Do Relationships Run on Dunkin’?

Marketing professor Danielle Brick studies how brands affect relationships

Wednesday, March 28, 2018
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Assistant professor of marketing Danielle Brick

Associate professor of marketing Danielle Brick studies consumer behavior

You like Coke and Starbucks. Your partner likes Pepsi and Dunkin’ Donuts. Does it matter? Surprisingly, it does, said Danielle Brick, assistant professor of marketing at Paul College.

“Most people aren’t aware that brands and consumer behavior can influence your relationship and vice versa. In fact, these two things can even influence how happy you are,” Brick said.

Until recently, scholarship has focused on how factors such as religion, gender or family composition influence close relationships. Brick’s research focuses on a newer dimension influencing relationships: consumer behavior. 

Brick has explored this theme in a series of papers. For example, she looked at how brand compatibility–having similar brand preferences–within romantic relationships influenced how happy people were. It turns out brand compatibility can influence happiness more than other traditional forms of compatibility. 

“We use brands every day,” Brick said. “Think about what toothpaste you use, what brand of coffee you like, what car you drive, even which toilet paper you use. Couples make hundreds, sometimes thousands, of brand decisions, and if you repeatedly fall on the ‘losing side’ of the argument, you’re going to be less happy.”

Her work also has revealed that individuals may use brands and brand choice to respond to relationship frustration. When people are frustrated in a relationship, they face two conflicting desires: wanting to express their frustration, but not wanting to harm the relationship. This is where the notion of oppositional brand choice comes in.

“Oppositional brand choice is when a person chooses a brand that is opposite to the one that their partner likes. You’re mad at your partner, you go to Starbucks because you know he likes Dunkin’ Donuts,” Brick said, noting that, although this strategy may appear passive aggressive, it seems to work.

In another paper, Brick found that individuals with greater resources were more satisfied with, and got more out of, their relationships with brands. In fact, individuals with more resources actually preferred to interact with brands over other people. 

Although Brick’s research tries to understand factors influencing consumer well-being, it also raises questions for industry.

“To what extent should firms care if consumers are using their brands out of spite, because they ‘have’ to, or because they actually want to?” she said.

In summary, Brick said, “High quality close relationships are predictive of many important outcomes such as mortality, depression and well-being. It becomes important to understand what factors may influence relationships, including consumer behavior, brands and brand choices.”

Photographer: 
Perry Smith | Freelance Photographer

This article is part of the series:

two students, one sitting and one walking, below the sculpture in the UNH Paul College great room
A look at Paul College faculty research excellence