We perceive brands the same way we look at faces

A new study finds that people assess brands using the same psychological mechanisms they do for appraising faces

 
LIneup of brand-name faces: Colonel Sanders, Starbucks mermaid, Playboy bunny, Pringles chip man
(Illustration by Kagan McLeod)

A recognizable brand isn’t just a helpful symbol to help consumers tell one product from another on a crowded shelf; as any marketer can tell you, a brand is about establishing an emotional connection with a consumer, prompting positive associations that lead to a lifetime of sales. In order to build a strong brand in a competitive market, it is important for advertisers and companies to choose a brand that represents the personality they’re trying to convey to their consumers.

A study from the Institute for Experimental Business Psychology at Leuphana University of Lüneburg in Germany found that people assess brands using the same psychological mechanisms they do for appraising faces. Researchers compared subjects’ reactions to 16 well-known brands—including Coca-Cola and Apple—and 18 computer-generated faces. Participants were asked to evaluate them according to traits such as care, good intentions, trustworthiness, competence and assertiveness. It turns out that subjects appraised brands and faces in the same way: the observer first assesses how trustworthy they feel the brands or faces are, and how well-disposed they are towards them. Then, they try to detect whether they are strong and what their intentions are.

So the next time someone in marketing talks about “the face of the brand,” pay attention: it turns out they’re speaking literally.

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