Design & Emotion Blog

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Brands, products and emotions

Almost every waking hour we are exposed to brands and products, which have a great impact on our lives. The emotions that are experienced with brands and products are important indicators of future feelings or sentiments towards these brands and products. In addition, brands make us experience products differently, which is illustrated with the blind-folded Coca-Cola versus Pepsi test. Tasting with a blindfold, the participant prefers Pepsi, but starts to doubt when the blindfold is taken away. He had a stronger relationship with Coca-Cola as a brand, which now interferes with his objective preference for Pepsi, based purely on taste.

Coca Cola versus Pepsi Cola

Brand throughout history

To understand the concept of brand in the context of history. It is interesting to see from where it originated. It is said that it found its origin from the Old Germanic brinn-an (to burn), referenced in its definition as an act, means, or result of burning. Cattle, horses etc., were (and occasionally still are) burn marked as a sign of ownership (i.e., identification). Later there was a need to have “burn marks”? that could help to distinguish different products from diverse companies. Later in the twentieth century, brands evolved in psychological differentiators between products and emotional characteristics of brands often got the upper hand over functional characteristics.


The relationship between brands, products and emotions

The concepts brand and product are often used interchangeably (Fennel, 2000). However, it is difficult to see both brands and products separate from each other. Research shows the emotional qualities of brands, but does not often surpass the emotions that are thought to increase product purchase probability (Kotler, 1973) or feelings to investigate advertisements’ effectiveness (Edell & Burke, 1987). The relationship between brands, products and product emotions is not explained. In addition, research has been done to investigate emotions that are elicited by products (Desmet, 2002; Richins, 1997) or emotional responses to products to explain post purchase satisfaction (Oliver, 1993; Westbrook, 1987). Whereas brand research on emotions excludes the product as concept, product related emotion studies have often excluded brand.

When emotions are experienced by using or looking at a specific product consumers might attribute subjective and personal traits to the related brand, which have an important impact on the experienced emotions. Do consumers experience all kinds of positive emotions with the iPod because of its look and feel, or is there instead another factor influencing those emotions and is the brand Apple a significant contributor? If consumers have a positive view on the brand Apple, this will indeed influence their experience of the product iPod.
Thus, designers, marketers and business people need to understand what is underlying to the emotional experiences of consumers. When there is a clear understanding of these experiences, they might be able to anticipate beforehand on expected emotional responses by consumers. Equally, they will be able to understand why some brands make people experience positive product emotions and some do not, mainly because it depends on how consumers view a product as part of the brand.

In this respect I would like to make a differentiation between three different ways that products relate to brands:

  1. The product is a physical manifestation of the brand. The brand influences the way the product is seen by giving the product, for instance, its identity colours, brand name or logo. The typical and perhaps best example here has to be Apple. Apple’s physical presence of the brand identity (logo, rounded-corner-style, and so on) are implemented widely in the product offer, even until the sockets that come with the computers.

    Apple's rounded brand identity

  2. The product is related to the presumed impact a brand has on people or society. Anti-globalists will probably see a product that needs gasoline as an agent of the big multinational oil companies. Therefore, they will most likely not enjoy to drive a car. A product as an agent of brand can also be blamed for some sort of malfunctioning. A brand that is not living up to a consumer’s expectations will have troubles eliciting positive emotions with a new product and a person.
  3. In respect to products that incline people to anticipate the future use or possession, brands play a big role. Often, brands apply advertising or marketing methods to place stereotype users in a situation where they happily use the product. On the other hand, products as events of brand can also symbolise past events. In those cases, the emotions are elicited by remembering the consequences of these past events.

When the relationship between brands and products in respect to experienced emotions is studied thoroughly and understood better, it will make it easier to create long-lasting connections and relationships between people and brands and products. In this, the realisation that the concepts of brands and products are intertwined in respect to emotional experience, is vital.


Desmet, P.M.A. (2002) Designing Emotions. Doctoral thesis. Delft, NL: Technical University of Delft

Edell, J.A., Burke, and M.C. (1987) “The Power of Feelings in Understanding Advertising effects”?. Journal of Consumer Research 14(4): 421-433

Fennell, G., (2000). Product and Brand: Interchangeable Terms? In: R. Keith Tudor, Ernest Capozzoli and Daryl McKee (eds) Advances in Marketing. 183-191

Kotler, P. (1973). Atmospherics as a marketing tool. Journal of Retailing, 49(4),

Oliver, R.L. (1993) “Cognitive, affective and attribute bases of the satisfaction response”?. Journal of Consumer Research 20(3): ­418-430.

Westbrok, R.A. (1987) “Product/ Consumption-Based Affective Responses and Post-Purchase Processes”?. Journal of Marketing Research 24: 258-270

Richins, M.L. (1997) “Measuring Emotions in the Consumption Experience”?. Journal of Consumer Research 24: 127-146

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