Markets, marriages and the pursuit of happiness

Markets, marriages and the pursuit of happiness

“Love is a temporary insanity curable by marriage.” – Ambrose Bierce

Whether or not we agree with the American writer Ambrose Bierce, there is empirical evidence suggesting that love sometimes doesn’t last forever and that in fact since love and romance were introduced into marriage, marriages have become more fragile.

Prior to World War II, divorce was rare. The primary function of marriage was characterised by economic and reproductive reasons, and embedded into traditional values and norms. Marriage was a stable part of a functioning society, independent from individual desires.

Changes began to happen in the 17th and 18th centuries when the Enlightenment thinkers introduced the idea that life was about the pursuit of happiness. With it came the desire to marry for love rather than status, wealth or tradition. By the middle of the 20th century this idea had become ‘mass-market’ and many people who had fallen out of love chose divorce as an option.

In other words: on an aggregated level, love and individual desires can contribute to the fragility of marriages and sway loyalty.

Markets and marriages

In many ways, up until the 20th century, markets were like traditional marriages. The example of the Eastern German Trabbi Car (TRAH-bee) illustrates this: There wasn’t much choice for car owners in post-war communist East Germany other than the Trabbi motor vehicle. This car was slow in production, inefficient and of poor performance, and people often had to wait for several years (!) to receive their ordered car.

The company who produced the Trabbi did so for 30 years, with no significant changes to new models. Customers came and stayed regardless – at least up until the fall of the Berlin Wall. That was when the idea of “love” was introduced.


Source: Old stamp showing the ‘Trabant’ or ‘Trabbi’ (TRAH-bee in English) iconic car from former East Germany.

Since love was introduced and external constraints – be it societal rules, economic constraints, pressure for conformity or limited choice – have decreased, the dynamics around long-term relationships and brand loyalty have changed profoundly.

So, despite the introduction of love into the equation, how can you keep customers long term?

Four tips to encourage loyalty with consumers in times of romance

1. Creating high barriers for customers to switch via the application of various lock-in-strategies is a widely used tactic. From razor blades to coffee capsules to computer and software products – lock-in effects can create loyalty but won’t earn love.

This in turn makes established brands vulnerable to competitors who give consumers more freedom of choice and compatibility (e.g. Apple vs Samsung). In the past, Apple created so much desire through its products and services that their customers happily locked themselves in, which is not easy to do but definitely the recommended strategy.

Interestingly, a recent neuromarketing study has questioned whether Apple can sustain the love and found that consumers feel less confident about its future – although they do not consciously know and articulate this yet. Feel free to get in touch with us to learn more about this study and about how brand attitudes can be predicted.   

2. Second, it is important to speak to consumers’ emotions – rational facts simply don’t suffice anymore. Besides the fact that people seek ever more personal and meaningful (emotional) experiences, it has also been well established now that it is largely emotions that direct purchase decisions, not reason. (Read my former blog about “No emotions = no dollars”.)

3. Loyalty is about being part of a consumers’ pursuit of happiness. “Happiness” of course varies from consumer to consumer. Some strive for a quiet, comfortable life surrounded by family and pets where others seek constant change, excitement and innovations. Others are driven by status, achievement and social distinction. And then of course, there is a whole range of values, lifestyles and personal expressions in between. So it is important for you to understand what matters to your customer and the different groups of consumers you might be going after.  

4. Finally, keep it fresh – doing the same thing for 30 years is probably not a good idea to keep things exciting, at least not when it comes to brand love. Reinvigorating the core emotion of your brand whilst staying true to its personality will keep them married to your brand and falling in love over and over. 

In the words of Mignon McLaughlin: “A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.”

See you next time!

Katharina Kuehn is director of RDG Insights and one of Australia’s leading neuromarketing strategists, specialising in neuromarketing insights and their implications for retail and consumer brands. Contact her by email:



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