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Can you fall in love with a brand?

Can you fall in love with a brand?

Keith Monaghan

Keith Monaghan

June 10, 2024

I’ve been reading a lot lately about branding, and how the ultimate aim of a brand/consumer relationship should be akin to love. There are many articles advising marketers on tips to get shoppers to fall in love with their particular brand, and the tips tend to involve vague propositions like originality, consistency, social media, stand for something, and so on.  

Martin Lindstrom, author of Buyology, claimed in 2011, that we may be in love with our mobile phones. This was the first real instance I read of people being in love with products. His theory began as he had conducted a series of neuro experiments, measuring brainwaves of participants as they were being shown advertisements to see which areas of the brain were being activated. 

His conclusion at the time was that direct advertising does not have as large an effect on people as brands and marketeers believed. However, this led him to experiment further with neurological assessments, one of which involved measuring participants as they saw, heard, or held their mobile smart devices. 

The subjects’ brains responded to the sound of their phones as they would respond to the presence or proximity of a girlfriend, boyfriend or family member. In short, the subjects didn’t demonstrate the classic brain-based signs of addiction. Instead, they loved their iPhones.

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While this is a genuinely fascinating study, our phones are not simply pieces of hardware with a value of $400-800 designed to simply make a phone call. Important parts of our lives exist on these phones. This is the connector to your family, friends, spouse, or the device you use to talk to potential partners on dating apps. A huge amount of business now needs to be conducted on your phone. Any time I walk into my local bank branch, the most common response I have to a query is to go on my app and figure it out there.

The portal I use to speak to my work colleagues is on my phone, and if there were a single day where I left the house without it, a huge number of potential problems could occur. I would undoubtably return home after 8 hours of work to find several messages and missed calls, updates and notifications, to tell me that I’ve missed a very busy day of events which required my attention. 

Lindstrom is talking about an extension of ourselves in his study on how we react when we are using our phones, but I’m unsure if I ever really think about my phone’s brand. I have an iPhone and am obviously very used to the functionality (so much so, that another phone’s UX would annoy and baffle me) but I’m not an Apple lover or defender, and I don’t pay attention to their product launches, marketing, or additional products. I have an iPhone and the Air Pod headphones, and that’s it. I never browse their website and I never even argue with people who say Android is better. I assume it probably is better due to the fact it can pair with all other sorts of tech that Apple refuses to interact with. 

Moving the discussion away smart phones, I fixate now on brands that we may or may not love. Are people in love with Nike, Starbucks, Helly Hansen, Bang & Olufsen, Nerf Dart Guns? I think to times where I may have vehemently defended a brand, that I feel is being misunderstood by others. I remember showing up to a gathering while wearing new Ecco shoes and received some ridicule for wearing what some asserted to be ‘an old person’s shoe’. I began convincing everyone around me that they were the most comfortable shoes I’d ever worn, and in so, became quite defensive of my purchase, transforming into a battle hardened micro-influencer for Ecco. 

I recently got into an argument with a very close friend who mocked the fact that I had Chef ketchup in my house. He said it was basic, and a sauce for low level people. Does this kind of argument make me want to steer away from Chef, or does it make me double down and become a Chef stan? Do I now want to shout the merits of Chef from the rooftops without even understanding its merits, or having tried enough other supermarket ketchups to form an objective enough opinion?

Maybe, rather than fall in love, the ultimate goal of a brand is to make its customers feel spiritually connected to it, or as if they couldn’t live without it. If you’re a retailer who sells shoes, you want your shoes to be a part of that persons every day, and when one pair eventually falls into disrepair, you want them back in your store to buy your next pair. Similarly, with apparel, cosmetics, snack foods, you can make your customer fall in love with you by being a constant in their lives. 

Where things can take a darker turn is the tribalism, the likes of PRIME, Stanley Cups, Ugg Boots, or any other brand where you’re either in or you’re out. These are the brands that tend to divide, leave a bad taste in certain people’s mouths, and ultimately become dated very fast. The initial rush is remembered, and suddenly with even a year or two of time passing, those brands then suffer from their aggressive marketing and loud-mouthed champion consumers. 

Interestingly as well, from my research, it seems the most common reason for falling out of love with a brand is poor customer service, which can almost be seen as a sort of “breaking of the spell”. Oh, this product I love is being represented by a person who is making my life difficult and filling me with angst. Much like a breakup with an actual partner, the love starts to dissipate. 

I don’t truly believe you can fall in love with a brand. People fall in love with people, not objects. But I do think about the importance we attribute to certain brands and the plinth we hold them on, especially when our buying decisions are questioned, or we’re told to explain our affinity. Love is probably the wrong word… Maybe co-dependence? Becoming comfortable? Being tired of the chase and now you want to settle down with the brand you know best?

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