Brands construct identities of how we want to perceive and portray ourselves. We buy a brand because it highlights part of our personality. For example, people who buy a football top are aware that it highlights their passion for that team.
But what about brand avoidance? Why do we deliberately avoid certain brands given the choice? There are three types of brand avoidance that occur when we choose to disown a brand:
1) Experiential- where we have tried a brand and it failed to meet our expectation
2) Identity- where the brand image is symbolically dissimilar with our identity
3) Moral- where our belief’s clash with a brand’s values or associations, particularly where that brand poses a negative impact on our society
Experiential Brand Avoidance
Experiential brand avoidance needs little explanation. Remember the time you saw an advert on TV and the product looked so amazing that the next time you went out shopping you bought it? Then you actually tested it and it wasn’t what you expected? This was like the toy Furby for me.
What is interesting to note is that a study found that stores which hold multiple brands are often impacted by the negative experience with the brand bought. For example, TK Maxx sells a range of brands, so if a customer buys a Calvin Klein top from the store and it frays in the wash, TK Maxx becomes the target of unfavourable attitudes. The customer associates the product failure with the store selling inferior products.
Identity Brand Avoidance
Identity brand avoidance is where a person avoids a brand based on one of three reasons.
1) The person dislikes the associations with the brand image. For example, I refuse to buy anything Nike as it represents UK Chavs and trend followers. We aim to buy brands that have symbolic compatibility with ourselves and will avoid brands that portray an image we find incompatible.
2) The person dislikes the lack of authenticity. The brand holds certain generalisations which the consumer finds is not supportive of their personality. For example, I love the Audi A3 however would no longer wish to own one due to the amount of ‘boy racers’ that I now see speeding around in them.
3) The person dislikes the loss of individuality. This is where a brand can become too popular and loses its authenticity. Sporting brands are particularly prone to this dilemma with hardcore sports fanatics. For example true runners will often prefer to buy New Balance, Asics or Mizuno over Nike as they are considered the specialists in that field.
People will often have a desire to protect their sense of individuality rather than buy into a brand that portrays a generalisation. By avoiding certain brands, people a preventing a loss of their own identity.
Moral Brand Avoidance.
Referring to political and socio-economic sets of beliefs, people will avoid a brand if it has any negative moral associations.
For example, Nike has been reported to exploit its non western workers. An interview with over forty people found that Nike was avoided due to its moral implications with their work ethics.
Consumer cynicism and country of origin effect are two emerging themes from moral brand avoidance. Cynical consumers believe that self-interest alone motivates companies. For example, the financial industry giving out bonuses to their employees while the UK Government is lending them tax payers’ money. Consumers distrust the altruistic motives of companies which leads to brand avoidance.
McDonald’s emerged in the study where consumers found that it only introduced salads to recapture the market. Up until people were more aware of food consumption and health, McDonald’s didn’t seem to care that they were selling high fat and salt products. It was only after people have become more conscious that the company has taken action and claimed an interest in our health needs.
Moral avoidance with regards to political ideology is influencing some international consumer’s perceptions where people will avoid a brand for its globalisation. Many of us may be able to relate to this where we prefer to buy our fruit and vegetables from a local store as opposed to a large chain. The belief that we are supporting our local area and resisting global homogenisation makes us feel far better.
Managing Brand Avoidance
There are a few ways to manage brand avoidance. Firstly the company needs to make a genuine adaption of the brand which begins at the highest point within the company. Secondly, the company needs to amplify its perceived quality to consumers to re-engage their lost audience.
If a firm chooses to keep their brand as it is, then it might attempt to create a new set of associations to a sub-brand. This could create an illusion to consumers, that they are selecting a competing brand when in fact both brands are the same company.
A company could establish strong ties with other businesses to alleviate brand avoidance too. For example, Coca Cola have a presence in bars, so even if you choose to avoid them you may have no choice but to buy their product in certain situations.
Finally positive word of mouth could further help some customers to re-evaluate their brand avoidance.