Familiar territory

I’ve just got back from a fantastic family holiday – I was lucky to spend some time on the West Coast of America. We visited the hipster metropolis of San Francisco, but most of our travelling time was in-land, rural and another side of America altogether. We drove through mile upon mile of emptiness, gorgeous empty rock and cactus lands. Soundtracked by music to suit big skies, naturally. ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ anyone?

As someone who spends their working life thinking about brands and retailers, one thing that struck me was the absence of any sort of marketing or advertising in these landscapes. One long journey, driving across the arid rolling moonscapes of Arizona, we barely saw a sign or a shop all day. It was a far cry from the ‘Costa/Starbucks/WHSmiths/M&S’ high street I’m used to.

The funny thing was how we reacted. With a 12 year old and a 9 year old in the car, hunger was never far from our thoughts. And for the boys, when they did come across a familiar brand, it was like reaching an oasis in the desert, a beacon they were drawn to.

“SUBWAY!!!! There’s a SUBWAY!!!!!”

I suppose in an unusual situation, and with a pressing need, they grasped onto something that they understood. With Subway, no matter where you are in the world, you know exactly what you’re going to get – it’s the same every time.


Of course we tried all sorts of local stores and fantastic independent diners too. But that gut response to the familiar, the safe, that ‘I know exactly what I’m going to get’ feeling that my children expressed, that’s actually what the best brands create. We might moan about the homogenisation of the high street, but we can’t deny our basic human impulses – in fact, we need to recognise them, and as market researchers and marketeers, make the most of them.

Humans are creatures of habit and safety, most of the time. Familiarity breeds content, one might say. Here’s to the best brands and how they suit our brains. Here’s to consistency.

Anna and her boys search for a Subway

Anna and her boys search for a Subway