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Brand preference can cause strain on relationships

Familiar brand rivalries like Coke vs Pepsi, Mac vs PC, and Verizon vs AT&T, often target each other in commercials and consumers often pick a team and stick with them. But it turns out that brand preference is more than just a marketing tool, as recent research reveals that it plays a role in relationship compatibility over time as well.

“Brand compatibility” is a novel concept and the focus of the study, “Coke vs. Pepsi: Brand Compatibility, Relationship Power, and Life Satisfaction” which was published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Brand compatibility refers to couples who have similar tastes in brands, and therefore higher satisfaction in the relationship. It might seem like a little thing, something as simple as one partner preferring a different brand of chips, but it’s something that research finds might have more of an impact on relationship happiness compared to shared hobbies or personality traits.

The research found that while big ticket issues like religious differences or differing political viewpoints can create conflict, these are likely to be at the forefront of a relationship, discussed frequently, and may lead to the dissolution of a relationship. But brand preference is one of those little micro issues that over time could grow and cause relationship dissatisfaction.

“If you like Coke and your partner like Pepsi, you’re probably not going to break up over it — but 11 years into a relationship, when he or she keeps coming home with Pepsi, day in and day out, it might start to cause a little conflict. And if you’re the low-power person in the relationship, who continually loses out on brands and is stuck with your partner’s preferences, you are going to be less happy,” said Danielle Brick, a former student from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

The study explained that one of the reasons brand preference could cause a slow burn is due to a power imbalance in the relationship. If you have a lower power level than your partner, he or she may take over all brand buying choices and continue choosing options you are not happy about.

“If you are lower in relationship power and have different brand preferences than your partner, you’re probably going to find yourself stuck with your partner’s favorite brands, over and over again. This could lead to a death-by-a-thousand-cuts feeling,” said Brick.

Putting an emphasis on brand preference and gauging brand compatibility early in a relationship could lead to happier life satisfaction. We live in an age where brands are reaching out to consumers in never-before-seen ways. Buying power for the consumer has also changed over recent years, which means brand compatibility could have more influence on relationship success than ever considered.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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