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  1. 1. Do brand personality scales really measure brand personality? A. Azoulay and J-N. Kapferer HEC (Paris) Graduate School of Business (This paper has received the support of Fondation HEC) Forthcoming Journal of Brand Management, 2004ABSTRACTSince 1997, literature and research on the concept of brand personality is flourishing, andspecific scales have gone widespread use in academic circles, unchallenged on their validity.Brand personality is certainly a key facet of a brand identity. However, as this paper willdemonstrate, the current scales of brand personality in fact do not measure brand personalitybut merge altogether a number of dimensions of brand identity which need to be kept separateboth on theoretical grounds and for practical use. Brand management theory and practice havenothing to gain from the present state of unchallenged conceptual confusion.INTRODUCTIONIn practice, the personification of brands has been frequent since celebrities endorsed brands.The use of a star and of his or her personality help marketers position their brands, and caneven seduce consumers who would identify themselves with these stars. In other wordsconsumers could perceive a congruence between their (ideal or actual) perceived selves andthat of the star, hence of the brand Dolich1; Sirgy et al.2. Or more simply, this personalityendowment may merely give the brand a meaning in the consumers eyes Levy3. Beyond thisspecific advertising strategy, it has for long been recognized that brands could be said to havea personality, as any person has a personality. In any case, in focus groups or depthinterviewing, consumers have no difficulty answering metaphorical questions such as:suppose the brand is a person, what kind of person would he/she be, with what personality? Infact consumers do perceive brands as having personality traits. Recent research has evenshown that medical doctors (generalists as well as specialists) had no difficulty in attributingpersonality traits to pharmaceutical brands; more, these traits were actually significantly 1
  2. 2. correlated to medical prescription itself Kapferer4. That is why we may think that brandpersonality has a role to play in the construction and/or management of brands.Since 1997, and the pioneering scale of brand personality proposed by J. Aaker5, a newstream of research is born. This renewed interest for a rather old concept (brand personality)signals that the metaphor of brands as persons is held as more and more pertinent at a timewhen marketing stresses so much the importance of creating relationships with brands. Mostof the research papers on that topic are now based on this personality scale recently developedas first trial to measure the concept in the field of marketing. As is frequently the case withpioneer studies, they lead to a bandwagon effect: a first wave of research consists ofreplication studies, in the country of the first study. Then a second wave assesses the externalvalidity of the scale in foreign countries in order to evaluate the robustness of the scale, itsability to support translations and intercultural uses. Meanwhile its use becomes widespreadand goes unchallenged. It is the purpose of this paper to demonstrate that the current scale ofbrand personality becoming widespread in academic marketing circles, in fact does notmeasure brand personality but merges altogether a number of dimensions of a brand identitywhich need to be kept separate both on theoretical grounds and for practical use. Certainlybrand personality is a useful concept, but brand identity has more facets than the personalityfacet alone.In this paper, we argue that one needs to a stricter definition of brand personality, to avoid thepresent state of conceptual confusion in branding research and to allow brand personality tobe a rich and most helpful concept to understand and manage brands. One should recall thatPersonality and other concepts used in marketing (such as self, or values) derive frompsychology, and should therefore be defined and strictly described in relation to theirdefinition in psychology, although some adaptations seem necessary (Caprara, Barbaranelli &Guido6).To better understand what brand personality is, we first briefly review the roots and history ofbrand personality. We then look at the existing definition and measurements of brandpersonality and of personality in psychology, for comparison purposes. Finally, wedemonstrate that the existing definition and measurement methodology have led to theconstruction of scales that do not really measure brand personality but other un-relatedconcepts. 2
