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Brand Love

Authors:
  • University of Michigan-Dearborn College of Business

Abstract

Using a grounded theory approach, the authors investigate the nature and consequences of brand love. Arguing that research on brand love needs to be built on an understanding of how consumers actually experience this phenomenon, they conduct two qualitative studies to uncover the different elements ("features") of the consumer prototype of brand love. Then, they use structural equations modeling on survey data to explore how these elements can be modeled as both first-order and higher-order structural models. A higher-order model yields seven core elements: self-brand integration, passion-driven behaviors, positive emotional connection, long-term relationship, positive overall attitude valence, attitude certainty and confidence (strength), and anticipated separation distress. In addition to these seven core elements of brand love itself, the prototype includes quality beliefs as an antecedent of brand love and brand loyalty, word of mouth, and resistance to negative information as outcomes. Both the firstorder and higher-order brand love models predict loyalty, word of mouth, and resistance better, and provide a greater understanding, than an overall summary measure of brand love. The authors conclude by presenting theoretical and managerial implications.
Rajeev Batra, Aaron Ahuvia, & Richard P. Bagozzi
Brand Love
Using a grounded theory approach, the authors investigate the nature and consequences of brand love. Arguing
that research on brand love needs to be built on an understanding of how consumers actually experience this
phenomenon, they conduct two qualitative studies to uncover the different elements (“features”) of the consumer
prototype of brand love. Then, they use structural equations modeling on survey data to explore how these
elements can be modeled as both first-order and higher-order structural models. A higher-order model yields seven
core elements: self–brand integration, passion-driven behaviors, positive emotional connection, long-term relationship,
positive overall attitude valence, attitude certainty and confidence (strength), and anticipated separation distress.
In addition to these seven core elements of brand love itself, the prototype includes quality beliefs as an antecedent
of brand love and brand loyalty, word of mouth, and resistance to negative information as outcomes. Both the first-
order and higher-order brand love models predict loyalty, word of mouth, and resistance better, and provide a
greater understanding, than an overall summary measure of brand love. The authors conclude by presenting
theoretical and managerial implications.
Keywords: brand management, brand attachment, brand loyalty, brand relationships, brand commitment
Rajeev Batra is S.S. Kresge Professor of Marketing, Ross School of Busi-
ness (e-mail: rajeevba@umich.edu), and Richard P. Bagozzi is Dwight F.
Benton Professor of Behavioral Science in Management, Ross School of
Business, and Professor of Clinical, Social and Administrative Sciences,
College of Pharmacy (e-mail: bagozzi@umich.edu), University of Michi-
gan. Aaron Ahuvia is Professor of Marketing, College of Business, Univer-
sity of Michigan–Dearborn (e-mail: ahuvia@umich.edu). All authors con-
tributed equally. The research assistance of Ryan S. Elder and the helpful
comments of Cele Otnes and Zeynep Gurhan-Canli are gratefully
acknowledged. This article was accepted under the editorship of Ajay Kohli.
© 2012, American Marketing Association
ISSN: 0022-2429 (print), 1547-7185 (electronic)
Journal of Marketing
Volume 76 (March 2012), 1–16
1
Although for decades researchers have studied how
consumers form “like–dislike” attitudes toward
brands, the past few years have seen a burgeoning
interest among both practitioners and academics in con-
sumers’ “love” for brands.1Among practitioners, Roberts’s
(2004) book Lovemarks expresses increased interest in this
topic, and Bauer, Heinrich, and Albrecht (2009) recently
documented a growing use of the concept of love in adver-
tising. Academic research on brand love or related con-
structs has also been substantial (for reviews, see Albert,
Merunka, and Valette-Florence 2008; Thomson, MacInnis,
and Park 2005), finding it to be associated with positive
word of mouth (WOM) and brand loyalty (Carroll and Ahu-
via 2006; Fournier 1998; Thomson, MacInnis, and Park
2005), increased willingness to pay a price premium
(Thomson, MacInnis, and Park 2005), and forgiveness of
brand failures (Bauer, Heinrich, and Albrecht 2009), among
other outcomes.
In consumer research, Shimp and Madden (1988) adapt
Sternberg’s (1986) triangular theory of interpersonal love
from psychology, and Ahuvia (1993) performs the first
major empirical study. Fournier (1998) includes love as one
of the core elements of consumers’ relationships with
brands, and Ahuvia, Batra, and Bagozzi (2009), Carroll and
Ahuvia (2006), and Albert, Merunka, and Valette-Florence
(2008) explicitly study brand love. Related work spans
self–brand connections (Escalas and Bettman 2003), con-
sumers’ attachments to brands (Park et al. 2010; Thomson,
MacInnis, and Park 2005), the construction of self-identity
(Belk 1988), consumer–object bonds (Kleine, Kleine, and
Allen 1995), and brand communities and reference groups
(McAlexander, Schouten, and Koenig 2002).
Although this interest suggests that brand love is an
important marketing topic, little agreement exists as to what
brand love is (see Albert, Merunka, and Valette-Florence
2008). Various definitions of brand love suggest that it has
anywhere from 1 (Carroll and Ahuvia 2006) to 11 dimen-
sions (Albert, Merunka, and Valette-Florence 2008), with
most studies presenting differing conceptualizations. This
disagreement persists in large measure because, as we dis-
cuss subsequently, most marketing studies have omitted the
exploratory work needed in the early stages of research to
establish the boundaries and contents of the key construct
(Lincoln and Guba 1985). Instead, prior work has primarily
substituted the vast psychological literature on interpersonal
love (e.g., Aron and Westbay 1996; Sternberg 1986) and/or
attachment (e.g., Bowlby 1979) for foundational exploratory
research on brand love.
In the psychological literature, definitions of different
types of interpersonal love (e.g., romantic, compassionate/
altruistic) abound, many of which mention affection, attach-
ment, intimacy, caring, intense longing, passion, and so on,
depending on the specific type of love (Fehr 2006, pp. 226–
28). However, there are compelling reasons these conceptu-
alizations of interpersonal love should not be applied
1We conceptualize brands as the totality of perceptions and feel-
ings that consumers have about any item identified by a brand
name, including its identity (e.g., its packaging and logos), quality
and performance, familiarity, trust, perceptions about the emotions
and values the brand symbolizes, and user imagery. The current
work involves mainly discrete manufacturer brands and corporate
brands. Further research is needed to establish its applicability to
other branded objects and possessions.
directly to brand love. We argue that brand love needs to be
conceptualized from the ground up, built on a deep under-
standing of how consumers experience it, and only then
should valid connections be made to the interpersonal love
literature. Thus, the current research begins with two quali-
tative studies that provide a grounded and evidence-based
foundation for our subsequent studies of brand love.
Consistent with research on interpersonal love (see Fehr
2006, 2009), we find that brand love, as consumers experi-
ence it, is best represented as a higher-order construct
including multiple cognitions, emotions, and behaviors,
which consumers organize into a mental prototype. These
include, but go beyond, brand attachment (Thomson,
MacInnis, and Park 1995) and self–brand connections
(Escalas and Bettman 2003). Using survey data, we then
develop a valid and parsimonious structural equations
model of the brand love prototype that, because of its
grounding in the two qualitative studies, uses significantly
broader emotional and self-related constructs than prior
work (e.g., a sense of natural comfort and fit, a feeling of
emotional connectedness and bonding, a deep integration
with a consumer’s core values, a heightened level of desire
and interaction, a commitment to its long-term use, attitude
valence and strength). We show that our multicomponent
model of the brand love prototype greatly expands under-
standing of the consumer experience of brand love. It also
explains more of the variation in repeat purchase intention,
positive WOM, and resistance to negative information
about the brand than a summary measure of brand love.
Through this richer understanding of brand love, we gain
insight into how brand liking can potentially be changed
into brand love, and we draw theoretical and managerial
implications.
Limitations of Extant Brand Love
Research
Progress in brand love research has been hindered by a lack
of exploratory studies that guide subsequent measurement
and theory development. This has led to two major prob-
lems: assuming the equivalence of brand love and interper-
sonal love and the perception of brand love as an emotion
rather than a relationship.
Assuming the Equivalence of Brand Love and
Interpersonal Love
Rather than exploring brand love in an open-ended manner
with consumers, most extant brand love research begins
with a chosen theory of interpersonal love and then creates
scale items to apply this theory to a marketing context. This
approach presents a potential problem if brand love is not
directly analogous to the particular theory of interpersonal
love being used. Research suggests that this problem is sig-
nificant (Aggarwal 2004; Richins 1997).
