By Dr. Darren Coleman
BSc (Hons) Business Management
Submitted by: Wong See Mun
University ID: 1210610
Word Count: 1876
Question Attempted: Essay 4
This essay serves to examine the extent of brands having a personality through the
comparison with physiologist definition of personality. The evaluation of the widely used
Aaker (1997) brand personality framework will then provide insights to the value of brand
personality in brand marketing. The second part of the essay will briefly illustrate the
importance of the personification of brands in consumers’ brand choice behavior. The theory
of self-concept and how consumers’ values influence the choice of brands to project their
personality will also be discussed.
The Extent Of Brands Having A Personality
Personality originated from the psychologist field of study. From the evolution of Freudian to
Neo-Freudian to Trait theory, the ‘Dictionnaire Fondamental de la Psychologie’ (Bloch et al.,
1997) defined personality as the “set of relatively stable and general dynamic, emotional and
affective characteristics of an individual’s way of being, in his/her way to react to the
situations in which s/he 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.”
(Azoulay & Kapferer, 2003, p.147)
The widely used and accepted Big Five model (McCrae & Costa, 1990) covering the 5
dimensions (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism) were
therefore derived to measure personality.
Many literatures have supported that like humans, brands have personalities (Aaker, 1997).
Similar to how personality of a person can be perceived through its behavior, brands
personality can also be perceived through both direct and indirect contact with the brand
(Plummer, 1985). The three distinct properties of personality i.e. reflects individual
differences, are consistent and enduring, and can change over time (Schiffman et al., 2005),
could be observed in both brands and humans. For example, Chanel is personified as a lady
who is ageless, sophisticated, classy and confident, through the use of spokesperson like
Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Tautou and over the decades became younger and louder as the
consumers age range widens.
Despite that, many academics are unable to effectively measure brand personality with the
Big Five model (Caprara et al., 2001), leading us to question the extent of brands having a
personality. Despite the similar conceptualization of brand and human personality traits
(Epstein, 1977), various literatures have acknowledged that how the personalities are formed
differs (Aaker, 1997). With that in consideration, Aaker (1997) came out with a brand
personality framework that seeks to address the differences. The 5-dimension framework
(sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication, ruggedness) was thought to be robust and
was widely used till to date. The extent to which brands have personality could be determined
by how well brands possess those traits from Aaker’s framework.
However, Aaker’s framework had been criticized for not being a true measurement of the
brand personality but instead a combination of facets of brand identity (Azoulay & Kapferer,
2003, p.144). This is because, Aaker (1997) defines brand personality as the “the set of
human characteristics associated with a brand” (p.347), without isolating the cognitive
aspects of the brand which has been excluded in the definition of human personality. The
cognitive aspects refer to intellectual capabilities, gender and social class (Aaker, 1997), are
reflected in the culture, physical, relationship, reflected consumer and consumer metallization
facets of brand identity defined by Kapferer (1992, 1998). Kapferer (2008) in his latest book,
referred the three distinct properties of human personality as mentioned above as brand
identity (p.172), suggesting that human personality is in fact equivalent to brand identity. This
further supports the point that Aaker is indeed measuring brand identity and not brand
Therefore, by excluding items like “competence”, “feminine”, and those related to social class
(Azoulay & Kapferer, 2003) from the Aaker framework, one can perhaps see the extent of
personality in brands and whether the value of using personality metaphor in brand marketing
is still valid.
For example, Aaker (1997) described Coca-Cola to be “cool, all-American and real” (p.348)
and Absolut Vodka as a “cool, hip, contemporary 25-year old” (p.347). By isolating the
abovementioned items, Coco-Cola brand personality would perhaps just be cool and real,
while Absolut Vodka cool and hip. Brands such as IBM, Guinness and Accenture that score
highly on competence might now find them lacking a strong brand personality. With the
reduction of dimension and items from the framework, this might suggest that individual
differences, a key properties in personality, are now limited in brands.
Hence, we may conclude that the extent of brands having a personality is perhaps good
enough to set the tonality in marketing communications, as it no longer holds strong
meanings for consumers. Instead, the personification of brands, a likely result of the
anthropomorphism and metaphorical processing of the brand identity (Delbaere et al., 2011),
with brand personality being one facet of it (Coleman et al., 2011), is the one that elicit strong
emotions and allows consumers to make meaning out of.
Why consumers may choose to use certain brands to project their personality
Personification of brand is important because consumers evaluates products not just in terms
of what it can do (functional) but also in terms of what they mean (symbolism) (Levy, 1959),
thus brands that consumers can make meaning out of often have a strong call for action.
Studies have shown that purchases are made based on emotions (Finucane et al., 2000) and
that brands holding symbolic meanings are often used by consumers to express their multiple
selves (Aaker, 1997), satisfying their social and psychological needs (Chernatony et al.,
2011). Various studies have also suggested the validity of self-image congruence, that
consumers prefer brands that enhance or maintain their self-image and psychological well-
being (Hosany & Martin, 2012).
