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Measuring Brand Personality to Sharpen Marketing Campaigns

Three factors — favorability, originality, and clarity — determine a product’s identity.

Title: Brand Personality Appeal: Conceptualization and Empirical Validation (Fee required.)

Authors: Traci H. Freling (University of Texas at Arlington), Jody L. Crosno (West Virginia University), and David H. Henard (North Carolina State University)

Publisher: Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, vol. 39, no. 3

Date Published: Forthcoming

Apple’s long-running “I’m a Mac” commercials contrast two characters who literally personify Macintosh and PC-compatible computers: Macs and their users are young and hip, whereas PC models and their users are represented as old and staid. The campaign has been so successful that Microsoft responded with a string of “I’m a PC” advertisements, in an attempt to freshen and redefine its personality in the minds of consumers.

The dueling campaigns typify the power of brand personalities, but in an era when companies spend millions trying to bond with their customers, how much does their brand personality matter? The authors of this paper developed a model to answer that question and measure brand personality appeal, defined as a brand’s capability to attract consumers through the mixture of human characteristics associated with it. Customers do indeed take into account a brand’s personality when making purchasing decisions, the researchers found, and advertisers should carefully weigh the impact of different promotional approaches on a brand’s identity.

The researchers identified three elements that contribute to brand personality appeal: favorability (how positively consumers view the brand), originality (whether customers perceive the brand’s personality as novel and distinct from its competitors), and clarity (the extent to which a brand’s personality is recognizable to consumers). The researchers then used these three variables in a series of studies to establish a measurement of brand personality appeal that could be applied to any product.

The first experiment established a baseline. The researchers chose five well-known national brands that had been found in previous studies to represent a wide range of personality types and product categories: Crest (representing competence in brand personality), Pepsi (excitement), Levi’s (ruggedness), Hallmark (sincerity), and Macy’s (sophistication). The researchers gave 241 adults a 40-point survey of brand personality, asking them to choose between evaluations such as “this brand’s personality is vague/well-defined” or “this product is memorable/forgettable.” The results confirmed that each product ranked highest in brand personality scores for its intended dimension (in other words, Levi’s got the highest scores in “ruggedness”).

In the second experiment, the researchers whittled the brand personality scale down to the 16 most pertinent questions. The next experiment gauged the long-term reliability of the measurement tool. Undergraduate marketing students filled out a brand personality questionnaire on two occasions, separated by about two months, showing that the evaluations remained consistent over time.

Seeking to reverse-test their findings, the researchers next turned to groups of people who felt strong associations with certain brands. More than 170 adults who owned either a Ford or Chevrolet truck or SUV responded to the surveys, which consisted of the 16-point brand personality appeal scale and a measure of customers’ purchase intentions. As expected, the favorability, originality, and clarity ratings for Ford trucks were significantly higher among Ford owners than among Chevy owners. Conversely, Chevrolet owners thought much more of their trucks, providing statistically significant support for the 16-item measure.

Finally, the researchers tested their scale on the hypothetical launch of two magazines — one hip and trendy, the other conservative in its approach — focusing on students entering the business world. The researchers manipulated the three elements of the brand personality of the magazines by changing the cover copy, overall tone, and visuals while keeping the quality and quantity of information the same. Students then evaluated several different covers, completed the 16-point test, and indicated their purchase intentions.

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