Insight of the Week: When Branding, Try Bonding

Marketers have known for some time that consumers often associate certain brands with an emotional cue. A much-loved brand from childhood can evoke nostalgia, sympathy, or even longing, for example. But what they haven’t known is what happens to consumers’ perception of a brand when they are feeling a certain way (happy, sad, optimistic, or exhausted, for example.) New research from the University of Washington indicates that one feeling in particular causes consumers to reach for a favorite brand, and that feeling might surprise you.

This week’s insight: When you want consumers to truly bond with your brand, consider a scary experience.
Research study: “The Impact of Fear on Emotional Brand Attachment” by Lea Dunn and JoAndrea Hoegg, Journal of Consumer Research, June 2014.
What they did: The research team asked participants to watch clips from comedies, action movies, dramas and horror films while sitting next to a brand of sparkling water they hadn’t tried before. After screening each film, the participants than had to rate their emotional attachment to the branded water. They repeated the experiment with multiple variations, including asking whether thinking about a friend or family member after watching the movies influenced their attachment to a brand.
What they found: Participants were more likely to “bond” with the branded bottled water after watching scary movies than any other type of movie. Researchers found that the emotional stakes of a scary experience led participants to seek comfort in the brand closest to them. When participants thought about a friend or family member instead, they rated their connection to the water brand much lower—indicating that the brand actually substituted for an emotional connection with a person.
The takeaway for researchers is that consumers can have true emotional relationships with brands just as they do with people—especially when emotions run high.

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