We are not suggesting that, because brand love may be
different from interpersonal love, it is not a “real” type of
love. There are multiple kinds of interpersonal love (e.g.,
romantic, parental, compassionate/altruistic), all of which
are real (Fehr 2009), yet they vary from one another in their
2 / Journal of Marketing, March 2012
specific content. For example, sexual passion is a feature of
romantic love but not of parental love; thus, theories about
parental love cannot be applied directly to romantic love.
Similarly, theories of interpersonal love cannot be applied
directly to brand love.
Albert, Merunka, and Valette-Florence (2008) provide a
similar type of analysis to our Studies 1 and 2. They find
that 11 dimensions underlie brand love: passion, a long-
duration relationship, self-congruity, dreams, memories,
pleasure, attraction, uniqueness, beauty, trust (satisfaction),
and a willingness to state this love. However, as they note
(p. 1073), they fail to find the aspects of attachment and
commitment found in most prior studies, and their results
could be idiosyncratic given their choice of the three spe-
cific images used to depict brand love. Thus, further studies
to understand how consumers experience brand love are
still needed.
Brand Love as an Emotion Versus a Relationship
The existing literature also does not adequately distinguish
between the love emotion and the love relationship. The
love emotion is a single, specific feeling, akin to affection
(Richins 1997), which, like all emotions, is short term and
episodic. In contrast, the love relationship, like the friendship
relationship, can last for decades and involves numerous
affective, cognitive, and behavioral experiences (Fournier
1998). Extant brand love research sometimes studies the
love emotion and sometimes studies the love relationship,
but it rarely acknowledges the distinction.
The Brand Love Prototype
The first step in understanding brand love is to uncover the
implicit definition of love that consumers are using when
they say they love a particular brand or product. Prior
research has found that fuzzy and complex concepts such as
emotions or love (Fehr 2006; Shaver et al. 1987)—concepts
not amenable to definition in terms of necessary and suffi-
cient criteria (Fehr 2006, p. 227)—are best described as
prototypes (Rosch 1975). A prototype is a list of attributes
(i.e., prototype features) that people associate with a partic-
ular kind of thing, in this case love (see Fehr 2006). These
attributes are organized into a central or most typical exem-
plar of that category (Shaver et al. 1987, p. 1062), such as
love, or a subcategory, such as romantic love, parental love,
brand love, and so on. The more of these prototype features
a relationship or an emotion has, and the more central those
attributes are to the prototype, the more likely a consumer is
to consider it some type of love. Because prototypes are
cultural models, researchers have found high levels of simi-
larity in interpersonal love prototypes across gender, sexual
orientation, and age.
Unlike classical definitions (Fehr and Russell 1991),
which are consciously formulated to be precise, prototype-
based definitions are fuzzy (Shaver et al. 1987) in two
ways. First, prototype definitions are always characterized
by fuzzy boundaries, which, in the current context, means
that a typical consumer will view some brands as definitely
loved, some brands as definitely not loved, and other brands
falling into a “sort-of-loved” middle category. Second, pro-
totype definitions are fuzzy because their features fre-
quently include not only elements of the phenomenon itself
but also antecedents and outcomes. For example, in Shaver
et al. (1987, p. 1076), the prototype of the emotion fear
includes antecedents (e.g., the threat of harm), attributes of
fear itself (e.g., feelings of nervousness, cognitive inability
to focus, behavioral acts of hiding or crying), and outcomes
(e.g., self-comforting). This creates fuzziness because not
all elements of a prototype are necessarily attributes of the
core phenomenon itself.
When researchers elicit prototype features, it is often
necessary to investigate whether some sort of dimensional
reduction might be possible. For example, Fehr (1988)
identifies 68 features for the love prototype, and Aron and
Westbay (1996) use factor analysis to extract three underly-
ing latent factors from them. Similarly, after obtaining simi-
larity scores for 135 prototypicality-rated emotion terms,
Shaver et al. (1987) cluster-analyze them hierarchically to
determine how they might be split up at different levels of
abstraction. Thus, at the maximal degree of abstractness,
these emotion terms could be classified simply as being
positive or negative; at the other, more subordinate, end of the
tree, the analysis yielded 25 clusters: “The cluster-analytic
results therefore provide three sets of candidates for basic-
ness: a 2-term list at a high level of abstraction (essentially,
positive vs. negative emotions), a 5- or 6-term list, and a
25-term list” (Shaver et al. 1987, p. 1068). In other words,
the set of features that constitute a prototype can often be
hierarchically organized at different degrees of abstractness.
Uncovering mental prototypes presents a challenge
because they are tacit knowledge structures and thus are not
easily verbalized. To produce a description of a largely tacit
mental prototype, it is necessary to get respondents to use
the prototype for its natural purpose, observe (or imagine)
themselves doing this, and then report their observations to
the researcher. Both Studies 1 and 2 follow this data collec-
tion strategy by prompting respondents to use their own
love prototype to determine whether various brands or other
items are clearly loved, on the borderline between loved
and not loved, or clearly not loved and then reporting the
criteria they used to make these classifications. This is sim-
ilar to Study 2 of Shaver et. al (1987) in that the authors
elicited the features of each type of emotion from respon-
dents by asking them to list what they believed and felt and
how they acted when they experienced the emotional state
being studied.
Our three studies move from being open and exploratory
to being more focused and confirmatory. Study 1 is designed
to provide the widest possible lens on brand love. Rather
than directing consumers to talk specifically about brands,
we asked respondents about “things that they love” (exclud-
ing only other people). Casting such a wide net enables us
to place brand love in context and reduce the risk of over-
looking important related phenomena. In Study 2, the inter-
views are narrower in scope, focusing specifically on loved
brands. Finally, in Study 3, we conduct a quantitative survey
examining loved brands in a consumer electronics context.
Because the conventional reporting of qualitative studies
(Studies 1 and 2) requires extensive quotations and discursive
analysis, which is not possible within the length constraints
Brand Love / 3
of this journal, we present them here only in summary. We
detail the methodology and illustrative quotations in the
Web Appendix (http:// www.marketingpower. com/ jm_
webappendix), and longer versions are available on request.
Studies 1 and 2
Methodology
Study 1 consisted of 70 structured telephone interviews
lasting between 10 and 60 minutes each and 10 follow-up
depth interviews lasting two to four hours each. Respondents
were between 23 and 45 years of age, highly educated,
urban, and approximately equally male and female. Study 1
examined all types of noninterpersonal love including, but
not limited to, brand love (e.g., love for consumption-
related objects, activities such as eating and dancing). In 10
follow-up depth interviews, respondents compared loved
and not-loved items, as well as interpersonal and noninter-
personal love. Study 2 focuses specifically on loved brands
(e.g., Apple, Victoria’s Secret). It includes 18 detailed inter-
views, lasting approximately two hours each, with college
students. Respondents discussed brands of their own choos-
ing in various categories (e.g., consumer electronics, cloth-
ing) or meeting specific criteria (e.g., a brand they have
used for a long time). They also discussed interpersonal
love, to allow for a comparison with brand love.
Because we analyzed the 70 telephone interviews from
Study 1 in part by comparing frequencies of responses, we
assessed intercoder reliability, and a proportional reduction
in loss statistic of .87 confirmed coding reliability (Rust and
Cooil 1994). We analyzed the depth interviews in Study 1
and all interviews from Study 2 using a grounded theory
approach (Strauss and Corbin 1994, p. 283), combined with
methods developed by McCracken (1988).
In Study 1, we found that 96% of the respondents
claimed to love something other than another person, and
72% percent viewed at least one object or activity as being
loved in the strictest, most literal sense of the word. In
Study 2, 100% of the respondents claimed to either “love”
or “sort-of-love” at least one brand, and 89% put at least
one brand into the “love” (as opposed to “sort-of-love” or
“not love”) category. Therefore, noninterpersonal love in
general, and brand love in particular, were commonly
reported experiences among respondents.
Elements of the Brand Love Prototype
Our analysis yielded ten major components: high quality,
linkages to strongly held values, beliefs that the brand pro-
vided intrinsic rather than extrinsic rewards, use of the loved
brand to express both current and desired self-identity, pos-
itive affect, a sense of rightness and a feeling of passion, an
emotional bond, investments of time and money, frequent
thought and use, and length of use (for more detail about
each component, see the Web Appendix at http://www.
marketingpower. com/jm_webappendix).
Great quality/qualities. When talking about loved brands,
respondents’ comments almost invariably began with a list
of the perceptions about the brand’s many attractive quali-
ties, such as its exceptional performance, trustworthiness,
good-looking design, and so on. However, while some
forms of interpersonal love are said to be unconditional, not
a single respondent made this claim for brand love. Instead,
loved brands were praised for being the best available (e.g.,
best in every way, best value for money, best on some
important attribute), and simply knowing that a better brand
existed was commonly offered as a reason for not loving a
particular brand.
