Consumer-brand relationships in Private Cars – Developing a personality around a brand

According to Fournier, one way to make a brand an active player in the relationship is to “highlight ways in which brands are animated, humanized or somehow personalized” (1998, p. 344). The study notes that human beings tend to anthropomorphize inanimate objects “to facilitate interactions with nonmaterial world” (Fournier 1998, p. 345). As such, consumers would associate brands with human attributes such as cool, warm, hip, aged and intellectual. Brand personality according to Aaker is “the set of human characteristics associated with a brand” (1997, p. 347). Through these associations, brands become aspects of symbolic meanings rather than inanimate aspects of a product or an entity and thus provide emotional attachment – one of the factors necessary for a relationship to exist (Fournier 1998; Barnes 2003). Symbolic meanings of a brand could arise either through direct or indirect interaction with the brand (Aaker 1997). In a direct association, customers imagine the characteristics the typical user (e.g. an employee, endorser, or an entity’s CEO) embodies, are inherent in the brand (Aaker 1997; 1991). In such a way, the personality of these typical users is transferred to the brand, which then the customer makes symbolic meanings of (Aaker, 1997; 1991). Customers would thus associate a brand being endorsed by a celebrity to represent trendy.

The indirect associations of personality traits with a brand do not involve transfer of personality traits from an individual to the brand. Such aspects for instance rest in the brand name, the logo used, advertising style, distribution channel and pricing (Aaker, 1997). When an entity for instance prices its brand at a premium, customers may view such a brand as being upper class whereas a brand whose pricing is at the lower end could elicit an imagery of being a blue-collar brand (Aaker, 1997). Further brand personality could encompass demographic aspects such as gender, age or class as inferred from consumer imagery, endorsers or indirect linkages (Alreck, 1994; Aaker, 1997). In the private car industry, the brands marketed under the luxury segment (e.g. Mercedes) and those on the mass-market segment (e.g. Toyota) can exemplify the effect of aspects such as price on the personality of the brand.

With the tendency to anthropomorphize inanimate objects also evident in consumers (Fournier 1998), an inquiry into how marketers can imbue a brand with a particular personality arises. Alreck (1994) evaluates such process of brand personification in respect to instilling a gender personality on a brand. According to the study, the start-point to identification of a brand with a particular sex, is understanding how sex roles are ascribed to each sex by culture and the society; and how the target market adheres to the traditional sex role boundaries (Alreck 1994). Although the perception of the roles that are a preserve for different sexes is changing, the study argues for role requirements that a brand needs to portray for it to arouse a masculine or feminine perception on the consumers. Masculine brands for instance should portray strength whereas feminine ones should portray a nurturing nature associated with femininity (Alreck 1994). Similarly, branding a product around gender would require careful attention to the sex role prohibitions and their persistence within the target market. For instance, branding a product to achieve a masculine image with a nurturing man could turn out to be ineffective if such nurturing attributes are not accompanied by attributes perceived to be masculine (Alreck 1994). The adherence to sex roles could differ with age, education, economic endowment and social status but the sex role requirements largely persist irrespective of these categories (Alreck 1994). Changes in the modern world have also weakened adherence to sex role prohibitions but such weakening effect is subject to persistence of sex role requirements (Alreck 1994). For instance, not many individuals are averse towards a man assuming traditionally feminine roles such as nursing when these do not compromise the perception of the man’s strength. To gender a brand with a masculine or feminine image, it must thus appeal to a stereotypical man or woman and promoted in line with the relevant sex role stereotype – e.g. strong, nurturing – to provide and sustain required gender image (Alreck 1994). In the private car industry such gendering would relate to aspects such as the strength and speed associated with a particular brand of car.

Aaker, Benet-Martinez and Garolera (2001) also assessed how commercial brands act as conveyors of universal or specific cultural meanings. The study observes that culture-specific meaning are basically found in abstract qualities of the brand that either confer symbolic or value-expressive functions to an individual; different from the utilitarian (performance-related) attributes  inherent in the brand. Such meanings are conferred to the brand through ways such as advertisements. According to the study, advertisement communications can influence reality and eventually influence the attitude and behavior of individuals towards a particular product. Examining these meanings, the authors indicate that cultures such as that of the Americans confer brand personality dimensions such as sincerity (e.g. real, honest, and down-to-earth), excitement (e.g. daring, contemporary, and imaginative), competence (e.g. intelligent, confident, secure and reliable), sophistication (e.g. glamorous, charming, and upper-class), and ruggedness (e.g. masculine, outdoorsy and tough). The study results on Japanese brand personality dimensions indicated that some convergence exist with American culture in dimensions such as excitement, competence, sophistication, and sincerity but the dimensions of ruggedness and peacefulness were found to be culture-specific in Americans and Japanese respectively (Aaker et al., 2001). Evaluation of the Spanish culture also provided some cultural convergence in excitement, sincerity and sophistication personality dimensions with the Americans, and peacefulness dimension with the Japanese; but found out a personality dimension – passion – that was not evident in the other two cultures. Through the similarities noted in brand personality attributes in different cultures, commercial brands could evidence universally held individual needs, but such may mildly differ in definition from culture to culture. For instance, in the study by Aaker et al. (2001), though excitement had common attributes such as youth, spirited and daring across the cultures; it embodied aspects such as uniqueness and independence in North America and Spain, and “talkativeness” (e.g. funny and optimistic) in Japan. In such a way, culture-specific attributes may still be significant factors that affect the personality attributes accorded to a brand. Building a personality around a brand would thus require targeting both universally accepted attributes and cultural-specific attributes. Go to part 6 here.

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