Love - is it an emotion or a brand?

Israel provides a fascinating laboratory for examining how love evolves into consumption.

worried israeli couple (photo credit: AP [file])
worried israeli couple
(photo credit: AP [file])
A country where Valentine's Day is still a relatively new phenomenon, Israel provides a fascinating laboratory for examining how love evolves into an object of consumption. At the same time, February 14 provides an opportunity to examine the flip side of commodified romance - the way in which cutting-edge branding experts now focus on transforming brands into love objects that inspire everlasting loyalty. "Emotions have become a powerful marketing tool, and are produced for us everywhere we turn," said Tami Katz-Freiman, chief curator of the Haifa Museum of Art. "Mixed Emotions," a new exhibition curated by Katz-Freiman, which opens next Saturday, looks at how contemporary culture's preoccupation with extreme and intense emotions, and the ways in which they can be manipulated, plays out in the realm of art. One of the themes of the exhibition, she told The Jerusalem Post, was how romantic love is currently represented in art, given that it has been manipulated as a marketing tool in the leisure and culture industries. "If in the previous century the medium was the message, today the emotional message is the medium," she said. "Take, for example, the international advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi's marketing and advertising manifesto for the twenty-first century - its principle argument is that the winning brand is the one that manages to foster emotional loyalty among consumers." Indeed, during a visit to Israel last month, Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts introduced the holy land to his marketing gospel, appealingly packaged under the title "Lovemarks." The author of a popular book by the same name, Roberts argues that Lovemarks are brands that elicit love and respect, and embody mystery, sensuality and intimacy. "In a world in which numerous products offer the same high level of performance," he writes, "Lovemarks reach your heart as well as your mind, creating an intimate, emotional connection that you just can't live without." One of Israel's own home-grown experts on marketing strategies, however, has recently challenged Saatchi & Saatchi's widely cited branding philosophy. Tel Aviv-based Dr. Dan Herman, an expert in creating competitive advantages, believes in the ability of certain brands to create what he calls a "private monopoly" - which happens, he argues, when consumers believe such brands are incomparable to any other. "Brands that manage to create a monopoly in our hearts do so by creating the feeling that nothing else is the same," Herman told the Post. Herman, however, critiques Roberts's argument that such brands are ones that trigger two seemingly unrelated reactions - love and respect. "The basic problem with this model is that it creates a dichotomy between cognition and emotion," Herman said. "Yet for the past twenty years, research has shown that there is no such dichotomy, and that cognition and emotion are intertwined." One failure of major advertising campaigns Herman noted, is the assumption that by triggering an emotional reaction in consumers, a commercial will create an attachment to a particular brand. He gave as an example a recent Cellcom campaign for mobile phones, which includes heart-warming scenes of families connecting at a physical distance from one another. "Their commercials are appealing and moving, but I don't believe they channel emotion towards Cellcom," Herman said. "It's a basic misunderstanding of emotion to believe that if you cause someone to be moved, they will direct their feelings towards you." Nevertheless, Herman acknowledged, love can be a powerful branding and marketing tool. In his capacity as a consultant for a Russian purveyor of ready-made cakes, he said, he recently advised the company to stage a series of parties in honor of Valentine's Day - which is seldom celebrated in Russia. The company, which produces hand-made cakes made of natural products, was experiencing growing competition from industrially-produced brands, and wanted to modify their production process. Instead, Herman suggested they focus on the fact that their product was "made with love." "By suggesting to them to celebrate Valentine's Day, we connected the theme of love to their product," he said. "We framed their choice of production method and materials as an act of love." It is not necessary to travel as far as Russia, however, to learn how love and branding can live together happily ever after. At the newly-opened American Apparel store on King George Street in Tel Aviv, preparations were underway Monday for a Valentine's Day party on Tuesday night. A US-based clothing company that has acquired a following among trendy, ecologically-aware young Americans, American Apparel's brand appeal is based, paradoxically, on the fact that it seemingly has no branding. "Nobody is supposed to know you're wearing American apparel - the secret is that when you wear the clothes, because of the way they shape and hug your body, you feel a certain way and convey it," said Marisa Katz, head of American Apparel PR in Israel. Tuesday night's party, Katz said, would involve, among other things, freebies such as g-strings for women and see-through shirts for men, to reinforce the company's sexy, provocative image. "We're a company without a religious affiliation and so don't celebrate religious holidays," Katz explained. "Especially in a country like Israel where so much is based on religious holidays, we feel this is a holiday for everybody. It's a day that celebrates love, sensuality and romance - all things that really suit our brand."