Why you should care
Because you might be taking your affections for your favorite brand a bit too far.
In a world where multinational corporations are increasingly treated like people, perhaps it was inevitable that they would also become our friends. On Facebook, you can “like” your favorite company or brand in the same way you “like” a real person, and many Facebook users need no financial incentive to do so — brand befriending feels like an increasingly natural aspect of our digital communities. Which is perhaps why we should not be surprised at all by a new study suggesting that:
Some people feel more warmly toward their favorite brands than they do toward their close friends.
The finding, recently published in Psychology and Marketing, did come as somewhat of a surprise to Dr. Tobias Langner, a business and marketing professor at the University of Wuppertal in Germany, and his team. The researchers asked study participants to examine a series of photos, including those of their romantic partners, a close friend and a brand they claimed to love (such as BMW and Adidas), while they measured both the participants’ subjective responses to the photos on a visual rating scale as well as their physiological arousal levels based on the sweatiness of their skin.
The emotions we experience when we interact with our loved brands are as intensive as the emotions elicited by close friends.
Dr. Tobias Langner, business and marketing professor at the University of Wuppertal
Unsurprisingly, and fortunately for the species, the subjects demonstrated a greater amount of love for their significant other than their favorite brand. But it was different when it came to friends, where they reported more positive feelings in response to beloved brands and demonstrated a similar physiological response to photos of the brands and close friends. In other words, says Langner, the findings suggest “that the emotions we experience when we interact with our loved brands are as intensive as the emotions elicited by close friends.”
The study has its limitations, including a small sample size of participants who were recruited because they were in romantic and brand relationships, and the fact that the effect found was significant only with regard to the pictographic measure, and not the physiological one. But the result still gives us an initial, and potentially disturbing, glimpse into just how far brands have penetrated the realm of interpersonal relationships.
It’s a phenomenon that has already reached some surprising extremes. In his exploration of the modern branding industry, OBD: Obsessive Branding Disorder, Lucas Conley tells the story of how high-end fashions like Louis Vuitton have become so popular among Japanese women that some have admitted to eschewing motherhood in order to make the acquisition of their beloved brand more attainable. Most of us would not go that far, but it’s generally the case that as our online social networks have expanded, our real-life network of close friends has collapsed — to an average of around two, according to one recent U.S. study. And most brands are only too happy to step in and fill that friendship void.
The possibility that some of us feel as warmly toward our favorite brands as our closest friends does not surprise Conley. “What we must keep in mind as consumers is that there is a profit motive behind all of this,” he warns. “This is not a real friendship; this is a marketing-driven relationship.”
But it’s a relationship that millions of us are quite content to embark on each day, sharing our lives with a friendly brand who shares our values and will never disagree with us. Sure, it’s a bit disconcerting, but as my good friend “❤Best Quotes ❤” once tweeted to me, “Life is partly what we make it, and partly what it is made by the friends we choose.” I adore her. She always knows just what to say to cheer me up.