Brand Personification in the Digital Age: How has the evolution of social media impacted consumer-brand relationships?
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Brand Personification in the Digital Age: How has the evolution of social media impacted consumer-brand relationships?

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The purpose of this paper is to examine the marketing landscape through the lens of digital and social media, and, ultimately, to discuss how this evolution impacts the establishment, maintenance, and ...

The purpose of this paper is to examine the marketing landscape through the lens of digital and social media, and, ultimately, to discuss how this evolution impacts the establishment, maintenance, and characteristics of consumer-brand relationships. Past studies of consumer-brand relationships have focused heavily on the elements of social psychology reflected in the connections formed with brands. However, many researchers have questioned the application of human relationship theory as applied to inanimate objects or brands. With the advent of social media as a marketing tool, brands are quickly taking on human characteristics and working to engage consumers in conversation. With this increased personification, relational norms can be applied to current and future consumer behavior with new relevance.

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Brand Personification in the Digital Age: How has the evolution of social media impacted consumer-brand relationships? Document Transcript

  • 1. Brand Personification inthe Digital AgeHow has the evolution of social mediaimpacted consumer-brand relationships?Keely GalganoIndependent Study, Winter 2013Dr. Dae Hee KwakApril 2013
  • 2. AbstractThe purpose of this paper is to examine the marketing landscape through thelens of digital and social media, and, ultimately, to discuss how this evolutionimpacts the establishment, maintenance, and characteristics of consumer-brand relationships. Past studies of consumer-brand relationships have focusedheavily on the elements of social psychology reflected in the connectionsformed with brands. However, many researchers have questioned theapplication of human relationship theory as applied to inanimate objects orbrands. With the advent of social media as a marketing tool, brands are quicklytaking on human characteristics and working to engage consumers inconversation. With this increased personification, relational norms can beapplied to current and future consumer behavior with new relevance.
  • 3. Executive SummaryThe purpose of this paper is to provide insights into consumer-brand relationshipsthrough the specific lens of social and digital media. Inspired by the realizationthat, through social media, brands are taking on more and more humancharacteristics, this paper works to apply relational norms to consumer behaviorin order to investigate how the evolution of the medium impacts the formation,maintenance, and general characteristics of the relationships brands form withtheir customers.Methods of analysis include a thorough examination of previous researchconducted in the fields of consumer-brand relationships and social mediaidentity theories as well as in-depth case studies evaluating the usage of socialand digital media by various well-known and culturally ingrained brands.From the analysis, conclusions are drawn in order to tie together the caseapplications and previous research while deriving new conclusions through thespecific lens of social and digital media. Finally, concrete managerialimplications and potential directions for future research are provided.While new media might certainly be described as a double-edged sword, itoffers more opportunities for positive brand interactions and innovativeintegrations with digital and interactive media that can work to enhance thebrand’s standing with both old and new customers alike.Potential beneficiaries of this research include marketing and advertisingprofessionals who hope to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms atwork within social and digital media in order to form more sustainablerelationships with current and future customers.
  • 4. Table of ContentsAbstract.............................................................................................................................iiExecutive Summary.........................................................................................................iiiIntroduction...................................................................................................................... 1Methodology ................................................................................................................... 3Literature Review............................................................................................................. 3Consumer-Brand Relationships................................................................................. 3Overview ................................................................................................................ 4Functions of Consumer-Brand Relationships...................................................... 6Brand Love and Self-Expansion ........................................................................... 7Relationship Norms and Transgressions............................................................... 9Personal, Social, and Brand Identity in the Digital Age ....................................... 10Case Studies .................................................................................................................. 12Oreo........................................................................................................................... 12Heineken ................................................................................................................... 17Nike & Adidas – Transgressions ............................................................................... 23Conclusions & Implications .......................................................................................... 25Managerial Implications.......................................................................................... 27Future Research........................................................................................................ 28
  • 5. Brand Personification in the Digital Age1IntroductionThe purpose of this paper is to examine the marketing landscape through thelens of digital and social media, and, ultimately, to discuss how this evolutionimpacts the establishment, maintenance, and characteristics of consumer-brand relationships. Past studies of consumer-brand relationships have focusedheavily on the elements of social psychology reflected in the connectionsformed with brands. However, many researchers have questioned theapplication of human relationship theory as applied to inanimate objects orbrands. With the advent of social media as a marketing tool, brands are quicklytaking on human characteristics and working to engage consumers inconversation. With this increased personification, relational norms can beapplied to current and future consumer behavior with new relevance.While it might be unthinkable that a brand would lack an online presence intoday’s world, it is important to note that digital marketing is a relatively newdiscipline. To a large extent, the history of digital is a by-product of the history ofthe Internet – and when you think about it, it was only twelve years ago that thetech bubble burst, wiping out a number of smaller start-ups and paving the wayfor magnates like Yahoo! and Google. Facebook? That’s only been aroundsince 2004. And Twitter? A mere seven years old. So when it comes to socialmedia’s impact on consumer-brand relationships, in terms of research, this isnearly uncharted territory.The study of consumer-brand relationships is not much older, with SusanFournier’s seminal work written in 1998. In an interview with The Atlantic’s HansVillarica, Fournier told the story of how she began:Over 20 years ago, I was promoted to vice president of consumer-brandrelationship ideas at Young & Rubicam, an acclaimed advertising agency
  • 6. Brand Personification in the Digital Age2in New York. I was to translate the revolutionary business-to-businessrelationship marketing paradigm into the consumer marketing world, but Iquit two weeks later on the heels of a stark realization: the frameworksand concepts I would need to do my job had yet to be created. So off Iwent to the University of Florida PhD program to develop brandrelationship theory in consumer research myself. (Villarica, 2012)Since then, much has been written about the topic, ranging from the types ofrelationships created, their inherent functions, correlations with socialpsychology, the impact of brand transgressions, the motivation on consumers’part to form relationships with inanimate objects and brands, and much, muchmore. Fournier noted that UF’s experimental cognitive psychology communitywas skeptical of the application at first; but as ample research has shown overthe last fifteen years, there is much to be gained both academically andmanagerially from further research in the area of consumer-brand relationships.The application of social media to this area of research provides an interestinglens through which to view the formation, maintenance, and characteristics ofthese relationships. With a multitude of platforms through which brands cancommunicate and connect with consumers, there are more opportunities toboth build sustainable relationships and ruin them. This paper strives to use thislens to answer the question of how the evolution of social and otherwise digitalmedia impacts these relationships.
