We perceive brands the same way we perceive other people’s faces. That’s the conclusion of a study by Anne Lange and Rainer Höger, which tested 18 well-known brand logos to see how trustworthy we find the companies behind them. The results were compared with a previous study doing the same thing for human faces, and the conclusion was startling.
The study, from the Institute for Experimental Business Psychology at Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany, asked subjects to rate brands (including Coca Cola, Apple, Rolex, Porsche, BP, Marlboro, and Nivea) based on their “intentions to ordinary people,” their ability to implement their intentions, and whether or not the brand “consistently acts with the public’s best interest in mind,” amongst other criteria. They were also asked whether the brands were trustworthy, caring, or dominant. The results were then compared with a previous study that did the same for faces.
The conclusion? “The mechanisms of brand perception and face perception seem to be similar,” say the researchers. “The results of this study enhance the findings of previous research that in many ways brands are perceived similarly as humans.” Faces, it says, are evaluated in two dimensions, like a picture. The researchers postulate that our perception of brands might mimic that of faces because–in our minds–the logos of the act much like faces, i.e., two-dimensional shapes in which we infer personality and intent, similar to how we see faces in all sorts of inanimate objects.
The research was actually carried out to investigate how effective celebrity endorsement might be to a brand, literally putting a face on a company. These results might allow brands to match up their perceived image with a similarly-rated celebrity, or even edge the brands in a new direction through association. “Our results lay the foundation for investigations on how unknown brand faces have an influence on brand personality perception in advertising,” say Lange and Höger.
The study cites figures from Germany that claim “about 67% of a company’s value was constituted by the brand” back in 2005, whereas “mere products and services are perceived as indifferent.” The importance of branding can be seen everywhere, and now we know why. It seems that the same mechanisms we rely upon to rate the trustworthiness and intentions of the people we meet are also triggered by branding. If true, then we are hardwired to shop by brand, even while we try to remain neutral or apply rational thought to our purchases, and that’s a rather scary thought.