Psychologists Examine the Fanboy

Examine any internet forum or blogs and their comment sections and you’ll find countless people with a loyalty to one brand or another that get very agitated by any criticism. Now researchers have suggested consumers may effectively be mixing up their own self-image with that of the brand.

A research project involving staff in Illinois, Pennsylvania and Hong Kong, published in ScienceDirect, began by finding whether participants had a strong brand loyalty to particular products or companies, a measure the researchers dubbed high “self-brand connections” or SBC. They then tracked the self-esteem of the participants as the brands suffered good or bad publicity. The research likens the effects of commercial brands on some consumers to the way sports fans live and die by the performance of their chosen team.

According to the results, the higher the SBC, the bigger the drop of self-esteem when the relevant brands did badly. The researchers conclude that this isn’t simply a case of consumers having a strong relationship with a brand, but rather from a psychological perspective the brand becoming an extension of the self. Therefore when a brand does badly, loyal supports feel personally affected and challenged, and in turn more defensive. In effect, they argue, defending a brand is an extension of defending yourself.

I think there’s something to the conclusions, though to me it sounds more like an example of cognitive dissonance: the practice — and resulting problems — of holding two contradictory ideas at once. It’s often been noted that people who make what prove to be bad decisions attempt to play down or ignore the consequences rather than have to admit they chose poorly. In the case of brands, buyers may well be acting defensively and dismissing problems because they don’t want to believe they chose the wrong product.


6 Responses to Psychologists Examine the Fanboy

  1. I've been a Lions fan before I can remember, and as far as I can remember, they've done horribly. So when the Lions lose, oh well, it's the Lions, what do you expect. When they win, it's major surprise. However, being one of these fanboys that are deeply affected emotionally by the success or failure of their product is ridiculious. It's like in Idiocracy, when everyone was a huge fan of Brawndo, because it has electrolytes. Then it turns out its not good for plants, everyone was up in arms. Like PS3 owners loving it for Blu-Ray and better hardware, then having the issues with security. How about loving Xbox online, then being charged for it or not having Blu-Ray.

    So, in truth, who cares about fanboys and their psychological well-being, all fanboys are idiots anyways. If you're that deeply involved with a product, you deserve to be sent into a state of depression, odds are, you don't have much else going for you. Me, I'll continue to worry about things that matter.

  2. "buyers may well be acting defensively and dismissing problems because they don’t want to believe they chose the wrong product."

    I think that describes everybody on the Internet.

  3. "buyers may well be acting defensively and dismissing problems because they don’t want to believe they chose the wrong product."

    I believe that is what they mean when they say the brand becomes an extension of the self. The brand represents their ability to pass judgment.

  4. This smacks of testing whether guys like sex or if water is wet. It's obvious human nature, and in the name of sounding 'scientific' (and like the researchers and their time were worth the money spent on the study), they over-complicate and heighten things like a sensationalist media.

    It's something you care about. Doesn't matter if it's a team, a brand, your car, or your wife (or relative), when someone talks trash about whatever (or whoever) it is that you care about, the natural urge is to defend it. The degree to which you defend it, depends on how much you care about it (or them), how aggressive you are, and how safe/confident you feel in the confrontation (someone might go ballistic online for the mere suggestion that anyone can somehow not like their beloved brand, while shuffling away, tail between their legs after being physically spat on in a bar by some big intimidating guy).

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