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Brand loyalty always on a knife edge

Indifference is a feature of consumer attitudes

A sacred cow?
The word brand is almost a sacred one in the eyes of many people in the marketing world. But consumers see things rather differently. Anyone who doubts that might like to consider the negative response to marketing and management gurus who create brands where they have no rightful place, for example in sport or the arts. Soccer supporters bristle when club CEOs try to raise the international prole of one of their sides by referring to it as a brand. Brands are for the business world. Even then, the majority of people are not necessarily sold on brands. The most successful brands might well be the ones that have won over consumers. However, companies would do well to be aware that this consumer relationship with the brand is at best a loose one that can turn sour quickly. Last years Havas Media Brand Sustainable Futures report, referenced in Sara de Dios Lopezs article, carries a stark piece of information for all major companies: if two-thirds of todays major brands were to disappear, most people would not care.

Sustainability
Those that fare better, according to the report, are likely to be the organizations that can show some mutually strong relationship between how meaningful a brand is and its sustainability prole. If companies and the brand are indifferent to the planet, then consumers will be similarly indifferent to them. This chimes with the oft-quoted view that, in future, companies that will ourish will be those which have green credential and pay more than lip service to environmental issues. This can be a difcult trick to pull off, not least because many major companies, from car manufacturers to oil companies, are involved in the creation of products that appear to scream the words environmentally unfriendly. Nevertheless, some big hitters come out well in Havas Medias Brand Sustainable Futures (BSF) Quotient. This metric allows companies to take what de Dios Lopez calls a corporate temperature check of their brands sustainability health over time and across markets and industries. By this metric, Danone, Nestle, Coca-Cola and Unilever come out well. Other good performers among enterprises that might be seen as environmentally and socially damaging are car manufactures BMW and Petrobas Oil, the BSF leader in Brazil.

Getting the message across


The research has identied several key drivers, which can communicate the right message to consumers, making the brand, in their eyes, meaningful. Sustainability needs to be more

DOI 10.1108/02580541111136994

VOL. 27 NO. 7 2011, pp. 5-8, Q Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 0258-0543

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If companies and the brand are indifferent to the planet, then consumers will be similarly indifferent to them.

than ideas and talk of corporate social responsibility, it must be embedded into corporate strategy. Other key points are the need for greater transparency, and initiatives that dont just give people information but empower them to make a difference themselves. Better communications strategies can help, such as that devised by Timberland which, through its Earthkeepers project, is trying to bring together business strategy and social responsibility. PepsiCo, meanwhile, has its Refreshment project through which it giving away millions of dollars for what it calls refreshing ideas to make the world a better place. These are cases by preaching by example. But that statistic of two-thirds indifference to brands is one that even progressive companies cannot afford to forget. Customers who detect contradictions to such policies or failure to follow them through to their logical conclusion could easily nd themselves back among the maligned 66 per cent. If de Dios Lopezs research suggests a certain sophistication among consumers, then a different picture emerges through the work of Salciuviene et al. They examine the effect of brand names in a foreign language on brand perception, and nd that many consumers are impressionable enough to be swayed by foreign names in brands. The research was conducted by questioning 240 leisure travelers who were making journeys from two airports at different times of day. They were rst asked to rate services on a seven-point Likert scale, depending on the extent to which they saw them as utilitarian or hedonic, i.e. with qualities of pleasure-giving, fun and excitement. Travel insurance and luxury hotels were chosen for further investigation because they represented two extremes. Travelers were further asked which countries had, for them, a hedonic image: France scoring highest, and Germany and the UK lowest. Fictitious brand names were introduced (e.g. Rimohr, Rimore and Rimor) to eliminate the effects of prior knowledge and experience of brands.

Focus on hedonism
Several hypotheses were supported by the research, notably that for utilitarian services, those branded with names in French are perceived as more hedonic. The researchers also looked at issues of incongruence between a brand name in a foreign language, for example where a British product has a French-sounding name. Here again, it was found that services associated with a country that has a hedonic image are perceived as more pleasure-giving and fun. A similar principle emerged in the context of utilitarian services. It was found that an incongruence between the brand names language and the country of origin led to greater consumer preference for those services. The same incongruence also strengthened the perceived suitability of those brand names for those services. The one hypothesis not supported was that women had a greater preference for foreign brand names than men did. The results are by no means entirely the same as those from earlier research. Previously, ndings on whether French and German brand names (albeit products rather than the services investigated here) highlight hedonic and utilitarian characteristics respectively have been mixed. There is no doubt, however, that overall consumers prefer brand names in French, and that these names give utilitarian services a more hedonic aura. And generally, it is true that where France is the country of origin, services are more likely to be seen as hedonic. The warmer associations that France creates in peoples minds could be inuential, as could be the more melliuous nature of the French language compared with English and German. The novelist Anthony Burgess commented that despite the linguistic closeness of English and German,

