Review: Is It Really Love? A Comparative Investigation of the Emotional Nature of Brand and Interpersonal Love

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The way love shown between partners or spouses may soon be no different from the way one feels about their connection to their cell phone. Scientists are researching how the subconscious mind works between interpersonal relationships and brand love. Doctor Tobias Langner lead a two-part study in May of 2015 at the Bergische University Wuppertal, Germany. The study titled, “Is It Really Love? A Comparative Investigation of the Emotional Nature of Brand and Interpersonal Love” tried to figure out whether interpersonal relationships and brand love were sufficiently congruent to support a theory transfer from one field of research to another.

Interpersonal relationship theories are often studied in the application of brand love. Organizations have considered how some consumer group’s brand or object love resembles the qualities of interpersonal love. However, the emotional nature of brand love had not been examined. Dimensional theories are applied to identifying consumer behavior. The study identified two types of emotions: Type 1 emotion is unconscious or subconscious, and Type 2 emotions are consciously experienced. They evaluated how emotions processed through interpersonal relationships and objects or brand likeness.

In the first part of the study, Dr. Langner interviewed sixty undergraduate and graduate students individually, focusing on the nature of brand relationships in comparison to interpersonal relationships. Half of the participants talked about brand relations, and the other half on interpersonal relationships. Researchers ask the participants to rate their likeness towards a brand or person. Then they were asked open-ended questions about the relationship with the brand or persons to identify differences and commonalities in their relations. Coders enumerated the responses from the qualitative information into quantitative data. Interpersonal relationships answers coded as “effective,” and brand relations coded as “emotional reasons.” At the same time, any unsorted information was discussed at the time and allocated accordingly. The answers were given a number value and tallied.

In the second part of the study, a physiological comparison using electrodes measuring body response. Dr. Langner gathered information on the emotional nature of interpersonal brand relationships between couples romantically involved, and who also had individually had a brand they loved they could not live without.

Dr. Langner and their team discovered, “Interpersonal love exceeds brand love.” A participant in the interpersonal study said, “I would do everything in the world for my dad.” Findings in the brand likeness study suggest consumers look at the rational benefits of a brand like quality, price, or performance. Consumers buy brands too, Dr. Langner wrote, “to meet certain demand and receive a particular benefit” and exhibited emotions towards liking or loving a brand. Brand liking and loving displayed positive feelings, but altruism or selflessness was only attributed to those participants who were asked about their interpersonal relationships. Participants attributed brand liking or loving to strong memories with experiences of a brand. In another interview, a participant for a brand said, “I love it (the brand) because it is super!”

The Qualitative findings suggest “high emotionality for brand love, even though its experience was less emotional than that of interpersonal love.” Consumers displayed rational benefits with a favorable emotion towards a brand and “preserved the related items in the best conditions possible.” The results of the physiological study suggest that participants showed arousal towards loved ones higher than that of their love for a brand.

While the hypothesis was rejected in the study, researchers suggested, “Interpersonal relationships exhibit greater emotionality than brand relations … brand love is affective than interpersonal love and liking.” It is important to note, the emotions exhibited in a loving interpersonal relationship are not associated with the feelings associated with the consumer emotions of love or likeness towards a brand.


Langner, T., Schmidt, J., & Fischer, A. (2015). Is It Really Love? A Comparative Investigation of the Emotional Nature of Brand and Interpersonal Love. Psychology & Marketing, 32(6), 624–634. doi: 10.1002/mar.20805