The only complaint that came up regularly in discus-
sions of loved brands was the high price of some higher-end
brands. But even for these brands, consumers felt satisfied,
believing that this high price was justified. For lower-priced
items, being considered an exceptional value for the money
was a commonly mentioned virtue of loved brands. For a
few luxury goods that respondents fantasized about owning,
an exorbitant price was mentioned as making the product
even more special; however, this was not reported when the
respondent had actually paid for the product.
Strongly held values and existential meaning. While
loved brands were praised for providing a wide variety of
benefits, such as comfort, transportation, entertainment,
exercise, relaxation, and so on, brands were more likely to
be loved when they also connected to something the
respondent believed was deeper, such as self-actualization,
close interpersonal relationships (Richins 1994), existential
meaning, or religious or cultural identities. For example,
one respondent loved Canon because her hobby was pro-
ducing creative photo albums of friends that she gave as
gifts; thus, she saw Canon cameras as intimately bound up
in these meaningful social relationships. Other loved brands
succeeded through their marketing in establishing brand
meanings that connected to deeply held values (e.g., Apple
represents creativity and self-actualization).
Intrinsic rewards. There is a common distinction
between performing an act to get something (extrinsic
rewards) and doing it because you love it (intrinsic rewards)
(Babin, Darden, and Griffin 1994, p. 645). A loved brand
provides intrinsic rewards when it creates psychological
states such as happiness, which are perceived as being part
and parcel of using the product (e.g., Pinkberry frozen
yogurt is delicious). Loved brands commonly provide both
intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, so providing extrinsic
rewards was not a problem per se. However, when brands
provided only extrinsic rewards, respondents often felt they
did not really love the brand but rather were just using it to
get something else that they did love.
Self-identity. Respondents strongly identified with the
things they loved, reflecting the important function of loved
brands in expressing existing identities and enacting desired
identities (Belk 1988; Escalas and Bettman 2003, 2005).
This identity link occurred through both the consumer’s
direct relationship with the object and the loved brand’s
facilitation of interpersonal relationships (McAlexander,
Schouten, and Koenig 2002). These findings match prior
research on brand love (Ahuvia 2005) and interpersonal
love (Aron and Aron 1996). Because talking about a brand
with other people is an important part of identity construc-
4 / Journal of Marketing, March 2012
tion (Holt 1997), high levels of WOM should also be asso-
ciated with brand love.
Positive affect. Respondents described their experience
with loved brands in positive emotional terms, and this ten-
dency was even more prevalent for loved consumption
activities. This affect covered the lower-arousal emotions
termed “affection” (Thomson, MacInnis, and Park 2005)
and “warm-hearted” feelings (Richins 1997) typical of
“companionate love” (Hatfield 1988).
Passionate desire and a sense of natural fit. Respondents
talked about a sense of natural fit and harmony between
themselves and their loved brands. For some, this sense of
“rightness” about the relationship included a strong desire
for that brand, reflecting the higher-arousal, hotter aspects
of brand love frequently called passion (Belk, Ger, and
Askegaard 2003). Albert, Merunka, and Valette-Florence
(2008) find that passion is the first dimension in brand love,
and Bauer, Heinrich, and Albrecht (2009) argue that passion
is the most managerially relevant aspect of brand love.
When this sense of natural fit with a brand was combined
with passionate desire, it was sometimes expressed as “love
at first sight.”
Emotional bonding and anticipated heartbreak. Feeling
bonded with, and emotionally connected to, a brand
emerged as an important aspect of brand love (e.g., Fournier
1998; Thomson, MacInnis, and Park 2005). In addition to
these positive emotions, other researchers have also noted
that consumers are likely to feel a strong desire to maintain
proximity with their loved objects, even feeling “separation
distress” when they anticipate or experience being dis-
tanced from them (Hazan and Zeifman 1999; Park et al.
2010; Thomson, MacInnis, and Park 2005). In our inter-
views, such bonding and attachment was frequently evident
in pervasive comments that respondents knew they loved a
brand because it was unique and irreplaceable and thus
would be missed if lost.
Willingness to invest. Respondents reported investing
high levels of time, energy, and money into loved brands.
These investments highlight the importance of the brand
and integrate it more deeply into the consumer’s identity,
thus increasing attachment to the brand. Because respon-
dents anticipated separation distress if they were to lose a
loved brand (Hazan and Shaver 1994), they are likely to be
price insensitive with respect to the brand (Thomson,
MacInnis, and Park 2005).
Frequent thought and use. Fournier (1998) argues that
for a brand to become a legitimate “relationship partner,”
the consumer must engage in frequent, interactive behav-
iors with it, and Park et al. (2010) use the construct of brand
prominence to capture frequent thinking about, and use of,
brands to which a consumer is strongly attached. Similarly,
we find that having frequent interactions with, or thoughts
about, a brand is an important aspect of brand love. Indeed,
every respondent in Study 2 considered how much time
they spent using or thinking about a brand a key criterion
for how much they loved it.
These findings have implications for the strength of atti-
tudes (Krosnick et al. 1993) toward such loved brands.
Because attitudes that rest on more frequent, direct experi-
ences tend to be more strongly held, consumers’ attitudes
toward loved brands should therefore come to be strongly
held. Many of the typical indicators of attitude strength
(e.g., greater attitude extremity, more certainty and impor-
tance, greater affective–cognitive consistency, faster
response latency, more frequent thinking and talking about
the attitude object; Krosnick et al. 1993) are therefore logi-
cal elements of brand love.
Length of use. Having a long history with a brand was a
frequently mentioned feature of brand love. This shared his-
tory can give the loved brand an important place in the
respondent’s personal identity narrative. Because past
behavior is often a good predictor of future behavior
(Guadagni and Little 1983), it implies greater loyalty to
loved brands (Thomson, MacInnis, and Park 2005).
Note that our results are significantly different from
those of Albert, Merunka, and Valette-Florence (2008).
Whereas Albert, Merunka, and Valette-Florence find that
(1) functional quality, (2) brand loyalty, (3) the attachment
emotion, and (4) the ability of the brand to make the con-
sumer feel good were associated with lower levels of love,
our two studies reveal them—as might be expected—to be
positive components.
Hierarchical Organization of Brand Love
Prototype Features
We noted previously that the set of features that constitute a
prototype can often be hierarchically organized at different
levels of abstractness (Aron and Westbay 1996; Shaver et
al. 1987). For example, Shaver et al. (1987) find that their
135 prototypicality-rated emotion terms can be classified at
the most abstract level as simply being positive or negative,
slightly less abstractly into 5 or 6 categories (hierarchically
subsumable under the positive/negative higher-level catego-
rization), or at an even less abstract (lower) level into 25
categories.
The grounded theory process of category creation
requires the researcher to actively interpret the raw data and
code constructs that emerge from the respondent data as
signifiers, parts, properties, or instances of other coded con-
structs. Some of these relationships—“is an instance of,”
“is part of,” and “is a property of”—suggest a hierarchical
structure. As coding takes place, the researcher may find
that some instances of two coded constructs (e.g., higher-
order needs and deeper meanings) can best be subsumed
under a single higher-level category (e.g., strongly held val-
ues and existential meaning). This process of combining
codes into more general constructs was a central part of the
analysis for Studies 1 and 2: We hierarchically reduced the
original list of more than 75 codes to the 10 major themes
presented previously.
Discussion and Conclusion
We began by noting the proliferation of conceptualizations
of brand love and argued that this was due to (1) a lack of
the exploratory qualitative research typically conducted
Brand Love / 5
when developing a new topic area and (2) a failure to differ-
entiate between the love emotion and the love relationship.
Next, we discuss these issues in the light of our findings.
The applicability of interpersonal love theories to brand
love. Our respondents often stated that although they
genuinely loved some brands, this was a different form of
love than interpersonal love. Respondents would sometimes
compare brand love to interpersonal love in a way that sug-
gested that the brand love prototype was partially based on
their understanding of interpersonal love but also modified
to fit a consumer context. Not surprisingly, the most widely
noted difference in our data was that brand love was often
described as a less important relationship than interpersonal
love. However, two other important differences emerged as
well. First, while interpersonal love contained a strong ele-
ment of altruistic concern for the beloved, this was not
found in brand love. Consumers were concerned with what
the brand could do for them, not what they could do for the
brand. Second, in healthy interpersonal relationships, when
we love someone, they return our love through their helpful
behaviors toward us and by occasionally experiencing the
love emotion toward us. In contrast, respondents noted that
brands do not experience emotions and therefore could not
return a person’s love in that way (though brands were viewed
as returning the consumer’s love when the brand bene fited
the consumer; see also Harding and Humphreys 2011).