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British language learners feel more at home with Romance languages such as French, Italian and Spanish. A more prosaic explanation in the context of services, offered by Salciuviene, is that the tourism industry is dominated by large French players such as Novotel and Ibis and positive associations to do with sophistication and pleasure are therefore created in peoples minds. For all that, there is food for thought here for marketing practitioners who might do well to consider greater use of foreign brand names, to create positive associations to the benet of product popularity and sales. Brand names are under re from many sources. Companies will do all they can to legitimately secure a place for their brand as the one of choice, at the expense of rivals. But there are darker forces at work, potentially undermining the big brands. These are the counterfeit brands, through which, for a fraction of the price, consumers are offered (often) a close approximation of the original. It seems logical that the image of luxury brands would suffer from this onslaught, and from a proliferation of cheap products that to the untutored eye might look as good as expensive originals. As W.S. Gilbert put it in The Gondoliers: When everyone is somebodee/Then no ones anybody.

Luxurious brands
However, Hiekes research does not bear this out. Fourteen brands were picked out from the German Best Brands Study (2007), ranging from luxury to well known, with ve imaginary names included to control for random answering behavior. Fifty participants were asked to rate brands on degree of luxury before Dior, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton, all victims of counterfeiting, were chosen for the experiment. This was conducted using 223 students and academic staff from the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich. Each participant joined either a treatment group or a control group to one of the brands. Different tests were used to consider three hypotheses relating to luxury brands and counterfeits. The rst suggested that the existence of counterfeits of a certain brand reduces the perceived level of luxury; the second that copies weaken the customers mental images of the original; the third that overall evaluation of a luxury brand will be lower if the customer is exposed to counterfeits. Only the second of these was supported. A possible explanation lies in the news coverage of piracy, so ubiquitous now that a perception of its pejorative effects on brands has already been built into peoples attitudes. In other words, if awareness of piracy has not made people cynical or wary of brand names already, they will not be swayed by a survey because they do not regard to be as damaging as theorists might believe. It is also possible that people might be willing to buy a counterfeit product without linking it to their attitude to the real thing. They might know it is illegal (or semi-illegal, if they want to justify it by watering down the offence in their own mind) but they do so assuming there will be no harmful effect on the original brand. However, there is a considerable element of conjecture here as the research was looking at attitudes, rather than behavior. It might also suggest something of a consumer love-hate relationship. We might not always be in love with brands certainly the research cited by de Dios Lopez suggests as much but we take them seriously enough to believe that a luxury name does count for something, and it cannot be destroyed by counterfeit attempts at imitation.

. . . generally, it is true that where France is the country of origin, services are more likely to be seen as hedonic. The warmer associations that France creates in peoples minds could be inuential, as could be the more melliuous nature of the French language.

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Comment
This review is based on The age of meaningful brands, by S. de Dios Lopez; Do brand names in a foreign language lead to different brand perceptions, by L. Salciuviene, P.N. Ghauri, R.S. Streder and C. De Mattos; and Effects of counterfeits on the image of luxury brands: an empirical study from the customer perspective, by S. Hieke. As De Dios Lopez acknowledges, peoples concerns about sustainability are real. The interesting question is the extent to which rms, in the long run, can make people truly believe in their socially responsible projects. A rose by any other name might smell as sweet but the research by Salciuviene et al. suggests that consumers are strongly inuenced by what services are called. It is perhaps surprising, however, that more exotic names should be of interest to anyone seeking something as utilitarian as travel insurance. Hieke comes up with some surprising conclusions about the resilience of luxury brands in the face of counterfeits. Its an interesting area for research, but (as she acknowledges) the net does need to be widened as her survey uses people are among the least likely to be overly concerned with luxury brands in the rst place.

Keywords: Brand management, Brand names, Consumer behaviour, Customers, Marketing strategy

References
De Dios Lopez, S. (2010), The age of meaningful brands, Admap, Vol. 45 No. 10, pp. 18-21, ISSN 0001-8295. Hieke, S. (2010), Effects of counterfeits on the image of luxury brands: an empirical study from the customer perspective, The Journal of Brand Management, Vol. 18 No. 2, pp. 159-73, ISSN 1350-231x. Salciuviene, L., Ghauri, P.N., Streder, R.S. and De Mattos, C. (2010), Do brand names in a foreign language lead to different brand perceptions, Journal of Marketing Management, Vol. 26 No. 11, pp. 1037-56, ISSN 0267-257x.

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