Are brands addictive?
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.