Do Relationships Run on Dunkin’?


Monday, October 1, 2018
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Illustration of man and woman

Illustration by Joseph McDermott

You like Coke and Starbucks. Your partner likes Pepsi and Dunkin’ Donuts. Does it matter? More than you might think, according to Danielle Brick, assistant professor of marketing at UNH’s Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics.

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

While the roles that religion, gender and family composition play in close relationships have long been studied, Brick’s research, which focuses on consumer behavior, is a relatively new line of inquiry — and one that’s yielding some provoc- ative results. In one study, which looked at the correlation between brand preferences and happiness in romantic relationships, she found that brand compatibility, or preferring the same brands, can influence happiness more than other traditional forms of compatibility.

“We use brands every day,” Brick says. “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.”

In a different study, Brick highlights a phenomenon she terms oppositional brand choice — an individual’s impulse to choose a brand other than their partner’s known preference as a way to express relationship frustration: You’re mad at your partner, so you buy Scott tissues instead of her preferred Kleenex. Interestingly, Brick finds that oppositional brand choice is more commonly employed in relationships in which there is a power imbalance, and then by the partner who holds less power. And while the strategy may appear passive-aggressive, she says, it seems to work.

Brick’s research also raises questions for industry (to what extent, for example, should firms care if consumers are using their brands out of spite, because they ‘have’ to, or because they actually want to?), but the fundamental goal is to under- stand the factors that influence consumer wellbeing — and by extension, overall wellbeing.

“High-quality close relationships are predictive of many important outcomes such as mortality, depression and wellbeing,” she says. “It becomes important to understand what factors may influence relationships, including consumer behavior, brands and brand choices.”

This article is part of the series:

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