Do We Form Similarly Close Relationship With Brands As With Our Loved One?

Are brands addictive?

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Source: Do We Form Similarly Close Relationship With Brands As With Our Loved One?

Martin Reimann

For human relationships it is known that after an initial electrifying honeymoon period, excitement for the loved partner often goes down and is maintained at a lower level. At the same time, however, we include our partner in our “self,” which—for the fortunate among us—leads to a strong, long-lasting bond (despite levels of decreased excitement). Check out Art Aron’s exciting work on this topic.

A question that remains is whether we form relationships with brands in a similar way? This is a relevant question because we are surrounded by brands every day, we wear them, we eat them, and we work with them.

A recent research project on how we form close relationship with brands, which I completed with three dear colleagues, found that over the brand relationship span, consumers get less and lesser aroused by their brands, but—at the same time—inclusion of the brand into the self increases over time.

A brain imaging study revealed a strong tie between deeply loved brands and activation of the ‘insula,’ a brain area previously found to be a crucial mechanism in diverse but related psychological phenomena such as urging, addiction, loss aversion, and interpersonal love.

While it certainly is too early to clearly answer this question, I speculate that intensely loved brand relationships are addictive to a certain extent. Our finding of insula activation for close brands gives rise to this speculation. Earlier studies have implicated the insula in addiction to alcohol and nicotine, raising the question of whether close brands share a similar mechanism. Here, future investigations could further differentiate a simple urge for loved brands (for example, being committed to a specific brand) from more intense addiction to loved brands (for example, being devoted to a specific brand).


Reimann, Martin, Raquel Castaño, Judith L. Zaichkowsky, and Antoine Bechara (2012), “How we relate to brands: Psychological and neurophysiological insights into close consumer-brand relationships,” Journal of Consumer Psychology, forthcoming.

About Donna L. Roberts, PhD

Dr. Donna Roberts has been involved in higher education at military bases for over 30 years, including both faculty and administrative positions. She has been with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University since 2003 and is presently assigned duties as the Department Chair for Social Sciences and Economics in the College of Arts and Sciences. As a faculty member Dr. Roberts has been involved in all aspects of the curriculum – from development to evaluation to delivery. Additionally, she has served as an Officer of the Faculty Senate and on various strategic University committees. Her research interests include media psychology, prison reform, human and animal rights, educational psychology and industrial/organizational psychology. Her background is in education and the social sciences with educational qualifications including: • Ph.D. in Psychology (Northcentral University) • MAS/MBA in Aviation (ERAU) • M.Ed. in Adult & Higher Education (University of Oklahoma) • M.H.R. (University of Oklahoma) • M.Ed. in Counseling (University of Maryland) Donna is originally from a small town in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York – Canandaigua (a Native American name that means “the chosen spot”). She currently resides in Europe with her husband and various rescue cats.
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