Consumers have a ‘secret fling' relationship with McDonalds and see BA as a ‘distant lover’, finds research

Consumers aren’t as loyal to brands as marketers might like to believe and relationships can be split into 14 pillars such as ‘committed partnerships’, ‘dependencies’, ‘secret affairs’, and ‘marriages of convenience’, according to new research from Hey Human.

While 55 per cent of people said they couldn’t live without Apple, a relationship marketers would be quick to describe as brand love, 38 per cent of people actually described it as that of a ‘best friend.’

This is one example of the difference between supposed brand loyalties verus the reality.

Hey Human went beyond simple surveys for the research, instead using techniques such as neuroscience, regular in-depth interviews and 'behavioural journals' of interactions with brands in a bid to dispel some of the assumptions marketers make about brand love.

It found that banks, financial services providers and mobile network operators might have had frequent interactions and ongoing relationships that could be seen as relatively loyal. The reality, however, was that consumers described those relationships as ‘enslavements’ or ‘marriages of conveniences’ while brands such as O2, HSBC, British Gas, Visa and Barclays were considered ‘enemies'.

Meanwhile, EasyJet was a seen as a ‘friend with benefits’ brand for over 75 per cent of people engaging with it, while McDonald’s was a ‘secret fling’ for over 60 per cent.

British Airways, which has built its brand on heritage, was actually seen as a ‘distant lover’ for many, ‘loved but not bought.’

Finally, despite 44 per cent saying Google was a brand they couldn’t live without, the relationship was considered ‘paternal’ for 27 per cent of people.

“Brands are often obsessed with 'brand love'. They can still aspire to it if they want, but need to realise that it’s only for the lucky few. They need to define the type of love they want, and why they think it still matters, and realise that there are many more relationships that could be more fruitful for the brand,” said Neil Davidson, executive planning director, Hey Human.

“To survive in this world of changing relationships brands need to understand where they sit within these relationship typologies, not chase unattainable ideal relationships of love and fidelity.”

The study also showed how simple it was to influence consumers to switch brands.

In the soft drinks sector it based the study on in-store behaviours and then used neuroscience to understand the behavioural triggers.

Hey Human was able to get people to switch due to pack design changes and in-store messaging, without price discounting.

“What does all of this mean for the future of brands? It’s not our intention to add to the many subjective assertions out in the marketing world already. Brand relationships are not black and white, never will be and will also be driven by brand, sector and context. But people’s loyalties are changing and brands that chase simplistic marketing and relationship models will fail,” said Davidson.

Hey Human is set to present its research during Advertising Week Europe alongside Travelex CMO Dominic Gounsell and Mumsnet founder Carrie Loughton. The session will take place on Tuesday 24 March on the YouTube stage.