None of the prior brand love studies based on interper-
sonal love theories included all the aspects of the brand love
prototype uncovered here. Thus, we conclude that the inter-
personal love theories that have been used as the basis for
past work do not provide a suitable theoretical foundation
for brand love research. It is beyond the scope of this study
to discuss all the theories of interpersonal love that have
been applied to brand love. However, because Sternberg’s
(1986, 1997) triangular theory is by far the most frequently
adopted framework to explain consumers’ love for brands,
some discussion of it is appropriate.
Sternberg’s theory holds that various types of love are
created through different admixtures of passion, intimacy,
and decision/commitment. Passion is the least problematic
aspect of Sternberg’s theory because it is plausibly trans-
lated into the passionate attraction consumers feel for
brands. Intimacy refers to feelings, thoughts, and actions
that are connected to the experience of warmth, closeness,
and bondedness in loving relationships. Although Sternberg
(1997) views intimacy as including ten subcomponents, the
integration of the beloved into the self is not among them
(nor is this phenomenon included in passion or decision/
commitment). In contrast, the current research finds inte-
gration of the loved brand into the consumer’s identity to be
a central aspect of brand love (e.g., Ahuvia 2005; Albert,
Merunka, and Valette-Florence 2008; Escalas and Bettman
2005; Fournier 1998). Thus, theories of brand love derived
from Sternberg’s theory are likely to omit the ways con-
sumers use brands to construct or project their identity.
Finally, Sternberg’s decision/commitment component is
largely irrelevant to brand love. The decision part of this
component refers to a person’s conscious choice to view
their relationship as love, with all the normative implica-
tions this entails. In contrast, in brand love, consumers
rarely consciously choose to define their relationship with a
brand as “love”—at least before a researcher asks them
about it. Furthermore, the commitment part of Sternberg’s
triangular theory does not refer to a sense of bondedness to
the brand. (Recall that Sternberg considers this sense an
aspect of intimacy.) Rather, Sternberg’s commitment refers
to a perceived normative, moral obligation to maintain the
relationship even in the face of a much better alternative.
Although respondents may have been resistant to negative
information about their loved brands, if the poor perfor-
mance of a loved brand became undeniable, respondents
reported that they would not maintain their love for the
brand. Thus, as Aggarwal (2004) observes, in brand love,
the norms of a commercial marketplace often replaced the
norms of interpersonal relationships, implying that Stern-
berg’s interpersonal decision/commitment component can-
not be applied to brand love without changing it into some-
thing quite different from what Sternberg intended.
In conclusion, we stress that we do not mean to imply
that brand love researchers should abstain from (1) citing
interpersonal love research as sources of hypotheses or even
(2) citing parallels between findings on brand love and inter-
personal love as relevant supporting evidence. However,
our findings do suggest that when theories of interpersonal
love are used to construct measures of brand love, impor-
tant variables may be omitted from the study and unneces-
sary ones included. Moreover, this lacuna is unlikely to be
detected through an analysis of data collected only on
dimensions suggested by the interpersonal love literature.
The brand love emotion or the brand love relationship?
When consumers described their love for a brand to us, they
invariably described a broad and long-term consumer–
brand relationship, with multiple interrelated cognitive,
affective, and behavioral elements, rather than a specific,
single, transient love emotion. Indeed, the love emotion
itself was rarely mentioned as part of that brand love rela-
tionship, whereas other emotions (e.g., happiness when
thinking about the brand, anxiety about possibly losing the
loved brand) were frequently discussed. Thus, we use the
term “brand love” to refer to a consumer–brand relationship
that corresponds with the brand love prototype described
previously and use the terms “brand love emotion” or “love
emotion” to refer to the specific affective state called love.
Etic themes: Structural hierarchy, positive attitudes,
and resistance to negative brand information. Grounded
theory involves the generation of etic, theory-driven inter-
pretations. As interviews were coded for the presence or
absence of certain constructs, they were also coded for links
between the constructs. Some of these links reveal that con-
structs formed a system of hierarchical categories. We
chose the ten themes reported previously because, in our
judgment, they provided a useful balance of detail and par-
simony. However, it would also have been possible to pro-
duce a more detailed analysis by breaking these ten themes
down into smaller units or a more parsimonious analysis by
combining some of these themes into fewer, even more gen-
6 / Journal of Marketing, March 2012
eral, categories. Thus, Studies 1 and 2 reveal that features of
the love prototype are grouped hierarchically (see Study 3).
A second etic finding is the important role of positive
attitudes in brand love. Positive attitudes about the loved
brands were too ubiquitous to be viewed as their own
theme, in that they played a role in framing consumer dis-
course about a great many other themes. The connection
noted here between love and positive attitudes is a more
modest version of claims made in prior research, which
have gone so far as to define love as an attitude: “Love is an
attitude … involving predispositions to think, feel and
behave in certain ways” (Rubin 1970, p. 265, italics in orig-
inal). Hendrick and Hendrick (2006, p. 150) also describe
love as “attitude/belief systems that include an emotional
core … and are related to patterns of … behavior.” In addi-
tion to positive attitude valence, brand love also displayed
many characteristics of attitudinal strength. Attitude strength
is composed of multiple dimensions (Krosnick et al. 1993),
many of which (e.g., greater attitude extremity and inten-
sity, more certainty and importance, affective–cognitive
consistency, more frequent thinking and talking about the
attitude object) are clearly evident in the interviews. This is
not surprising, because in Studies 1 and 2, loved brands
were considered very important, were related to at an
intense level (because they connected to deeper meanings
and identities and were invested in more), were thought and
talked about more, and evoked strong affective responses.
The extensive and extreme positivity toward loved
brands suggests a third etic finding: resistance to negative
brand information. Such resistance is also suggested by the
finding that loved brands become integrated into the con-
sumer’s identity and people naturally tend to resist negative
information about themselves (Ahearne, Bhattacharya, and
Green 2005).
Elements of the Brand Love Prototype:
Antecedents, Core Elements, and Consequences
Recall that in the literature, a prototype is typically con-
ceived of in terms of close antecedents, the phenomenon
itself, and proximal consequences (Shaver et al. 1987).
Shaver et al. (1987, p. 1078) find that an antecedent to the
love emotion is “the judgment that the loved one provides
something the person wants, needs or likes.” Equivalently,
in our brand love prototype, we consider aspects of the loved
brand characterized as great quality/qualities antecedent to
brand love, because people are attracted to things that pro-
vide them with needed benefits (Murstein 1988) and it is
difficult to conceive of brand love in the absence of neces-
sary quality. In our respondent interviews, their positive
evaluation of the loved brand’s quality was widely
recounted as an antecedent to their coming to love it.
The core phenomena of brand love would then include
different cognitions (e.g., about self-identity), feelings and
sense of connectedness and fit, and behaviors (e.g., frequent
interactions, resource investments) that our qualitative stud-
ies identified as being part of experienced brand love.
Because brands cannot be loved without also being liked
and evaluated highly, these core brand love features should
also include attitude valence, even though brand love con-
tains many elements that go beyond such valence (e.g., the
self-related cognitions and distinct feelings documented
previously). Furthermore, as discussed in the “Etic Themes”
subsection, the core of brand love also should encompass
attitudinal strength, including greater attitude extremity and
intensity, more certainty and importance, and more frequent
thinking and talking about the attitude object (e.g., Kros-
nick et al. 1993).2
To understand which aspects of the prototype are best
viewed as consequences of brand love, we must consider the
purpose of mental categorization. As Barsalou (1991, p. 58,
emphasis added) points out,
The purpose of categorization is to identify informa-
tion in memory that provides useful inferences.
Upon accessing a category for an entity, a tremen-
dous amount of knowledge becomes available that
is useful in a variety of ways the origins of the
entity,… its probable behavior, its implications for
the perceivers goals, or actions for interacting with
it successfully.
Consistent with Barsalou’s argument that prototypes serve
useful purposes, we conceive the brand love prototype as
helping consumers arrive at useful outcomes in their rela-
tionship with brands. In the interpersonal love domain, pre-
vious research has found relationship stability (similar to
loyalty) to be a relational outcome typical of relationships
consistent with prototypical rather than nonprototypical
love (Fehr 2006, p. 238). Analogously, we conceptualize
brand love consequences as greater brand repurchase inten-
tions, willingness to pay a higher price, engagement in pos-
itive WOM, and resistance to negative information.
Study 3: Structural Equation
Modeling of Brand Love
As Albert, Merunka, and Valette-Florence (2008) note, even
if we know (from Studies 1 and 2) what features jointly
constitute brand love, we still need to know which compo-
nents are the most important for brand love to be strong. We
Brand Love / 7
also need to study how these components are organized:
whether some of them conceptually and empirically com-
bine into higher-order structures or split up further at lower
levels of abstraction. Thus, we conducted Study 3, which
builds on our grounded theory study and uses structural
equation modeling to address these and other questions.
