Branding is love, kind of

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Branding is, at its most fundamental, the desire to form a relationship.

Just as the kid who sat behind you in your second period algebra class longed for your everlasting love, so too does your favorite automotive or sportswear brand. Except instead of having a desire for an unforgettable, but ultimately awkward homecoming experience, what these suitors seek to gain from an established relationship is your spending money for years to come.

“Well yeah,” you think. “That’s why they advertise to us, obviously.”

But it’s more than that. See, no matter how loyal you are to a particular brand, they know that on occasion, the temptation to test the waters with one of their competitors will cause you to go astray. That’s fine, as some infidelity is to be expected in the consumer/brand relationship.

The sport sedan that you’re considering from Car Company A may have the same horsepower, thrill factor and options as your beloved Car Company B, but for five grand cheaper. Still, you’ve always wanted that car from Company B; it’s your dream. So despite it being a financially irrational choice, you go with what you know and make the more expensive purchase, even though the most perceivable difference between the two is the logo on the hood.

“That’s ridiculous, I would never do that,” you say. While you might scoff at the idea, dear reader, it is certainly not without warrant. See, whether it’s a five grand difference between two cars or a dollar more for the name-brand cereal over the generic alternative, most folks are willing to spend on something they’re familiar with.

Brands are very much aware of this behavior and the research that validates it. The mere-exposure effect, also known as the familiarity principle, suggests that familiarity with a brand brought on by repeated positive exposure plays a significant role in the formation of brand preference. It’s a theory proposed by social psychologist Robert B. Zajonc in 1965.

Basically, brands know that if they provide an enjoyable or otherwise unique experience when consumers interact with their product, and do so continuously, that the consumer is more likely to give them their business again.

Again, this sounds like a no-brainer, until you consider all the purchases that are made because “it’s just better” or “it’s my favorite brand” or “it’s what I always buy.” Sound familiar? It’s because every instance that we, even subconsciously, have with a brand and its products or content registers in our brain. Over time we become comfortable with seeing a particular logo, visual language or product, and we are naturally drawn to stimuli that we are comfortable with.

In this way, whether we like it or not, our relationship with brands are very much like our interpersonal relationships. The rational part of you knows that you want to pursue someone new. However, the irrational devil on your shoulder telling you to stick with what you know might have you giving in and agreeing to meet your awful ex for coffee.



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