What Makes a Product Lovable?

This post was provided by Philipp A. Rauschnable, Assistant Professor of Marketing at University of Michigan-Dearborn, and one of the authors of the study.

What makes a product lovable?

Imagine you’re going to buy a new car. You’ve been shopping for a while and have narrowed down the choice to two possible cars, both of which you like quite well. What’s going to have a bigger impact on your decision between them, the overall quality of each car or the fact that on one of the cars the grill and headlights look like a human face? Common sense says that overall quality will mater much more than whether the front of a car vaguely resembles a face. But according to a new study in the Journal of Brand Management by Philipp Rauschnabel (University of Bamberg/University of Michigan-Dearborn) and Aaron Ahuvia (University of Michigan-Dearborn), common sense may be wrong.

Ahuvia and Rauschnabel study why people love certain products and brands, what marketers call brand love. Research has shown that the extent of consumers’ love for a brand or product is a better predictor of their purchase intentions and their likelihood of engaging in positive word-of-mouth, than are conventional brand-liking measures. “This is true” notes Prof. Rauschnabel, “even when you are looking at consumers who don’t feel very strongly about the product. The questions that we use to measure brand love give us a more complete, more three-dimensional, view of what a person thinks and feels about a brand than did previous measures. So measuring brand love is a very good method of understanding all kinds of purchase choices that people make.”

Hence, finding ways to increase brand love is an important topic that managers have to deal with. And a recent study published in the Journal of Brand Management provides insights in how managers can do that.

In particular, Philipp Rauschnabel and Aaron Ahuvia investigated the role of anthropomorphism in the development of brand love. Anthropomorphism describes the degree to which consumers perceive a brand as having human characteristics, especially a mind and intentions. Anthropomorphism can be stimulated in several ways (see the graphic below), including creating products so that they physically resemble people in various ways.

The authors surveyed more than 1,100 German respondents about their favorite fashion, chocolate, shoe, or body care brands. For each brand they measured how much the consumer loved that brand, how high quality the consumer thought the brand was, and the extent to which the consumer felt that the brand had human qualities like having a mind or will of its own. The authors provide strong empirical evidence that brands that are perceived as human-like receive much higher levels of brand love.

Moreover, to return to the opening question, if consumers anthropomorphized a brand (i.e. saw it as having human-like qualities), this had a much stronger impact on their purchase intention that did their perceptions of that brand’s quality.  How could this be? According to Rauschnabel and Ahuvia, part of the answer has to do with the choice situation. Recall that in the hypothetical scenario the consumer had narrowed the field down to two possible cars. “Consumers usually rule out the cars they think are low quality earlier in the process. Once they are choosing between a few cars, all of which they like, quality will no longer be the deciding factor. At that point the choice is often based on an intuitive feeling of attraction towards one product or another. Brand love is a good way of measuring that intuitive attraction. And when people think about a product in anthropomorphic terms, they tend to love it more” explains Ahuvia. In their article, Rauschnabel and Ahuvia provide evidence that because love is primarily about interpersonal relationships, when consumers think about brands or products as being similar to people, it is easier and more natural for consumers to love them.

So, should managers neglect brand quality and therefore focus on anthropomorphizing their brands? The authors say absolutely not. Quality is necessary to get consumers to seriously consider your products. However, when interacting with consumers who already like a brand, marketers may benefit from humanizing their brands. The authors identified several ways of how marketers can influence their human-like perceptions. Some examples are presented below.

What Makes a Product Loveable

Study: You’re So Lovable: Anthropomorphism and Brand Love

Rauschnabel, Philipp A.; Ahuvia, Aaron C. (2014): You’re So Loveable: Anthropomorphism and Brand Love. Journal of Brand Management.

Authors:

Philipp A. Rauschnabel is Assistant Professor of Marketing at University of Michigan-Dearborn. He earned his PhD from University of Bamberg, Germany.

Aaron C. Ahuvia is Full Professor of Marketing at University of Michigan-Dearborn.