Is there really such a thing as brand love?

Before trying to tackle such a fiercely debated question, it seemed like a good idea to Google, what is love? The result was a case of; have you heard the story of the theoretical physicist, the psychotherapist, the philosopher, the romantic novelist and the Benedictine nun. They all have their particular take on, what is love?

Jim Al-Khalili, theoretical physicist, is of the view that love is a powerful neurological condition like hunger or thirst, only more permanent. Philippa Perry, psychotherapist, believes that the ancient Greeks had it right, with six different words for love and six different types of love. Julian Baggini, philosopher, also thinks there are different kinds of love; love for parents, partners, children, country, neighbour, God etc. For Jo Jo Moyes, romantic novelist, love depends on where you are in relation to it; secure in it, it can feel as mundane and necessary as air, deprived of it, it can feel like an obsession; all consuming, a physical pain. As you would expect Catherine Wybourne, a Benedictine nun, has a different perspective. She believes that as a theological virtue, the love of God and loving our neighbours as ourselves can seem remote, until we experience it in acts of kindness, generosity and self-sacrifice.

Yes, love is as complex as people themselves. So is it credible to claim such a thing as brand love exists? To give a politician’s answer, yes and no. First the no answer. If we claim that human love and brand love are interchangeable then we’ve got it horribly wrong.

A recent study found that ‘brand love’ is more rational, transactional and dependent on receiving benefits, whereas human love is more altruistic. This means we should not overestimate the durability, loyalty and the unconditional nature of people’s attachment to brands, even for those we say we ‘love’. Our brand ‘love’ is not about what we can do for the ‘brand’ but what the brand can do for us. It’s selfish, and it’s likely to be based on habit, not ‘love’. There is little of the exclusivity with brands that we can experience with love; instead we flit fickle-like between alternative rival brands based on availability, rather than staying true to our brand ‘love’ (72% of Coke drinkers also buy Pepsi in the UK). The study, measuring emotions through physiological arousal and depth interviews, also found that emotional intensity in human love far exceeds that of ‘brand love’. From a psychological perspective this is important, since cognitive control declines with emotional intensity, meaning that love takes on a less rational character and is likely to be qualitatively different. Moreover, since all human emotions e.g. love, anger, sadness may be plotted on a simple two-dimensional matrix of intensity (arousal) and direction (positive vs. negative), if brand love differs significantly from human love in intensity, it becomes a different emotion, much as anger is qualitatively different from annoyance. So whilst marketers like using the idea of brand love, it allegedly won Saatchi and Saatchi a US $430 million JC Penny contract using their ‘lovemark’ framework, brand love as defined by sensuality, intimacy and mystery, a brand is not a person and your emotional attachment to it is not the same as human love.

So there’s the ‘no part’ of the yes and no answer.

The ‘yes part’ is that there are definitely people who express their very strong liking and preference for a particular brand by making such statements as; this is a wonderful brand, this brand makes me very happy, this brand makes me feel good, I am very attached to this brand, I think this brand and I are quite similar. And there is evidence that such genuine feelings lead to brand loyalty and repeat purchase. But for people such as Saatchi and Saatchi to peddle their philosophy of ‘love marks’ as being superior to brand marks or brand logos, as they’re more commonly known, just doesn’t stack up. And it’s not just Saatchis who are to blame. You can find numerous academic papers that will cite all kinds of evidence that brand love is all around. Where they are going wrong and misleading us is in suggesting that brand love has all the attributes of people love. It doesn’t. To repeat; whilst marketers like using the idea of brand love, a brand is not a person and whatever your emotional attachment to it, it isn’t synonymous with human love. So the brand gurus and marketing experts are just going to have to find a new term for someone who strongly favours and has a strong buying preference for a particular brand in a particular market.

How about ‘brand relationship’? The problem is, it isn’t as memorable and doesn’t sound as powerful as brand love – but if we’re seeking the truth that’s what it is, a strong brand relationship but not brand love.

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