The role of love in brand relationships has drawn increasing interest (Ahuvia 1992~1993, 2005; Albert, Merunka, and Valette-Florence 2008; Carroll and Ahuvia 2006; Ji 2002; Kamat and Parulekar 2007; Keh, Pang, and Peng 2007; Shimp and Madden 19’88;Whang et al. 2004; Yeung and Wyer 2005). While the primary focus of this chapter is on love in consumption, we also present a general theory of love that applies across a broad range of contexts, including interpersonal and person-object situations. By presenting a theory that is broad enough to cover many of the basic dynamics of love in person-object relationships, romantic interpersonal relationships, and family relationships, we do not mean to imply that all these types of love are identical. Past research has shown that even within romantic relationships there are many types of love (Lee 1988), so it would be foolish to deny the differences between a woman’s love for her hobby and her love for her husband. But we focus here on developing a theory of love in consumption contexts that is also consistent with the research on love in interpersonal contexts. We leave a detailed exploration of the differences between these types of love to a separate project.
Some readers may question whether the concept of love is really applicable in personobject contexts. Skeptics might argue that when a consumer says “I love __ ,” whether it is football, wine, or whatever, they are simply using the term loosely, in the same way they might say “pass the chips, I’m starving” when in fact they aren’t starving at all.
Thisresistance to the idea that people can love things other than people comes in part fromthe view that love is sacred, and that by applying the term to things as prosaic as shoes,we cheapen and profane love’s character (Ahuvia and Adelman 1993). Hence, examplesof noninterpersonallove that have an elevated ethical or spiritual quality, such as love of. God or love of country, rarely invoke the same skepticism as love of Gucci. Furthermore,we seldom hear the same skepticism expressed about the applicability of nonsacred psychological constructs such as hate to noninterpersonal settings.While we sympathize with the iaea that there is something special about love, considerable data suggests that love is nonetheless a psychologicaJ process that can be applied to people, ideas, activities, and objects. In exploring related topics, numerous consumer researchers have noted the presence oflove in consumption (see Ahuvia 1993 for review).
Working in psychology, Fehr and Russell (1991) asked respondents to list examples of love and found many examples, such as love of work, books, money, art, sports, honesty,animals, nature, pets, country, and others. In looking at romantic love, Marston, Hecht,and Roberts (1986) found that “many lovers employed no relational constructs in their definition of love, but rather used only physiological responses or behavioral actions .. . . (thus indicating) that love need not be conceived in strictly relational terms, evenwhen love is reciprocated.” Finally, although people might use terms such as “starving”or “love” loosely in many contexts, if you asked a person who said “pass the chips I’m starving” if he was literally starving, presumably he would be able to tell you that he was not. This chapter draws in part on data from a larger study that included directly relevant questions about what consumers mean when they say they love something. As will be shown, respondents were able to distinguish between situations where they truly loved something and where they were speaking hyperbolically. More than 70 percent of respondents reported truly loving at least one thing other than a person. This work draws on and integrates past research, but also includes original data from interviews with consumers. The original data were collected as part of a larger study, and other parts of these data have been published elsewhere (Ahuvia 2005). This interview data is used to generate and illustrate a theory of love at a very general level that holds across aide variety of loved objects. Henceforth, we refer to this broad array of things people love including products, ideas, brands, nature, pets, activities, and so on as love objects(LOs). In this way our use of the term LO is different from the psychoanalytic concept of a love object, which generally refers to a person.
The theory presented here was generated using a constant comparative methodology inwhich the theoretical framework was compared to original findings and to findings from past research on interpersonal love and on consumer behavior. Because the research hereemphasizes theory generation over theory testing, the hypotheses will not be presented prior to the discussion of the results.
After a discussion of research’ methodology, results are presented in which the incor-. poration of the LO into the lover’s sense of identity is identified as the core of a larger psychological system of love. We then go on to explore the reasons why consumers want to incorporate objects or other people into their identity, and the processes by which this incorporation takes place.