You’re no doubt familiar with public battles between children’s advocates and advertisers over what constitutes “appropriate” advertising for kids. Sugary drinks and junk foods are the subjects of battles over childhood obesity. Early nutritional education has not been as hot a topic in the public media, but it is related to the obesity issue and healthy lifestyles in general.

Living now in my sixth decade, I have pondered for some time what brand loyalty means to me. It means a great deal as I look back, and I don’t fully understand why. Brand loyalty is confused in my mind with loyalty to family. It is also confused with loyalty to certain companies that make particular products, or product names, that I valued in my youth and have valued throughout my life.

Some of those products are sugary drinks and junk foods. Snickers bars, Cracker Jacks, and Oreos come to mind. Oh yes, RC Colas and Moon Pies come to mind as well, even though I rarely see them anymore. That  may have something to do with my now living nearly a thousand miles from where I grew up.

But brand loyalty bears down on my mind more when I think about cars. It is clearly mixed up with family loyalty and company loyalty. Previously I wrote about our family pickup when I was a young boy, a 1950 faded red Dodge pickup truck. I loved that old truck in part because my brother Nolen Robert taught me to drive it when I was twelve years old, long before I was old enough to get a driver’s license.

1950 Dodge Pickup

1950 Dodge Pickup. Ours was much more faded than this one, except that it did shine when it was wet with rain. (Photo credit.)

Nolen Robert’s early cars, all used, were a Ford he didn’t like much, a Studebaker that had a sticky gas pedal at high speeds, and a 1952 Plymouth that all of us liked a lot. The next car he bought was a late-model dark red 1957 Plymouth Fury hardtop with breathtaking tail fins. He was early in his marriage with a good-paying job. When he drove up and parked that car in front of our house, it looked like it was from a magazine cover. It was one of the most beautiful cars I had ever seen, and I can obviously wax nostalgic about it.

1957 Plymouth Fury

1957 Plymouth Fury. This was about the angle at which Nolen Robert parked his car in front of our house. It always excited me to see it. (Photo credit.)

Daddy never owned a car during the years I lived with my parents. When I got old enough to get my driver’s license, he traded our old Dodge pickup for a late-model Dodge pickup so I would have something more respectable to drive. As I began to date, I complained to Daddy that I wanted a car, mainly because Nolen Robert got a car as soon as he got his driver’s license. It was a fairness issue, Daddy agreed.

Being especially short of money in those days, Daddy got me a dilapidated but “hot” black and white 1957 Chevy. I immediately felt guilty because it was made by General Motors, and not by the Chrysler Corporation. Chrysler made Plymouth and Dodge cars as well as upscale Chryslers.

Moving this story along, as soon as we could afford it, we traded my weary ’57 Chevy for a white 1960 Plymouth Valiant. Nolen Robert had recently traded his hot Fury for a white 1961 Plymouth Valiant. Both of our cars had a red interior and they were nearly identical. We were hooked on cars made by Chrysler, most likely because he and I had grown up riding in Dodge pickups that Daddy owned.

Now the story gets even crazier. Over the next half century I owned a lot of cars, most of them used when I bought them. Here’s a sampling of them in rough chronological order:

  • A red 1963 Plymouth Valiant
  • A green 1960 Plymouth Belvidere (I paid $100 for it in 1967 and sold it for $105 in 1969 because I had improved it.)
  • A burgundy 1967 Plymouth Fury
  • A red 1970 Dodge Coronet
  • A gold 1965 Dodge Dart
  • A gold 1978 Chrysler LeBaron

There have been other cars in our garage in the intervening years, including some made by Toyota, American Motors, Volkswagen, Volvo, and General Motors. I especially liked General Motors’ Pontiac Bonnevilles in the 1990s and early in this new century.

But a few years ago I bought a Chrysler Sebring and I still have it. I had it retrofitted with a sunroof and a spoiler. It looks sportier and racier than several later models of the Sebring, and even guys who work at the carwash have praised its look. Somehow it felt good to get back to a Chrysler, back to the early bias toward Chrysler products that was unknowingly drilled into me as a boy. I carried that bias into my early adulthood and to this very day.

Now my Sebring is ten years old, long enough in tooth to replace it. My generation of Sebring is not held in high regard by car aficionados. One of them wrote a review on my particular model and concluded it was a “worthless piece of junk.” But I disagree. It has given me far better service than cars I’ve had from American Motors, Volkswagen, Volvo, and General Motors. It still looks great.

In the months since originally I wrote this blog post, I decided to buy a three-year-old  Toyota Prius that gets about fifty miles per gallon. My wife Ellen has a Toyota Prius and it is a remarkably well-engineered gas miser. So my head overruled my heart when I got the Prius. They’re fun to drive. My heart wanted me to get a used Infiniti G35, but they only get about nineteen miles per gallon in city driving where I do most of my driving, and the G35 would have been even more fun to drive. But in the end my Prius decision was easy.

Buying the Prius did make me feel a bit guilty for not following a family tradition of Chrysler products. I know this is crazy. That’s brand loyalty. And it started when I was a wee boy. Right this instant, I’m thinking I should drive my Prius back to the Tennessee of my youth just to buy an RC Cola and a Moon Pie. That is crazy. It’s also a craving.

That’s brand loyalty and it hooks kids early.

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