Why you should care
Because brands impact our lives more than we think.
Many enter the dating scene armed with “the checklist” — nonnegotiable qualifications needed to land in LTR territory. Similar political views? Check. Similar religious beliefs, or lack thereof? Check.
But a recent Journal of Consumer Research study suggests that this checklist should include another, seemingly unlikely, item — brands. In the study,
Brand compatibility influenced romantic partners’ life satisfaction even more strongly than shared political or religious beliefs.
That influence depends, though, on the relationship power, or how much sway the two individuals involved hold over decision-making in the relationship. Those with high power see low brand compatibility as no big deal. But low brand compatibility makes low-power partners view the relationship as more conflict-ridden, resulting in a lower life satisfaction.
While clashing political views would likely end in Splitsville early on, you might not see differences in brand preferences as grounds for a breakup, at least initially. But fast-forward five years, after you’ve sorted out politics, values and the other “big” stuff, and you find yourself dragging your feet as he makes a pit stop at Dunkin’ Donuts — again — when you’d rather have Starbucks. “It turns out that brand compatibility really matters a lot,” explains study co-author Gavan Fitzsimons, a professor of marketing and psychology at Duke University. Finding yourself stuck with consuming a brand you don’t like, over and over again, “leads to this gradual feeling of misery and that you’re not getting what you want, ever,” Fitzsimons says.
[No dating apps] are trying to pair you up based on whether you like Colgate or Crest.
Gavan Fitzsimons, Duke University
Fitzsimons and other Duke researchers conducted a series of six experiments. For the first experiment, they recruited 63 couples and asked each partner to list his or her favorite brand of car, chocolate, coffee, soda and beer. Researchers then rated the partners’ compatibility for each item on a scale of 1 to 5, from completely incompatible to completely compatible. Participants also completed assessments of their compatibility with regard to personality, religion and other traditional “checklist items.” In addition, they completed assessments of their life satisfaction, indicating how much they agreed with statements like “In most ways, my life is close to my ideal.” To the researchers’ surprise, brand compatibility predicted life satisfaction more strongly than compatibility in the more traditional categories.
Fitzsimons’ team wondered whether these findings would differ based on partners’ relationship power. To find out, they asked 104 couples to complete the brand compatibility and life satisfaction assessments from the first experiment, as well as an assessment of their relationship power, indicating how much they agreed with statements such as “I can get my partner to listen to what I say.” Brand compatibility had no effect on life satisfaction for high-power partners — but researchers saw a significant correlation between brand compatibility and poor life satisfaction for low-power partners.
But how do brand compatibility and power influence life satisfaction? The researchers proposed that since a couple with low brand compatibility makes countless small decisions that often leave the low-power partner unsatisfied, low-power partners view the relationship as having more conflict, which lowers their life satisfaction.
To test this hypothesis, the researchers asked 139 couples to fill out assessments of their brand compatibility, power and life satisfaction, as well as how much conflict they perceived in their relationship, answering questions like “How often did you feel angry or resentful toward your partner this month?” For high-power partners, there was no relationship between brand compatibility and perceived conflict. But for low-power partners, low brand compatibility was strongly associated with greater perceived conflict — which, in turn, was linked to lower life satisfaction.
To be sure, power dynamics in a couple may be more nuanced than high-power partners getting to consume their favorite brands while low-power partners put up and shut up. For example, “are there certain high-power people who are sensitive and generous enough that they sacrifice their preferred brands at least some of the time?” asks Eli Finkel of Northwestern University, who was not involved in the study, in an email to OZY.
Online dating apps could take a cue from the findings. “All these [apps] are trying to pair you up based on education or religious beliefs, but no one is trying to pair you up based on whether you like Colgate or Crest,” Fitzsimons says. “Our data suggest you should pay more attention to that.” OkCupid, take note.