I was still pondering the puzzle that is consumer behavior, considered in this column last month, when two items, timed for Valentine’s Day, caught my attention. One came in the form of a fun survey conducted by Carstar Auto Body Repair Experts and attempted to plumb the depth of drivers’ relationships with their cars. The other was a more serious commentary by marketing maven Pam Danziger on why brands can’t buy loyalty with points.

Nearly half of respondents to the Carstar survey selected color and style as the top two characteristics that they loved about their cars, while power and performance was voted into a close second by 41 percent of respondents. Nearly 81 percent said their cars gave them confidence and were an outward reflection of their achievements.

These survey responses transported me back much further than last month’s column. They took me all the way back to 2003.

That was the year the International Carwash Association launched “Car Love,” a public relations campaign to educate consumers about the value and benefits of professional car washing. As part of the effort, ICA conducted a survey. The results: 84 percent ofrespondents felt affection or emotion fortheir cars; while 62 percent of those surveyed believed car appearance important, 53 percent washed their cars less than once a month — and 16 percent never washed their cars; 61 percent admitted to leaving garbage in their cars. If nothing else, this survey exposed a vast untapped market.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, so ICA included some fun elements in the survey — trivia that would generate public interest and underscore the emotionalconnection between driver and vehicle. Some of the findings: 90 percent of Americans sing in their cars; 60 percent talk to their cars;50 percent have made out in their cars; 27 percent give their cars pet names.

Success of the program would be difficult to determine were it to be measured by variations in wash counts, but one year after its launch, at Car Care World Expo 2004 in Las Vegas, ICA was able to quantify its success in terms of media coverage. The association reported that the campaign had generated 41 Car-Love-specific print placements and newspaper feed pickups in more than 1,400 markets — a total reach of 47 million readers; 7.4 million listeners were reached through 18 radio interviews; and 22 TV interviews reached 4.6 million viewers. Millions more were exposed to the program on the Internet.

Whether successful or not, the program’s approach — speaking to consumers’ emotions — was the correct one. Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing, points out that roughly 70 percent of purchase decisions are emotionally based while 30 percent arerationally calculated. Likewise, she says, brand loyalty is an emotional feeling. Brand loyalty programs based on points given and discounts earned will ultimately fail, she maintains, because they appeal to the consumer’s rational side. Consumers join these programs because they see it as a way to get more for their money, but brand loyalty is an emotion that comes “when you feel special, valued, and honored. It comes through person-to-person interaction.”

This presents another challenge for operators of express-exterior washes with automated pay stations. That person-to-person interaction is either eliminated or curtailed. However, there are ways around this impediment as

Anthony Analetto points out in his On the Wash Front column last month.