Methodology
Pretest data collection. We generated items to measure
the brand love prototype features and pretested them with
undergraduate students (n = 133). The items expressed the
extent (“very much” to “not at all”) to which respondents
believe the brand possessed the listed characteristic for
them personally (e.g., “Lets you present yourself to others
as the kind of person you want to be”). We supplemented
these items with items that visually depicted possible
degrees of overlap between two concentric circles, one rep-
resenting the brand and the other their personal identity
(adapted from Bagozzi and Lee 2002). We also located
items from existing scales for the constructs of attitude
strength (Krosnick et al. 1993, p. 1150) and brand loyalty
(Thomson, MacInnis, and Park 1995). For positive feelings,
we combined the items Thomson, MacInnis, and Park (2005,
p. 80) use with nine more: contented, relaxed, hopeful, calm-
ing, wanting, longing for, sense of desire, fun, and exciting.
Preliminary category identification and scale refine-
ment. We analyzed the pretest data using exploratory factor
analysis to group the items in the survey data into 16 factors
(shown in Table 1). Respondents from Studies 1 and 2
viewed 14 of these factors as core elements of brand love
itself, though these 14 factors subdivided some themes from
Studies 1 and 2 into smaller units. Respondents from Studies
1 and 2 saw one of these 16 factors (great quality/ qualities)
as an antecedent of brand love. The other contained manage-
rially relevant consequence items including willingness to
engage in positive WOM, favorable repurchase intentions,
questioning negative information, and brand loyalty. For
brevity, we call this loyalty/ WOM/ resistance (L/WOM/R).
(We also measured willingness to pay a higher price but
excluded it because of poor reliability.)
Final data collection. From this preliminary analysis,
we identified 59 items that loaded highest on these factors
and also displayed satisfactory scale reliabilities as scalar
measures of those factors.3These were then administered in
random order through an online survey to 268 college
undergraduate students (approximately 50% male) in a
large university. Similar to Thomson, MacInnis, and Park’s
(2005; Study 1) and Escalas and Bettman’s (2005) surveys,
consumers entered their own choice of a “brand I love“ for
the consumer electronics product category. After answering
questions about this loved brand, respondents then
answered the same questions about another brand from the
2Recently, Park et al. (2010) examined the relationship between
“brand attachment” (similar to brand love) and their interpretation
of attitude strength and claim empirical evidence for discriminant
validity between the two. However, their conceptualization and
measurement of attitude strength are not the same as ours (which
relies heavily on Krosnick et al. 1993). They use most items that
constitute our two attitude strength factors (e.g., the frequency
with which the brand comes to mind, how quickly these brand-
related thoughts come to mind) to measure a different construct
they label “brand prominence.” Just as we keep our two attitude
strength factors within our brand love prototype, they too keep
their brand prominence factor within their brand attachment con-
struct. Given the lack of common agreement on what constitutes
attitude strength (see Krosnick et al. 1993), it is not surprising that
different authors and studies use this term in varying ways. More
research is needed to arrive at a more definitive understanding of
the construct and operationalization of attitude strength (and
related constructs). Of note, although Park et al. focus on the dif-
ferent outcomes of brand attachment/prominence and attitude
strength, they do not study the antecedents and core elements of
these in depth, as we do here.
3We eventually did not use 2 of these 59 items in the analysis
(one measuring the willingness to spend time shopping for the
brand and the other measuring the extent to which attitudes toward
it were mixed and conflicted), because their inclusion in the mea-
sures of the constructs in the final data lowered rather than raised
reliability coefficients.
same product category toward which they felt “mostly neu-
tral about, instead of loved.” Unless otherwise noted, all
analyses refer to the data about loved brands.
Results
Structural equations modeling of a first-order structural
model of the brand love prototype. First, we estimated a
nonhierarchical (first-order) structural equations model for
the loved brands data (using LISREL 8.8, n = 187) in which
we specified brand love to consist directly of the 14 core
underlying factors emerging from our exploratory factor
(and previous qualitative) analysis. Fit statistics for this and
all other models reported next met or came very close to all
8 / Journal of Marketing, March 2012
the standard criteria (root mean square error of approxima-
tion [RMSEA] < .06, nonnormed fit index [NNFI] > .95,
comparative fit index [CFI] > .95, standardized root mean
square residual [SRMR] < .08; Hu and Bentler 1999). (For
brevity, model fit statistics are not reported here but are
available from the authors.) All composite indicators of the
14 latent constructs fit well, as hypothesized.
Table 1 lists the individual latent first-order components
(organized into the higher-order hierarchical structure
reported subsequently) and measurement items. Within
each latent first-order component, we randomly split the
various indicators listed in Table 1 into two groups and then
used composite indicators of each group, consisting of aver-
TABLE 1
Brand Love Higher-Order Prototype Model: Latent Constructs, Components, and Constituent Items
High Quality (Antecedent) Well-made, functional quality, practical.
Self–Brand Integration
(Also Includes Attitude Strength 1)
Current self-identity Says something about who you are, others seeing you using it get a sense of who
you are, important part of self, degree of image overlap between brand and self,
personal identity matches brand identity, important to be one of the people who
use this brand, brand is an important part of self-identity, brand is a rewarding part
of self-identity.
Desired self-identity Helps present self to others as the person you want to be, makes you look like
what you want to look, makes you feel like how you want to feel.
Life meaning and intrinsic rewards Makes life meaningful, makes life worth living, gives life purpose, is inherently
important, is more than an investment in future benefit, experience feelings of
desire.
Passion-Driven Behaviors
Willingness to invest resources Have spent lot of time making it fit my needs; willing to spend lot of money
improving and fine-tuning it after buy it; willing to spend lot of time improving and
fine-tuning it after buy it; have invested lot of time, energy, or money in it; was
willing to spend lot of time shopping to buy it specifically; have used it often in
appropriate occasions.
Passionate desire to use Feel myself craving to use it, feel myself desiring it, feel a sense of longing to use it,
feeling of wanting toward it, feeling of desire toward it, feeling of longing toward it.
Things done in past (involvement) Have been involved with it in past, have done a lot of things with it in the past,
have interacted a lot with it or the company that makes it.
Positive Emotional Connection
Intuitive fit Feel psychologically comfortable using it, meets needs perfectly, natural fit, what
I’ve been looking for, fits tastes perfectly, felt right when first encountered it, now
feels right, strength of feeling of liking.
Emotional attachment Feels like old friend, emotionally connected, feel a bond.
Positive affect Content, relaxed, fun, exciting, calming, helps relax, pleasurable.
Long-Term Relationship Will be using for a long time, will be part of life for long time to come, feel sense of
long-term commitment.
Anticipated Separation Distress Anxiety, worry, fear, apprehension.
Attitude Valence Satisfaction, compares well with ideal product, like–dislike, positive–negative, meets
expectations, feelings of liking toward it, good–bad, favorable–unfavorable.
Attitude Strength
Attitude strength 1: frequent Very often talk to others about it, very often have thoughts about it, frequently find
thoughts (part of self–brand myself thinking about it, frequently find myself thinking about using it, find that it
integration) keeps popping into my head, feelings toward it are strong, feel lots of affection
toward it.
Attitude strength 2: Certainty of feelings/evaluations, how strongly hold feelings/evaluations, how
certainty and confidence quickly feelings/evaluations come to mind, confidence of feelings/evaluations,
intensity of feelings/evaluations.
Loyalty/WOM/Resistance Strength of loyalty, if hear something bad would question it in own mind, would buy
(Consequence) again, would say positive things about brand to others.
ages of the source items, in the estimation of each factor or
subcomponent of it (Bagozzi and Edwards 1998).4All 14
components possessed adequately high (> .6) levels of aver-
age variance extracted (Fornell and Larker 1981), and com-
posite construct reliability levels > .7. The factors had ade-
quately high discriminant validity (coefficients < 1.0, or
by the difference test).
Nomological validity. A second structural equations
model estimated the relationship between these 14 brand
love prototype components, the antecedent of high quality,
and the consequence of L/ WOM/R. These models fit well,
with each of our first-order brand love components relating
positively and significantly (p< .01) to each of these two
constructs (high quality and L/WOM/R) but none at levels
high enough to threaten discriminant validity.
Comparison of mean levels. Mean differences were esti-
mated between the high and low love samples using multi-
ple groups measurement models. Confirming the results of
Studies 1 and 2, the high-love-brand factor means were sta-
tistically higher (at p< .01) than the low-love-brand means
on all components, with the smallest difference on attitude
strength 2. Another such test showed that the high-love-
brand factor means were also statistically higher than the
low-love-brand means on high quality and on L/WOM/R.
