April is the cruelest month. Said no one.
In my eyes, February’s the hardest. Particularly for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. Despite a few Christmas trees littering the streets, the remnants of Christmas cheer, along with most people’s New Year’s’ resolutions, have been swept aside. We’re left with nothing but the long, daunting stretch to a far away spring.
How do we get through it? We hunker down with our nearest and dearest, shut out the cold, and get cosy. It’s no secret that being in love or in the presence of loved ones can give us a sunny, rose-tinted outlook on life. There are countless pieces of research on the positive affects love has. One which has stuck with me was people will consistently estimate a hill to be less steep if they get to climb it with a friend, and more steep if they are asked to do it alone. Being with someone we love (in this case a love that is platonic, not romantic) will help us cope with adversity.
But does this hold for things other than people? Can we expand this line of logic beyond the sentient? If you can scrutinise the presence of love by its ability to have an anaesthetising effect on pain, can it extend to things that we love like Marmite, Marshmallow Fluff, or Apple Macs?
In the post-Byron Sharp era of marketing it is generally accepted that attempting to instil brand love with the aim to grow a brand is not a winning strategy. Instead marketers accept they must aim to provide the brand with a supply of new or recovered lapsed consumers to replace a forever dwindling consumer base.
Yet, according to eminent social researchers, the answer to the question: “can people love brands?” is an emphatic “yes”. Academics from the University of Arizona in America and the Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico conducted a study to investigate whether brands could mimic close interpersonal relationships. They found that brands could provide some of the same pain-relieving effects you’d expect from time with an intimate partner.
Across a representative sample of 1,511, respondents were asked to immerse their hands in a cold water for several minutes. Half of the sample (the control) were shown a neutral image, and the other half were shown a stimulus for a favoured brand. The controls reported higher pain levels than those engaging with a brand, proving that thinking or being exposed to favourable brands can have some of the benefits associated with love.
Does this offer irrefutable evidence that we can replace human relationships with brand love? The jury is out. Certainly, for those feeling a love-drought on February 14th, alleviating emotional pain with brand-love is feasible, believable, and even tempting. No-one would be shocked by a spike in sales for Ben and Jerry’s or Dominos on Valentine’s Day.
However, beyond the potential for brands to emulate real human love, the study also demonstrates how important brands are to us. It doesn’t disrupt the current thinking around brand growth, but it does potentially paint a picture of a less fickle consumer than the one conjured by Byron Sharp; subject to their own mental availability for brands. The notion that brands have the ability to reduce discomfort and take on the emotional roles assumedly reserved for people presents interesting opportunities in these cold temperatures and uncertain times (financially, politically… romantically) for those looking to build brands and maintain brand momentum alike.