International Journal of AdvertisingVol. 29, No. 5, 2010                                                                  ...
interpersonal warmth, intelligence and sophistication. The more congruent the individual is to the stereotype, i.e. the mo...
H3d increasing perceived sophistication for highly attractive brand owners (assimilation effect).Finally, we expect the tr...
of sophistication of the moderately attractive brand owner decreased when she was associated with a highly sophisticated b...
interaction between brand owner attractiveness, brand sophistication, and materialism (Z = 2.74, p < 0.001) on interperson...
Managerial implicationsThe current study is of importance to international advertisers because it illustrates the complexi...
Fitzmaurice, J. & Comegys, C. (2006) Materialism and social consumption. Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, 14, pp....
Address correspondence to: Enny Das, Department of Communication Science, Faculty of Social Science, VU University, De Boe...
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When you are what you own: do physically attractive people benefit more from owning sophisticated brands?


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Although desirable brands may positively affect impressions of its owner, brand ownership may also evoke negative reactions if a brand’s image is seen as incongruent with the brand owner. An experimental study tests the influence of physical attractiveness of a brand owner and observers’ level of materialism on the transference of brand sophistication onto a brand owner. Brand sophistication and physical attractiveness are manipulated and levels of materialism are measured. Results suggest that attractive brand owners are generally perceived as sophisticated, regardless of brand sophistication or observers’ materialism. For less attractive brand owners, owning a sophisticated brand may backfire, and decrease perceptions of sophistication, particularly when the observer is materialistic. Implications are that desirable brands are most likely to increase liking of brand owners when the brand fits the owner, and that owning desirable brands may backfire for lower levels of fit.

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When you are what you own: do physically attractive people benefit more from owning sophisticated brands?

  1. 1. International Journal of AdvertisingVol. 29, No. 5, 2010 When you are what you own: do physically attractive people benefit more from owning sophisticated brands? Enny Das, Ivar Vermeulen, Tessa Laagland and Almer Postma VU UniversityIntroduction and backgroundProducts and brands often serve functions that surpass simple utility or necessity. Consumers may buy brands to extend the self (Belk1988; Cohen 1989); for instance, a businessman may quickly adapt to the dress code at his new workplace and buy a designer suit in aneffort to define his newly formed social identity. Brands may also affect the impression people form of others. Many may regard Jaguar carowners as more sophisticated than owners of a Volkswagen, and men wearing a Hugo Boss sweater may appear more powerful than menwearing a more casual brand (Fennis & Pruyn 2007). This finding suggests that brands play a reciprocal role in social interaction: ownersmay use brands to convey their self-concept, and others may use brands to form an impression of the owner’s personality. Whereasconsiderable empirical attention has focused on the role of brands in relation to the self-concept (e.g. Belk 1988; Sirgy 1982), little is knownabout how brands affect impressions of the owner’s personality. The present research tests the effects of brand personality on personperception and thus attempts to answer fundamental questions asked by marketers and consumers alike: to what extent does brandpersonality ‘rub off’ on brand owners?At first glance, ownership of desirable brands should, on average, positively affect impressions. Individuals who own the brands that peopleadmire, will be admired. One may wonder, however, whether brand ownership affects all brand owners’ perceived personalities alike. Whatwould happen, for example, if brand owners are clearly incompatible with the brands they own? If a brand is highly sophisticated, youthful,or attractive, and its owner is not, would brand ownership still yield positive impressions? In addition, brand ownership may not affect allobserver perceptions alike. Surely not all observers are equally attentive to the social cues that brands elicit. Strong effects of brandownership on person evaluation are especially likely to occur in observers who are highly preoccupied with, or sensitive to, materialisticcues – i.e. materialists.We will argue in more detail below that brand–person congruence and observers’ degree of materialism are important moderators in therelation between brand ownership and person perception. But first we will further explore the relation between brands and consumerpersonalities.Brand characteristics: personalityLike humans, brands have different personalities that consumers may like or dislike (Aaker 1997). In general, brand personalities areassessed along five dimensions: sophistication, sincerity, competence, excitement and ruggedness. Although these dimensions have beensubject to critique (see e.g. Azoulay & Kapferer, 2003), there is widespread consensus that brand personality is a key factor in brandidentity. Brand personalities usually result from marketing strategies that repeatedly link brands with specific symbolic associations (e.g.Kohli et al. 2005; Punj & Moon 2002; Van Osselaer & Janiszewski 2001). For example, advertising campaigns may link soft drinks toexcitement, adventure, youthfulness and freedom, or associate a perfume with sophistication, style, and beauty. Brand personalities mayalso result from attributes of the branded product. For example, Apple computers may elicit associations of sophistication because of theirdesign.Consumer preference for a particular brand is often rooted in the need for self-congruence, that is, consumers prefer brands withpersonalities congruent to their self-concepts (Belk 1988; Govers & Schoorlmans 2005; Sirgy 1982). Thus, fashionable consumers maycherish the sophistication of the latest, beautifully designed technological gadget, whereas more down-to-earth consumers prefer thesincerity of its less elegant, but efficient, counterpart. Brands can therefore serve as a means to express one’s self-concept. Self-conceptsare not, however, static constructs; they vary from private selves (with the individual self as the reference point) to public selves (withsignificant others as the reference point, e.g. friends, family) and collective selves (with important groups as the reference point; see Hogget al. 2000). Hence, individuals may own a brand because it represents some real or aspired aspect of the private self (cf. the valueexpressive function of brands) or because they want significant others, or certain reference groups, to recognise them (cf. the socialadjustment function; Ahuvia 2005; Escalas & Bettman 2005; Solomon 1983).Brand ownership may thus serve to promote positive impressions of the self. Little is known, however, about the success of such astrategy. Does ownership of desirable brands always positively affect the impression other people form of a brand owner? In the followingsections, we discuss some factors that play a pivotal role in person perception and impression formation.Owner characteristics: physical attractivenessDespite the saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, categorical and stereotypical information plays a central role in impression formation ineveryday life (Fiske & Taylor 1991). One of the most important factors in impression formation is physical attractiveness (Eagly et al.1991). Surprisingly, a universal consensus exists about what constitutes beauty. In line with Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man, many viewsymmetrical features as attractive (Langlois et al. 2000), including big eyes and full lips (Fink & Neave 2005). Having such characteristicsgenerates a host of positive personal attributes by triggering the ‘beauty is good’ stereotype (Eagly et al. 1995). When the stereotype istriggered, cognitive schemata linked to it transfer to the individual (Nisbett & Ross 1980). Such schemata may include associations such as
  2. 2. interpersonal warmth, intelligence and sophistication. The more congruent the individual is to the stereotype, i.e. the more attractive theindividual is, the more stereotypical associations will seem to apply. Thus – unfair as it may seem − people tend to regard physicallyattractive individuals as nicer, more competent, successful, and classy, even if additional information about their personalities is available(e.g. Eagly et al. 1991; Van Leeuwen & Macrae 2004). As a result of the ‘beauty is good’ stereotype, physically attractive individuals haveimportant social advantages over less attractive individuals – they, e.g. date more attractive partners (Berscheid et al. 1971), and havebetter job opportunities (Hosoda et al. 2003).Like physical attractiveness, brands and products may play an important role in impression formation. Many may perceive a businessmanwalking around in an Armani suit as stylish, fashionable and sophisticated; a man smoking a Marlboro cigarette as rugged; and a