Wednesday, October 7, 2020

In Lebanon, brand loyalty is out the window

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

Do the Lebanese like to brag? Do they like to show off? Do they like to live above their means? Oh, is the pope Catholic? If I ask these questions if is because there is a palpable shift somewhere in the Lebanese consumption pattern in Lebanon (see here). Maybe one of the first signs that Lebanese use to mark how they went to an upper socio-economic class is the "signé" attitude (or the branded - naturally, it could be a knock off or a counterfeit, and only logoed garments are used - hence no discrete Hermes but more like a stamped Louis Vuitton all over, in the end, if it is not visible, why bother get it?). "Ana ma bechtere ella min 3and..." - I only buy from (under brand name, fancy store), used to be a catchphrase so overused and abused. But again, the parameters are shifting. 

When I asked students to give me a luxury brand in class (back when I used to teach), several thought Zara was one. When estimating the price of a Louis Vuitton bag, a girl thought that 100 Dollars was a good guess. Paul, the French brasserie one finds in metro stations in Paris is marketed here as a high end brunching destination, same applies to Gap (which shuttered its store in late 2019) and Benetton.

But again, the financial squeeze hit Lebanon incredibly hard. I said it before, brand loyalty is now out the window"Did you know that between 1968 to 1990 Coca-Cola was boycotted in the Arab world by order of the League of Arab Nations since it provided "financial help for Israel" in the 1967 six day war?" Well, we were a household that exclusively bought Pepsi. Sometime in 2001 I went back home with a bottle of Coca-Cola, my mother looked at it with amazement and asked what it was, and if it was available everywhere?

As long as I can remember since the mid 90s we have used Persil washing detergent (why we made the switch from Ariel is beyond me!). Then a few months back, the washing machine got clogged. The repairman said the washing powder was stuck in the tube, so we switched to Persil gel. Last time I went to the supermarket though, I went back with a Lebanese made Sanita washing gel, which was so much cheaper, and it had 30% free. Oh and I also bought a large size frying oil gallon from a brand I had never heard of, which was (again) substantially cheaper than the one we were accustomed to. Our house-help said that both, the Sanita and the frying oil, washed and fried just as well as the ones we usually bought.

It is said that the pandemic has taught us that we have already enough as it is in our closets. How correct and true this is for the average Lebanese is still a debate. Though shops are closing like crazy in nearby areas, there were still very few people who shopped. How this is representative of the population is not something I can answer (due to COVID-19 self-imposed restrictions I have not been to many malls as of late and even that (malls) might not be indicative to the general population movements).

But am still sticking to my guns. I still believe people are now buying more budget friendly than the brands they used to know or believe in (because brand loyalty is about allegiance above all). The other interesting aspect is that, it is known that in time of crisis, brands are encouraged to advertise, so as to remain top-of-mind in the consumer's mind. This, however, is not something am seeing in the local market.