How Emotionally Connected is your brand? 

Published by: Richard Colwell


Introducing the Brand Reaction Index TM

How do we choose brands?  We would all recognise that we don’t always make long and considered decisions for every choice we make.  Instead, more often than not, we make decisions based on our intuitive system 1 mental connections.

With this in mind it is important that brands maximise their ability to be chosen using key mental short cuts or heuristics, such as Recall, Recognition and Reactions.

  1. Recall – Is the brand easily recalled in context of a choice in its category is key? Mental availability is for most in ensuring that one brand is chosen over another.
  2. Recognition – Does a brand have strong collateral that set out apart from competitors, and makes it easy to choose?
  3. Reaction – does a brand have a positive emotional connection, that reinforces it as a good choice?

When researching a brand’s strengths and weaknesses, being able to gain some measure of system 1 brand connections is an important factor often ignored by traditional brand tracking analysis.  Yes most brand tracking does have some form of mental availability, but there is an argument for taking this further.   The three key heuristics, that help us understand more instinctive brand choices, are important to understand in greater detail.

What about how we really feel about a brand?  This is more difficult to measure but equally important.  If we instantly feel good about a brand and it creates a reaction, it is far more likely to be chosen than a brand that elicits negative emotional reactions with consumers, or perhaps worst of all no reaction at all.

Much brand tracking tries to post rationalise this by asking consumers how close they feel to a brand.  But does this really get to an understanding of core emotional reaction to a brand?  Different consumers may also interpret closeness very differently.

Instead there is evidence to suggest that we might be better aiming to measure consumers core emotional reaction to a brand.  It is this system 1 raw emotional connection, working alongside mental availability and good brand collateral, that drives brand choice.

The Brand Reaction Index TM (BRI) developed by RED C goes some way to helping us understand brand reaction.  It has measured a representative and robust sample of consumers “system 1” immediate emotional reactions to over 100 leading brands, in order to better understand this driver to brand choice for brands across industries.  It provides norms of just how good a brand reaction is, both overall and within industry, and also provides a league table of how brands perform on this key heuristic.

Renowned scientist Paul Eckman first identified the seven core emotional states that can be identified in people’s faces.  These include Sadness, Contempt, Surprise, Happiness, Anger, Fear and Disgust.  All of which represent the core emotional facial expressions and represent many sub-emotions within each.  For instance, Happiness can also include joy, pleasure, amusement, etc.  There is also the possibility of a neutral emotional facial reaction.

Using facial expressions and the emotions connected to them, in a time based analysis of reaction to brands, provides us with a measure of consumer system 1 connection to a brand.  We can show the faces and the emotions connected to them, and then show a random selection of brands one at a time.  Each time a brand is shown we ask consumers to choose as quickly as possible the emotion that they feel the instant they see that brand.  The point about time limiting this is to get as close as possible to that system 1 brand metric, rather than any more considered response.

From this we can measure a number of important aspects for a brand.

  1. Firstly, the level of happiness immediately associated with each brand.
  2. Secondly, the net level of positive vs. negative response
  3. Thirdly, the total level of emotional response the brand immediately creates.

The level of happiness is key, as this has been shown to closely correlate with brand growth.  If happiness levels exceed market share, then all things being equal in terms of spend, this brand is most likely to grow.  Because when consumers think of that brand they are immediately happy, and this reinforces system choice.

Clearly it is also more desirable for brand to elicit a positive immediate reaction, and not a negative one.  So, looking at net positive/negative response is important.  If a brand has a good positive, but also a high negative response the net impact is much lower.

At the same time, it could be argued that it is possibly better for brands to drive some kind of consumer response, even if negative, rather than no reaction at all.

Of course, emotional reactions do change based on the industry that the brand is in.  Exciting media or technology brands are more likely to drive some kind of reaction, than brands in a more conservative industry such as insurance.

So how do we know if the reaction to our brand is good or not?  Well we asked ourselves the same question and decided we need to measure consumer brand reaction to a large set of leading brands.  We tested consumer “system 1” reactions to over 100 brands, and some of our initial findings are shown here.

