What makes us love some brands? Why are we so loyal to some but not others? And to what extent are we capable of feeling love for a brand?
John Dawes, in his article in the December 2013 issue of Marketing News entitled “Can Consumers Really Have Love Relationships with Brands? (I Think Not)”, argued that there are too many brands and too little time to develop love relationships. Dawes advised brands to stop strategising for and spending thousands of dollars on fostering connections with brand lovers because “if they exist at all, they are among a tiny minority.”
Anyone who owns an Apple product probably knows that this is not necessarily true.
Many brands around the world are able to form deep bonds that go beyond just the functional & practical elements on the brand. Let’s use Apple as our obvious example. Apple goes beyond just being a brand that makes cellphones, computers and other tech products.Apple makes you feel like you’re a better person, even with a higher social status, for owning their products.
When you buy Apple, you’re buying into sleek and elegant style, innovation, a certain lifestyle, imagination, dreams and aspirations. You automatically get a membership into their exclusive club with millions of members. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?
On the other side of the coin, let’s look at Sony.
According to C.W. Park, director of the Global Branding Center at USC’s Marshall School of Business, 10 years ago Sony was on top of their game and an all-powerful brand, and the idea that your CD player came from Sony was significant. But, at some point, practical concerns took centre stage over building a psychological love connection with consumers and the brand fell by the wayside. The same goes for Toyota, Honda, and other Japanese brands.
“All these Japanese brands–they’re all cold,” says Park. “There’s nothing in them that makes your heart warm and cozy. And these days Samsung is right there. Performance is good. It’s a must.” But, he says, that performance means little without spiritual affinity.
The Neuroscience take on the issue
According to neuroscience, we do feel love for brands.
We are social creatures and neuroscience and psychology has well established that we thrive when in healthy cooperative relationships- both intimate and interpersonal. When we engage in healthy (prosocial) relationships, often through various forms of social bonding, there is an increase in a neurotransmitter/hormone called Oxytocin. Oxytocin has been known to scientists for well over 100 years, but only studied with vigour in the last two decades.
Oxytocin is known as the love and/or bonding hormone/neurotransmitter. Oxytocin cements social bonding and plays an important role in reciprocal social relationships.
In essence, Oxytocin acts as a form on ‘social-brain-glue’, the adhesion within the brain, responsible for social bonding. Oxytocin is also released by mothers who are bonding with their infants and plays a central role in lactation and breastfeeding. Oxytocin also plays a central role during birth, as a hormone responsible for the initial process of delivery. However, it has multiple functions, where it is also responsible at the same time for mother-infant bonding.
Oxytocin has become an important neurotransmitter/hormone when understanding brand association and brand relationship.
Do we love our brands?
It can be assumed that consumer brand relationships (CBR) and interpersonal relationships rest upon the same neurobiological underpinnings. If this is the case, then the neurotransmitter and hormone Oxytocin is responsible for brand loyalty and possibly even brand love.
In a research article in Nature, Fürst et al. (2015) discuss the effects of Oxytocin on CBR and state that increased measurements of Oxytocin translated to greater attributions of relationship qualities to their brand choice. In addition, when individuals are exposed to their favourite brands, they also demonstrate a threefold increase in Oxytocin release, together with positive self-report associations.
Oxytocin therefore does not only play a role in personal bonding and relationship development, but also plays a significant role in the relationships we develop with objects and specifically brands (the symbolic representation of a set of object categories or services).
One example, by extension of the above, is that we use objects as a symbolic display of love. Over Valentine’s Day we often demonstrate our love for those we care for intimately by giving objects with which we have symbolically invested our love.
So go out there this Valentine’s day, and buy your bae an Apple product – what’s not to love?