When identity marketing backfires: Consumers don't like to be told what they like

April 15, 2014

When choosy moms choose Jif peanut butter and sports fans who call themselves sports fans subscribe to DirecTV, identity marketing is hard at work. But what happens when this type of advertising misses the mark? According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, when a person's sense of ownership and freedom is threatened they are less likely to respond positively to identity marketing campaigns.

"While people may be drawn to brands that fit their identity, they are also more likely to desire a sense of ownership and freedom in how they express that identity. Identity marketing that explicitly links a person's identity with a purchase may actually undermine that sense of freedom and backfire," write authors Amit Bhattacharjee (Dartmouth College), Jonah Berger (Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania), and Geeta Menon (New York University).

The researchers ran a series of five studies that compared two types of identity marketing, messages that simply referenced consumer identity or messages that explicitly tied consumer identity to a brand purchase. Participants were first asked to answer questions about the importance of a given identity in their overall life. They then viewed an advertisement for a brand that appealed to that specific identity. The advertisement used a headline that either referenced the identity or explicitly linked it to a brand. Participants then rated their likelihood to purchase a product from within the brand.

Study results showed that explicit identity marketing messages backfired with consumers who cared about the specific identity and resulted in a lower likelihood to purchase the product. This information may help brands understand why some people react negatively to products used in important areas of their lives.

"Contrary to the traditional thinking about identity marketing, our research shows that people who care deeply about an identity are not receptive to messages that explicitly communicate how a brand fits with their lifestyle," the authors conclude. "In fact, to restore their sense of freedom, some people may avoid purchasing a product that otherwise appeals to them and fits with who they are."

Explore further: Why we like the Old Spice guy: Consumer identity and product preferences

More information: Amit Bhattacharjee, Jonah Berger, and Geeta Menon. "When Identity Marketing Backfires: Consumer Agency in Identity Expression." Journal of Consumer Research: August 2014.

Related Stories

Ownership increases the value of products

August 15, 2012

The price a consumer will pay for a product is often significantly less than the price they will accept to sell it. According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, this occurs because ownership of a product ...

Recommended for you

How much for that Nobel prize in the window?

October 3, 2015

No need to make peace in the Middle East, resolve one of science's great mysteries or pen a masterpiece: the easiest way to get yourself a Nobel prize may be to buy one.

Search for Egypt's Nefertiti gains new momentum (Update)

September 29, 2015

The search for ancient Egypt's Queen Nefertiti in an alleged hidden chamber in King Tut's tomb gained new momentum as Egypt's Antiquities Minister said Tuesday he is now more convinced a queen's tomb may lay hidden behind ...

New finds of a living fossil

October 2, 2015

The coelacanth fish, found today in the Indian Ocean, is often called a 'living fossil' because its last ancestors existed about 70 million years ago and it has survived into the present - but without leaving any fossil remains ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.