Structural equations modeling of a hierarchical, higher-
order brand love prototype. In the spirit of the grounded
theory–building objective underlying this project, we next
explored the data using a hierarchical, higher-order struc-
tural model. We examined the factor correlations among the
components estimated previously in our first-order models
to determine which components might be grouped together
as parts of higher-order factors and, where the empirical
correlations we observed also made conceptual sense, to
combine closely related conceptual components of brand
love uncovered in our prior qualitative Studies 1 and 2.
We observed that the following three groupings corre-
lated with one another at levels that were (mostly) higher
than with other subcomponents: (1) passion-driven behav-
iors (willingness to invest resources, passionate desire to
use, and things done in the past [involvement]), (2) self–
brand integration (life meaning, desired self-identity, current
self-identity, and attitude strength 1 [frequent thoughts]),
and (3) positive emotional connection (a sense of “intuitive
fit” with the brand in which it feels “just right,” the extent
to which the respondent feels emotionally attached or
bonded to the brand, and the extent to which consumers
have specific positive feelings [e.g., contentment, fun] con-
nected with it). These correlation patterns were very similar
Brand Love / 9
in the high and low brand samples.5We modeled these
three groupings as three second-order constructs. The four
other (first-order) factors in this higher-order structural
model were the remaining components that did not cluster
in this manner. We depict these factors in Figure 1 and
describe them in more detail in Table 1. Following emerg-
ing interpretations of formative versus reflective measure-
ment and recent recommendations in consumer research
and psychology (Bagozzi 2011), we represent the brand
love prototype using reflective indicators of hierarchical
organized factors. The three second-order factors and four
first-order factors all loaded on a single third-order factor,
which we labeled “brand love.”
Then, we estimated this empirically driven but conceptu-
ally justifiable hierarchical structure of the brand love proto-
type. Relationships from the third-order brand love factor to
the seven underlying brand love factors (three second-order
and four first-order), and from them to their subcompo-
nents, are all strong, positive, and significant, as hypothe-
sized (see Figure 1 and Table 2). All composite indicators of
the seven latent constructs also fit well and as hypothesized.
Nomological validity. A follow-up model estimated the
relationship between this higher-order “core” brand love fac-
tor and the two other constructs conceptualized as antecedents
(high quality) or consequences (L/WOM/R). These models
fit well for both high and low brand love. In them, the dis-
attenuated correlation coefficients showed that our higher-
order brand love factor was indeed related positively and sig-
nificantly (at p< .01) to each of these two other constructs,
but none so highly that it threatened discriminant validity.
Measuring brand love as a single, unitary construct
versus a multicomponent prototype. Managerially and theo-
retically, it should be more helpful to measure the individ-
ual components of the love prototype separately if the pur-
pose is to understand all the options available for increasing
love for a brand. Nonetheless, it could still be asked
whether our multicomponent brand love prototype adds
predictive value over a summatory, single-factor measure of
overall brand love. In our questionnaire, we also asked
respondents to rate the degree to which they loved the brand
in question in an overall sense: (1) “Overall, how much do
you love [Brand]?” (1 = “not at all,” and 10 = “very
much”), and (2) “Describe the extent to which you feel love
toward [Brand]” (1 = “not at all,” and 7 = “very much”). We
used these items as separate indicators of a summatory
measure of overall brand love. Confirmatory factor analy-
ses (details omitted for brevity) show that the two indicators
for overall brand love had high, positive, and significant
loadings on the factor of .79 and .82 and average variance
extracted and composite construct reliability statistics of .71
and .83; furthermore, the overall brand love latent factor
had strong and positive (.84–.95), but significantly below
1.0, correlations with both our first-order and higher-order
brand love factor models.
4Thus, in cases in which the latent higher-order construct con-
sisted of more than one first-order component of the brand love
system from Studies 1 and 2 (e.g., self–brand integration com-
bined current self-identity, life meaning, and desired self-identity),
two separate composite indicators captured each conceptual com-
ponent. In cases in which the conceptual component from Studies
1 and 2 matched up with a single first-order latent factor (e.g.,
anticipated negative affect), its items were randomly split into two
composite indicators.
5The only statistically significant difference across them was
that while attitude strengths 1 and 2 correlated strongly (.56) in the
high brand love sample, this correlation was much weaker (.12) in
the low brand sample.
Comparative Predictive Models
Therefore, we tested the comparative predictive power of this
overall brand love factor, versus our brand love prototype
higher-order factor, in explaining and predicting L/ WOM/
R.6Table 3 presents the models estimated here, with the key
10 / Journal of Marketing, March 2012
R-square statistics (in explaining brand loyalty/ WOM) and
fit statistics.
First, we estimate Model 1 as a baseline, which is typi-
cal of conventional attitude models in marketing that rely
on the brand’s perceived high quality to drive L/ WOM/ R.
High quality alone significantly predicts brand loyalty/
WOM (standardized coefficient .41, p< .01, R2 =.17). Next,
we estimate Models 2a and 2b, in which brand love, and
nothing else (not even high quality), directly predict L/
WOM/ R. In Model 2a, overall brand love significantly pre-
dicts L/ WOM/ R (standardized coefficient = .65, p< .01, R2=
6We also estimated predictive models using our first-order
factor model. However, because of extensive collinearity across its
14 components, the individual path coefficients predicting brand
loyalty/ WOM were not usable. Therefore, we do not discuss these
first-order predictive models further.
FIGURE 1
Higher-Order Brand Love Factor Model
Notes: The specific items for each indicator for each construct are not shown here for simplicity, but they are listed in Table 1.
Passionate Desire to Use
Willingness to Invest Resources
Things Done in Past
(Involvement)
Desired Self-Identity
Current Self-Identity
Life Meaning
Attitude Strength 1:
Frequent Thoughts
Intuitive Fit
Emotional Attachment
Positive Affect
Long-Term Relationship
Anticipated Separation Distress
Overall Attitude Valence
Passion-Driven Behaviors
Self–Brand Integration
Positive Emotional Connection
Brand Love
Attitude Strength 2:
Certainty/Confidence
More Abstract More Concrete
.42). In Model 2b, our higher-order brand love factor also
significantly predicts loyalty/WOM/resistance, but at a
much higher level (standardized coefficient = .78, p< .01,
R2= .61). Note that because we are making comparisons
only between models with the same number of variables, it is
appropriate to compare these raw statistics with each other.
Next, Models 3a and 3b use both high quality and brand
love together, to predict L/ WOM/ R, with high quality pre-
dicting brand love as well (see Table 3). Model 3a uses over-
all brand love and significantly predicts L/ WOM/ R (stan-
dardized coefficient = .55, p< .01, R2= .47). However,
again, when we use the higher-order brand love factor
Brand Love / 11
instead of the overall brand love factor (Model 3b), it not
only significantly predicts L/ WOM/ R (standardized coeffi-
cient = .73, p< .01) but also produces a notably higher R-
square of .63 (compared with .47 for Model 3a). To summa-
rize, these comparative model tests show a noticeable
improvement in the ability to predict brand loyalty, WOM,
and resistance to negative information, by using the multiple-
component higher-order brand love prototype as opposed to
a summatory overall brand love measure.
High- versus low-brand-love structure and relationships.
Previously, we analyzed the data about brands that each
respondent reported either loving or coming as close to love
TABLE 2
Path Coefficients of Higher-Order Structural Models
High-Brand-Love Sample Low-Brand-Love Sample
(n = 187) (n = 187)
Brand love ÆEnduring passion .96 .99
Brand love ÆSelf-brand integration .83 .90
Brand love ÆLong-term relationship .59 .72
Brand love ÆPositive emotional connection .99 1.00
Brand love ÆAnticipated separation distress .55 .54
Brand love ÆOverall attitude valence .60 .65
Brand love ÆAttitude strength 2 (certainty/confidence) .62 .19
Enduring passion ÆWillingness to invest resources .70 .79
Enduring passion ÆDesire to use .79 .83
Enduring passion ÆThings done in past .65 .69
Self-brand integration ÆLife meaning and intrinsic rewards .80 .76
Self-brand integration ÆDesired self-identity .74 .66
Self-brand integration ÆCurrent self-identity .90 .92
Self-brand integration ÆAttitude strength 1 (talk/think frequently) .85 .92
Positive emotional connection ÆIntuitive fit .84 .90
Positive emotional connection ÆEmotional attachment .82 .90
Positive emotional connection ÆPositive affect .78 .63
Model Fit Statistics
2(333) 640.67 847.14
p< .01 .01
RMSEA .075 .094
NNFI .97 .96
CFI .98 .97
SRMR .081 .069
TABLE 3
Predictive Model Statistics
R2for Brand Loyalty
High Love (n = 187) Low Love (n = 187)
1 High quality Loyalty/WOM/resistance .17 .17
2a Overall brand love Loyalty/WOM/resistance .42 .52
2b Higher-order factor brand love Loyalty/WOM/resistance .61 .63
3a High quality Loyalty/WOM/Resistance .47 .55
Overall brand love
3b High quality Loyalty/WOM/Resistance .63 .65
Higher-order factor brand love
Notes: Model Fit Statistics: Model 1: 2(1) = .041 (1.01), p= .84 (.32), RMSEA = .002 (.004), NNFI = 1.00 (1.00), CFI = 1.00 (1.00), SRMR =
.003 (.001). Model 2a: 2(1) = 2.15 (.31), p= .14 (.58), RMSEA = .078 (.00), NNFI = .97 (1.00), CFI = 1.00 (1.00), SRMR = .02 (.01).
