Brand Stigmas

Branding is one of the most powerful forces at work in our market today. It controls our buying behaviors and loads our minds with all types of ideas about a product. This causes our minds to  attempt to solve an incomplete equation.  This is called forming an inference. We do it when we don’t have all the letters shown to us but  the Wheel of Fortune host asks us to solve the puzzle anyway. Based on our current evidence we think ___________.

What does each of these symbols mean to YOU?

I ran out of salt last week and needed to buy more. It’s not a product I buy often and it’s certainly not a field in which I’d consider myself to be an expert. Aside from the chemical formula (NaCl) I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to salt. I mean, when’s the last time you saw a salt commercial? So I stood there in Kroger presented with various options of salt. I was fairly certain that they all were basically the same. In fact, some of them probably just had the labels peeled off and were re-branded. There was the “value” brand and then I saw it….Morton’s Salt. I knew it before I read it because of the little girl wearing a raincoat with an umbrella. How the hell that relates to my sodium intake I have no idea but seeing that little girl on the label made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside as a consumer. (Looks like I’ll be taking a seat over there…) I knew that label and knew it was a safe choice. So I paid the extra $1 and bought the “name brand” product.

We do the same thing with cars. What’s terrifying (at least for me) to think about is that people go out and just buy the first thing they see based on some arbitrary reputation they think the brand has attached to it. In some cases they might even end up with an inferior product. Although most of us drive daily, the vast majority of drivers know very little about their cars. It’s because of this they rely on branding to give them insight into a potential new vehicle.

So what types of reputations are there and what brands are they associated with? Let’s take a look. Here’s what I’ve gathered from people, friends, media, commercials, and years of being a car guy.

Toyota = Reliably Boring

Yeah, I drive one, and that’s why I feel it’s fit to rip on them first. Toyota, the same manufacturer that brought you the legendary MR2 and the Supra is generally considered to be bland as unflavored yogurt.  At this day and age Toyota makes cars for people who need cars. Let me rephrase that, Toyota makes cars for people who need a car that works 100% of the time. I think this is a great opportunity to point out the huge media sham that was fabricated last year regarding the “unintended acceleration” defects with some Toyotas. It was complete and utter made up bullshit. The media tried desperately to start this Salem Toyota witch hunt and while it was fun for a while Toyota is still back on top because they build such a quality vehicle. That still doesn’t save them from the well deserved ridicule of being the boring auto brand of the world. If you’ve ever thought what it might be like to die of boredom you should consider a drive in a Camry. Although it’s cool you can rearrange the letters to spell “My Car” I’d still want to kill myself if I had one.

*Read also – Lexus: Reliably Boring and Rich.

On the “Gotta Have It” Scale… This is a -67.


BMW = Pretentious

I suppose this is likely more about their owners than the cars but I think the two go hand in hand. If you walk into a BMW dealer and don’t have on sunglasses and a popped collar they’ll probably think you’re looking for the Audi dealership down the street. What’s the difference between a porcupine and a BMW? In a BMW the prick is on the inside….and it’s funny because it’s true. BMW drivers generally move about lanes of traffic as if there weren’t any lines drawn on the pavement. In fact, years ago when BMW was looking for ways to cut costs on their lineup they actually considered removing the turn signals all together because marketing research found their customers never used them. Have you ever heard someone say, “Oh, they make great cars. It’s that German engineering for ya.” I hear it all the time and think, well that’s interesting…Pretty sure Germany never put anyone on the moon. But when it comes to cars they certainly have their act together and that’s likely where the superiority stigma came from.

I’m pretty sure he just forgot to pop his collar this morning.

Buick = OLD

As long as I’ve been alive, my Grandpa has always driven a Buick. Even when the old one gave him trouble and he bitched about it “not being the quality car his old Buick was”, he still bought one after that. So truth be told, Buick certainly knows their place here within the states. They make comfortable cars for older people to roll around in. Cadillac also deserves to be in the category. However, both Cadillac and Buick have been trying to lower the age of their average buyer with Cadillac doing a significantly better job in my opinion. If your buddy bought a Cadillac CTS you’d probably think it was a decent car and give him a pat on the back. If he brought home a Buick chances are you’d call him Grandpa or ask him what time Bingo was and then offer to take him to IHOP for the early bird special…or at least that’s what I’d do. In 2011 the average age of a Buick owner was 59…..true story.

