Where does brand hate fit into the scheme of things?
We often measure the affinity people have with brands (call it love), but like any relationship you can love someone dearly but hate it when they drink milk straight out of the carton. That doesn’t mean you’re going to leave them any time soon.
Although I have seen no research on the matter, I’d hazard a guess you either love Marmite or you hate it. In an advertisement I saw for the product, a young man brings home a really hot date. They kiss – he is repelled – we then see that there is Marmite on the kitchen table, of which she had just had some.
Did this polarise the audience? It sure did. But if you hate it, what’s the point of telling you how great it is? When Marmite XO (the extra strong version) was launched in the UK, they identified only 30 consumers who were devotees of the brand, inviting them to taste testings. They then set up a Facebook group which received 54,000 visits and 300,000 page views. Now I know that counts for diddly squat, however XO sold out on the first day. (1)
Dispersion and polarisation
The technical term for a scale that measures love versus hate is called brand dispersion. The greater the brand dispersion, the more polarised the brand. When we gauge consumer attitudes, we usually measure a net or average score. But that can hide the real picture due to dispersion, because we have merged the scores for lovers and haters. So we don’t really know who will or won’t vote for us. Say we have brands A and B and we ask people to rate each brand on a scale of 1 (very poor) to 7 (excellent), and we get the following results:
Brand A: 3, 4, 5
Brand B: 1, 4, 7
The total is the same (12) and the average is the same (4). But in A we have a tightly clustered group, and B has one brand hater and one brand lover – it shows substantial dispersion, and is thus a highly polarised brand.
In the Harvard Business Review
In research conducted by Luo et al published in the Harvard Business Review, they labelled consumers who gave a score of 1 and 2 as brand haters and 6 or 7 as brand lovers. These are their results from most to least polarising (this does not allude to profitability neither perceptual brand equity – it just reflects the degree of polarisation. Some brands with a great deal of polarisation do very well – they have a core segment of brand champions): 
Also examining the relationship between polarisation and stock market returns, highly polarised brands tend to perform more poorly than others do. But what you lose on the swings, you gain on the roundabouts – the highly polarised brands were more stable and therefore less risky. 
Makes sense – if you have some percentage of lovers, you have firm adherents and thus steady sales resistant to market fluctuations.
There’s more to it than meets the ‘aye’
However, I think there is more to brand affinity than just discrete measurements. I am reminded of the story of the old Jewish couple who had been married for 50 years but decided they needed counselling to put some spark back into their marriage. When the counsellor asked the wife what was bothering her, she had no hesitation in proclaiming “Oy vay, the way he breathes in; the way he breathes out”. We can love someone dearly, yet absolutely hate it when they don’t pick up their clothes.
We can love our bank when we are surprised that the available balance is greater than we anticipated, yet also harbour some resentment when they only want to lend us an umbrella if the sun shines. That’s love and hate in the same person for the same brand. This makes the whole process somewhat more complicated. But then target markets are people. And people are complicated.
So your brand might do well in liking/admiration scores, but if you look at the numbers more carefully, hidden within them could be the target market you should focus on – and the target market you should ignore. Or maybe even try and win them over. But if you think the same message will have the same effect on the lovers as the haters, dream on.
Ref 1: Xueming Luo, Michael Wiles, Sasha Raithel. Make the Most of a Polarising Brand. Harvard Business Review, Nov 2013.
About the author
Sid Peimer is the Executive Director of the Cape Chamber of Commerce & Industry. His book ‘The Clear Win: Pitching for new business – the strategies that work; the myths that don’t’ can be found on Amazon here