When a brand dies, so does the consumer community that loves it

A new US study in the Journal of Consumer Research that examines consumer behavior surrounding the death of a brand, suggests that when a brand dies, the community that loves it dies too.

While a lot of research has been done on “consumption collectives” – the consumer communities, tribes and subcultures that form around brands – there hasn’t been much investigation of what happens when a brand dies.

The authors of the study, When Narrative Brands End: The Impact of Narrative Closure and Consumption Sociality on Loss Accommodation, Cristel Antonia Russell, Assistant Professor in the Department of Marketing at American University, Washington DC, and Hope Jensen Schau, Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of Arizona, write:

“Consumer researchers have thought a lot about what a consumption collective is and how they are formed and maintained, but have not worked extensively on what happens when they dissolve.”

“Our research contributes to understanding what happens to a consumer collective when the focus of the community is extinguished.”

When a narrative brand dies do consumer collectives dissolve?

The authors were interested in how consumer collectives dissolve when “narrative brands” come to an end.

Popular TV series are archetypal examples of narrative brands, and the study authors have spent ten years studying how consumers respond when shows like The Sopranos and All My Children come to an end.

For this latest study they drew on narrative theory, brand relationship theory, and basic research on interpersonal loss to document how consumers accommodated the loss of their favorite shows.

Their methods included participant observation, interview and online forum analysis.

They found that when a brand still had more to give, the loss was greater and harder to accept than when it came to a more plausible end.

However, they also found what is truly lost when a brand ceases is the “sociality” that surrounds it, not so much the brand itself.

Thus, when a brand dies, the community that loved it dies with it.

When members of those communities spoke about the loss of the brand, they used the language of mourning and grief, and the authors noted that the loss of the brand was felt on different levels, including personal, social and cultural.

They conclude:

“Brand managers have long considered issues such as what is a healthy lifespan for a brand, how can firms breathe new life into a dying brand, and when to bring back a dead brand. In the end, consumption sociality may itself be a victim of the brand loss. If a brand is central to a consuming collective, its death may prompt a complete dissolution of the collective or at least alter it in irremediable ways.”