  • 7. Brand Personification in the Digital Age3MethodologyIn the subsequent sections of this paper, I will conduct a literature review ofprevious research conducted in the fields of consumer-brand relationships, morespecifically, their background, functions, specific frameworks including brandlove and self-expansion, and the application of norms and transgressions onrelationship theory. I will also briefly examine previous research concerning socialand brand identity in the era of social media. Later, I will present three casestudies concerning successful brands in the social sphere – Oreo and Heineken –and brands that have had to deal with transgressions – Nike and Adidas. Finally,I will offer conclusions that integrate the case studies with theoretical concepts,discuss managerial implications, and propose directions for future research.Literature ReviewThis section delves into the previous research available in the fields of consumer-brand relationships and social and brand identity in the digital age. It paysspecial attention to fields that provide insight into viewing consumer-brandrelationships through a social media lens.Consumer-Brand RelationshipsWhile it is relatively speaking a new field of study, much research has beenconducted to learn more about both the functionality of and reasoning behindthe existence of consumer-brand relationships. Considerable research hasfocused on understanding and describing the different relationships consumersmight have with brands (Reimann and Aron 2009; Aaker, Fournier, and Brasel2004; Carroll and Ahuvia 2006; Escalas and Bettmann 2005; Fournier 1998). Thisresearch has yielded myriad ways to categorize consumers based on theintensity of their relationships (Fournier 1998) and has branched out to includestudies of brand attachment (Thomson, MacInnis, and Park 2005), commitment(Warrington and Shim 2000), connectedness (Winterich 2007), love (Batra,
  • 8. Brand Personification in the Digital Age4Ahuvia, and Bagozzi 2011; Merunka and Valette-Florence 2007; Carroll andAhuvia 2006; Fournier 1998), loyalty (Chaudhuri and Holbrook 2001; Jacoby andChestnut 1978), passion (Bauer, Heinrich, and Martin 2007), and trust (Chaudhuriand Holbrook 2001), among others. Each of these presents its own frameworkwithin the context of consumer-brand relationships, but a unifying theory islacking; for the purposes of this paper, however, it will be more important tounderstand the nature of the formation and maintenance of relationships ratherthan develop a singular theoretical framework.When examining these relationships through the lens of social media and theevolving digital age, it is helpful to have a background in the various frameworksthat have been utilized to best understand the impact on the establishment,maintenance, and characteristics of relationships between brands andconsumers. In this section of the literature review, several components of pastresearch will be touched upon including background, functions, norms, andspecific applications including brand love and self-expansion. Later, we willexamine how personal, social, and brand identities have been impacted by thedigital age, and how this might impact our view of consumer-brandrelationships.OverviewA thorough study of field pioneer, Susan Fournier, offers insight into the definingelements of consumer-brand relationships. Published ten years after her originalpublication on developing relationship theory in consumer research, Fournierreflects on what she has learned by offering three key tenets: purpose, diversity,and dynamics. In terms of purpose, it is important to note that there is not asingular purpose that can be applied to these relationships in general; rather,we can understand the driving force behind the relationship by looking at thebroader context of the consumer’s life to find out what needs the relationship
  • 9. Brand Personification in the Digital Age5with the brand or company services (Fournier 2009). These needs can fallanywhere within Maslow’s hierarchy, ranging from the merely functional to thoseneeds related to self-actualization (Maslow 1943). Therefore, it follows, the needsfulfilled by different products and consequently the relationships formed withdifferent brands differ based on the consumer. Fournier (2009) states, “Robustbrand relationships are built not on the backs of brands, but on a nuancedunderstanding of people and their needs, both practical and emotional” (p. 6).Identifying the relationship potential of a given brand is important forresearchers and marketers alike. Often, this is determined by categoryinvolvement; but it is most useful to screen criteria from the contexts of people’slives, with the key being to uncover how meanings attain significance within aconsumer’s world. As the relationship is grounded in need fulfillment, animportant insight lies in the fact that consumers actively make meaning in theirbrand relationships – adapting the marketer’s given brand meaning to fit theirown life. In response to this concept, Fournier, Solomon, and Englis (2008)developed a multifaceted resonance model that focuses not on what thebrand itself means, but rather how it comes to mean something to the consumerwho uses it in order to recognize the developmental mechanisms that drive theestablishment and maintenance of these relationships (as cited in Fournier, 2009,p. 7).Further, it is important to recognize the diverse nature of consumer-brandrelationships, as they range across several dimensions and take many forms. Asapplied to person-to-person relationships, these forms can include casualacquaintances, childhood buddies, business partners, master and slave,teammates, flings, parent-child, rivals, best friends, marriage partners, and manymore. Again, the formation of any of the above kinds of relationships isdependent upon the need fulfilled and the behavior of the consumer in the
  • 10. Brand Personification in the Digital Age6relationship. Figure 1 (Appendix A) plots brands and relationships on axesranging from superficial/weak to intense/strong in the x-direction andutilitarian/functional rewards to socio-emotional rewards in the y-direction.Finally, the dynamic nature of consumer-brand relationships indicates that theyare evolving and change over a series of interactions in response to contextualchange (Fournier 2009). Fluctuations in person, brand, and the overallenvironment may trigger change within the relationship and therefore it isimportant to note that these relationships require ongoing maintenance overtime. Contract theory provides a useful lens when it comes to both therelationship’s development and maintenance. As will be discussed later in thissection, brand transgressions can have significant impact on the way consumersview their relationship; therefore, everything a brand “does” affects thetrajectory and course of a given relationships, from the brand’s outwardpersonality (which can be as simple as colors and fonts used on their website) tothe tonality of each and every brand communication (Fournier 2009). What ismost interesting, perhaps, is the psycho-socio-cultural context wherein theserelationships exist – the relationship the brand has with the culture affects therelationship the consumer as with the brand, and vice versa (Fournier 2009),which is an important characteristic to note when examining these relationshipsthrough a social media lens.Functions of Consumer-Brand RelationshipsThe functionality of these relationships is, as indicated above, determined by theneed fulfilled, and thus can range from knowledge, utilitarianism, hedonism, andexternal factors such as social acceptance, self-presentation, and affiliation(Ashworth, Dacin, and Thomson 2009). Relationships that exist for knowledge’ssake do so because of the inherent understanding they provide consumersabout their situation. Utilitarian relationships are based on the brand’s ability toconsistently and reliably aid in the achievement of other goals. For hedonic