  3. 3. BRAND PERSONALITY: HISTORY OF THE CONCEPT IN MARKETINGAdvertisers and marketing practitioners have been the first ones to coin the term brandpersonality, well before the academics studied and accepted the concept. As early as 1958, P.Martineau7 used the word to refer to the non material dimensions that make a store special, itscharacter. S. King8 writes that “people choose their brands the same way they choose theirfriends in addition to the skills and physical characteristics, they simply like them as people”.He goes on quoting research from J. Walter Thomson Advertising agency indicating thatconsumers do tend to attribute personality facets to their brands and talk fluently about thesefacets. Plummer9 speaks of Orangina soft drink as having a sensuous personality. In addition,motivation research made popular the common use of projective techniques to capture thesefacets: for instance, it has become a classic to make use of metaphors in focus groups, whereconsumers are asked to speak of their brands as if it was a person, a movie star, an animal, …As early as 1982, J. Séguela10, Creative Vice President of the RSCG advertising agencyintroduced the “star strategy” as the new mode of brand management for mature markets.People would be deciding more and more on non product based features of the brand, even iffor rationalization motives, they spoke of the product first. Séguela recommended that allbrands be described along three facets: the physical one (what does the product do, itsabilities, its performances), the character (brand personality facet) and the style (executionalelements for advertising and communication). On the side of design and corporate identity, in1978 W. Olins’s book11 Corporate Personality refers to the fact that design is not here todescribe a product but to endow either its brand or corporation with values and non materialdistinguishing attributes.In practice, these publications expressed a growing dissatisfaction with an enduring tenet ofmarketing practice equating the product and the brand, that is defining the brand by a productperformance. A typical example of that was the famous Unique Selling Proposition, USP, theterm created by Rosser Reeves12, the advertising man author of Reality in advertising (1961) atitle which, in and of itself, unveiled the vision of a brand as a product with a plus.In the late eighties, realizing that with growing copies, and the abundance of similar products,it was more and more difficult to differentiate brands on the basis of performance, Ted Bates,the advertising agency of Rosser Reeves introduced an additional concept: the Unique SellingPersonality!As a consequence, in the famous “copy strategy”, the essential single sheet which summarizesthe advertising strategy as related to copy, it became widespread to see a new item to be filledby account executives: brand personality (as substitute to the former item: tone of 3
  4. 4. advertising). In fact, this meant that tone (an executional constant) would not have to beinvented but derived from the type of brand one wanted to create, to build and to reinforce.Starting in the seventies, whatever the client or its advertising agency, all copy strategies didentail a provision for describing brand personality, after having stated the target, the brandpromise and the reason why. From this it can be seen that the use of “brand personality”originated as non product based definition of the brand: it captured all that was not bound tothe product use, performance, benefits, attributes etc… Interestingly, it was not either adescription of the target itself, like when one describes a brand by the life style of its target. Incopy strategies brand personality was used as a common practical but rather loose word forassessing non product based, non functional dimensions of the brand: it captured thesingularity of the source of the product as if it were a person.Later, on the researcher side, the brand identity frameworks13-18, always quoted brandpersonality as a dimension or a facet of brand identity , namely those traits of humanpersonality that can be attributed to the brand. Among other dimensions are the brand innervalues (its cultural facet), the brand relationship facet (its style of behavior, of conduct), thebrand reflected consumer facet, the brand physical facet (its material distinguishing traits) 19,20(see fig 1. below ).At odds with this general conceptualization of personality as one part of brand identity,namely referring to the traits of human personality attributed to the brand, J. Aaker21 in theprocess of building a scale for measurement purposes defines brand personality not as a partbut as the whole: "the set of human characteristics associated to a brand". However, innervalues, physical traits, pictures of the typical user are also "human characteristics" that can beassociated to a brand. Hence the risk (if one follows this too global definition) of muddlingconceptually and empirically distinct brand identity facets within a single scale of so called“brand personality”.This recent loose usage of the concept of brand personality for scale measurement purposes isin fact a come back to the historical early use by pioneer professionals who rightly felt thatthe copy strategy did well define the product compelling competitive advantage (USP), butfailed to capture the flesh of the source of that product (the brand). They coined the termbrand personality to capture all the non-product dimensions.To come back to theoretical unity and conceptual clarity, one should follow Churchillsmeasurement advice of "exacting in delineating what is included in the definition and what is 4
