Public Release: 

Consumer, meet brand. Brand, meet consumer.

New research explores the role of relationships between people and products

University of Chicago Press Journals

Humans forge relationships with just about everything they encounter: the car you coax up steep hills, that worn pair of shoes you wear on the weekends, and even your stove or refrigerator. But new research from the forthcoming issue of the Journal of Consumer Research finds that these relationships can be both personal or businesslike.

"The results showed that when the relationship with a brand is communal in nature (friendship-like), consumers are faster and more accurate in recognizing broad and generalized features, such as style of a clothing brand; more likely to list these broad features on their own; and more accepting of a brand extension that is only vaguely related to the original product category," explain Pankaj Aggarwal and Sharmistha Law of the University of Toronto.

"However, when the relationship with the brand is exchange in nature (businesslike), consumers are faster and more accurate in recognizing very detailed and specific features, such as particular color or fabric of a clothing brand. They are more likely to list these nitty-gritty features on their own and are less willing to accept a brand extension unrelated to the original product category."

Aggarwal and Law stress perspective: the lenses through which consumers view the world affects our relationships with products. Sometimes we want and benefit from a more personal relationship that has both intrinsic and extrinsic benefits. Other times, a more give-and-take relationship is preferred.

"This research has an important message for practitioners," conclude the authors. "It is not just important to be able to differentiate your brand anymore; it is critical to highlight features that consumers expect in that relationship."


Aggarwal, Pakaj and Sharmistha Law. "Role of relationship norms in processing brand information." Journal of Consumer Research, Dec 2005.

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