In the recent research by Aguirre-Rodriguez et al. (2012), it was said that brands having
strong ““brand-as-person” personality (versus brand-user image) can foster strong self-
congruity experiences with targeted consumers” (p.1185), affirming the importance of
personification of brands in consumer behavior.
By examining the theory of self-concept, “the totality of the individual’s thoughts and feelings
in reference to themselves as an object” (Schiffman et al., 2005, p.119), one can better
understand why consumers may choose to use those brands with strong personality to
project their own personality.
Self-concept, which was influenced by the ‘Big Five’, the situation and the consumer’s history
(Schiffman et al., 2005) was identified by Nobel and Walker (1997) as a construct of 5 types
of perception of self; i.e. actual self-image (how consumers see themselves), ideal self-image
(how consumers would like to see themselves), social self-image (how consumers feel others
see them), ideal social self-image (how consumers would like others to see them) and
expected self-image (how consumers expect to see themselves at some specific future time)
(Schiffman et al., 2005, p.120).
In different situations, given the perception of others in the specific situation, consumers will
select a different self-image (actual self, ideal social etc.) as their situational self-image to
guide their attitudes and behavior (Schenk & Holman, 1980). The situational self-image
“includes attitudes, perceptions, and feelings the individual wishes others to associate with
him/her” (Sirgy, 1982, p.289). Motivated by self-esteem or self-consistency or both
1980), consumers will then use brands projecting symbolic meanings congruent to their self-
image in order to make expressions about their personalities, and avoid brands that are not.
The stronger the brand personality, the easier it is for consumers to comprehend the brand’s
symbolic meaning, and thus, increasing the likelihood of consumers selecting the brand to
project its self-image.
For example, when a person is attending an important office dinner, motivated by self-
esteem, he may choose its ideal social self-image as his situational self-image because he
wants to be perceived as someone mature, sophisticated and stylish to impress his boss who
is sophisticated and affluent. His brand choice in this case would perhaps be a Hugo Boss
suit that holds similar symbolic meanings. In a family dinner where, motivated by self-
consistency, he may choose a GAP jacket to express his ideal self as a laid-back chap
instead as he is not under any pressure to impress.
Another concept to consider is the influence of values on consumers’ choice of brands in
different situations. Culture peer groups influence consumers’ values. These values that
consumers hold forms the basis of their beliefs and drives behavior (Chernatony et al., 2011).
Consumers often use brands in different situations that are inline with their values to achieve
their desired consequence. For example, a person who values being seen as part of a team
will use the brands that the team uses when he is out socializing with them. Shetht et al.
(1991) suggested the 5 values i.e. functional, conditional, social, emotional and epistemic
value, determines consumer brand choice in any given situation. The values that consumers
are particularly concerned with differ in situations and brands that can best maximize the
required values are often chosen.
For example, when going for a college camp, a person wants to be perceived as sporty and
trendy as he valued being seen as one of the cool kids in school. He will choose a brand of
shoe that is able to best maximize the social and emotional value, e.g. Nike, which also holds
symbolic meanings that is congruent to his ideal social self-image. In another situation, if he is
just going to play a match with his pals, he may choose to use his Adidas shoes that can best
maximize the functional value at also aids to enhance his ideal self-image as oppose to a pair
of Pumas that may holds similar function but does not hold symbolic meaning congruent to
his situational self-image.
The above example illustrates that consumers not only use brands to communicate their
values in different situation, it also facilitate the projection of their situational self-image, thus
reflecting consumer’s personality. Therefore, the personification of brands as discussed in the
earlier part of the essay is exceptionally important. Such brands are able to effectively
communicate their brand values and allow consumers to better identify and relate to, and in
turn, consumers use those brands to communicate their values in different situation and to
enhance or maintain their self-image.
Given that the psychologist definition of personality isolates cognitive elements of a person,
the measurement and definition of brand personality must seek to do so too. The widely used
Aaker brand personality framework failed to effectively measure brand personality, but it
enables us to measure the brand identity as a whole. Through the examples, it can be noted
that the anthropomorphism and metaphorical processing of the brand identity itself holds
more meaning to consumers than brand personality.
The value of using a personality metaphor in brand marketing is of great importance as
consumers evaluate products not on what it do for them but what it means. Thus, brands with
strong personality are able to communicate values and symbolic meanings to and for
consumers effectively. Consumers project personality through the brands they use, their
attitudes towards different brands and the meanings the brands have for them (Chernatony et
al., 2011, p.131). The brand choice takes into account the congruency of the brand symbolic
meaning with the situational self-image as well as the value that the brand holds that enables
consumers to achieve their desired consequence in different situations.
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