  5. 5. excluded"22. We suggest a clear and pure definition of the concept of brand personality,separate from the other human characteristics which can be associated to a brand. Thisdefinition should remain close to that in psychology, which has been analysing the concept ofpersonality for decades, although it should be adapted to brands.PERSONALITY: CONCEPT AND MEASUREMENTIn order to clarify the issues, let us examine the concept of personality in psychology, whichis at the very basis of any work on brand personality. 1. The human personality concept in psychologyWithout going back to the Latin or theological roots of the word "personality" – the meaningsof which are then manifold – we observe that the first psychologist who constructed apersonality theory was Freud. Most important is that Freud23 and his disciples consideredpersonality to be something dynamic, cumulative, but, above all, they viewed it as beingdurable and relatively stable over time. Sullivan’s researches have the same lines, especiallyconcerning the definition of personality. Indeed, Sullivan thought that “Personality could be defined only in terms of the reactions (…) of an individual towards other people in recurrent interpersonal situations in life. He called the smallest unit of recurrent reactions dynamism. He used that word to describe certain patterns of feelings or behaviour (…) and also to describe entities or mechanisms that are the components of the personality. (…) Those dynamisms are quite enduring and accumulate throughout life.”24This definition is quite vague, but it gave a way to the trait theory.The importance of defining the concept of personality is crucial insofar as it will influence thetheory that will ensue. When trying to write a book devoted to explain what personality reallyis, Allport25 wrote an entire chapter entitled “Defining Personality”. In this chapter, hereviewed 49 definitions before giving one of his own. This book is a remarkable effort todefine this field of study. Those definitions had common points that can be found in Allport’sone. The Fundamental Psychological Dictionary26 summarizes these researches anddefinitions as such : “[Personality is a] Set of relatively stable and general dynamic, emotional and affective characteristics of an individual’s way of being, in his way to react to the situations in which he/she is. In most cases, the word does not include the cognitive aspects of the behavior (intelligence, abilities, knowledge). It always deals with the affective, emotional and dynamic aspects. Personality is [more often than not] described in terms of traits.” 5
  6. 6. Personality is a clear construct different from cognitive aspects of the person, or from his orher skills, abilities. It is described by traits.The theory of traits is crucial to that of personality insofar as it has permitted to use concretelythe theory of personality, to build personality scales, and to define the corpus of words thatdefine personality. As Allport described it, a trait is “a generalized and focalized neuropsychicsystem (peculiar to the individual), with the capacity to render many stimuli functionallyequivalent, and to initiate and guide consistent (equivalent) forms of adaptive and expressivebehavior.”25 The researchers of the years 1930s to 1950s focused more on the construction ofan exhaustive and representative list of all the terms of the language that could possiblydescribe the personality, than on the search for a perfect definition of the concept. Thoseresearches (among which Cattels28) are the basis of the current personality theories the mostshared.The study of personality by a lexical approach dates back to the 1920s in Germany and to the1930s in the U.S.. It has since then been developed in various countries, but the American andGerman studies remain the basics of the field.The first exhaustive and published list of terms related to personality and present in theEnglish dictionary was done by Allport & Odbert29 in 1936 (they listed 18,000 terms). Moststudies –often replicated – since Cattel30 until today, have been astonishingly convergingtoward the conclusion that human personality could be "summarized" by a small number offactors (from 2 to 16). A large number of studies have reached the quite consensual number offive31-40.The reduction of the number of items has been done on the basis a relevancy criterion: theterms that are taken out are those which are judged obscure, ambiguous, slangy, those that arejudgmental or that introduce a gender distinction. The factors are the result of factor analysis,most of the time with a varimax rotation. As Digman41 explains it in his literature review,Goldberg42 too has observed the robustness if the Five Factor Model (FFM), on the basis ofhis own works, independently of Cattels results43. He even thinks that this five broad factorsor dimensions can form a framework that permits to organize and structure the personalityconcept as it has been studied by researchers such as Cattel44, Norman45, Eysenck46,Guilford47, and Wiggins48. The 5 dimensions reflect an individuals stable and recurrent traits,as opposed to temporary states that are not taken into consideration in the description of anindividual personality. 6
