Brand loyalty an expression of self-worth, just like religion

Sep 28, 2010 By Karl Leif Bates
If you care about brands, external apparel matters more than underwear, according to a Duke researcher.

(PhysOrg.com) -- The brand name logo on a laptop or a shirt pocket may do the same thing for some people that a pendant of a crucifix or Star of David does for others.

For people who aren't deeply religious, visible markers of commercial brands are a form of self-expression and a token of self-worth, just like symbolic expressions of one's faith, according to new research by a Duke University marketing professor and colleagues in New York and Tel Aviv.

In fact, the more religious a person is, the less those sort of brand expressions seem to matter, according to a series of experiments run by the team. Their paper, "Brands: The Opiate of Non-Religious Masses?," appears currently online in the journal Marketing Science.

"People with a high involvement in religiosity aren't necessarily as brand-conscious as people who don't practice religion," said Gavan Fitzsimons, the R. David Thomas Professor of Marketing and Psychology at The Fuqua School of Business. This is true at least for visible expressions of brand, like socks and sunglasses.

The team first conducted a field study in which they looked at several geographic areas for the number of Apple stores per million people, the number of brand stores such as Macy's and Gap, and a comparison statistic they called the "brand-discount store ratio." Then they compared these rough measures of brand reliance against the number of congregations per thousand and self-reported attendance in church or synagogue, controlling for income, education and urbanization differences. In every analysis, they found a negative relationship between brand reliance and religiosity.

To zero in on the question, they performed four laboratory experiments in which feelings of religiosity were manipulated before subjects went through imaginary shopping experiences.

In a group of 45 college students, one group was primed by being asked to write a short essay on "what your religion means to you personally," while the other group wrote about how they spend their days. Then each group was sent on an imaginary shopping trip in which they chose between products shown two at a time, national brand versus store brand.

Some of the products were forms of self-expression, such as sunglasses, watches and socks. Other products were functional items like bread, batteries and ibuprofen.

The group that had been primed to think about religion was less likely to choose branded products of self expression. This was particularly true for publicly viewable products that could be used to express identity.

A second, Internet-based experiment measured the self-reported religiosity of 356 participants, and then ran them through the same shopping experience. Again, those that were highly religious cared less about national brands for the self-expressive products. For the functional products, level of didn't make a difference.

Two more experiments demonstrated that reduces brand reliance by apparently satisfying the need to express self-worth.

"We don't think people are choosing these brands, consciously saying, 'I want to signal to everyone how I feel about myself through this brand,' " said Fitzsimons, whose iPhone rings with Johnny Cash singing "Ring of Fire." But sub-consciously, it's likely a different story.

"Brands are a signal of self-worth," Fitzsimons said. "We're signaling to others that we care about ourselves and that we feel good about ourselves and that we matter in this world. It's more than 'I'm hip or cool,' " he said: "I'm a worthwhile person, and I matter, and you should respect me and think that I'm a good person, because I've got the D&G on my glasses. "

So if you were the brand manager for a new kind of apparel, you might study the demographics of your markets in a different way, Fitzsimons said. "If you knew that your target customers were largely more religious, that'd probably suggest the store brand path would be easier. If you knew that your customers were largely not at all religious, that suggests that you might want to focus more toward building a national brand."

Explore further: Consumer loyalty driven by aesthetics over functionality

More information: "Brands: The Opiate of the Non-Religious Masses?" Ron Shachar, Tülin Erdem, Keisha M. Cutright, Gavan J. Fitzsimons, Marketing Science, articles in advance, Sept. 24, 2010. DOI: 10.1287/mksc.1100.0591

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User comments : 15

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Tristan_Caley
3.8 / 5 (4) Sep 28, 2010
So I guess I'm outside the statistical norm? I don't care what brand I wear as long as the design looks good and it feels comfortable. I mean, I have some brand loyalty in that brands like Dickies are comfortable and well-made, and Airwalk Shoes fit well and last forever, but I don't go out to the store and say, "OMG look at that Old Navy shirt, it's got OLD NAVY printed on it! I. MUST. HAVE IT."
Quantum_Conundrum
3 / 5 (2) Sep 28, 2010
Tristan_Caley:

I buy whatever is cheapest and looks half decent.