  • 11. Brand Personification in the Digital Age7relationships, the brand directly inspires a variety of affective responses.(Ashworth, Dacin, and Thomson 2009) The final three functions, which theauthors term value-expressive, social-adjustive, and affilation, exist because oftheir consistency with the values central to the consumer; their ability to createa desired impression, and the fact that they serve basic needs for belongingrespectively.Research suggests that relationship between brands and consumers – regardlessof type – have a sizeable effect on important marketing outcomes includingrepeat purchase, word-of-mouth, and willingness to pay (Ashworth, Dacin, andThomson 2009; see also, Stern 1997; Sheth and Parvatiyar 1995). Withrelationships in place, brands enjoy benefits including reduced marketing costs,ease of access, access to new customers, customer retention, brand equity,and ultimately, an increase in profits (Ashworth, Dacin, and Thomson 2009; seealso, Blackson 2000; Dowling 2002; Reichheld 1996; Winer 2001). Returning to theultimate underpinning of need-fulfillment, the implicit assumption is thatconsumer-brand relationships serve some function or goal for the consumer andare possibly formed as a result of the brand’s consistent fulfillment of these goals(Ashworth, Dacin, and Thomson 2009).Brand Love and Self-ExpansionAs mentioned previously, there are many dimensions of consumer-brandrelationships that have been touched upon in previous research. Two of themost salient theories when it comes to the examination of these relationshipsthrough the social media lens are brand love and self-expansion. For Batra,Ahuvia, and Bagozzi, the elements of the brand love prototype are as follows:great quality, strongly-held values and existential meaning, intrinsic rewards, self-identity, positive affect, passionate desire and a sense of natural fit, emotionalbonding and anticipated heartbreak, willingness to invest, frequent thought and
  • 12. Brand Personification in the Digital Age8use, and length of use (2011). Both theories incorporate the idea of depth,where brands are more likely to be loved when they connect to something theconsumer felt was ‘deeper’ such as self-actualization, interpersonal relationships(Richins 1984), existential meaning, or cultural identities (Batra, Ahuvia, andBagozzi 2011). The authors offer two examples in Canon and Apple, where these‘deeper’ connections are felt because of the ties to social relationships andcreativity and self-actualization, respectively.In the brand love context, “talking about it” is an important part of identity-construction and ultimately results in high levels of word-of-mouth (Batra, Ahuvia,and Bagozzi 2009). Word-of-mouth, in the online context sometimes termed“word-of-mouse,” is hugely important for marketers and is only magnified in thesocial setting. When it comes to this idea of brands as part of identityconstruction, Reimann and Aron present a self-expansion approach whereinbrands are included in the self as resources, perspectives, and identity (2009).The main difference between these three types of inclusion is that a brand’sresources can be viewed as part of the owner’s self, while perspective meansseeing the world from the brand’s point of view and identity refers to the brandidentity becoming part of the “cognitive structure” of the owner’s self (Reimannand Aron 2009).They argue that for each of these, expansion varies based on the time of brandacquisition and the length and intensity of relationship; specifically, that fornewly acquired brands, consumers may rapidly self-expand, enlarging their self-definitions and experiencing positive affect. Further, they state that self-expansion continually decreases over time. In this setting, the effect is strongerfor high-involvement brands than low-involvement brands. In addition to thelength aspect, interaction intensity should also be taken into account; as highinteraction intensity also reduces the rate of rapid self-expansion, thus
  • 13. Brand Personification in the Digital Age9functioning as an accelerator of the relationship-length effect (Reimann andAron 2009). In this setting, the effect is stronger for low-involvement brands thanhigh-involvement brands. This has clear implications on marketers who must becareful not to saturate consumers with communications – a mistake manybrands make on social media.Relationship Norms and TransgressionsYet another vein of consumer-brand relationship research revolves around howconsumers deal with transgressions on the part of brands, and more broadly,how relational norms direct behavior on the part of both the brand and theconsumer. Pankaj Aggarwal has concentrated heavily on this line of researchand presented extensive findings that allow us to use relationship norms tounderstand consumer-brand interactions: “When consumers form relationshipswith brands, they use norms of behavior underlying these relationships as aguide in their brand interactions in two unique ways: (a) as a lens to evaluatethe actions of the brand, and (b) as a tool to guide their own behavior” (2009).In the first sense, norms are what set consumer expectations, and thesubsequent actions of the brand are judged on whether the expectation is metor not. In the studies Aggarwal conducted, the same action was evaluateddifferently depending on whether or not it was perceived to be consistent withthe norms described in the case (either exchange or communal), whichindicates that it is not the action itself but whether or not it is in keeping withexpectations that determines the consumer’s evaluation of the brand (2009). Inthe latter, norms determine how consumers process brand information, withthose in a communal relationship processing information at a higher level ofabstraction (Aggarwal 2009). This knowledge is important for marketers who canmanipulate the tools at their disposal to develop the kind of relationship theywish to pursue with consumers, ultimately determining the position they hold inthe mind of the consumer. As Aggarwal points out, “The dynamic and repeated
