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Brands against loneliness?

29 December 2017 Marie- France Vanheel

Loneliness is the societal issue of the moment. The effect of social isolation on health and longevity has been widely reported. The recent push by the Jo Cox foundation to start a conversation about loneliness has been garnering lots of attention. As has the announcement last week by the UK Prime Minister to create a new Minister for Loneliness position.

Which led us to think – can brands be valuable tools in the fight against isolation? Indeed, the best brands are social ones – they are shareable; they are relatable. They bring people together and they start conversations. But they are no substitute for human interactions – rather they aim to catalyse them.

Taking this to its natural conclusion, a fascinating study by the University of Oregon (published last year in the European Journal of Social Psychology) found that lonely consumers are more likely to support brands with faces on because they have a fundamental need to form and sustain relationships. “Visuals can fill a void for consumers experiencing a lack of social connection,” said co-author Bettina Cornwell. “When people see faces in branding materials, their likeability for that brand goes up.” I guess that is good news for KFC and Starbucks…

But the more important point is around the unifying power of brand ideas – how they can have social, psychological and cultural relevance, not just commercial. The Jo Cox Great Get Together was a powerful case in point; as is Airbnb’s brand mission to create authentic, social experiences based on a brand principle to foster emotional connections. Because brands that make you feel connected to others are the ones that you want to engage with, to be loyal to, and to share. The holy grail for great brands.

 

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