Tests show how consumers choose brands

To what extent are consumers emotionally connected to brands? Richard Colwell explains how the Red C Research Brand Reaction Index can work for Irish marketers

We would all recognise that we do not always make long and hard decisions for every choice we make. Instead, more often than not, we make choices based on our intuitive system 1 mental connections. With this in mind, it is important that brands maximise their ability to be chosen using key mental short cuts or heuristics, such as recall, recognition and reactions.

Firstly, recall. Is the brand easily recalled as a prime category choice? Mental availability ensures that one brand is chosen over another. Recognition is about a brand having strong collateral that sets it out apart from its rivals and makes it easy to choose? Reaction? Does a brand have a positive emotional connection that reinforces it as a reliable choice?

When researching a brand’s strengths and weaknesses, being able to gain some measure of system 1 brand connections is an important factor often ignored by brand tracking analysis. Yes most brand tracking does have some form of mental availability, but there is an argument for taking this further. It really means looking at the three key heuristics in greater detail.

What do we really feel about a brand?

It is more difficult to measure, but equally important. If we instantly feel good about a brand and it creates a reaction, it is far more likely to be chosen than a brand that elicits negative emotional reactions with consumers, or, perhaps worst of all, no reaction at all. Much brand tracking tries to post rationalise this by asking consumers how close they feel to a brand.

Aldi checks out well: Aldi tops the brand list with an emotionally connected score of 65 per cent. When consumers were shown the brand, 65 per cent of them registered some emotion and the result was positive for the German discounter. Colwell says supermarkets emerged well from BRI, with three brands in the top 10, which may be explained by their heavy usage. Frequent usage drives emotional reactions among consumers.

But does it get to an understanding of core emotional reaction to a brand? Consumers may interpret closeness differently. There is evidence to suggest that we might be better off measuring consumers’ core emotional reaction to a brand. The system 1 raw connection working alongside mental availability and good brand collateral drives brand choice.

The Brand Reaction Index TM (BRI) developed by Red C helps understand brand reaction. It   measures a representative and robust sample of consumers system one immediate emotional reactions to over 100 leading brands, to better understand the driver in choosing brands. It provides norms of just how good a brand reaction, both on the macro and micro front.

It offers a league table of brands performance on the key heuristic.

Scientist Paul Eckman identified the seven core emotional states seen in people’s faces. They are sadness, contempt, surprise, happiness, anger, fear and disgust. All of which represent the core emotional facial expressions and many sub-emotions. For instance, happiness covers joy, pleasure and amusement. A neutral emotional facial reaction may also exist.

Using facial expressions and the emotions connected to them, in a time-based analysis of reaction to brands, provides a measure of consumer system 1 connection to a brand. We can show the faces and the emotions linked to them and then present a random choice of brands one at a time. When a brand is shown we ask consumers to explain their emotions.

The reason for time limiting this is to get as close as possible to the system 1 brand metric, rather than any more considered response. We measure a brand’s vital aspects. Firstly, the level of happiness immediately associated with each brand. Secondly, the net level of positive vs negative response. Thirdly, the level of emotional response the brand immediately creates.

The level of happiness is key, as this has been shown in previous studies to closely correlate with brand growth. If happiness levels exceed market share – then all things being equal in terms of spend – the brand is most likely to grow. The fact is that when consumers think of that brand they immediately feel a sense of happiness and this reinforces system choice.

Clearly it is also more desirable for a brand to elicit a positive immediate reaction and not a negative one. So, looking at net positive/negative response is important. If a brand has a good positive, but also a high negative response, the net impact is much lower. Yet it may be better for brands to drive some consumer response, even if negative, rather than no reaction at all.

Of course, emotional reactions change depending on the industry brand. Exciting media or tech brands are more likely to drive a reaction, than brands in a more conservative industry such as insurance. So how do we know if the reaction to our brand is good or not?

Well, we asked ourselves the same question and decided we need to measure consumer brand reaction to a large set of leading brands. We tested consumer system 1 reactions to over 100 brands and some of our initial findings are shown here. The top instinctively emotionally and positively connected brands for Irish consumers in our test are below.


TOP 10 BRI Brands Happiness



Index Score

Total Reaction Score
Aldi 69% 65% 76%
Cadbury’s Dairy Milk 71% 64% 83%
Lidl 71% 63% 82%
Netflix 59% 52% 70%
Boots 54% 51% 60%
Google 56% 43% 71%
Aer Lingus 56% 42% 66%
Twix 52% 42% 68%
Samsung 48% 42% 59%
SuperValu 51% 39% 66%

As can be seen, Aldi tops the brand list with an emotionally connected score of 65 per cent.  It means that when consumers are shown, 65 per cent of them registered some emotion and the net result was positive for the German discounter. It is interesting to see supermarkets doing so well, with three brands in the top 10, which may be explained by their heavy usage.

Heavy usage drives emotional reactions among consumers. Despite Aldi being our top BRI brand, Lidl actually records a higher happiness score, but also receives some negative reactions which drive its net score down. SuperValu also does well to reach the top 10.

Cadbury’s Dairy Milk has a clear positive reaction, helped by the brand’s happiness theme.  Chocolate caramel biscuit Twix also does well to get into the 10. Netflix is the highest media brand listed, with the BBC making the top 20 and RTE in 43rd place. Boots outperforms all the local pharmacy groups tested, perhaps on the back of their loyalty scheme.

Aer Lingus also does well, particularly as Ryanair gets such a poor response from consumers with strong reactions seeing positive scores outplayed by negative brand reactions, leaving it with a -29 per cent net BRI. Google and Samsung also outperform Apple quite strongly, suggesting troubled times ahead for the brand which once was the darling of consumers.

Apple receives mid-ranking levels of happiness, but this is offset by quite high levels of negative emotional response. Brands ranked from 11-20 are as follows, with Dublin Airport performing well, and also all the other main supermarket brands covered. Other brands that make the top 20 include M&M’s, Toyota, 7Up, Amazon, the IRFU and the BBC.


11-20 Ranked  BRI Brands Happiness



Index Score

Total Reaction Score
Dublin Airport 54% 39% 71%
Tesco 49% 37% 63%
M&M’s 46% 37% 61%
Toyota 41% 35% 50%
7Up 46% 34% 62%
Amazon 48% 34% 68%
Dunnes 44% 31% 58%
Marks & Spencer 42% 31% 57%
IRFU 44% 31% 59%
BBC 43% 30% 58%


Some brands get a strong reaction but end up with a negative overall BRI. These include the likes of the Red Bull energy drink, Ryanair and the ubiquitous Facebook. While they will be pleased to get a reaction from consumers, the negative index should undoubtedly be a problem for them and one which each of these brand owners will be keen to overcome.

Others get a very low reaction altogether. These tend to be brands in the insurance, utility and pharmacy markets. Of course, it is expected that these type of brands might not get the same positive reaction as a chocolate bar or supermarket brand, but they can still measure up against competitors to understand how well they perform in their respective categories.

The key from any BRI analysis is to get a strong understanding of how the brand performs against all brands, but, most importantly, against rivals in its market category. The BRI index has between five to 10 brands covered in a range of markets such as telecoms, insurance, utilities, alcohol, gaming, supermarkets, technology, airlines, soft drinks and media.

Driving home positive emotional connections is key to increasing market share, so to understand where a brand sits now is the start of the process for all brands looking to improve their instinctive emotional connections. Those brands with low emotional connections, need to work harder to introduce a more long-term emotional connection to drive growth.

Richard Colwell is chief executive of Red C Research







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