AUCKLAND: According to Auckland University marketing lecturer Dr Mike Lee, most market researchers study only people with positive attitudes toward brands – a practice he likens to medical science examining only healthy people.

Lee, who has spent five years studying people's reasons for avoiding brands, this week published a doctoral thesis, Brands We Love to Hate: An Exploration of Brand Avoidance

The study itemises four main reasons for eschewing brands:

  • Experiential avoidance: Avoiding a brand because of a bad experience, or where the product has not lived up to expectations.
  • Identity avoidance: Avoiding a brand because the identity of the brand just doesn't appeal. Lee gives the example of someone who wouldn't be seen dead wearing Prada because they see it as "snobby".
  • Moral avoidance: This is what most people think of when they think of brand avoidance. A person avoids a brand because it's seen as detrimental to society, the environment, or the local economy.
  • Deficit-value avoidance: Avoiding a brand because the risk of buying the product is seen as too great for the price, for example, when the brand name is unfamiliar to the customer.
People's reasons for such avoidance could be divided into personal and "bigger picture" reasons.

Personal reasons were driven by selfish considerations, like a bad past experience, while bigger picture reasons were more altruistic.

"People might pay more to buy something from a dairy because of the perceived impact on the local economy."

But there is one thing all respondents had in common. "Everyone had some brands that they felt negatively about."

Not all reasons for avoiding brands were logical. Dr Lee found some people avoided low-cost local brands like No Frills and Home Brand because they looked "icky" - whether or not they thought there was any difference in quality.

"I had some interesting conversations with participants where they would say, 'I know it's not the quality but I just like the packaging to look nice'," he said.

"They think if people look through their pantry and see all this see all this cheap stuff they might make an inference about the person."

There were few surprises among the 'most hated' brands. "A lot of them, as you would expect, were big multinational brands like McDonalds, Coke and some of the big petroleum companies."

But what did surprise him were some of the reasons.

They included poor product experiences, a perception the store environment was too family-oriented and a dislike of the "very sterile" environment - "a whole lot of reasons that don't tie into the multinational thing".

Ironically, Lee found that brands with a more varied public image could be giving people more reasons to avoid them.

The study was essentially small scale, with just twenty-three in-depth interviews, part of Dr Lee's creation of an academic network, the International Centre for Anti-Consumption Research, at the University of Auckland Business School.

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff