Emotion is the fuel of brands, and as the business-minded marketing professionals begin their eye rolling and head for the exits, note that this is also not a new phenomenon. In studying 20,000 stories consumers told us about their relationship with brands, intimacy emerged as the most powerful pinnacle or a way to describe their ultimate bond. As with human relationships, brands and people form equally complex and emotionally driven bonds. Because how we feel about a brand is the single best predictor of behavior, we as marketers must rethink the strategies and methods we use to create and manage brands.
As we began to understand why people choose, love, or are loyal to brands, we became equally intrigued as to why and how they become frustrated, hateful, or enraged toward them. We’ve found this to be an area of little collective study—who wants to dwell on the negative, after all? It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the many published lists of “top” brands, yet finding any organized “worst of” study proves difficult. We believe learning from the lessons of brand failures is difficult, albeit critically important.
At the risk of dwelling on schadenfreude, brands today face increasingly new and severe risks. Today, companies looking to optimize and maximize their bottom-line performance are trying to do more with fewer resources. At the same time, consumers feel increasingly empowered through a wealth of choices and a realization of the impact they can leverage over brands. Venom, anger, and indifference, when fueled by the viral and compounding effects of the internet can make any brand executive feel like he or she is fighting a losing battle.
Beyond the risk to reputation and the performance of a brand, we have discovered that consumers can reach a more potent and permanent state of ambivalence. Think of it as worse than hatred and devoid of emotional connection of any kind, and worst of all, it is likely irreversible. We refer to counterweight or drag to building brands as a state of indifference.
We’ve collected a series of examples that illustrate how consumer bonds with brands are abused or, in some cases, destroyed.