Model 2b: 2(387) = 752.96 (1020.60), p= .00 (.00), RMSEA = .076 (.097), NNFI = .97 (.96), CFI = .98 (.96), SRMR = .084 (.074).
Model 3a: 2(6) = 4.82 (6.47), p= .57 (.37), RMSEA = .0003 (.02), NNFI = .99 (1.00), CFI = 1.00 (1.00), SRMR = .022 (.026). Model 3b:
2 (444) = 882.29 (1152.55), p= .00 (.00), RMSEA = .078 (.096), NNFI = .97 (.96), CFI = .97 (.96), SRMR = .089 (.078).
as possible (hereinafter, “high love brands”). In this section,
we compare these high love brands with low love brands,
which are brands that each respondent provided in response
to a question asking for a brand toward which they felt
“mostly neutral about, instead of loved.” In our data, while
respondents reported significantly lower levels of love for
this second brand than they did for the first brand (on a ten-
point “how much you love it” item, the first had a mean of
7.39 and the second brand a mean of only 3.76, p< .001),
even for this second brand, 80% of respondents reported
levels of love greater than 1 (“not at all”). Thus, we refer to
the second group as brands that are low in brand love rather
than neutral brands.
Structure. For both our first-order and hierarchical mod-
els, the structural models that fit our high-brand-love data
also fit our low-brand-love data (n = 187) well, and all but
two latent construct indicators again fit well and as hypothe-
sized in the low-brand-love data. The exceptions were one
item of positive affect and one of attitude strength (No. 2).
Multiple-group tests showed that the model testing the
equality of factor patterns across the high- and low-brand
data samples—but allowing for just these two indicators to
vary in their loadings—could not be rejected. Thus, an
important finding from our modeling is that the relationships
from the brand love factor to the underlying factors and sub-
components for low brand love are very similar (with the
exception of two loadings) to those obtained for high brand
love and that the structure of the brand love prototype does
not appear to be different across high and low love brands.
Relationships. In almost all our models, the structural
relationships among the brand love prototype components,
the antecedent of high quality, and the consequence of
L/WOM/R were very similar, with three exceptions. First,
when we modeled the relationships between the antecedent
of high quality and the brand love components in the first-
order model, we found a significant difference in the rela-
tionship of high quality with passionate desire to use, across
the high- (low-) brand-love samples, which was .30 for low
brand love but .12 for high brand love. That is, a passionate
desire to use the brand was related to high quality much
more for less-loved brands than for highly loved ones.
Second, in the third predictive model (see Table 3), in
which we used both high quality and brand love together to
predict brand loyalty/WOM, we found that the direct path
from high quality to L/WOM/R was not significant for high
brand love but was significant for low brand love. High
quality had a standardized coefficient into brand love of .46
for high brand love (and .40 for low brand love) and into
L/WOM/R of .12 (n.s.) (direct = .13, p< .05). Importantly,
while these last two path coefficients appear to be very
close, formal chi-square tests revealed that they were actu-
ally significantly different at p< .05. Thus, for high brand
love, the higher-order brand love prototype mediates all the
effects of high quality on L/WOM/R; for low brand love,
there are both direct and indirect effects.
Finally, for Model 3b results (also Table 3), which com-
pares the path coefficients in the model for high versus low
12 / Journal of Marketing, March 2012
brand love, while these path coefficients were mostly simi-
lar, they differed for the path from brand love to attitude
strength 2 (certainty/confidence) at .66 high (.18 low).
However, we could not perform a formal test of this differ-
ence, because two factor loadings for these two factors are
significantly different for the two samples. We can claim
statistically that the loading of attitude strength 2 on the
higher-order brand love factor is significantly higher in the
high-brand-love sample than in the low-brand-love sample.
We return to this result in the “General Discussion” section.
General Discussion
Theoretical Contributions
We began this article by pointing out that although brand
love had recently emerged as an important concept among
both practitioners and academics, theoretical progress has
been hampered by (1) the substitution of a literature review
on interpersonal love for the basic exploratory research on
brand love needed to lay a solid foundation for future work,
(2) the failure to distinguish between the love emotion and
the longer-lasting and more complex love relationship, and
(3) the nonutilization in the brand love domain of the now-
accepted prototype approach to identifying and defining
different types of love. Therefore, using a grounded theory
approach, we conducted two qualitative studies that uncov-
ered ten consumer-experienced features of the brand love
prototype. Then, we sorted these features into an antecedent
(perceptions about great quality/qualities), the core of brand
love, and consequences of brand love (brand loyalty, posi-
tive WOM, resistance to negative information, and willing-
ness to pay a price premium) (see Table 1). Thus, our work
builds on prior research by taking constructs that had previ-
ously been studied independently and showing that brand
love can function as an integrated framework for investigat-
ing how they work together. Our qualitative studies also
show that research on brand love that is derived directly
from theories of interpersonal love tends to overlook the
crucial issues of how loved brands become part of the con-
sumer’s identity and provide intrinsic benefits. However,
this does not mean that it is inappropriate to use the inter-
personal relationship literature as a source of hypotheses, or
even as supporting evidence, for research on consumer–
brand relationships.
In Study 3, we continued in the spirit of the grounded
theory study of the brand love prototype to a quantitative
measurement of these brand love prototype features, fol-
lowed by a structural equations modeling analysis of these
data. We estimated both first-order and higher-order repre-
sentations of brand love that are useful for managerial
analysis and action. Predictive models using the higher-
order model showed that it predicts brand loyalty, WOM,
and resistance to negative information better than a simple
overall measure of brand love.
Thus, through this programmatic set of studies, we
show that in terms of maximum theoretical and explanatory
power, the phenomenon of consumer love for a brand is
modeled with much more richness and diagnostic insight,
for both highly loved and less loved brands, when using a
prototype conceptualization that includes seven distinct ele-
ments: (1) passion-driven behaviors reflecting strong desires
to use it, to invest resources into it, and a history of having
done so; (2) self–brand integration, including a brand’s abil-
ity to express consumers’ actual and desired identities, its
ability to connect to life’s deeper meanings and provide
intrinsic rewards, and frequent thoughts about it; (3) positive
emotional connection that is broader than just positive feel-
ings, including a sense of positive attachment and having an
intuitive feeling of “rightness”; (4) anticipated separation
distress if the brand were to go away; (5) long-term rela-
tionship, which includes predicting extensive future use and
a long-term commitment to it; (6) positive attitude valence;
and (7) attitudes held with high certainty and confidence.
We believe that our higher-order prototype model adds
value over the individual study of its included components
in several ways. First, it leads to a much more comprehen-
sive and integrated understanding of how consumers actu-
ally experience brand love than the prior academic study of
its individual components, as stand-alone theoretical con-
structs, would suggest. Second, by showing how survey
data on these prototype elements can be collected and mod-
eled structurally, it demonstrates how more lower-level,
concrete subcomponents can be used to influence higher-
level and more abstract consumer perceptions. For example,
it shows three pathways through which consumers might
develop a stronger emotional connection toward a brand:
the association of the brand with various types of positive
affect, the sensing of an intuitive fit with it, and the devel-
opment of an “old friend”–like bond with it. Third, it allows
for the situationally varying assessment of which compo-
nent or subcomponent might have the strongest impact
(weight) on the overall strength of felt brand love. For
example, in our data on consumer electronics, structural
model coefficients were highest for positive emotional con-
nection (.99), passion-driven behaviors (.96), and self–
brand integration (.83), and much lower for separation dis-
tress (.55), long-term relationships (.59), overall attitudes
(.60), and attitude strength 2 (.62). Such diagnostic insight
is useful theoretically and managerially.
