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Research opinion

Brand Hate: Why aren't we measuring it?

You either love Miracle Whip or you hate it. You either love Marmite or you hate it. In a campaign for Miracle Whip, the advertising showed some people praising its taste, where others were less complimentary - with one guy threatening to break up with his girlfriend if she liked the product. The similarity with a Marmite campaign I saw many years ago has an uncanny resemblance...
The yecch of a kiss

A young man brings home a really hot date. They kiss - he is repelled - we then see that there is Marmite on the kitchen table. We assume she had just had some before the kiss. Even the payoff line at the end of the Marmite ad said 'you either love it or hate it'. Did this polarise the audience? It sure did. But if you hate it, what's the point of telling you how great it is? When Marmite XO (the extra strong version) was launched in the UK, they identified only 30 consumers who were devotees of the brand, inviting them to taste testings. They then set up a Facebook group which received 54,000 visits and 300,000 page views. Now I know that counts for diddly squat, however XO sold out on the first day. (1)

Dispersion and polarisation

The technical term for a scale that measures love versus hate is called brand dispersion. The greater the brand dispersion, the more polarised the brand. When we gauge consumer attitudes, we usually measure a net or average score. But that can hide the real picture due to dispersion, because we have merged the scores for lovers and haters. So we don't really know who will or won't vote for us. Say we have brands A and B and we ask people to rate each brand on a scale of 1 (very poor) to 7 (excellent), and we get the following results:

Brand A: 3, 4, 5
Brand B: 1, 4, 7

The total is the same (12) and the average is the same (4). But in A we have a tightly clustered group, and B has one brand hater and one brand lover - it shows substantial dispersion, and is thus a highly polarised brand.

In the Harvard Business Review

In research conducted by Luo et al published in the Harvard Business Review, they labelled consumers who gave a score of 1 and 2 as brand haters and 6 or 7 as brand lovers. These are their results from most to least polarising (this does not allude to profitability neither perceptual brand equity - it just reflects the degree of polarisation. Some brands with a great deal of polarisation do very well - they have a core segment of brand champions): [1]

LoveHateComment on 'hate' component (Mine)
Does not add up to 100% - neutral scores omitted
McDonald's33%29%The sandal and Weet-Bix brigade?
Starbucks30%23%But it's just a cup of coffee!
BP22%19%Piper Alpha incident?
Coca-Cola50%11%Who in the world hates Coca-Cola?!!
Nike44%10%Athletes who lost - sour grapes - blame the shoe
Microsoft47%9%Blue screen of death
Apple46%9%Where's the proxima connection?
Acer14%9%My Aspire has some design flaws, otherwise cool
Intel33%3%The decimal place denial incident?
Amazon56%3%Probably a few deliveries that went wrong (and some retailers).

Taking stock

Also examining the relationship between polarisation and stock market returns, highly polarised brands tend to perform more poorly than others do. But what you lose on the swings, you gain on the roundabouts - the highly polarised brands were more stable and therefore less risky. [1]

Makes sense - if you have some percentage of lovers, you have firm adherents and thus steady sales resistant to market fluctuations.

The birds do it; the bees do it; the ciders do it

In the UK, cider is consumed mostly in working-class pubs. Magners promoted it as a refreshing drink served over ice. This appealed to the hip and happening crowd, who added Magners to their portfolio. Strongbow took a different tack. Although they could have tackled Magners head on, they decided to target the core working-class consumer. In 2009 it launched the campaign "Bowtime: Hard Earned" with working-class people hoisting a glass of Strongbow as a reward for a hard day's work. Although this in turn alienated the hip and happening crowd, this polarisation strategy increased sales in off-trade by 23%. Magners, on the other hand, alienated the traditional core market, and became a summer-only drink. [1]

And we know how long and lovely the summers are in the UK.

There's more to it than meets the 'aye'

However, I think there is more to brand affinity than just discrete measurements. I am reminded of the story of the old Jewish couple who had been married for 50 years but decided they needed counselling to put some spark back into their marriage. When the counsellor asked the wife what was bothering her, she had no hesitation in proclaiming "Oy vay, the way he breathes in; the way he breathes out". We can love someone dearly, yet absolutely hate it when they drink milk straight from the carton.

We can love our bank when we are surprised that the available balance is greater than we anticipated, yet also harbour some resentment when they only want to lend us an umbrella if the sun shines. That's love and hate in the same person for the same brand. This makes the whole process somewhat more complicated. But then target markets are people. And people are complicated.

So your brand might do well in liking/admiration scores, but if you look at the numbers more carefully, hidden within them could be the target market you should focus on - and the target market you should ignore. Or maybe even try and win them over. But if you think the same message will have the same effect on the lovers as the haters, dream on.

Ref 1: Xueming Luo, Michael Wiles, Sasha Raithel. Make the Most of a Polarising Brand. Harvard Business Review, Nov 2013.

About Sid Peimer

Sid Peimer has established himself as one of the great adventurers in the field of strategic planning.
Margaret Matzener
What I hate is the way Coca Cola is defacing our environment and country towns by plastering up to 8 huge adverts all over the outside of a single shop - worse still is they have started painting entire buildings in this horrific red - don't they have any conception of aesthetics......???
Posted on 10 Dec 2013 17:29
Sid Peimer
Thanks for the comment - very interesting point - you've woken me up to the fact that brand hate has a substantial number of attributes. Would be interesting for a company to isolate those factors, as opposed to just seeing low liking scores in their research. I think they sorta are doing it to some degree, but often just segment users/non-users/open to try etc.
Posted on 11 Dec 2013 10:51
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