Study brands students with skewed priorities

We shop at a supermarket, staring at a row of ketchup bottles. After contemplating for several seconds, we instinctively choose Heinz. We go to the mall, facing a plethora of stores. After considering whether today will finally be the day where we visit “that one store we’ve never set foot in,” we turn our backs and head into the familiar Forever 21, H&M or Urban Outfitters.

On the surface, we justify our choice of these ubiquitous brands because they’re popular, cool or of better quality. But researchers are attributing this to a much more complex phenomenon — brand attachment.

A study from USC’s Marshall School of Business examined the characteristics necessary for brand attachment and the consequences of not satisfying consumers with their favored brands. The researchers defined brand attachment as “the strength of the bond connecting the brand with the self.”

Maybe it’s OK to prefer the stylish exterior of the MacBook Pro to the average PC laptop, or the USC sweater to a generic Target hoodie.

I, too, have become a victim of this so-called brand attachment — adorning my dorm room with all things Hello Kitty and USC, using Herbal Essences for my shampoo and, like many others, owning an iPod rather than one of the many alternative mp3 players on the market.

One aspect of the study sparks a reality check: that brand attachment is similar to personal relationships.

Researcher Deborah MacInnis told the Daily Trojan that people’s relationships with their counterparts, either happy or sad, is no different than their relationships with brands.

Therefore, should we assume that for the masses the loss of a loved one is equivalent to the loss of a Blackberry?

For most, the general response would be “That’s ridiculous.” But the results of the study, which show that brand attachment is higher than we believe it to be, nevertheless, make us reconsider our own consumer habits.

Do we truly love that particular Starbucks or Jamba Juice drink over The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf or Robeks, or do we just love toting around those cups with those logos on them? What would happen if we were in a place where there were no Starbucks within a 100-mile radius?

The study said that some will suffer the level of emotional distress found in the loss of a family member or friend. As consumers, we should not fall into this trap of likening our love for brands to our love of people.

The study also concluded that because of brand attachment, people will go above and beyond to obtain their desired products and will more likely overlook their negative qualities.

Despite a large amount of complaints regarding the iPhone 4’s reception, those who buy it forgive its problems easily, most likely because of its price tag and Apple logo. Although BMW recently recalled 150,000 vehicles because of technical issues, this doesn’t stop those who love their beamers.

Just as we shouldn’t allow ourselves to fall into a situation where brands could cause us distress, we shouldn’t simply overlook major issues that plague the  logos and names we love — maybe there really is something wrong with it, something that will cost us hassle in the future.

Instead of always reaching for favorite brands, consumers should explore other options; it is likely that they could find a brand isn’t all that it’s made out to be. There are other choices out there.

By exploring options not typically considered, brand attachments would lessen and buyers would experience overall higher satisfaction from the lack of stress experienced when their favored option is unavailable. If all else fails, it is OK to go back to Subway after eating at Quiznos.

Though reasons for why people form brand attachments are still unclear, consumers should act now to combat conclusions made from this study.

Next time at the supermarket, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to reach for a less expensive ketchup.

Alice Wen is a freshman majoring in print and digital journalism.