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Brands Are People, Too? BlackBerry, Alicia Keys, and the Language of Brand Relationships

Using human relationships as a proxy for understanding consumer-brand connections is an emerging trend that GfK has been following closely – one clearly illuminated with the launch of the BlackBerry 10. The recent YouTube video (go to 1:14) designed to introduce Alicia Keys as BlackBerry’s Creative Director typifies how easy it is to apply the “vocabulary” of personal relationships when talking about brands.

In the video segment, Keys acknowledges that she was in a “long-term” relationship with BlackBerry in the past. She then candidly reveals that she started to “flirt” with other smartphone brands, at a time when BlackBerry was losing many customers to the sexier iPhone and Android. BlackBerry realized it needed to work on its customer relationships and launched BlackBerry 10 with a number of new, user-friendly features: Hub, Flow, Peek and Balance. Now, BlackBerry has won Keys back, and she now has an “exclusive’ relationship” with the BlackBerry 10.

For the past year, GfK has been using human relationships as a framework for disentangling people’s multi-faced connections to brands. Personal relationships have always been easy for us to define and relate to — from “best friend” to “enemy,” with many shades of gray in between.

Using human relationships to describe brand relationships makes sense because:

* Consumers can clearly and precisely articulate their relationships with brands

* Researchers can make global comparisons,  as core human relationships are consistent across cultures

* Marketers can understand the nuances of people’s complex bonds with their brands

* Advertising agencies can take tactical action to shore up or correct brand identities to improve a consumer’s brand relationship

Keys stepped into the limelight as the Creative Director of BlackBerry and simply told the story about her history and consumer relationship with BlackBerry in a language we all understood.  So you tell me – are brands people, too?

Sabrina Clarke is Senior Vice President in the Brand and Communications practice at GfK. She can be reached at

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