womanwearing natural fabrics as sincere (Fennis & Pruyn 2007). Congruence concerns are likely to play an important role in impression formationbased on brand ownership. Positive brand associations are more likely to transfer to a brand owner if there is a strong degree ofcongruence between the brand and the brand owner. If congruence is low, brand associations may clearly stand out against the brandowner’s personality. For example, if a rowdy hiphop artist drives a particularly classy car, e.g. a Rolls-Royce, sophisticated brandassociations are unlikely to transfer to the artist’s perceived personality. In contrast, if the Rolls-Royce driver were an elegant andsuccessful businessman, his perceived degree of sophistication may be further elevated.A psychological mechanism underlying the role of brand–person congruence in impression formation is that of assimilation and contrast(Sherif & Sherif 1967). Lower levels of congruence between a brand and the brand owner may decrease the likelihood of assimilationeffects and increase the likelihood of contrast effects (Higgins & Lurie 1983; Levin 2002; Wedell et al. 1987). Assimilation effects occur ifperceptions of a target person’s personality move toward brand associations, that is, if the positive associations that the brand elicitspositively affect perceptions of its owner. Contrast effects occur if personality perceptions of a target person move away from brandassociations, that is, if the positive associations that the brand elicits negatively affect perceptions of its owner (Levin 2002).If the effects on impression formation of brand ownership and physical attractiveness are combined, ironically, the above patterns implythat people will often perceive desirable brands as particularly congruent to attractive individuals because of the ‘beauty is good’stereotype. If a desirable brand elicits associations of competence, it will make attractive owners look more capable; if it elicits associationsof sophistication, it will make attractive owners look classier. But not so for less attractive individuals – in the eyes of observers, theircongruence with desirable brands will automatically be lower. Therefore, being associated with a competent or sophisticated brand will notmake them look more capable or classy. Instead, the observer may experience a contrast reaction, as a result of which the brand ownermay even look less capable or classy than without the brand. Hence, ownership of positive brands may backfire for physically lessattractive individuals.Summing up, we argue that physically attractive individuals elicit more desirable personality perceptions, and that physical attractivenessmay moderate the transference of specific positive brand associations to its owner. Lower degrees of attractiveness are likely to reduceperceptions of brand–owner fit, and increase the likelihood of contrast effects. As a result, owning, for example, a sophisticated brand mayincrease perceptions of sophistication for attractive brand owners, and decrease perceptions of sophistication for less attractive brandowners.H1: Physically attractive individuals elicit more positive perceptions than less attractive individuals across different personality dimensions.H2: Physical attractiveness moderates the effects of brand sophistication on perceptions of the brand owner:H2a Owning a sophisticated brand increases perceptions of sophistication for physically attractive brand owners (assimilation effect),H2b Owning a sophisticated brand decreases perceptions of sophistication for less attractive brand owners (contrast effect).Observer characteristics: degree of materialismOf course, not all individuals are equally concerned about the clothes that others wear, and the material goods they possess. Individuals towhom material possessions are very important may be especially attuned to the perceived congruence between a brand and its owner.Materialists generally attribute more importance to material possessions, and more often base their choices on brand image claims(Fitzmaurice & Comegys 2006). Materialists should attribute more importance to the congruence between a person and the brand, which inturn increases the likelihood of contrast effects (Sherif & Sherif 1967). In addition, materialists may be better informed regarding theprecise symbolic meaning of brands (Fitzmaurice & Comegys 2006). Materialists are more capable of identifying dissimilarities between abrand and a brand owner, thus again increasing the likelihood of a contrast effect. Finally, materialists may have particularly positiveattitudes toward desirable brands (Ahuvia 1992). As a result, in the eyes of materialists, it may be harder for brand owners to meet