Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Firebrand Loyalty




My responses to this FuturePundit.com article, on religiosity and brand loyalty. My comments are in bold.

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Lost Religion Leads To More Brand Loyalty?

By Randall Parker at 2010 November 15 09:04 PM Brain Loyalty

Prof. Ron Shachar of Tel Aviv University's Leon Recanati Graduate School of Business Administration says that a consumer's religiosity has a large impact on his likelihood for choosing particular brands. Comsumers who are deeply religious are less likely to display an explicit preference for a particular brand, while more secular populations are more prone to define their self-worth through loyalty to corporate brands instead of religious denominations. Here is where the obvious bias creeps in like a thief in the night. Notice the use of “define their self-worth” now look at how the sentence would look without this passively inflammatory distraction: “…while more secular populations are more prone to loyalty to corporate brands instead of religious denominations.” Still makes sense, eh?

This research, in collaboration with Duke University and New York University scientists, recently appeared in the journal Marketing Science. What is charming, is that the research is hinted at here, and in the lede, but that’s the end of it discussion. The result? "Here is some recent news that shows how silly and materialistic those atheists are, nevermind about causation and correlation, let me quote clich├ęd aphorisms to prove my point."

Now, without having read the report, or having done further research on what it said but merely commenting that it does not appear the writer of this article did much research either, I could, for the sake of argument, advance past studies in an attempt to find a correlation between non-religion and brand loyalty. First, numerous studies have concluded that non-believers tend to be more highly educated than believers. (Here is one such study: http://freethinker.co.uk/features/atheists-are-more-intelligent-than-religious-people/) If we grant that higher education (remember, this article is talking mainly about academics) leads to higher income/fewer children, this might mean an individual who is more tech savvy. After all, what is this research really about, whether or not atheists always go for Cheerios rather than generic wheat circles, or whether they go for specific brand-name electronics? So, yes, an academic who is more tech savvy, might be brand loyal one way or another. It seems silly if the results of the study showed allegiance toward a particular food or toiletry item, they likely were looking at products that are more involved. And if they weren't, what is the conclusion? Heavier marketing toward atheists? Is that the point of the marketing research?

More simply, higher education = higher wages = more likelihood of shopping the brand name and not buying generic/store brand.

There are a number of reasons this connection could have been shown, hell, I might be wrong, but to jump to the conclusion that “It’s because they’re de facto worshipping corporations” is ludicrous.

I am reminded of a quote (comes in variations) attributed to G.K. Chesterton: "When a Man stops believing in God he doesn¹t then believe in nothing, he believes anything." The real origin of the quote might be Emile Cammaerts writing about Chesterton:

The first effect of not believing in God is to believe in anything. Wrong. The first effect of not believing in God is not beliving in God. The first step in believing in God, for which no good evidence exists, is to believe in anything (witches, goblins, unicorns, the tooth fairy – all have equal lack of evidence for their existence.)

Okay, without taking a side in the God Stuff debate can we think rationally about what is going on here? (the answer to that question might depend on our specific brand loyalties - not sure if my fairly shallow loyalties to Google, Amazon, or Norelco will serve as an obstacle). My take: I suspect we all have a finite capacity for loyalty or feeling of being allied or bonded. Take away a supernatural belief and reverence and basically some unused capacity for loyalty (need for loyalty?) becomes available for hijacking by corporate marketers. Is this an improvement? It depends on the specific beliefs and loyalties. For example, I'd rather someone have loyalty to a brand of running shoes or cell phone than loyalty to a diety who he thinks wants him to blow up tube stations. Obvious anti-Islamic sentiments here. Imagine if it had read “…than loyalty to a diety who actually expects me to believe he had a son who he put on earth for my sins and was killed on the cross by a pack of Jews and then came back to life a few days later.” But loyalties to cigarette brands or sugary soda brands are definitely harmful to health.

Think religious thoughts before shopping and your purchasing choices will be less driven by brand loyalties. (Hah, hah.) Better yet – spend your money on tithe?

Researchers discovered that those participants who wrote about their religion prior to the shopping experience were less likely to pick national brands when it came to products linked to appearance or self-expression — specifically, products which reflected status, such as fashion accessories and items of clothing. For people who weren't deeply religious, corporate logos often took the place of religious symbols like a crucifix or Star of David, providing feelings of self-worth and well-being. According to Prof. Shachar, two additional lab experiments done by this research team have demonstrated that like religiousity, consumers use brands to express their sense of self-worth. Because the crucifix and star of David aren’t well-marketed and also serve to glibly show the wearer’s sense of worth or person?

Ever noticed how some ex-religious believers are incredibly bitter toward their former religion? This seems most visible with some ex-Catholics. Well, since brand loyalty seems to develop more strongly when religious loyalty is absent loss of brand loyalty makes people extremely emotional about their former loyalty.

It's just like a bad breakup: People get emotional when they end a relationship with a brand. A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research examines what happens when people turn their backs on the brands they once loved.

"Customers who were once enthusiastic about a brand may represent a headache for the associated firm beyond the lost revenue of foregone sales because they sometimes become committed to harming the firm," write authors Allison R. Johnson (University of Western Ontario), Maggie Matear (Queens University, Kingston, Ontario), and Matthew Thomson (University of Western Ontario).

Online forums are overloaded with customer complaints from people who once loved or were loyal to particular brands but now strongly oppose them. "I used to love (name of store), let me tell you all why I plan to never go back there again; I hate them with a passion now," writes one unhappy former customer, for example.

Why do these people feel so strongly about brands they once favored? According to the authors, some people identify so strongly with brands that they become relevant to their identity and self-concept. Thus, when people feel betrayed by brands, they experience shame and insecurity. "As in human relationships, this loss of identity can manifest itself in negative feelings, and subsequent actions may (by design) be unconstructive, malicious, and expressly aimed at hurting the former relationship partner," the authors write. Also, it might be because online reviews are usually highly favorable or highly unfavorable. No one goes on a website to post a comment about having a mediocre experience at a particular shop. “I’ve been indifferent to going there before, so when the time came to go there again, as expected I wasn’t smiling ear to ear, but the products I bought were in relative order and I made it home with minimal pain and suffering. Overall, I probably won’t remember the experience in a week.”

Do you have any strongly felt brand loyalties that might disappoint you? Might want to try some competing products before you become disappointed. Is this a hidden way of saying "Has your old faith failed you, try out some others" - as if religious belief were a cheese of the month club. (This insinuation should bother believers and non-believers alike.) That way your loyalty will weaken before your loss of brand faith. That'll make it easier to move on.

There are a number of very interesting theories regarding the evolution of religious belief. One, advanced by Richard Dawkins is that belief is the byproduct of an evolutionary cognitive module that served to help us cope with problems of survival – these feelings can spread like a mental virus. It doesn’t have to be religious belief. It can be any type of belief, or piece of information.

In general, this type of research seems like it wouldn’t arouse genuine intrigue in most people, it will probably arouse contempt for atheists, even among hypocritically brand loyal believers – how are companies going to use this information? Will we see more ads targeted at non-believers? The answer is more than likely, no – but I guess this remains to be seen.