  7. 7. Goldberg is all the more confident with his results since another research, which analyzes 6studies, shows the robustness of the model unveiled by Tupes & Christal49, with 5 factorslabeled Big Five by Goldberg. However, the number of dimensions is not confirmed by allresearchers. Some of them indeed note that the parsimonious configuration of the Big FiveModel has weaknesses (see Eysenck50 for example).Despite those critiques, the Big Five theory or Five Factor Model is widely accepted. The 5dimensions are often (but not always) labelled O.C.E.A.N.:1. Dimension O: openness to new experiences, to imagination, intellectual curiosity. That dimension gathers such elements as intensity, span and complexity of an individuals experiences..2. Dimension C : conscientiousness. This dimension gathers such traits as scrupulous, orderly, trustworthy.3. Dimension E : Extraversion. That dimension gathers such traits as openness to others, sociability, impulsivity, likeability to feel positive emotions.4. Dimension A : Agreeableness. That dimension includes such traits as kind, modest, trust, and altruist.5. Dimension N : Neuroticism. An individual is said to be neurotic if hes not emotionally stable. That dimension includes such traits as anxious, unstable, and nervous.Some researchers have shown that the five dimensions could be represented by a smallnumber of adjectives that are representative enough of the dimension they load on. In otherwords, those adjectives have a high loading on one dimension and a low (or close to 0) one onany other dimension. Those adjectives are named "markers" of the Big Five (Goldberg51,Saucier52). They have been developed in order to reduce the questionnaires length and toavoid respondents fatigue. This method enables a psychologist to have a quick evaluation ofan individual. Sauciers53 40 mini-markers are presented further in table 1, along with J.Aakers 5-dimension scale54. 2. Psychology applied to the brand personality concept.The methodology that led to the Five Factors Model has been directly borrowed, andsometimes somehow adapted, by some marketing researchers (Caprara, Barbaranelli & 7
  8. 8. Guido55, Ferrandi & Valette-Florence56). Thus, if we consider that brands, just as individuals,can be described with adjectives, the approach used in psychology can be very interesting andrelevant to account for a brand personality as perceived by consumers. Indeed, we perceive anindividuals personality through his/her behavior, and in exactly the same way, consumers canattribute a personality to a brand according to its perceived communication and "behaviors".The question is whether the terms that encode personality in our language can be applied tobrands. The existing literature about the relationship between an individual and a brand(Plummer57; Fournier58), about brand attachment or even about the view of a brand as apartner (Aaker & Fournier59), enables us to think that, brands being personified, humanpersonality descriptors can be used to describe them. But maybe not all of them, brands beingattributed only some of the human characteristics. In fact, the adjectives used to describehuman personality may not be all relevant to brands. This is where an adaptation is required.Some psychological aspects of human beings such as neurotic fatigue for example, may notbe applicable to brands. This need for adaptation has also been suggested by Aaker60 andCaprara, Barabaranelli & Guido61. 3. Brand personality measurement.J. Aakers62 work has tried to clarify the concept and to build a scale to measure it. To achievethat, she followed most of the time the psychologists’ steps in their study of humanpersonality. She followed more particularly the studies made by researchers who contributedto unveil the existence of 5 dimensions subsuming personality (Five Factor Model). Morespecifically, J. Aaker (1997) and those who replicated or followed her work (Ferrandi, Fine-Falcy & Valette-Florence63; Koebel & Ladwein64; Aaker, Benet-Martinez & Garolera65), arewalking in the steps of the American psychologists Costa and McCrae who have adopted alexical approach, and whose personality inventory (NEO-PI-R66,67) is renown, famous andtranslated in several languages (Rolland68 for French for example).All those works in marketing are based on J. Aaker’s global definition of the concept: brandpersonality is “the set of human characteristics associated to a brand” (Aaker69). J. Aakerexplored the brand personality on the basis of 114 adjectives (or traits) across 37 brands thatcover various product categories. She reached a 5 factor solution presented in table 1presented below. Only three out of those five factors correspond to some factors of the FFMin psychology. 8
  9. 9. (Authors Dimensions **)Facets or (***)items Sincerity (**) Down-to-earth, honest, wholesome, cheerful. Excitement Daring, spirited, imaginative, up-to-dateAaker 70 Competence Reliable, intelligent, successful Sophistication Upper-class, charming Ruggedness Outdoorsy, tough Openness ( or intellect) (***)Creative, imaginative, intellectual, philosophical, deep, complex, uncreative, unintellectual. Conscientiousness Efficient, organized, systematic, practical, disorganized, inefficient, sloppy, careless.Saucier s Extraversion Bold, extraverted, talkative, bashful, quiet, shy, withdrawn,40 mini- energetic.markers71 Agreeableness Kind, sympathetic, warm, cooperative, cold, unsympathetic, harsh, rude. Neuroticism (or Emotional Unenvious, relaxed, fretful, envious, jealous, moody, touchy, Stability) temperamental. Table 1: Aakers brand personality scale and The Psychological Five Factors Model ARE CURRENT BRAND PERSONALITY SCALES VALID? 