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Technology & Innovation

Do We Love Brands Like We Love People?

Researchers find that brand loyalty isn’t the same as romantic love; the feelings they evoke would be better compared to a good friendship.

Some people have a fierce devotion to their brands, camping outside to be first in line for a product release. This dedication has led some consumer psychologists to wonder whether this attachment is similar to the feelings we have for our friends or lovers.

BPS reported on a study Tobias Langner and his team of researchers did, having a group of 20 participants look at a series of pictures, which included the logo of a brand they said they “loved,” a photo of their significant other, and a close friend. While the participants looked at the pictures, researchers measured their physiological arousal levels based on the sweat on their skin. They also asked participants to subjectively rate the feelings that were triggered when they saw the photos. The researchers had the participants use a visual rating scale, consisting of a series of mannequins with different facial expressions.

As expected, the participants’ physiological readings and subjective ratings showed people have a far greater amount of love for their significant other than their favorite brand. So, if a company is a person in the eyes of the law, can it have a broken heart? While brands cannot trump the love we feel for a romantic partner, researchers did find participants reported stronger feelings toward brands than their own friends and physiological readings for arousal were mostly tied. Brands before bros, as I always say (that’s a lie — I don’t say that).

People have a different kind of love for their brands, the researchers report. In a series of interviews with 60 other participants, researchers found that people spoke of their affection for a brand as something more of an exchange, like: What can this brand give me that other brands can’t? Whereas romantic love is a little more altruistic in nature.

These findings led the researchers to conclude, “Researchers require prudence before transferring interpersonal love theories and scales directly to brand-love research, without accounting for differences in the emotional nature of brand love and interpersonal love.”

There were some limitations to this study; first was the size. Second was the recruitment — participants had to have a strong love for a brand, one that they could not live without, and be in a romantic relationship. However, if anything, this study gets us to peek into the mind of a brand fan.

But brands should beware of becoming overly focused on their messaging. As Lucas Conley explains in his Big Think interview, over-branding can actually break down the sense of common bonds we have in our communities. 

Read more about the study on BPS.

Photo Credit: Joel Kramer/Flickr


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