  • 14. Brand Personification in the Digital Age10interactions pursued by marketers in the form of ads, interactive media, directmail, and telemarketing, as well as the use of brand mascots and spokespersonsstrengthen the type of ongoing relationship that is formed between the brandand the consumer” (2009).With the increasing durations of relationships and increasing frequencies ofinteraction – spurred on heavily by brand usage of social media – the likelihoodof transgressions grows (Gray and Ambler 1999); it is therefore important forbrands to understand how to best respond in order to maintain the relationshipsthey have worked to begin. For Paulssen and Bagozzi, attachment theory playsheavily into how consumers respond. They propose that the positiveexpectations that securely attached customers place on brands help them topositively interpret transgressions and buffer potential emotional distress (2009).Here, the implication for marketers is to identify the “right” customers who aremost likely to develop long-term relationships (Reinartz and Kumar 2000), withthe key goal being to build and maintain strong and stable consumer-brandrelationships, investing considerable resources in various relationship marketingtactics in order to achieve this goal (De Wulf, Odekerken-Schroeder, andIacobucci 2001; Reinartz and Kumar 2003).Personal, Social, and Brand Identity in the Digital AgeThere is no doubt that social media has become a cornerstone of thecommunications world in recent years – and that it has presented bothincredible opportunities and a myriad of new challenges for both individualsand brands alike. With categories ranging from egocentric, community, andopportunistic, to passion-centric and media sharing, there are more socialmedia outlets than there is room to touch on here (Parent, Plangger, and Bal2011). Taken as a whole, these outlets attract millions of users, many of whomutilize the sites as part of their daily lives and business practices, building
  • 15. Brand Personification in the Digital Age11networks of friends, peers, and potential connections that can help themachieve their future goals (Wang, Yu, and Wei 2012) – personally, socially, andprofessionally.For brands, social media represents a new, hybrid element of the marketing mixby allowing for even further integrated marketing communications (IMC), or theattempt to coordinate the various elements of the promotional mix (advertising,personal selling, public relations, publicity, direct marketing, and salespromotion) in order to produce a unified customer-focused message (Booneand Kurtz, 2007 as cited in Mangold and Faulds, 2009). Within the scheme ofIMC, social media fulfills two roles: first, most traditionally, companies can usesocial media to talk to their customers through various platform; second, andunique to social media, customers can use social media to communicate withone another. This means that word-of-mouth spreads faster and farther thanever before: “Conventional marketing wisdom has long held that a dissatisfiedcustomer tells ten people. But that is out of date. In the new age of socialmedia, he or she has the tools to tell 10 million” consumers virtually overnight(Gillin 2007 as qtd. in Mangold and Faulds 2009).As consumers turn away from the traditional sources of advertising gandconsistently demand more control over their media consumption, they requireon-demand access to information at their own convenience (Rashtchy et al.,2007; Vollmer & Precourt, 2008). As a result, they are turning to various socialmedia outlets to conduct information searches and make purchasing decisions(Lempert, 2006; Vollmer & Precourt, 2008) and have been shown to perceivesocial media as a more trustworthy source of information regarding brands thancorporate-sponsored communications through traditional media (Foux, 2006).
  • 16. Brand Personification in the Digital Age12With social media shaping the way consumers communicate with both eachother and brands, methods of engagement are at an all-time high. Experiencesof all kinds are being shaped by these spaces of collective consumption, andour networks – with whom, when, and why we connect – are changing as aresult (Wilcox-Ugurlu, 2011). The trick, for brands, is how to transform the mediuminto a proactive rather than reactive realm of “listen and respond.” With explicitcommercial references typically avoided in social media communications,companies need to be ready to engage consumers and members of theirvirtual network in ways that create authentic experiences, rather than contrivedself-promotion (Wilcox-Ugurlu, 2011). In doing so, they are readily able to tap intoone of the previously discussed topics: identity-building. By creating authenticexperiences that consumers can and willingly relate to, brands will be betterpositioned to insert themselves into the regular lives of their customers, therebybuilding sustainable relationships.Case StudiesOreoThe Super Bowl is advertising’s (and sport’s) biggest stage year in and year out.This year, brands spent a great deal of time, effort, and money on mobilizing thesocial aspects of their campaigns – from Twitter hashtags on television spots tocampaign build-up on Facebook and YouTube. The effort paid off for manybrands that took to heart the concept of the 3 C’s – content, context, andconversation (Goldstein, 2013). For others, their efforts missed the mark,rendering brand-irrelevant hashtags in order to “join a conversation” that wouldnever take off. Too often, when it comes to social media strategy, brands aremore concerned with timing than content; but to succeed in engagingconversation, the strategy must lie at the relevant intersection of context andcontent (Goldstein, 2013). Merely inserting yourself in a consumer’s feed with amessage that is either off-brand or off-topic will not encourage the engagement
  • 17. Brand Personification in the Digital Age13necessary to form consumer-brand relationships, and might go so far as to turnoff the consumer.Will Scougal, Twitter brand strategist, noted that the most successful brands have“strategies, processes, and foundations in place [that] enable them to be ableto do this in a way that stays true to themselves and carries brand valuesforward while encouraging engagement and conversation” (2013). By havingthese mechanisms in place, brands can be readily prepared for theunexpected. This was the case for Super Bowl XLVII’s most successful brandsincluding Audi, Tide, Buffalo Wild Wings, Walgreens, and perhaps most notably,Oreo.Oreo is an excellent case toexamine when it comes to theimpact of social media. For aseasoned brand that’s beenaround since 1912, their positionwithin the marketing funnel lies atthe end: the ‘consume’ and‘connect’ portions, meaning thatthe business problem inherent to the strategy deals with repeat purchase andloyalty – major components to consumer-brand relationship theory. For instance,are a number of people buying the product but not advocating it? Are therelost opportunities to connect with consumers to make them aware of otherproducts? (Cole, 2013)With agency partners DraftFCB, 360i, Weber Shandwick, and Mediavest, Oreolaunched a remarkably successful digital campaign over the summer of 2012called The Daily Twist. Reminiscent of retro print ads but perfected for social