I don't own a single piece of designer clothing, and think they are a complete waste of money.
trekgeek1
5 / 5 (2) Sep 28, 2010
I guess I'm strange too. I'm not religious at all, and I don't have any allegiance to fashion brand. I just buy what looks good or has a good fit. I will admit, when I have some money to burn, I want to buy some star trek T-shirts. Just to advertise my geeky side. There's also an electrical engineering T-shirt that has a ground symbol and text below that reads "Zero Potential", I want that. Neither represents self worth, they're just funny.
gmurphy
5 / 5 (1) Sep 28, 2010
Obviously scientists and engineers don't particularly care about fashion or religon, lol :)
bottomlesssoul
not rated yet Sep 28, 2010
Very poor study because the study population is too small to get any signal. It's like asking your girlfriend how important brands are to her and generalizing from there.
freethinking
1 / 5 (2) Sep 28, 2010
Well fashion anyway, except for looking for the same shoes style/maker I've been wearing for last 10 years. They fit, they look nice, and they are comfortable.
kuro
not rated yet Sep 29, 2010
Well, this is obviously marketing oriented paper, so I am not expecting a lot of rigor beyond coming up with a shiny buzzword that can be sold to some category of advertising consumers, but...

The hypothesis, presented to explain the observations in the larger survey is that religion and brand goods are somehow substitute decision-making factors on the basis of the feeling of "self-worth".

Fine, however, I don't see what in the subsequent experiments supports that point.

Based on the experiments, all kinds of mechanisms could be argued with the same validity as the "self-worth" one -- for example, one that will fit better with the results is that a more "spiritual" mood allows people to ignore the projected image and focus on the substance, etc.

They fail to test if any other kind of spiritual "priming" would have similar effect, and not just religion, etc.

Waste of time. (And, "religiosity"? No less loaded word? Come on, not everyone with beliefs is a raving fanatic).
jjoensuu
4.7 / 5 (3) Sep 29, 2010
hmmm...

I think this would explain why some people defend companies like Google and Apple so fanatically when the discussion comes e.g. to the issue of collecting user data.

In fact, some people would say that the Bible cannot be viewed as being "Gods word" simply because the Bible itself says so. I fully agree with that. However some of the same people would say that Google can be trusted because Google has as the motto "don't be evil".

Brand religion, indeed.
JRDarby
1 / 5 (1) Sep 29, 2010
Why not just say that as social animals humans, perhaps by and large, have some sort of need to belong to a group? You can specify whether that group is a religion, MMO guild, community of brand-preachers (Apple anyone?), or your (un)friendly neighborhood KKK. If you wanted to put it in holistic sociological terms, it's all about identity I suppose.
damnfuct
not rated yet Sep 29, 2010
I am also as non-religious/non-spiritual and have absolutely no brand loyalty. Judging by the comments in this article, I wouldn't doubt that some (maybe significant) portion of the population has not been properly represented.
Mesafina
not rated yet Sep 29, 2010
I also don't care about brands or religions, however I can definitely see it in many other people. While this particular experiment sounds pretty shotty, there's definitely "something" to it, even if it isn't necessarily what the authors imply.
tigger
not rated yet Oct 03, 2010
I'm an Atheist and scratch my head at the brand loyalty games people play. I'd imagine those that are brand loyal and call themselves atheist are of the rebellious nature rather than the intellectual.
marjon
1 / 5 (2) Oct 03, 2010
""We don't think people are choosing these brands, consciously saying, 'I want to signal to everyone how I feel about myself through this brand,' "
I think they do.
I think many chose brands to fit in. I especially notice who I suspect as being illegal aliens wearing local team hats, shirts, etc.
Popular US brands are popular to wear overseas and most are usually pirated.
Killerice
not rated yet Oct 04, 2010
Well for me wearing a particular brand is because of its good quality and not for expression of self worth.And i am a very religious person.

To those who proudly call themselves atheist,im sorry for them as they are deprived of the knowing of their reason of existence and much more!!!
Mesafina
1 / 5 (1) Oct 04, 2010
""We don't think people are choosing these brands, consciously saying, 'I want to signal to everyone how I feel about myself through this brand,' "
I think they do.
I think many chose brands to fit in. I especially notice who I suspect as being illegal aliens wearing local team hats, shirts, etc.
Popular US brands are popular to wear overseas and most are usually pirated.


Somehow Marjon you manage to bring illegal aliens into this, or people you "suspect" to be. I have noticed this behavior just as much in citizens as immigrants. Could it be that your racism and cultural bigotry is looking for any possible medium of expression? Given how you manage to turn any article into a chance to bash on the people you hate, I'd say it sure looks that way.

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