brands’qualifications – again, this should increase the likelihood of a contrast effect. For these reasons, contrast effects of brand personality onperceptions of less attractive individuals may be particularly likely among materialists.Non-materialists, on the other hand, should attribute less importance to the perceived fit between brand and owner, which in turn increasesthe likelihood of assimilation effects, that is, the transference of positive brand associations of person perception. In the eyes of non-materialists, sophisticated brand ownership will thus improve perceived sophistication for attractive and moderately attractive owners alike,whereas in the eyes of materialists, sophisticated brand ownership will improve perceived sophistication for attractive brand owners and willlower perceived sophistication for moderately attractive brand owners.H3: Materialism moderates the interactive effects of brand sophistication and physical attractiveness on perceptions of brand ownersophistication:H3a For materialistic observers, higher levels of brand sophistication will decrease perceived sophistication of moderately attractiveindividuals (contrast effect), andH3b increase perceived sophistication of highly attractive individuals (assimilation effect),H3c For non-materialistic observers, higher levels of brand sophistication will increase perceived sophistication of the brand owner,regardless of physical attractiveness, thus increasing perceived sophistication for moderately attractive brand owners (assimilation effect),and
  3. 3. H3d increasing perceived sophistication for highly attractive brand owners (assimilation effect).Finally, we expect the transference of positive brand associations to brand owners translates into interpersonal attraction. That is, if brandowners are perceived as more sophisticated, they will be better liked.H4: Perceptions of brand owner sophistication mediate the effects of brand sophistication on interpersonal liking.OverviewAn experimental study tested the transference of brand personality on person perception as a function of physical attractiveness andmaterialism. Materialism was measured with the Material Values Scale (Richins & Dawson 1992). Attractiveness was manipulated byassigning participants a picture of a very attractive or moderately attractive female, which were selected on the basis of pilot study. Afemale target person was chosen because, unlike males, females generally have less trouble in rating the attractiveness and likeability offellow females. Attractiveness was high or moderate, rather than high versus low, because ambiguous stimuli are more likely to be subjectto contextual variations (Zimbardo & Leippe 2002) and therefore more likely to produce assimilation or contrast effects as a function ofexperimental condition. Brand personality was manipulated by varying the level of sophistication in a brand the woman was carrying. Thebrands were selected on the basis of a pilot study. The main dependent measures were perceived personality of the brand owner (Aaker,1997) and interpersonal liking.MethodParticipants and designThe experimental design was 2 (brand personality: highly sophisticated vs. moderately sophisticated) × 2 (attractiveness of brand owner:moderate vs. high) between participants. 160 participants (120 female, 40 male) volunteered to take part in the study. Their mean age was22.58 years (SD = 2.89). The range was between 17 and 30 years old, representing the age group most sensitive to fashionable products( were recruited via email. They first provided demographic information and then responded to items taken from the MaterialValues Scale (Richins & Dawson 1992). This scale assesses the extent to which individuals are materialistic, for example, ‘I like luxury inmy life’ (Cronbach’s alpha = 0.77). Next, participants saw a picture of a female that served to manipulate two conditions. First, half saw apicture of a very attractive female, and the other half saw a picture of a moderately attractive female. This experimental manipulation ofphysical attractiveness was derived from a pilot study based on 24 individuals (66.6% female, 33.3% male) aged between 18 and 30 yearsold. In this pilot study, respondents were shown eight pictures of females, and were asked to rate the females’ physical attractiveness. Forthe manipulation, the picture of the most highly rated female (M = 5.3, SD = 0.7 on a seven-point scale) and a picture of a moderatelyrated female (M = 3.0, SD = 1.2) were chosen. Second, brand personality was manipulated in the same picture by varying the product thefemale was carrying. In the sophisticated brand personality condition, the female was carrying an iPod. In the non-sophisticated