  • 18. Brand Personification in the Digital Age14platforms, each day’s ‘twist’ was thought up in timely fashion and consistentlyculturally relevant. The brand began with a controversial bang, offering a ‘twist’in honor of gay pride on June 25, 2012 that garnered more than 154,000 likesand 20,000 comments on Facebook within a single day (Hsu, 2012). This was justthe beginning, with daily offerings ranging from the Mars Rover landing to atribute to panda Shin-Shin’s newborn cub and culminating in a live-in-Times-Square finale where the final ‘twist’ was designed in real-time in a pop-upagency, based on fan suggestions both in person and through social media.What made this particular campaign so successful was its ability to sparkconversation and sharing by utilizing milestones and popular-culture events toengage. Oreo successfully fulfilled the “3 C’s” by offering relevant, timely,simple, humorous, and shareable content without pandering for likes,comments, or shares. And it paid off; as of September, Oreo had experienced“110% growth in fan interaction per social-media post – defined as anycombination of shares, likes, or comments. The company averaged 7,000 perpost before the “Daily Twist” launch. After, they reached an average of 14,700”(Diaz, 2012). But this was just the beginning; Oreo would reach even furthersocial heights with their successful Super Bowl through both planned andunplanned efforts.Marking yet another milestone after celebrating its 100th birthday in 2012, Oreotasked Wieden + Kennedy with creating its first-ever Super Bowl commercial.Having observed fans routinely asking one another “cookie or creme?” Oreosaw the Super Bowl as an opportunity to portray the debate in a fun way – thespot is entitled “Whisper Fight” – and inspire even more of it. At the end of thecommercial, viewers are directed to Oreo’s Instagram account where they areasked to vote by submitting photos hashtagged with #cookiethis or #cremethis.Oreo began promoting its Instagram account on Facebook (to its 32 million
  • 19. Brand Personification in the Digital Age15followers) on the Thursday prior to game day. “Before the commercial aired,Oreo had around 2,200 followers. Shortly after, its following climbed to nearly20,000, and is now nearing the [87,000] mark” (Indvik, 2013).With this background, it is no surprise that Oreo was ready for anything on SuperBowl Sunday. As Scougal pointed out, with the right mechanisms in place, abrand can be ready to respond in real-time on a moment’s notice. For Oreo,success was largely due to the efforts of agency partner 360i:"We had a mission control set up at our office with the brand and 360i,and when the blackout happened, the team looked at it as anopportunity," agency president Sarah Hofstetter told BuzzFeed. "Becausethe brand team was there, it was easy to get approvals and get it up inminutes." Oreo had already aired a solid TV ad with their "Cookie orCreme" spot. But they were ready to capitalize on social media as wellwhen the lights went out. “The big question is, what happens wheneverything changes, when you go off script?" Hofstetter said. "That waswhere it got fun." The key? Having OREO executives in the room, andready to pull the trigger. (Terdiman, 2013)To digress and set the stage, Super Bowl XLVII presented a unique set ofcircumstances for marketers when, during the third quarter, a power outage atthe Superdome caused some of the lights to go out for an unprecedented 34minutes. With Oreo executives in the room, 360i executed a now famouslybrilliant tweet ad that read, “Power out? No problem. You can still dunk in thedark.” The tweet caught fire, garnering a total of 16,056 retweets, 6,219 favorites,and the attention of not only the Twittersphere, but also the entire mainstreammedia. Hoffstetter told Wired, “The new world order of communications todayincorporates the whole of the way people are interacting with brands right now.Once the blackout happened, no one was distracted – there was nothing going
  • 20. Brand Personification in the Digital Age16on. The combination of speed and cultural relevance propelled it to theforefront” (Watercutter, 2013).With the increased prevalence of the second (or even third) screen experience,marketers have to do more than the standard 30-second spot to get fans’attention. According to an overnight study conducted by the Mobile MarketingAssociation and Session M, 59% of viewers used their phones more during thegame as compared with 41% who did so more during commercial breaks. 91%of viewers used their mobile device during the commercial breaks, with 35%completing a follow-up action on their mobile device based on a commercialthey saw during the Super Bowl. 64% used their mobile device for somethingunrelated to commercials. Interestingly, nearly a quarter of respondents notedthat they’d like to see more commercials that incentivized taking action on theirphones, or offered additional content. (Mobile Marketing Association) For thosebrands that did this successfully, Oreo included, the effort paid off.Looking at Google Search Trends over the last 12 months, we can tangibly seethe impact of these social campaigns on the Oreo brand, with peaks during theweek of the gay pride ‘twist’ and again the week following the Super Bowl (the
  • 21. Brand Personification in the Digital Age17peak in December is likely related to increased search for Oreo recipes aroundthe holidays).For a brand that has been around for such a long time and is inherentlyingrained in American culture, the sheer effort Oreo has put into their digital andsocial brand experience has been impressive. The juxtaposition of “old school”and “new school” – whether that’s the Daily Twist’s retro print campaign in adigital setting or simply the traditional cookie taking advantage of hot newplatforms like Instagram – brings Oreo staunchly into the twenty-first century,inserting it into the cultural conversation and engaging consumers in ways thatdrive fandom and encourage sustainable relationships.HeinekenGlobally, there is not a sport more followed or beloved than soccer. AsAmericans, we’re more often than not late to the game, only truly payingattention every two years: at the World Cup or the Olympics. But year round,soccer is a megalith, with players being bought and sold for upwards of £50m,shirt deals valued at upwards of £20m per year, and the most valuable team,the Barclays Premier League’s Manchester United, worth over two billion USD(Soccer Bible, The Telegraph, Forbes). Suffice it to say, for global brands, socceris an extremely valuable platform for marketing and sponsorship – and there is agreat deal that can be and is already done when it comes to social, digital, andinteractive strategy.With this background in mind, another excellent case study in regards to thestudy of consumer-brand relationships is Europe’s biggest brewer, Heineken. In2011, Heineken agreed to extend its sponsorship of UEFA Champions Leaguesoccer for a further three years, through the end of the 2014/2015 footballseason, a deal that is estimated to be worth around 20 million euros (£17m)
