towards the brand. Isn’t it natural for you to endorse a brand if your best friend has recommended it? Thus, familiarity plays a rather important role in branding than we anticipated, doesn’t it?!