“I simply won't use a lighting console that doesn't come equipped with motorized faders,” exclaims an eager, young board-op at a recent demo, as if to tell the demonstrator to just pack his wares up and head back home. This callow lad was simply unwilling to use any desk other than the brand he had been using for who knows how long. The eyes of all in the room quickly focus on him with notepads and pens ready to document the words of wisdom from this member of the next generation of lighting professionals. When asked to back up such a bold statement, he snidely explains that it enables him to keep track of where he is on the console and that you simply can't do an effective show without motorized faders.
Now, I'll go on record saying this guy sounds like a complete idiot, and that comes from someone who uses consoles with motorized faders on a daily basis. If you need that feature to keep track of where you are, then you probably have bigger problems than knowing how to run your light show. It's probably safe to assume that you should put some of the crayons back in the box and turn some of your cue lists off every once in a while. More than that, this young fella was clearly in the throes of a serious case of brand loyalty.
I've always found brand loyalty fascinating. Some people will go to great lengths to keep a certain brand of equipment on a show, even if it means making concessions on other pieces of gear. It's almost as though they feel that their talents lie within the equipment instead of within themselves. Of course, there could not be anything more false. (If nothing else, the Wholehog® 2's “Instalook” feature taught us that technology would never replace the artist. This feature produced lighting looks rarely seen outside of Mexican television specials. But I digress.) The brand loyalty of some is simply staggering at times.
There are many reasons for brand loyalty. I assume that one of the most common comes about on the dealership level. With dealer incentives always in play, you can guarantee that some will fly a company's flag proudly and rarely glance at another brand, at least until the contract's done and the competition comes along offering 180-day payment terms and a yearly “best sales dealer meeting” in Belize.
Another excuse for brand loyalty is history. You get so used to knowing how a piece of equipment works, and you become dependent on it. You know how it will respond. You know how great it's going to look for certain cues, and most importantly, you have been engrained with the knowledge of how this particular manufacturer's equipment will screw you in specific situations, which allows you to combat that ahead of time. The latter is arguably the most notable reason why designers keep coming back for more, whether they're willing to publicly admit it or not. I have yet to meet a designer that likes unexpected surprises on-site, which is why most tend to appreciate knowing exactly what will happen if a particular scenario is thrown at them.
Many are loyal to specific brands because of a fondness for how certain manufacturer's equipment produces a result. Take color mixing. Over the years, I've noticed that the one feature that keeps designers coming back is color mixing. Many just fall in love with a particular way a fixture's color mixing works, and they simply don't want to work with anything else. They may even choose fixtures because of their quirks. I have a friend who loves using the old VARI*LITE VL-4 units because of the way the color mixing system interacts with its imperfect focusing. This is by no means a low blow to the VL-4. It's simply the reality of its beam image and why there's beauty to be found within the quirks of it.
But alas, brand loyalty is not only a difficult thing to come by in the fickle marketplace that is our industry, but also an even more difficult thing to hold on to. I'm quite convinced that a manufacturer's CFO could stand on his head spitting solid gold ingots into designers' offshore accounts, and it would still be impossible to retain their loyalty. Why is this, you may ask? Well, even the best designers may have their favorites, but they know that not being open to change will only limit their creative abilities. There's always something new coming out with the obvious technological advancements, and although good designers can create art from whatever is given to them, it's always nicer to have technological flexibility at the ready. I guess that it's true what they say: If you want a great show, use what's right for the job. If you want loyalty, buy a dog!