  • 22. Brand Personification in the Digital Age18(Vanguard). Heineken’s Chief Commercial Officer, Alexis Nasard, told Reuters,“the new deal gives [us] wider digital rights and broadens [our] broadcast rightsto cover Germany” (Jones, 2011).What makes Heineken such an interesting case to study is that they activatearound all of their partnerships in the most innovative fashion. Whether it’ssoccer, music festivals, or James Bond films, the brand team at Heineken knowshow to engage consumers and keep them coming back for more. Their digitalfootprint is ever growing and they work diligently to keep it that way, diversifyingtheir partnerships so that they’re not only known as “the Champions Leaguebeer.” That being said, around their Champions League partnership inparticular, they have conducted plenty of activations that are worth examining.As the title sponsor of the league in 2010, Heineken created a fully integratedmarketing strategy that incorporated social and digital outreach, consumersweepstakes, and sales-driven retail components. Activating across 60 marketsand leveraging a multitude of messaging channels, Heineken executed a widerange of engaging activations. They hosted a heavily branded watch party inDubai that featured live music. They built an 8m x 6m x 3m model of SantiagoBernabeu Stadium with 40,000 cans under the messaging the “The UEFAChampions League is art. And the art of football is brought to life by Heineken”(Bernabeu Stadium). They teamed up with Heineken for the fourth time to bringthe Champions League trophy to the United States for five weeks, touring majorcities across the nation. They created an “Ultimate Fan Page” featuringexclusive footage, Trophy Tour updates, and a sweepstakes to win a trip to theleague final. They built custom POS at retail locations and implemented a verywell done “ritual” series of commercials across various markets.Finally, perhaps most memorably, they utilized guerilla marketing in Italy aroundthe matchup between Real Madrid and AC Milan. Staging a fake event at the
  • 23. Brand Personification in the Digital Age19same time the game was to be played, an event where classical music metpoetry in an Italian theater, Heineken teamed up with over 200 people –girlfriends, bosses, and journalists – to help get over 1,000 people away from theirTVs and into the event. Broadcast live on SkySport, viewers watched much ofthe audience get increasingly bored until the stage slowly revealed clues toinvolve the crowd. Finally realizing what was going on, a live projection of theentire game for the entire audience began, revealing Heineken as the savior. Ahugely successful stunt, all of this went hand-in-hand with Heineken’s campaignidea that men were increasingly losing the ability to spend “that sacred time”with friends watching the big game. (RalfGroen)While none of these are explicitly social-focused (they did utilize the medium forpromotional purposes), they are certainly relationship-focused, using Heinekenas a bridge to unite soccer fans globally and offering the opportunity for self-expansion through their brand. Moving forward – remember, this is only 2010:Twitter’s been around for just four years – Heineken would begin their run at theforefront of digital engagement through a number of interactive initiatives, bothrelated to their UEFA partnership and not.As far back as 2008-09, Heineken has been invested in experiential marketing,creating a captivating mobile marketing tour called the Heineken Extra ColdExperience, which toured major cities across the globe with a collection ofengaging elements, including a big igloo experience (where premiums weredistributed), an ice bar (with free samples), a live stage, live DJ entertainment,Heineken models, and lounging stations with giant ice cube chairs (Gainor,2009). They supported the campaign with a Facebook fan page and anexperiential microsite geared toward the European marketplace. This, again,was just the beginning of Heineken’s foray into the digital and experientialspace.
  • 24. Brand Personification in the Digital Age20In 2012, Heineken launched a multitude of innovative social campaigns toengage their increasingly global fan base. In Singapore, for instance, the brandcreated what they called a “Social Christmas Tree” out of 48 LED screenstowering eleven meters high. The “tree” became a destination for consumers tosend messages to friends and family during the holidays. Heineken allowedconsumers across the globe to submit greetings and messages in an effort tounite people from across the world and visibly bring social media to life in thepublic square (Heineken Singapore 1, 2). Later, they utilized social to enhancethe experience for attendees at the Heineken Open’er Music Festival in Poland,with the brand message to “Open Your World” (Kamil Kowalczyk). Utilizing giantQR codes (referred to as U-Codes), Heineken drove engagement amongstattendees by featuring a footprint on-site where fans could videotape apersonal message – detailing who they were, where they were from, what theirinterests were – and have it embedded into a giant QR code sticker that wasprinted out and placed on their clothing. These U-Codes served as greaticebreakers for festival attendees and generated such buzz that over 5,000people received them over a 4-day period, exceeding the brand’sexpectations by 200% (Gainor, 2012).On the social gaming front, Heineken has been equally as innovative. Returningto the brand’s UEFA partnership, the brand partnered with creative agencyAKQA to launch a live football game, StarPlayer, which allowed players topredict what would happen at key moments in Champions League matches inorder to score points. The game tapped into the growing “dual screen” habitdiscussed earlier in this paper. Starplayer worked in real-time, with players invitedto forecast the outcome of corners, free kicks, and penalties by choosing anumber of options. Different point scores were rewarded depending on theoutcome’s likelihood; and at the start of the game, players were given the
  • 25. Brand Personification in the Digital Age21chance to guess when goals would take place, with points awarded on asliding scale based on how early the goal was anticipated. To add to thegame’s social dimension, players were allowed to form leagues with friends,share their scores via Facebook, and receive badges for successfully predictingthe events of a game. (Williams, 2011)Finally, most recently, Heineken created two TV ads with supporting digitalelements. First, in February 2012, the brand launched a hugely successfulBollywood-themed ad called “The Date.” Coinciding with this, the brandcreated “The Serenade,” a Facebook app that creates personalized messagesthrough which users were able to invite potential partners on a date. They weredirected to choose the person they’d like to date, why they’d like to date them,and suggest why they themselves were date material. Then, Paul “Kiss” Kissaun,the star of “The Date,” performed the invitation. Created by Wieden + KennedyAmsterdam, the app was available in over 20 languages and 640 variations. Toextend this idea, the brand hosted “Serenade Live,” an online event wherepersonalized serenades, custom written for selected Facebook and Twittersubmissions, were performed live. Each couple witnessed their love song live viaSkype, and their reactions were broadcast simultaneously on Heineken’sYouTube channel (Fera, 2012).Next, the brand paired up with the James Bond franchise’s summer blockbuster,Skyfall, to further their “Open Your World” campaign with a theatric ad that ledviewers to an online and live-action game called “Crack the Case.” The livelyad, which pays homage to the Bond franchise without being explicitly aboutJames Bond, retains the spirit of the brand’s previous “Open Your World” work.As Cyril Charzat, Senior Director, Global Heineken Brand, told Fast Company,“Two years ago we shifted our communications from being about ourselves totrying to show our man of the world in situations that can be an inspiration –
