February 2017: Love Shmove

Before continuing, please take a minute to make a mental list of everything you love.

With the rapidly approaching smoochfest that is Valentines Day, it seems appropriate to focus our attention for a heartbeat on BRAND LOVE. I’m not the only one to do so. There have been noticeable articles in the IJMR quite recently on this concept (2015, 57,5). In the last month Ritson came out in support of Sharp’s empirically based dismissal of the need for such ephemeral constructs in order to grow brands (just me or did this feel like Creed and Balboa man-hugging at the end of their first encounter?)

It has always struck me as a singular linguistic shortcoming that whereas the Enuits have 50 words for snow, and the British have over a hundred and forty for getting drunk, we have very few words to tap into the construct of love (“adore”, “infatuation”, and that’s about it).  I err towards the Ritson/Sharp rather dismissive view on brand love, but in considering this position I have concluded that the problem might just lie with our blanket application of a single four letter word to describe perhaps the most complex and richly varied emotion we have. So, I thought I would try to develop a taxonomy of love. I know there are many social psychologists who work specifically in this area, but I wanted to focus on my personal feelings, not least because I’ll never make a trademarked brand research framework by using someone else’s.

Reflecting on how and when people use the term love in their everyday conversations, I arrived at four basic categories of love:

Material love – a love of things. I love M&Ms and Lamborghinis. Did you write down that you love your phone? Possibly – a lot of people do.

Experiential love – a love of activities, experiences and places. My daughter says she loves having a hot bath in the evening. My friend says he loves running. I love watching a good film at the cinema and walking on the beach at Whitstable.

Sentient love – a love of people (whom you know), and pets. I was thinking of this initially as human love, but my girlfriend really loves her dog, and my daughter tells me several times a week and how much she loves her cat Lennie (her little furry baby). I think Sentient Love is what most people really mean when they use the word “love”, and most of the things on the mental love list you generated probably fall into this category. (By the way, I have more detailed thoughts regarding familial love for family, affiliative love for friends, and partner love – but I am saving these for my forthcoming trademarked brand love framework).

Finally, Spiritual love – a love of people whom you don’t know. Perhaps for all humanity, perhaps for only a part of humanity, and for some, a love of God.

Does this capture all the qualitatively different dimensions of love? Hardly. Take Material love. M&Ms I love because of the way they taste, and how they seemingly make my tastebuds sweat. Lamborghinis I love because they look so lairy, so extreme, so out of place on an ordinary road. I don’t really feel the need to own one, just seeing them occasionally (in lime green, orange or yellow) makes me quite excited. My partner might say she loves All Saints clothes – the cut, materials etc., and that they “flatter her figure” and give her self-image a bit of a boost. So with this cursory inspection, we see that material love stems from at least several sources associated with sensorial properties, excitement, self-esteem etc.

Now, although I said I am generally anti the concept of Brand Love, I have said above that I love M&Ms and Lamborghinis – two (well known) brands. It didn’t feel odd when I wrote it, so it shows that the concept of love can be applied to brands. But, and this is the nub of my argument, out of the thousands of brands I am aware of, and the hundred I use on a regular basis, I can’t readily think of any others that I would use the L word in relation to. Romaniuk makes the same point in a previous article for the IJMR, suggesting incidence of brand love might be less than 1%. I would also point out that as categories, I am VERY engaged with cars and chocolate, and that I believe this unusually high level of category involvement is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for any type of “loving” feelings towards a brand.

This then forces us to ask what is the point of brand managers striving for the type of emotional connection that people experience readily to other people, but hardly ever to products or branded experiences? I don’t think there is one.

Love schmove.