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Brand Love. What is it? [New Study]

“I love that brand!”

It’s the holy grail of marketers, but what actually is ‘brand love’?

Brand love is very different to human love finds a new study out this month in Psychology and Marketing warning marketers against using the L word in marketing. At least not that L word.  People may like brands, but not love them, and the analogy between the love we experience for people and the feelings we experience for brands may ultimately be misleading and lead to bad marketing decisions.

For example the study, conducted by Tobias Langner and colleagues at Bergische University, found that brand ‘love’ is more rational, transactional and dependant on receiving rational benefits, whereas human love is more altruistic in character.

This follows the philosopher Bertrand Russell’s famous definition of love:

Love is delight in contemplation, benevolence in action (Bertrand Russell)

For marketers, this means we should not overestimate the durability, loyalty and unconditionality of people’s attachment to brands, even for those we say we ‘love’. Our brand ‘love’ is not about what we can do for the ‘brand’ but what the brand can do for us. It’s selfish, and it’s likely to be based on habit, not ‘love’.  And as Byron Sharp has shown, there is little of the exclusivity with brands that we can experience with love; instead we flit fickle-like between alternative rival brands based on availability, rather than staying true to our brand ‘love’ (72% of Coke drinkers also buy Pepsi in the UK).

The study, measuring emotions both quantitatively through physiological arousal responses and qualitatively through depth interviews, also found that emotional intensity in human love far exceeds that of ‘brand love’.  From a psychological perspective this is important, since cognitive control declines with emotional intensity meaning that love takes on a less rational character and is likely to be qualitatively different.

Moreover, since all human emotions (e.g. love, anger, sadness) may be plotted on a simple two dimensional matrix of intensity (arousal) and direction (positive vs. negative valence), then if brand love differs significantly from human love in intensity, then it becomes a different emotion, much as anger is qualitatively different to annoyance.

So whilst marketers like using the idea of brand love (see Interpersonal Brand Love Scale below) – it allegedly won Saatchi and Saatchi a US$430 million JC Penney contract using their ‘lovemark’ framework (brand love as defined by SIM sensuality, intimacy and mystery), – a trademark is not a person and your emotional attachment to it is unlikely to be love.

Source: Langner, T., Schmidt, J., & Fischer, A. (2015). Is It Really Love? A Comparative Investigation of the Emotional Nature of Brand and Interpersonal Love. Psychology & Marketing, 32(6), 624-634.

Interpersonal Brand Love Scale


  1. I experience great happiness with this brand.
  2. I feel emotionally close to this brand.
  3. When I am with this brand, we are almost always in the same mood.
  4. I think that this brand and I are quite similar to each other.
  5. There is something almost ‘magical’ about my relationship with this brand.
  6. I feel tender toward this brand.


  1. If I could never be with this brand, I would feel miserable.
  2. I find myself thinking about this brand frequently during the day.
  3. Sometimes I feel I can’t control my thoughts; they are obsessively on the brand.
  4. If I were separated from this brand for a long time, I would feel intensely lonely.
  5. There is nothing more important to me than my relationship with the brand.
  6. I would feel deep despair if this brand left me


Written by
Dr Paul Marsden
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Digital wellbeing covers the latest scientific research on the impact of digital technology on human wellbeing. Curated by psychologist Dr. Paul Marsden (@marsattacks). Sponsored by WPP agency SYZYGY.