Consumers favour “sexy” and honest brands - study

Mark Johnson's picture
by Mark Johnson

A major new study reveals the attributes that UK consumers subconsciously associate with their favourite brands and how these tap into psychological needs. 

Based on a version of the Harvard Implicit Association Test, involving 1,000 nationally representative UK consumers, The Oracle: Bringing emotional reality to data-led marketing has been released today by Brighton-based marketing firm, Brilliant Noise. 

Human needs

This research reveals how consumers are using their favourite brands to tap into four basic human needs; “enjoyment”, “individuality”, “security” and “social inclusion”, recognised by psychologists as constant across all cultures and historical time. 

While the demographic comparisons call into question marketers’ assumptions about how consumers will respond best to brands at each stage of their lives.

Social inclusion and security

Taking the UK population as a whole, brands meeting consumers’ needs for social inclusion or security, by being subconsciously seen as “relevant” and “popular”, or “caring” and “predictable” performed highly. 

Whereas those appealing to individuality by positioning themselves as “rebellious” or “innovative” scored poorly. This is particularly relevant to brands who are trying to appeal to ageing, core and new younger audiences simultaneously.


Sure footed: Popular and predictable brands perform highly among consumers

Over 55s favour “sexy” brands  

Brands that tap into the human need for social inclusion rank highly with consumers aged 55 and over, with those unconsciously associated with being “popular”, “inspiring” or “sexy” making their favourites.

In fact, brands implicitly seen as sexy score higher with this demographic than any other, suggesting an untapped opportunity for marketers playing it safe with older audiences. 

Brilliant Noise said it raises questions such as - Does this mean Saga needs more frisson while M&S is getting it right in its use of Alexa Chung, Twiggy and Helen Mirren?

More predictably the research found this older group also look to brands to fulfil their needs for security, with those seen to be “authentic”, “secure” and “traditional” doing well. 

Compelling tactic

Appealing to the psychological need for individuality only proves a compelling tactic for brands targeting consumers aged 18-34, according to the data. 

This younger demographic is more than twice as likely to be drawn to brands with attributes such as “unique” or “creative” than their elders. 

Younger groups seek honest and amusing brands 

Meanwhile, those aged 35-54 favour brands catering to their needs for security and enjoyment, subconsciously seeing their favourites as “honest” or “responsible”, and “relaxing” or “amusing”. 

In comparison to both younger and older consumers, this middle group is much less likely to use brands to fulfil their needs for social inclusion. 

This confirms many marketers’ suspicion that the trend for overly familiar, informal messaging and in-jokes is often cynically received by this group. 

“Great creative brand work requires an emotional chain reaction: moving from a creative team through production and activation to the brains and nervous systems of real-life customers” said Antony Mayfield, CEO of Brilliant Noise. 

“Marketers may have data on what’s working, but do they know why? 

“Purchasing decisions are influenced by subconscious as well as conscious considerations, so finding out what customers want isn’t as simple as asking. 

“Brands are exploring new data-driven methods, with insight at the centre, yet this has failed to deliver a leap forward in understanding what wins customers’ love, or their loyalty. 

“To inspire marketing strategies and creative that works in the real world, brands need to connect with the emotions of their customers on a deeper level, beyond cold, hard data points.”

Mel Stanley, Head of Marketing and Brand at EDF Energy added: “Digital communications have created trackable, measurable, one to one experiences, which makes it easier to understand who your customers are and how they behave. 

“There’s depth and richness that wasn’t possible before, but you need to be relentlessly curious about what sits behind the data.”

Brilliant Noise commissioned this research as part of regular insight-gathering to inform their data-led marketing strategies and persona-based campaigns.

Digital City Festival 2020

Digital City Festival has launched

Five days of events showcasing the best of digital in the North