brandpersonality condition, the female in the picture was carrying a regular MP3 player. The iPod was selected on the basis of its cult status atthe time the experiment was conducted (December 2006; see; Kahney 2005), which was verified in a pilot study. In thispilot study, 24 individuals were asked to rate the sophistication of several different MP3 players. The iPod was rated as most sophisticated(M = 5.8, SD = 1.1) whereas a nondescript alternative MP3 player was rated as the least sophisticated (M = 3.9, SD = 0.9).To assess whether brand associations would transfer to person perception, participants were then asked to rate the female on the fivedimensions specified by Aaker (1997) as distinct brand personalities. Four items measured Sophistication (e.g. upper-class, charming;Cronbach’s alpha = 0.76). Also four items measured Sincerity (e.g. down-to-earth, honest; Cronbach’s alpha = 0.77). Four items measuredthe extent to which individuals judged the female as Exciting (e.g. daring, imaginative; Cronbach’s alpha = 0.73). Likewise, four itemsmeasured Competence (e.g. reliable, successful; Cronbach’s alpha = 0.72). Three items assessed the extent to which individualsassociated the female with Ruggedness (e.g. outdoorsy, tough; Cronbach’s alpha = 0.72). Finally, participants responded to a measure ofinterpersonal liking and indicated on a seven-point scale (1 = not at all, 7 = very much) the extent to which they wanted to be friends withthe female, and wanted to meet her in person (Cronbach’s alpha = 0.75).FindingsA unifactor MANOVA on the five dimensions of brand personality and the scale of interpersonal liking with brand owner attractiveness as anindependent factor yielded the expected multivariate main effect of physical attractiveness, F(5,154) = 8.84, p < 0.001, ηp 2 = 0.22.Overall, the attractive brand owner scored significantly higher across personality dimensions and liking (M = 4.72, SD = 0.91) than themoderately attractive brand owner (M = 4.37, SD = 0.86), confirming H1.No significant multivariate effects of product sophistication were observed, and no interactions between product sophistication and brandowner attractiveness.Next, five separate regression analyses were conducted for the brand personality dimensions, entering materialism (mean centred),product sophistication (coded –1, +1), brand owner attractiveness (coded –1, +1), and all interaction terms as predictors. These analysesrevealed significant main effects of brand owner attractiveness on perceived sophistication of the brand owner (β = 0.28, p < 0.001),perceived ruggedness of the brand owner (β = 0.32, p < 0.001), perceived competence of the brand owner (β = 0.37, p < 0.001). No othersignificant main or interaction effects were observed on the brand personality dimensions not related to sophistication.No significant interaction between brand sophistication and brand owner attractiveness was found, disconfirming H2a and H2b.However, as expected, a three-way interaction between brand owner attractiveness, brand sophistication and materialism was observed onperceived sophistication of the owner (β = 0.22, p < 0.01; see Figure 1). Simple slopes analyses revealed that for materialists, perceptions
  4. 4. of sophistication of the moderately attractive brand owner decreased when she was associated with a highly sophisticated brand (contrasteffect; t = –2.507, p < 0.05), confirming H3a. For non-materialists, perceptions of sophistication of the moderately attractive brand ownerincreased when she was associated with a highly sophisticated brand (assimilation effect), confirming H3c. Although the reverse pattern wasobserved for highly attractive brand owners, simple slopes tests did not reveal any significant differences, thus suggesting that highlyattractive brand owners are perceived as sophisticated regardless of brand, and regardless of materialism. These findings disconfirm H3band H3d.An equivalent regression with interpersonal liking as the dependent variable also yielded a main effect of attractiveness (β = 0.34, p <0.001) and an interaction between attractiveness, brand sophistication, and materialism (β = 0.22, p < 0.01). See Figure 2. Simple slopesanalyses revealed that whereas non-materialists liked the moderately attractive brand owner more when she was associated with a highlysophisticated brand (assimilation effect), materialists liked the moderately attractive brand owner less when she was associated with ahighly sophisticated brand (contrast effect; t = –2.212, p < 0.05). The reverse pattern was observed for highly attractive brand owners:whereas materialists liked the highly attractive brand owner more when she was associated with a highly sophisticated