It is important to note here that our structural and mea-
surement models for highly loved and less-loved brands did
not differ significantly (only two measurement loadings
were not invariant), with two significant exceptions. We
found that attitude strength 2 (attitudes being held with
greater certainty and confidence) had significantly higher
loadings on higher-order brand love for more-loved brands
than less-loved ones. This is theoretically reassuring,
because more-loved brands with which consumers have
more, and more direct, interactions indeed should have
stronger (not just more positive) attitudes (e.g., Krosnick et
al. 1993). We also found that beliefs about high quality of
the brand were a significantly weaker contributor to
L/WOM/R for more-loved brands than for less-loved
brands. Again, this makes theoretical sense because for
more-loved brands, aspects of brand love such as self–
Brand Love / 13
brand integration and positive emotional connection should
have relatively more influence.
Managerial Implications
The key managerial question is how brand managers can
turn merely liked brands into loved brands and maintain
that relationship over time. To repeat, our hierarchical
model can assist managers in showing how more lower-
level, concrete subcomponents can be targeted—through
product and service design and marketing communica-
tions— to influence the higher-level and more abstract con-
sumer perceptions that shape a consumer’s feeling of brand
love. We discuss some of these ideas next. Furthermore, a
manager with budget constraints needs to know which path-
ways and mechanisms to emphasize to maximize the return
on investment of brand-love-increasing efforts. The path
coefficients of the components in our higher-order model
(Table 2) are higher for some (i.e., enduring passion, posi-
tive emotional connection, and self-brand integration) than
for others (i.e., anticipated separation distress and long-term
relationship), indicating the likely greater salience and
importance of the former in creating brand love. However,
our model estimates also showed that highly loved brands
had higher means than less-loved brands on all the elements
of the brand prototype factors. This suggests that all the ele-
ments represent potential pathways to build brand love,
subject to category- and brand-specific opportunities and
constraints, some of which managers might not have ade-
quately appreciated before:
1. Facilitate passion-driven behaviors (reflecting strong
desires to use the brand, to invest resources into it, and to
interact frequently with it). The need to create a strong
desire to use the brand suggests the need to employ design
and packaging techniques that have been shown to create a
strong hunger-like, visceral sense of desire (e.g., Belk, Ger,
and Askegaard 2003; Norman 2004). Creating the need to
invest resources (of both time and money) into, and to inter-
act frequently with, the brand suggest the use of ways to
encourage (or even require) accessorization and personal-
ization, in enjoyable ways. Examples include Scion cars,
which encourage owners to choose not only colors and
sound systems but also armrests, interior lights, steering
wheels, wheels and wheel covers, sport mufflers, and so on.
From a product/service design perspective, it suggests cre-
ating more modular mix-and-match type product platforms
and/or more software or service layers on top of the hard-
ware, which invite such personalization.
2. Build brands that symbolize or facilitate self–brand inte-
gration, including not only the usual aspects, such as a
brand’s ability to express the consumers’ actual and desired
identities, but also the ability of brands to connect to what
we refer to as life’s deeper meanings and important values.
Furthermore, respondents told us that while their loved
items provided them with a wide range of benefits, the
delivery of intrinsic rewards was a key factor that set
strongly loved brands apart. Previous results from the inter-
personal love domain (Seligman, Fazio, and Zanna 1980)
also suggest that love differs from liking by having more of
the rewards tied to intrinsic rather than extrinsic benefits. If
this is an important way in which love for a brand differs
from liking for it, it seems that more-loved brands are those
that are especially successful in linking themselves to a
consumer’s sense of self-identity and giving life “mean-
ing,” by connecting to some life aspects considered inher-
ently important—possibly by linking credibly to social bet-
terment (through corporate social responsibility campaigns)
or to deeply held individual values (e.g., individual creativity,
frugality and simplicity). Marketing communications could
attempt to emphasize intrinsic benefits (e.g., happiness) over
extrinsic ones (instrumental) or even to reframe the latter as
the former. Other activities and domains with which the tar-
geted consumer segment feels a strong sense of identity-
related involvement (e.g., sports, as is currently being lever-
aged by Samsung in its NFL partnership; the environment)
can also strongly contribute to a consumer’s sense of self-
identity, and brands that credibly come to symbolize such
self-identifying values can become strongly loved brands.
3. Create positive emotional connections with the brand. This
is broader than just positive feelings; it includes a sense of
attachment (“old friend,” bond) and an intuitive feeling of
rightness about the brand. This may be achieved by endow-
ing the brand with a sense of authenticity from its origin
and history, the vision of its founders, and its corporate cul-
ture, so that the brand buyer feels a sense of kinship about
it. In the interviews, brands that seemed to come from the
heart of their producers had a much easier time finding a
place in the hearts of their consumers. Examples include
Patagonia (with founder Yvon Chuinard) and Body Shop (by
Anita Roddick). The needed sense of emotional attachment—
the brand feeling like an old friend and the building of a
bond with it—could also be developed through the creation
of active and tightly knit brand communities, such as that of
Harley-Davidson, and brand presence at emotionally mean-
ingful events such as music festivals or NASCAR races.
4. Brands that become valuable and trusted resources, as
sources of expertise and advice, are possibly most able to
create and leverage a feeling of anticipated separation dis-
tress if the brand were to go away. Examples include Tide’s
stain-fighting website or Kraft’s recipe website.
5. A sense of long-term relationship with the brand going for-
ward could be created by loyalty programs— though these
should emphasize intrinsic over extrinsic motives and
rewards—and by marketing programs for brands that
require frequent and ongoing, rather than one-shot and ini-
tial, updating and interaction. Examples might include
“brand community” Facebook pages for brands (e.g., those
of Coca-Cola) that incentivize frequent visits, dialog, fre-
quent reading and input of content, and so on.
Taken together, our multiple uncovered-and-modeled
features of the brand love prototype build on and extend
prior marketing research focusing on attachment (Thomson,
MacInnis, and Park 2005) and actual, or aspired-to, self-
identity (Escalas and Bettman 2005). We believe it is no
coincidence that the Apple iPod was the brand most often
rated by our respondents as their highest-loved consumer
electronics brand: It exemplifies many of the components
of brand love identified in this research. The iPod (and
iPhone) product is all about personalizing the consumer’s
music and other selections such as applications. This per-
sonalization requires substantial investments of time and
effort and frequent interactions. And what could be more
reflective of a person’s authentic self-identity, and arousing
of passion, than one’s choice of music, which reflects
deeply held life values and connects the user with others
with similar musical tastes (Larsen, Lawson, and Todd
14 / Journal of Marketing, March 2012
2009)? It is also noteworthy that the iPod’s industrial design
(the simplicity of its click-wheel mechanism and menu navi-
gation) is likely to promote a sense of natural and intuitive
fit.
Almost all (89%) respondents in Study 2 reported truly
loving at least one brand. However, the brands consumers
really love are likely to be a small minority of the total
brands they purchase. Can our new understanding of brand
love also be relevant for more mundane brands? Although
this question requires further study, our findings suggest
that brand love may indeed be a useful construct in many
situations. Even after directing respondents to select a brand
they felt “mostly neutral about, instead of loved” and allow-
ing respondents to choose any consumer electronics brand
they wished that met this criterion, 80% of respondents still
reported feeling some love for these brands. This suggests
that love is a continuous variable with a broad positive
range and that even brands that not usually thought of as
loved may potentially possess enough features of the love
prototype for our brand love model to be applied to them.
This conclusion is strongly supported by the finding that
our brand love models were similar for both high and low
love brands and effectively predicted brand loyalty, WOM,
and resistance to negative information for both low and
high love brands.
Limitations and Further Research
More work is needed to determine how the components of
brand love identified here interact with one another. In par-
ticular, further conceptual and empirical work is needed to
more definitively assess the role of attitude valence and atti-
tude strength within the brand love prototype.7Further-
more, just as there are different types of interpersonal love
(e.g., parental, romantic, sexual), there might be different
types of brand love. Experimental research manipulating
the features of the brand love prototype would complement
our cross-sectional research, helping to more unambigu-
ously establish causal directions. Longitudinal research on
the temporal development—and possible waning— of brand
love would also be very useful. Our candidate measures for
willingness to pay higher prices, as an outcome of brand
love, were not effective in Study 3, suggesting the need for
better measures. Research is needed to broaden the general-
izability of our findings to other types of consumers and
categories, particularly durables and services. Although
Study 1 examines love for consumption activities, not just
brands, further study is needed of the extent to which our
findings apply to other branded objects and possessions.
Given the increasing importance of brand love to marketing
theory and practice, our current contributions are only a
beginning, and a great deal of work remains.
7Although not reported in this article for reasons of space, we
also estimated structural equation models treating attitude valence
as a covariate and attitude strength as a consequence. Our conclu-
sions regarding the explanation and prediction of brand loyalty/
WOM by the other brand love prototype components remained the
same.
Brand Love / 15
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