This a’int your Grandpas Buick….oh wait, yes it is

Subaru = Yankee or Lesbian (or both)

Yes, AWD keeps your but moving in a straight line down the road on ice and snow. It’s superior in just about every way in winter weather up in the northern “yankee” states. So that’s our functional and EARNED reputation. However, the origins of the lesbian stigma are largely unknown to me. I honestly have no idea where that came from in terms of how it got started. I’m not aware of any special automotive needs that lesbians have but I do frequently notice some rather butch females driving them. I’m going to go ahead and leave this paragraph short to keep from catching too much hell but to prove I’m not some closed minded ass hat behind a keyboard I’m going to link an article from the New York Times regarding the “Lesbaru” as they’re calling it. So yeah, I’ll just leave this here. Gay by Design or a Lifestyle Choice?

Graph courtesy of


Kia = Cheap

Well this one is certainly earned. Kia does indeed make relatively inexpensive cars.  The average base price of Kia’s entire current lineup is under $19.000. They’re good cars too but I wouldn’t say that I’d be all that confident outside of the warranty period. I’ve had a few Kia rentals and they just SCREAMED economy. I’m 150lbs of raging, cranky Italian and there’s not many people on Earth who’d say I’m a large individual.  But when I step into a Kia Rio even I have to question whether it will hold my weight. Now don’t get me wrong, when you put it into perspective that you’re getting a brand new car for about $13,000 it seems VERY nice.

Only difference between it and a hamster cage is the cage only has one wheel.


So why do we do it? In short, we do it because we all want the same thing. We want satisfaction. Some of us find satisfaction in the actual use of the vehicle we buy while others just want the piece of mind knowing that they made the most informed decision possible with the information they were given. Brands also help take the burden of choice off the consumer. With so many options available these days it’s quite taxing to come to a well informed decision without putting in DAYS of research. So in this way, brands actually help us. We often see the image of a brand and pick the one we most closely feel we can identify with.


So what other brand stigmas and reputations can you think of? 

8 Responses to Brand Stigmas

  1. Greg LaPointe says:

    You should touch upon luxury branding as well such as Acura, Lexus and Infinity. Do the Japanese have a fear that if they branded a TSX(2003-2007) as an Accord no one would buy it?

  2. Good point Greg! I purposefully left out some brands to hear what our readers were thinking. The TSX was an interesting marketing move. In my opinion it was a perfect car. Great reliability, attractive styling, and hit most other check boxes. The interesting thing about those were the available options. You had your choice of auto or manual and satellite navigation. Other than that, everything came standard. I think this helped streamline the building process as well as the buying process.

    What do you think about the other Luxury brands like Audi and Mercedes?

  3. Dalila Everett says:

    I’ve only been driving for a short time, but it appears to me that people who drive a Lexus or any luxury brand seem to have no disregard for anyone on the road. They are superior to everyone and rules don’t apply to them because they are driving a luxury car. Maybe that’s just my opinion. lol

  4. What do I think? I think that it is infinitely humerous that BMW, Mercedes, and Audi refuse to accept Lexus as a first tier luxury car, and that Lexus refuses to accept Infiniti on the same level.

  5. Greg LaPointe says:

    Robs got a really good point. I think the world has been brought up thinking that the luxury tiers are BMW, Merc, and Audi then Lexus then Infiniti (Not sure where Acura fits in though). It might be because Lexus always had that Toyota boringness to it and Infiniti never really added a lot of luxury, just different badges.

  6. The perception of BMW, Mercedes, and Audi as luxury brands is a uniquely American approach thanks to the grey market importers of the 1980s.

  7. Steve says:

    I wonder what Pontiac’s reputation was. Seems like it was all over the place.

    • From my experience under the General, Pontiac was always supposed to be the working man’s sports car brand. As Chevrolet evolved into a brand that provided various and sundry modes of transport, they stopped sticking big V8 engines into EVERYTHING and stopped tagging everything with an SS badge (though late in the 90′s this trend did come back, only to be killed once someone realized they had made an HHR SS). Pontiac’s brand was always to be a sporty back up to Chevrolet, and in it’s last years as an outlet for the Holdens to be sold in US, almost a domestic BMW.

      To be honest, I always liked Pontiac, and the mismanagment in the later years was always upsetting…but you can always read more about that here:

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