The top instinctively emotionally and positively connected brands for consumers in Ireland in our test were are follows.  Aldi tops the brand list with an emotionally connected score of 65%.  This means that when shown this brand 65% of consumer registered some emotion, and the net result was positive for this group.

TOP 10 BRI Brands Happiness



Index Score

Total Reaction Score
Aldi 69% 65% 76%
Cadbury Dairy Milk 71% 64% 83%
Lidl 71% 63% 82%
Netflix 59% 52% 70%
Boots 54% 51% 60%
Google 56% 43% 71%
Aer Lingus 56% 42% 66%
Twix 52% 42% 68%
Samsung 48% 42% 59%
SuperValu 51% 39% 66%

It is interesting to note that supermarket brands do so well, with three brands in the top ten, and this is perhaps a function of heavy usage that drives emotional reactions among consumers.  Despite Aldi being our top BRI brand, Lidl actually records a higher happiness score, but also receives some negative reactions which drive its net score down.  SuperValu also does well to reach the top ten.

Cadburys Dairy Milk has obvious positive reaction, and one helped by the fact that their whole campaign revolves around a happiness theme.  While fellow chocolate brand Twix also performs well to get into the top ten.

Netflix is the highest media brand in the list, with the BBC making the top twenty and RTE down in 43rd place.  Boots outperforms all the local pharmacy groups tested, perhaps on the back of their well regarded loyalty scheme.

Aer Lingus also does well, particularly when Ryanair gets such a negative response from consumers with strong reactions seeing positive scores outplayed by the negative reactions to the brand and leaving it securing a -29% net BRI.

Tech brands Google and Samsung also outperform Apple quite strongly, suggesting troubled times ahead for the brand that was once the darling of consumers.  Apple receives mid ranking levels of happiness, but this is offset by quite high levels of negative emotional response.

Brands ranked from 11-20 are as follows, with Dublin Airport performing well, and also all the other main supermarket brands covered.  Other brands that make the top 20 include M&M’s, the first soft drinks brands, Amazon, the IRFU and the BBC.  The last of which actually outperforms RTE on the list by some distance.

11-20 Ranked  BRI Brands Happiness



Index Score

Total Reaction Score
Dublin Airport 54% 39% 71%
Tesco 49% 37% 63%
M & M’s 46% 37% 61%
Toyota 41% 35% 50%
7Up 46% 34% 62%
Amazon 48% 34% 68%
Dunnes 44% 31% 58%
Marks & Spencer 42% 31% 57%
IRFU 44% 31% 59%
BBC 43% 30% 58%

Some brands get a strong reaction but end up with a negative overall BRI.  These include the likes of Red Bull, Ryanair and Facebook.  While they will be happy to get a reaction from consumers, the negative index is a problem for them and one each of these brands need to overcome.

Others get a very low reaction altogether.  These tend to be brands in the insurance, utility and pharmacy markets.  Of course it is expected that these type of brands might not get the same positive reaction as a chocolate or supermarket brand, but they can still measure up against competitors to understand how well they perform in category.

The key from any BRI analysis is to understand how the brand performs against all brands, but more importantly in its market.  The BRI index has 5-10 brands covered in a range of markets such as telecoms, insurance, utilities, alcohol, gaming, supermarkets, technology, airlines, soft drinks and media.

Driving home positive emotional connections is key to increasing market share, so to understand where a brand sits now, is the start of this process for all brands looking to work in this sphere and improve their instinctive emotional connections.  Those brands with low emotional connections, need to work harder to introduce a more long term emotional connection within the communications they produce, in order to drive growth.

Download the full list of 100+ brands Brand Reaction Index – How Emotionally Connected is Your Brand – ALL BRAND SCORES May 2019

To receive a full industry report for Insurance & Banking, Mobile telecoms, Soft drinks, Alcohol, Utilities, Supermarkets, Technology, TV, Transport, Car Manufacturers, Fast Food & Coffee, Confectionery, Pharmacies, and Airlines, if you want to find out more about how we implement behavioural economics measures in our tracking, or if you want your brand included next year,  contact us on 018186316 or