University of Southern California

I Love USC!
December 22, 2010

Whether it's a sports team, one's University, a celebrity like Oprah, or an iPhone, some people just love certain brands. So what's so special about these brand attachments? That's what three of Marshall's Marketing faculty members, C. Whan Park, Debbie MacInnis and Joe Priester—decided to investigate. They began by differentiating two concepts:

  • Brand attachment reflects a deep and "hot" (emotional) bond that consumers have with a brand. It takes time to develop and it's tied into with emotional memories about the brand role in one's own personal experiences. The stronger the attachment, the deeper the brand is liked to one's self.
  • Brand attitude strength reflects how confident one is one one's "cold judgment" of a brand. Such judgments are based on a thoughtful consideration of what the brand has to offer and they can develop quickly and based on pure information (vs. personal brand experiences).

Building on self-attachment theory, the researchers developed a series of studies with over 1000 consumers and involving brands that included USC, Nike, iPod, and others. They showed that brand attachment has profound implications for marketers, and has effects that go beyond brand attitude strength.

They first developed a brand attachment scale, and found that the greater consumers' brand attachment the more likely consumers are to suffer separation distress at the prospect of the brand's market removal or demise (witness fan sorrow from Michael Jackson's death as an example). Strong brand attitudes did not create such effects. What's more, they found that the greater the brand attachment the more consumers were willing to engage in difficult behaviors to keep the brand relationship going. These behaviors involved investing their own personal resources in the maintaining a brand relationship. These included:

  • Social resources, as when they defend a brand to others.
  • Financial resources, such as a willingness to pay a premium for the brand.
  • Time resources, like active brand promotion via social media, participation in brand communities, and being willing to wait for an upcoming model vs. buying a competitor's brand.

Finally, based on actual purchase data, they found that brand attachment was more likely than strong brand attitudes to predict:

  • A consumer's actual purchase behavior
  • Brand purchase share (the share of a brand among directly competing brands)
  • Brand need share (the relative use of a brand compared with substitutable alternatives)

The bottom line: Although the brand attitude strength construct may capture a brand's mind share of a consumer, attachment is uniquely positioned to capture both heart and mind share.

Their article, titled "Brand Attachment and Brand Attitude Strength: Conceptual and Empirical Differentiation of Two Brand Equity Drivers", was the lead article in the Journal of Marketing (November, 2010, Vol. 74; pgs. 1-17). Learn more about Professors Park, MacInnis, and Priester and their work on attachment here.