  • 26. Brand Personification in the Digital Age22elevating the image of the drinker. Each time we tried to take a real humantruth, a consumer insight we believe is talking to our guys in their daily life. Hereit’s the idea that each guy might think about a time where he has to save theday like a legend.” (Fera, 2012, 2)The supporting digital element in this case was the ability to aid Skyfall’s Bond girlSeverine (Bérénice Marlohe) in an interactive web setting. While slightly lessrobust than that of “The Serenade,” the tactic was nonetheless effective andhad the added benefit of creating a live-action world tour coinciding with thefilm release, where locals were able to demonstrate their resourcefulness byundergoing a similar gauntlet of challenges in person. Altogether, the “Crackthe Case” launch was a massive $50 million media investment that was well-worth it, with Charzat noting the “interaction from all the countries around theworld talking about the campaign at the same time and engaging with theseevents [created] a huge opportunity for us to create something that’smeaningful in relation to the Open Your World story” (Fera, 2012, 2).Analyzing Heineken with the social conversation monitoring tool, Topsy, it is clearthat the brand’s efforts have paid off, with 323,000 social mentions all-time.When compared with a similar European beer brand in Beck’s, which has amere 2,800 mentions all-time, there is a massive 115-times increase in socialactivity. Beer is a crowded marketplace, with an already vast number of big-name brewers in addition to the fast-growing craft beer market, so the ability toengage consumers in on-going fashion is an important one. By consistentlyinnovating in the way they communicate with their large fan base as well as theconsumer-world at large, Heineken is able to secure brand loyalty andincreased word-of-mouth presence while encouraging new consumers to learnmore about their brand, forming new relationships with every partnership andinnovation they embark upon.
  • 27. Brand Personification in the Digital Age23Nike & Adidas – TransgressionsSocial and digital media isn’t a wholly green pasture; in fact, there are manymore potential missteps that can impact brands in a way that is more magnifiedthan ever before. As indicated in the literature review portion of this paper,brand transgressions can have a significant impact on the relationships theymaintain with consumers. With the ever-present nature of social media, thesetransgressions are immediately public, eliciting the genuine, real-time reactionsof angry consumers in a way that was never before possible. Sport giants, Nikeand Adidas, made two such transgressions in the last year. While these brandsare certainly “too big to fail,” each transgression caused tremendous socialoutcry, necessitating brand action in the aftermath.For Nike, the mess-up was at the hands of footwear designer Jason Petrie andsomewhat akin to those brands whose employees accidentally post damagingclient commentary to the company account. After Chicago Bulls star DerrickRose went down with a season-ending ACL injury in April 2012, Petriesuggested that Rose hurt himselfbecause of the Adidas shoes he waswearing. Petrie, who is the designerbehind Lebron James’ Nike sneakers,fired off the tweet much to the dismayof his many followers:The tweet, predictably considering Rose’s beloved nature in the league and thevisible agony he experienced on the court following his injury, incited a flurry ofonline criticism, with followers calling it “in bad taste” and “classless” (Smith,2012). Nike, realizing that the tweet was bad for public relations, issued astatement on the issue:
  • 28. Brand Personification in the Digital Age24“As a brand that is passionate about sport, we recognize the intense levelof play that every athlete has engaged in during this basketball seasonand respect the dedication it takes to compete. One of our basketballfootwear designers posted comments online that we feel areinappropriate, and he has since apologized. We wish anyone who isinjured a speedy recovery.”While this certainly did not impact Nike’s overall brand standing in themarketplace, it goes to show that employees must be diligent in maintainingtheir personal social accounts, as they are a public reflection of the company. Itwas well done on Nike’s part to recognize the public relations implications insufficient time to do damage control and distance themselves from Petrie’scomments.In a more damning transgression, Adidas wasforced to cancel production in June 2012 on a(albeit ill-designed) shoe before it was to hit themarket in August. Designed by Beverly Hillseccentric Jeremy Scott, the shoe came with aset of plastic shackles and a tagline on Adidas’ Facebook page that struck aplayful tone: “Got a sneaker game so hot you lock your kicks to your ankles?”(Lynch, 2012)Critics, unsurprisingly, took issue with the shoe, saying it called up painful imagesof slavery, and made their displeasure known on social media. Adidas dismissedthe criticism, defending the design in a statement to the Los Angeles Times: “Thedesign…is nothing more than the designer Jeremy Scott’s outrageous andunique take on fashion and has nothing to do with slavery” (Lynch, 2012). Theoutspoken Reverend Jesse Jackson provided one of the highest-profile
