Anytime you run out of anything in your home, Amazon wants to be there when you want to order more. We’ve seen the groundwork for that retail domestic utopia in the Dash barcode-reading wand, its Echo voice system, and even the Fire smartphone that had a whole button dedicated to scanning products.
The Dash Button is a bite-sized plastic module that you can stick anywhere you might want to impulse-restock a particular product (presumably in your home). It connects to Wi-Fi. You push it. Goods are shipped to your door. The buttons will be free for Prime members to order, so that they can use them to order more stuff from Amazon.
But this sets up an interesting quandary. While Amazon’s previous solutions were invisible, unobtrusive ways to order more stuff, each Dash Button is branded with the logo of its respective product. It’s a mini billboard lurking in your home, a bit of free advertising space given in exchange for mindless ordering.
But when I ask Douglas Van Praet–behaviorist, Fast Company contributor, and author of the book Unconscious Branding–if all these logos in our home are going to make us more likely to buy Tide or Gatorade, he’s doubtful, since people who install these buttons are a self-selecting group.
“You’re already a loyal Tide buyer. This logo is just another reminder of your affinity for a brand. It’s mostly going to be reinforcing people already using the product,” he says. “Except when you walk a guest through your house and it’s, ‘Look at these new badass front-load washers!’ and they see the Tide button on it, and it becomes, ‘so-and-so uses Tide!'”
Indeed, take a look around your home now without rummaging through your cabinets for the Glad trash bags, and very few things are actually branded in your normal line of sight. Your furniture doesn’t have any obvious labeling, and neither do the pictures on the wall, nor the plants on your window sills. And while TVs, kitchen appliances, and bathroom fixtures do, they likely aren’t sporting the same bright, full-color logos Amazon’s buttons will feature. With Amazon Dash, the company is enabling retail partners to place the equivalent of banner ads in our homes–that is, assuming we hang them places more overt than the inside of our cabinets.
As Van Praet explains, Amazon has introduced a tantalizing trade–let the branding wash over you in your own home, and have a less taxing experience on your brain. It’s a taste of the future, the precursor to a world where our dishwasher orders detergent automatically, subsidized by a prominent logo.
“The problem with the Internet is, our conscious decision [energy] is so limited, we don’t want to engage with the Internet every time we have a transaction,” says Van Praet.
Looking over Amazon’s proposal for the Dash Button, he saw a lot of merit in the physical aspect of an order button–a user experience that was more mindless than digging through the Amazon app. “This gives you something in your physical environment to obviate you going online to actually order this stuff–which I could see as a tangible benefit.”
So the question becomes: What exactly is the benefit of having all those logos around? Branding researcher Dr. Patrali Chatterjee, of Montclair State University, agrees with Van Praet that retailers are probably preaching to their own choir by hanging these logos in the homes of brand loyalists. However, she’s quick to point out that not all people buy all products loyally. A lot of people are what she calls “switchers.”
“I may be a Raisin Bran Crunch loyalist when it comes to cereal,” she explains. “I buy it every time I go out. But when I go to detergents, I may be someone who buys just whatever brand is at the lowest price.”
Amazon has offered a convenient solution to the “switchers” of the world, wrapped in a branded button that sits in your periphery of vision, in an environment where you’re very relaxed. Chatterjee’s research has found that brand experience, even in the corner of your eye, can create positive feelings toward a brand in as few as 23 exposures. So any brand whose market is largely switchers gains a potent one-two punch with an Amazon Dash Button.
Where does this leave us, the consumers? If we give in to this mindless consumer utopia Amazon is attempting to construct, we can save the mental energy for the things that matter more than saving 20 cents on a bottle of detergent.
“The question ‘Are we starting to explore the model of display advertising into the environment of our sacred home?’ is kind of interesting,” Van Praet says. “But it could be a fair-value exchange. Maybe the convenience of not having to think [is worth it].”