1. The issue of concept validity So far, most of the research on brand personality has focused on external validity: scores of translations have been undertaken by local researchers to assess the ability of the scale produce its similar five factors in different markets and cultures. This refers to the external validity. Now the main issue has not so far been addressed. It is not because one calls a scale “brand personality scale” that it does actually measure personality. This issue refers to a critique of construct or concept validity. As we saw above, J. Aaker defines personality as being "the set of human characteristics associated with a brand"72. This definition comes as a direct heritage from practitioner’s early use of brand personality as a single all encompassing convenient item in the advertising copy strategy to define all that is not product related. Thus, from the start, although the word personality has a very specific meaning in psychology, its use in branding has tended to be rather loose, an all-encompassing pot pourri. The problem is that all the works subsequent to J. Aakers are based implicitly or explicitly on this definition. Therefore, all those studies share the same flaw in their conceptual basis. 9
  10. 10. The main problem of the current acceptance and is that it is too wide, it may comprehendconcepts larger than that of brand personality. Marketing is an applied science that importssometimes existing concepts from psychology among others. The concept of personality hasbeen coined by psychology, and maybe it would be better or more precise to remain close tothe psychological definition of personality. Indeed, by defining loosely “brand personality”,we may find that it means everything related to man and applied to brands, which means wemay produce a vocabulary slippage or even a misnomer with the words “brand personality”.Whereas psychologists have worked over years to exclude intellectual abilities, gender, andsocial class from their personality definitions and scales, adopting J. Aakers loose definitionof brand personality may take us to ignore their results, and therefore to use the term “brandpersonality” to designate “any non-physical attribute associated with a brand”, includingintellectual abilities, gender, or social class.If Allport73 dedicated a whole chapter (as most of theoretical handbooks dedicated to thestudy of personality) to the concept definition and to the problems related to it, it is becausethe step of definition of the concept is tricky and very long. He examined a large number ofdefinitions and rejected them because he found them too vague or incomplete (hencemeaningless). He then proposed a definition of his own.Without claiming to solve the debate existing among psychologists concerning the definitionof personality, we can delineate quite precisely what is included in and what is excluded fromthe concept of personality in psychology. It would be advisable to do so in marketing for thebrand personality concept. In order to move forward, one should stick to the commonlyagreed upon definition, summarized in the Fundamental Dictionary of Psychology74 Thisdefinition covers what is most accepted among researchers and was presented above (see p.5-6).This is why we recommend that marketing researchers and practitioners should adopt astricter definition of the concept of brand personality, as follows: “Brand personality is theset of human personality traits that are both applicable to and relevant for brands.”That is why we advocate a stricter definition of brand personality than popularized by J.Aaker in order to reach a more exact measurement of that concept. A stricter definition meansa definition that enables us to delineate what is included in and what is excluded from theconcept, as suggested by Churchill75 10
  11. 11. 2. The main problematic items of the scales.Let us examine how the current scale of so called “brand personality” encompass dimensionsconceptually distinct of the pure concept of personality. An analysis of the items of the scalewill enlighten the case.The item “competence”:J. Aaker’s scale holds “competence” as a major factor or trait among the five identified.The item competence refers to a know-how (in the case of brands), or to an ability to carry outsomething properly. But we saw above that the definition of personality in psychologyexcludes any item related to abilities or cognitive capacities. Most psychologists excludeintelligence - as a cognitive ability - from their personality tests.Note that the adjectives "productive", "well-organized", or "(intellectually) efficient" aredescriptors of personality (McCrae & Costa76), but they do not relate to cognitive ability.Those items are applicable to brands but not in the framework of brand personality: they arerather relevant of fields such as organization studies, control of organizations or strategy.Those items are therefore applicable but not relevant. This point cannot be made if there is nostrict prior definition of the brand personality concept as we suggested.The item "feminine":For the item generation step, J. Aaker added some items related to gender, social class andage. She bears out her choice by quoting Levy and by writing that “researchers argue thatbrand personality include demographic characteristics such as gender [which may be all themore true in the languages wherein there is a neutral pronoun to talk about inanimates] (…),age (…), and class”77. By following this advice, one confounds the personality of the branditself, and the demographic or socio-economic characteristics of the purported target, asportrayed by the brand itself in its advertising. Another problem is that the item “feminine” isa facet of Aakers model, although gender is absent from psychology scales of personality. Inaddition, more often than not, “feminine” is a value judgment. Its meaning is very tied to theculture.The items related to social class:We think that to integrate items related to age and social class is also problematic. Indeed, ifLevy78 talks about age and social class, he never explicitly says that they are relevant to brand 11
  12. 12. personality. He simply explains that those items are part of the imagery associated to typicalusers of the brand (user imagery). He states that an age and a social status could be imbued toa brand through its typical users. This argument is significant of a conceptual lack ofdistinction between the personality of the brand (the sender) and the person to whom thebrand seems to be speaking, addressing to (the receiver) (Kapferer79,80). Merging bothdimensions introduces confusion and hinders proper brand diagnosis and implementation.These arguments support our belief that without a strict definition of the concept, and withoutthe methodological stage of evaluation of items, the measurement of brand personality maybecome a “ragbag”.Some other questionable items:Some authors (Davies, Chun & Vinhas da Silva81 have tried to replicate Aakers study in theU.K. In their replication, they found that the item “Western”, “Small Town” or “feminine”account a lot for the low reliability scores of their study. We question the relevancy of thoseitems in the framework of personality. The presence of “Western” is a typical illustration ofethnocentrism in marketing research. Why are the equivalent terms Asian, or Latin absent?Are the brands of the world either Western or not?Most important, the concept refers to the value system underneath the brand, what Kapferercalls its “cultural underpinnings, its cultural facet ” in the brand identity prism82,83 (see Figure1). The brand identity prism captures the key facets of a brand’s identity: brand personalitystricto sensu as defined above is one of these, but among others. Constructed source Physical Personality facet Relationship Culture (values) Reflected Consumer Consumer Mentalization Constructed receiver Figure 1: Brand identity prismSource: J-N. Kapferer84,85. 12
  13. 13. 3. The flaws of the scale stem from its conceptual definitionThe weaknesses and shortcomings of the current scale of brand personality derive from itsconstruction methodology itself embedded in the flawful concept definition.For the item generation, in order to be as exhaustive as possible, and not to forget any item,J.Aaker86 generated 309 items coming from 4 different sources: (a) literature review of scalesused in psychology to measure personality; (b) personality scales used by marketers(academicians and also practitioners); and (c) items generated by qualitative studies. Thosethree sources were then completed by (d) a free association task done by respondents whowere asked to elicit personality traits that they would associate with some brands.The problem comes from the sources that generated the items. As we mentioned earlier, earlypractitioners used the concept of brand personality in a global extended meaning. This way,the concept covers a variety of existing separate constructs: the personality itself, but also thevalues, the reflection of the typical or stereotypical buyer, etc… all different facts of brandidentity.CONCLUSIONAs we demonstrated in this paper, it seems to us that prior to the construction of a validmeasurement of the construct of brand personality, there must be a strict definition of theconstruct, as well as the clarifying of the conceptual difference between this concept and theclosely related ones. As Churchill wrote, we should always be aware of the fact that “the firstin the suggested procedure for developing better measures involves specifying the domain ofthe construct […] what is included in the definition, and what is excluded. […] Researchersshould have good reasons for proposing additional new measures given the many available formost marketing constructs of interest”88 Thats why we have tried to analyze in detail theshortcomings of the existing definition and scales to measure the concept of brand personalitybefore proposing a new methodology.To conclude, we think that the existing measures for the construct of brand personality do nomeasure that construct and introduce conceptual confusion. Rather, they somehow measureall the human characteristics applicable to brands merging under one blanket word a numberof key distinct facets of brand identity. It is time to restrict the use of the concept of brandpersonality to the meaning it should never have lost: the unique set of human personalitytraits both applicable and relevant to brands. 13
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