brand (assimilationeffect), non-materialists liked the highly attractive brand owner less when she was associated with a highly sophisticated brand (contrasteffect; t = 2.75, p < 0.001).MediationTo ascertain whether perceptions of sophistication mediated the effects of the independent variables on interpersonal liking, we regressedthe independent variables and all interaction terms on interpersonal liking and entered perceived sophistication of the brand owner as anadditional predictor. The model proved significant (F(8, 151) = 12.08, p < 0.001; R 2 = 0.39), and revealed the expected main effect ofperceived sophistication of the brand owner (β = 0.49, p < 0.001). Entering perceived sophistication significantly reduced the main effect ofattractiveness (β = 0.20, p < 0.01) on interpersonal liking, and reduced the previously observed three-way interaction betweenmaterialism, brand sophistication, and brand owner attractiveness to a non-significant level (β = 0.11, p > 0.10). Sobel tests confirmed thatperceptions of sophistication of the brand owner mediated the effect of brand owner attractiveness (Z = 3.31, p < 0.001) and the three-way
  5. 5. interaction between brand owner attractiveness, brand sophistication, and materialism (Z = 2.74, p < 0.001) on interpersonal liking(Preacher & Hayes 2004). This confirms H4.DiscussionThe present study tested two potential moderators of the effects of brand personality on impression formation of brand owners: owners’attractiveness and observers’ level of materialism. Based on the ‘beauty is good’ stereotype (Eagly et al. 1991), the hypothesis was thatphysical attractiveness would exert a positive influence on personality judgments. As expected, participants perceived very attractivefemales as not only having more positive overall personalities (Aaker 1997), but also as more likeable than moderately attractive females.An additional hypothesis was that owning a highly sophisticated brand would translate into increased perceived sophistication of the brandowner, particularly if there is a perception of fit between the brand and the owner (i.e. for highly attractive brand owners). However,participants perceived highly attractive brand owners as more sophisticated regardless of brand sophistication, a finding most likely due toa ceiling effect. Most importantly, and as expected, observers’ materialism moderated the interactive effects of brand sophistication andattractiveness of the brand owner. Being associated with a highly sophisticated brand increased perceptions of sophistication of themoderately attractive brand owner for non-materialists, thus producing an assimilation effect. Conversely, being associated with a highlysophisticated brand decreased perceptions of sophistication of the moderately attractive brand owner for materialists, thus producing acontrast effect. Again, highly attractive brand owners were regarded as sophisticated regardless of brand sophistication and regardless ofobservers’ level of materialism.For interpersonal liking, a similar pattern of findings was found: owning a sophisticated brand led to better liking of moderately attractiveindividuals for non-materialistic observers, and led to lower liking of moderately attractive individuals for materialistic observers. However,unexpectedly, non-materialistic observers liked attractive owners better if they owned an unsophisticated brand. This last result couldindicate that, in addition to being relatively unmindful of brands and their associations with the ‘right’ people, non-materialists could alsohold egalitarian, or, if you will, emancipatory views about brands and their owners. These views might evoke a liking for people whochallenge collective consumption standards: plain people who are sophisticated in their brand choices, as well as attractive people whochoose plain-and-simple brands. Alternatively, non-materialists may identify more easily with attractive individuals whose brand choices aresimilar to their own. Non-materialists may thus perceive attractive owners of common brands as particularly appealing fellow non-materialists.Finally, the results show that increased sophistication imposed by brand choice increased interpersonal liking; this finding, together withthose described above attest to the power of brands in impression formation and person perception. Previous studies have focused mainlyon the relationship between brand personalities and the self-concept (e.g. Govers & Schoorlmans 2005). Consumers prefer products andbrands with personalities that fit their self-concepts (Belk 1988; Govers & Schoorlmans 2005; Sirgy 1982). The present researchdemonstrates that perceptions of fit also play a pivotal role in person