Brands that exude warmth will hit the mark with lonely consumers

By our News Team | 2023

As the problem of loneliness increases around the world, marketers and brand strategists must find ways to portray their brand as ‘warm’.

In a study that gives new meaning to retail therapy, marketing researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada have found that consumers who feel lonely will often turn to brands that exude warmth.

“We found that excluded or lonely people tend to choose warmer brands, because they think these brands will be better relationship partners,” explains study co-author, Professor Kyle Murray.

Brand Strategy

Photo by Marina Shatskikh from Pexels

“The compensation they get from a brand is powerful,” he adds, providing a degree of comfort and “making up for missing human relationships”.

In the study, published in the academic journal Psychology and Marketing, Murray and co-authors Soyoung Kim and Sarah Moore note that 40% of respondents to a 2018 US survey reported feeling isolated some, or all, of the time and that their relationships were not meaningful.

That same year, the British government created a so-called ‘ministry of loneliness’ (under the Minister for Civil Society) to tackle a growing social epidemic with harmful health consequences – estimated to be equal to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

A better brand partner?

To examine the relationship between social exclusion and branding, researchers began by having 130 undergraduate students play a ball-toss video game called Cyberball, which is often used to study ostracism and exclusion. Participants believed they were playing with two or three team members; in fact, those teammates were controlled by the programmer.

One group of participants were never thrown the ball, a condition meant to elicit feelings of exclusion. A second group received passes and therefore were more likely to feel included in the game.

As they left, all participants were offered a choice between two gift bags of appreciation: one with a Tide laundry detergent logo, the other labelled with the cuddly bear of Snuggle detergent.

“The people who were excluded in the game tended to choose the bag with the Snuggle bear,” explains Murray. “They felt the Snuggle bear would be a better laundry detergent partner.”

The research team continued with four other experiments involving hundreds of participants in varying scenarios. Some wrote about their life experiences with social exclusion and consumer behaviour; others responded to their impressions of fictitious ‘warm’ and ‘cold’ clothing brands.

“Across five studies, our findings suggest that socially excluded consumers prefer warm over less-warm brands,” says Murray.

The Snuggle is real

The authors also found self-acceptance played a role in brand preference.

Among those who felt included, the choice between Tide and Snuggle brands depended on how comfortable they felt about themselves. Those who reported high self-acceptance opted more often for Tide, whereas those with low self-acceptance went for Snuggle.

Among the excluded group, self-acceptance made little difference to their choice. Nor did they change their minds when told Snuggle may not clean as well as Tide. Rather, they continued to prefer the warmer, fuzzier brand.

According to Murray, the study’s results offer important lessons for companies designing brands.

“If you can be a warmer, more caring brand, you can actually make people feel better, and that will make them better customers,” he explains. “They’re more likely to be loyal and more likely to choose you.”

“If you’re a colder brand and this trend in increased loneliness continues, you’re going to struggle.”

You can read more about the study ‘Some like it warm: How warm brands mitigate the negative effects of social exclusion’ here.

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    Dr Kin Kariisa

    Group CEO - Next Media

    Dr. Kin Kariisa is an extraordinary force at the helm of Next Media Services, a conglomerate encompassing NBS TV, Nile Post, Sanyuka TV, Next Radio, Salam TV, Next Communication, Next Productions, and an array of other influential enterprises. His dynamic role as Chief Executive Officer exemplifies his unwavering commitment to shaping media, business, and community landscapes.
    With an esteemed academic journey, Dr. Kariisa’s accolades include an Honorary PhD in exemplary community service from the United Graduate College inTexas, an MBA from United States International University in Nairobi, Kenya, a Master’s degree in Computer Engineering from Huazong University in China, and a Bachelor’s degree in Statistics from Makerere University.
    Dr. Kariisa pursued PhD research in Computer Security and Identity Management at Security of Systems Group, Radboud University in Nijmegen, Netherlands. As a dynamic educator, he has shared his expertise as a lecturer of e-Government and Information Security at both Makerere University and Radboud University.

    Dr Kin did his PhD research in Computer Security and Identity Management at Security of Systems Group, Radbond University in Nigmegen, Netherlands. He previously served as a lecturer of e-Government and Information Security at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda and Radbond University in Netherlands.

    Dr Kin did his postgraduate courses in Strategic Business Management, Strategic Leadership Communication and Strategies for Leading Successful Change Initiatives at Harvard University, Boston USA.

    • Other current and previous roles played by Dr Kin Kariisa:
    • Lecturer of e-Government and Information Security to graduate students at Makerere University, Kampala and Radbond University in the Netherlands
    • Director of Eco Bank Uganda Limited, one of the largest banks in Africa
    • Chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters, an umbrella industry association for all Television, Radio and online broadcasters in Uganda.
    • Chairman of Board of Directors of Nile Hotel International, that owns the leading hotel in Uganda, Kampala Serena Hotel.
    • Chairman of Board of Directors of Soliton Telmec Uganda, the leading telecom company in Optic fibre business managing over 80% of optic fibre in Uganda.