  • 29. Brand Personification in the Digital Age25condemnations of the shoe, noting that civil rights groups had contacted NBACommissioner David Stern asking him to intercede and proposed a boycott inabout 50 markets if the shoe was released. He went on to state, “The attempt tocommercialize and make popular more than 200 years of human degradation,where blacks were considered three-fifths human by our Constitution isoffensive, appalling, and insensitive.” (Solomon, 2012) While not everyone wasoffended by the design, Adidas decided to discontinue production, stating,“We apologize if people are offended by the design and we are withdrawingour plans to make them available in the marketplace” (Solomon, 2012).In this instance, offensive or not, public sentiment, pressure from variousadvocacy groups, and heated media coverage contributed heavily tomanagement’s decision to pull the product. While it is hard to definitively statethat such a decision would not have been made in the pre-social era, it iscertain that public outcry was immediately magnified through the release of theshoe’s photo on outlets like Facebook and Twitter. In the pre-social era, theshoe’s design would have first been viewed through more traditional mediaoutlets and likely would’ve undergone more intense scrutiny from advertisingand media executives who may well have preempted the controversy.These are only two sport-centric examples of a multitude that could bediscussed in relation to transgressions. Brands, company employees, andathletes and other public figures alike must be more careful than ever to stay inline without harming their public perception – and in doing so, impacting therelationships that they have worked hard to develop with consumers and fans.Conclusions & ImplicationsIn each of the three case studies presented, we see brands that are highlyingrained in culture working hard to establish, maintain, and in the case of Nikeand Adidas, salvage, relationships with their consumers. In each case, the
  • 30. Brand Personification in the Digital Age26brand’s presence on various social media outlets – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram– allowed consumers to view them as a sort of friend, making determinationsabout the expectations of their relationship and interacting with them on amore personal level. Advertising mogul, the late David Ogilvy, once said, “Younow have to decide what ‘image’ you want for your brand. Image meanspersonality. Products, like people, have personalities, and they can make orbreak them in the marketplace.” The “personality” aspect of a brand’s image istoday more important than ever before.The idea of brands in conversation goes back to at least 1999, when TheCluetrain Manifesto warned Madison Avenue that the Internet would disrupt theway the industry was used to operating. This notion is confirmed by many of themost prominent figures in the industry. Mark O’Brien, president of DDB NorthAmerica, told Fast Company, “We learned that people kept finding way to tuneout the messages and were only paying attention to what they wanted. We’vebegun to realize we have to engage them in a relevant way so they want toengage with us.” For Esther Lee, former chief creative officer at Coca-Cola andcurrent head of advertising at AT&T, it’s not just about customers anymore, it’sabout people. (Sacks 2013) Shops that wouldn’t have existed, say, twenty yearsago, in storytelling shop Campfire and word-of-mouth agency Affinitive, echothese sentiments:“It really is about being in the moment. Any strict road map moves it out ofconversation” – Mike Monello, Campfire“Brands need to step into those conversations, but you can’t opt-out ofthose conversations; you have to be invited to those conversations”– Bob Troia, Affinitive
  • 31. Brand Personification in the Digital Age27While some marketers might argue that true personification of brands is a steptoo far, there are many who believe that for a brand to be successful, it has tofind its soul. JWT’s Jeff Benjamin is part of that camp: “Consumers don’t want tohave a relationship and a conversation with just this cold logo. [A brand] has tosettle on the kind of human it wants to be. So this brand is what – the professor,the teacher, the cool uncle?” (Sacks 2013) The answer varies with the targetaudience and also with the medium of communication. It is important forbrands to be consistent across all of their messaging – and in the cases of Oreoand Heineken, this is one of their greatest strengths. By creating a consistentpersona and building a stable relationship, brands can sustain the types ofmistakes made by Nike and Adidas. Monello, in his interview with Danielle Sacks,likens it to how you would react to someone you’re close to in real life: “If yourfriend says something you are offended by, you don’t turn around and call themsexist or racist; you go, ‘Hey man, that really bothered me.’”(2013).Managerial ImplicationsWith all of this in mind, the managerial implications are plentiful. Social mediatruly can be considered a hybrid element of the traditional (“4 P’s”) marketingmix (Mangold and Faulds, 2009), making it an important aspect of anysuccessful brand strategy. By acting through the medium in ways that arerelevant, timely, and ultimately, engaging, brands can go a long way insecuring long-lasting relationships built on mutual interaction. That being said, ifthe content they produce is off-brand, ill timed, or simply uninteresting, socialmedia can serve as a detriment to the overall marketing strategy. Therefore, it isimportant to have teams and strategies in place to ensure that they are able toutilize the medium in ways that stay true to the brand’s core values whileencouraging engagement and conversation.On the other side of the coin, social media holds brands publicly accountablefor their actions in ways traditional media never could. Public forums like
  • 32. Brand Personification in the Digital Age28Facebook and Twitter have made the world almost entirely interconnected andhave given voice to the everyday consumer as well as the brand. As a result,opinions – both positive and negative – are spread much faster and muchfarther than those in the age of traditional media. Because of this, brand (as wellas human, government, and anyone else on social media) transgressions aremagnified. That being said, the medium also offers the opportunity to rectifyissues in efficient and widespread fashion, allowing, in some cases, the brand toleave the situation in a better position than they’d been previous to thetransgression.For both the positive and negative sets of managerial implications, theunderlying cause is the brand personified. By allowing two-sided conversationrather than unilateral messaging, social media offers brands a new outlet forforming relationships with consumers. As with any new friend, brands run the riskof “talking too much” – of saturating the consumers with simply too muchmessaging because of the ease with which the outlets can be utilized. Whilesocial media can certainly be viewed as a double-edged sword, it offers moreopportunities for positive brand interactions and innovative integrations withdigital and interactive media that can work to enhance the brand’s standingwith both old and new customers alike.Future ResearchWhile the implications for marketers are many, there remains significant room forfuture research in regards to digital media and consumer-brand relationships.With the advent of things like the second-screen experience, native advertising,brand-generated content, and transmedia storytelling, the ways in whichbrands connect with and engage consumers are more plentiful than everbefore. With more intense and varied interactions and less delineation betweenpublic and private selves, there is much to be studied in regards to the impacton consumer behavior and the relationships that consumers form with brands.
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