perception, particularly for observers who are materialistic. Whenobservers are non-materialistic, they may simply take a quick glance at the individual and the brand, and form a snapshot judgment like‘classy brand, ergo, classy person’. In this case, brands may function as a simple cue in impression formation. Materialists, on the otherhand, may not be quite as tolerant and easy-going when it comes to brand–person fit; rather, they are much more critical of a moderate fitthan non-materialists. This heightened scrutiny, in turn, may negatively affect person perceptions (cf. Sherif & Sherif 1967). Brandpersonalities are therefore more likely to backfire on the brand owner if the person judging them cares a lot about material possessions. Inthe present study, materialists may have felt that ‘this sophisticated brand is far too classy for this person’. This possibility furtheremphasises the importance of brand image in the decision making of materialists (Fitzmaurice & Comegys 2006).The role of fit in producing assimilation and contrast effects is an important and complex one. On one hand, if a brand owner does not fitthe personality of a brand, brand ownership may produce contrast effects, and negatively affect person perception. On the other hand, if abrand owner does fit the personality of a brand, brand personalities may, due to a multitude of shared associations, add little to theimpressions of the brand owner. This possibility suggests that there may be a curvilinear relationship between brand-owner fit and thetransference of brand personalities: brand personalities may be more likely to transfer to brand owners for moderate, as opposed to high,levels of fit. Research in the related area of brand extensions has reported similar findings, namely that moderate levels of fit may be morebeneficial than high or low levels (e.g. Meyers-Levy et al. 1994).Finally, this study illustrates that beauty makes the best first impression. Attractive females scored more positively on all dimensions ofpersonality and were very well liked, regardless of the brands they owned and the persons who were judging them. These findingsunderscore the power of beauty in impression formation (Eagly et al. 1991). When people have little else to go on other than theinformation that is provided to them, they generally use stereotypical information that becomes activated automatically on the basis of anyavailable contextual cues (Fiske & Taylor 1991). While appearance-related features, including age, gender, and race, are known to play aprominent role in person perception (e.g. Brewer & Lui 1989; Taylor et al. 1978), the present research shows that attractiveness plays anequally important role in the formation of first impressions.Reflection and future studiesThis research represents an initial effort to examine those factors that may moderate the transference of brand associations to individualsassociated with a brand. Of course, an important issue for future studies is to investigate whether these findings generalise to male brandowners, other brand personalities, and other product classes in more real-life settings. One may wonder under which particularcircumstances meeting a person in real life mitigates the observed effects of brands on person perception. In addition, researchers shouldconsider examining whether other brand-owner personality traits have a similar effect on the degree of fit between a brand and its owner.Of particular interest is whether personality traits related to character would be equally important in affecting perceptions of brand-owner fitas traits related to image. Finally, observers’ level of self-monitoring may constitute another moderator of the effects of brand personalities.Research suggests that self-monitoring is related to materialism, sensitivity to image claims, and interest in brands (Browne & Kaldenberg1997; DeBono 2006).Future studies should also further investigate why materialists are more critical of a moderate fit between a brand and its owner than non-materialists. There are several plausible explanations for the observed effects. For instance, materialists may be more knowledgeableabout brands and their personalities and thus have more information available in memory to judge a brand–person fit (Fitzmaurice &Comegys 2006). Non-materialists may be more likely to assimilate lower levels of fit between a person and a brand because theirknowledge about brands is limited and therefore their latitude of acceptance is high (Sherif & Sherif 1967). Alternatively, materialists mayattach more importance to brand personalities, that is, they may show higher levels of ego-involvement, thus increasing the likelihood ofcontrast effects.
