Brands, Feelings of Attachment and Fear

Photo source: flickr/foto_olio

A study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology suggests that humans use emotions rather than declarative information (i.e. the facts) to evaluate brands. The study found that the part of the brain that controls positive emotions was activated by familiar or strong brands, while unfamiliar or weak brands activated the part of the brain that controls negative emotions.

So what creates that connection between a consumer and a brand? An article by Courtney Seiter in The Huffington Post discussed the science of emotion in marketing, which we will further expand on here, specifically looking at what’s happening in the brain when we connect with a brand.

Feelings of attachment with a brand are stimulated in the brain. The hormone responsible is oxytocin, also known as the ‘bonding’ hormone that promotes connection and encourages people to feel empathy and generosity. A study by Paul Zak which looked at the effect of oxytocin on behavior found that people who experienced higher levels of oxytocin displayed greater susceptibility to advertising. Zak drew the conclusion that advertisers use images such as puppies and babies in toilet paper commercials, which cause our brains to release oxytocin to build trust in a product or brand.

Fear, which is controlled by a part of the brain called the amygdala, can also elicit feelings of greater connection with a brand. A study from the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business found that when faced with fear, the presence of a brand comforts people and helps them cope. The study used four different movie genres (fear, sadness, excitement and happiness) to provide participants with ‘emotional priming’. The fear condition involved watching clips from horror flicks The Ring and Salem’s Lot. Participants in this condition were more likely to feel greater emotional brand attachment, as determined by a brand evaluation survey, than consumers who experienced sadness, excitement and happiness.

The theory behind this finding is that when people experience fear, they want to share that experience with other people. However, if other people are not present during a fearful situation, they create a heightened emotional attachment with a brand instead.

Interestingly, a further study found that enhanced feelings towards a brand were only generated if it was experienced at the same time as fear – if the product is presented afterward, no bond is created. This finding has important implications for brands. While many might shy away from associating their product with fear, there might actually be some gains to be had from offering up brands as something to cling to during a fear-inducing horror film.

Emotions are key to establishing a brand connection. In most cases, attachment with a brand develops and strengthens over time, as consumers have numerous experiences with that brand, resulting in a brand attachment they ‘feel’ and experiencing positive emotions that can’t always be explained. However the above studies show that brand attachment can also be heightened by evoking specific feelings such as empathy or fear.

The crucial point for marketers is to spend time thinking about and understanding their consumers – how their product, or the way they market it, might make their consumers feel. Tapping into emotions creates endless opportunities for brands to establish a connection with consumers, and create Lovemarks.