Emotions drive brand choice for cars, above all status.

Rather a long time ago (! – isn’t everything ?) I commissioned in a Shell Company Market Research into motorist behaviour. It was mostly about fuel brand choice but we bunged in a few questions about car brands as well.


Results showed the contrast between “rational man” and “emotional man” – between head and heart if you like. Car buyers overwhelmingly gave “rational man” choice answers – comfort, safety, fuel efficiency, carrying capacity , that sort of thing. So we did a follow up where we took the latest Skoda which ticked all of the rational choice boxes. Then we created two matched groups of respondents. One group got a photo of the car undoctored with all the data about the car. The other group got the same except that we replaced the Skoda symbol with a BMW one. We asked the two groups to describe what they had seen.


Well the car with the BMW logo outscored the one with the Skoda one overwhelmingly. The BMW group valued the “BMW” car around $7000 more than the “Skoda” one. Both groups had identical data about their car. The only thing that was different was the brand.


The point of course is that emotions drive brand choice for cars, above all status. A car is for most of us our most valuable consumer durable. We want more than just the ability to get from A to B – and a “smart” car confers status on us. We will probably rationalise our choice with hard benefits ( frequently comfort and safety). But in truth most new cars these days are comfortable and safe – even a Skoda !


The electric car phenomenon is remarkable. A Tesla (especially) confers massive status on the owner/driver. Rationally it makes little sense. It costs much more than the petrol/diesel equivalent. “Refuelling” is much more problematic and much more frequent. But watch the neighbours faces when you first park it on your drive. It cries out prestige and shouts how environmentally conscious you are.

Down the hierarchy the other electric cars are similarly low performers compared with the liquid fuel alternative. But people buy them – it’s (frankly) a boast. Nothing wrong with that of course – where would we be without added value brands? People buy £10,000 watches but if all you want to do is to tell the time you can buy one for a tenner!

One thought on “Emotions drive brand choice for cars, above all status.

  1. My car is 22 years old. It still does the same thing as any other. ie: Gets me from a to b. After reading your blog I’m left to wonder what that says about me? The truth is I could care less. I have always believed that materialism promoted by capitalism will destroy all that’s worth anything.

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