  6. 6. Managerial implicationsThe current study is of importance to international advertisers because it illustrates the complexity of the reciprocal three-way relationbetween brands, consumers, and the outside world. The paper’s first conclusion is simple: brand owners are judged by the brands theycarry. But, second, the research shows that not all brand owners are judged in the same way. And, third, it shows that different observersdraw different conclusions from different brand-owner combinations.With respect to the latter finding, it turns out that especially individuals who take particular interest in, or are frequently exposed to,advertisers’ brand claims, may develop a low latitude of acceptance for less-than-perfect brand-owner combinations. As a result, membersof this highly brand-conscious group may often experience contrast reactions if they match up a particular brand owner to the brand he orshe is carrying. Recurring exposure to ill-fitting brand–owner combinations may, in turn, force them to re-evaluate, and possibly reject, theinitially accepted brand claims. The above mechanism might explain why, when exclusive brands or products are adopted by a massmarket audience – as arguably has happened with the iPod since our study was conducted – more discriminative audiences often turn awayfrom the brand and embrace new ones. Therefore, although hitting the mass market can be lucrative, it may at the same time endanger abrand’s initial meaning to consumers.The research also stresses the importance for advertisers to carefully match individuals associated with a brand – albeit spokespersons,promotion people, brand endorsers, advertisement characters, receivers of free product samples, and even target audiences – to thebrand’s image. Again, especially brand-literate consumers, often the frontrunners in picking up new brands, may judge ill-fitting individualsassociated with a brand harshly, and may, as a result, turn their back on a brand.ConclusionBrands play an important role in modern life. They are used to express a personal value or group membership, and thereby serveimportant functions related to the self-concept. This study shows that brands can also play an important role in forming impressions ofothers. In particular, brands can boost an owner’s image if there is at least a moderate level of fit between the person and the brand.However, for lower levels of fit, brands can also backfire and negatively affect the image of the owner. As such, brands should be treatedwith care and used with caution.AcknowledgementsThe authors thank Fiza Ahmed, Carola van Ingen, Pauline Koerselman, Tesse Theidersen and Elcke de Weme for their input.ReferencesAaker, J.L. (1997) Dimensions of brand personality. Journal of Marketing Research, 34, pp. 347–356.Ahuvia, A.C. (1992) For the love of money: materialism and product love. Advances in Consumer Research, 20, pp. 188–198.Ahuvia, A.C. (2005) Beyond the extended self: loved objects and consumers’ identity narratives. Journal of Consumer Research, 32, pp.171–184.Azoulay, A. & Kapferer, J.-N. (2003) Do brand personality scales really measure brand personality? Journal of Brand Management, 11, pp.143–155.Belk, R.W. (1988) Possessions and extended self. Journal of Consumer Research, 15, pp. 139–168.Berscheid, E., Dion, K., Walster, E. & Walster, G.W. (1971) Physical attractiveness and dating choice: a test of the matching hypothesis.Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 7, pp. 173–189.Brewer, M.B. & Lui, L.L. (1989) The primacy of age and sex in the structure of person categories. Social Cognition, 7, pp. 262–274.Browne, B.A. & Kaldenberg, D.O. (1997) Conceptualizing self-monitoring: links to materialism and product involvement. Journal ofConsumer Marketing, 14, pp. 31–44.Cohen, J.B. (1989) An over-extended self? Journal of Consumer Research, 16, pp. 125–129.DeBono, K.G. (2006) Self-monitoring and consumer psychology. Journal of Personality, 74, pp. 1–24.Eagly, A.H., Ashmore, R.D., Makhijani M.G. & Longo L.C. (1991) What is beautiful is good, but … : a meta-analytic review of research on thephysical attractiveness stereotype. Psychological Bulletin, 110, pp. 109–128.Escalas, J.E. & Bettman, J.R. (2005) Self-construal, reference groups and brand meaning. Journal of Consumer Research, 32, pp. 378–389.Fennis, B.M. & Pruyn, A.Th.H. (2007) You are what you wear: the impact of brand personality on consumer impression formation. Journal ofBusiness Research, 60, pp. 634–639.Fink, B. & Neave, N. (2005) The biology of facial beauty. International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 27, pp. 317–325.Fiske, S.T. & Taylor, S.E. (1991) Social Cognition. New York: McGraw-Hill.
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  8. 8. Address correspondence to: Enny Das, Department of Communication Science, Faculty of Social Science, VU University, De Boelelaan1081, 1081HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands.Email: © Copyright Warc 2010 Warc Ltd. 85 Newman Street, London, United Kingdom, W1T 3EX Tel: +44 (0)20 7467 8100, Fax: +(0)20 7467 8101 All rights reserved including database rights. This electronic file is for the personal use of authorised users based at the subscribing companys office location. It may not be reproduced, posted on intranets, extranets or the internet, e-mailed, archived or shared electronically either within the purchaser’s organisation or externally without express written permission from Warc.