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

Apr 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: Gov't: 1 in 14 fell prey to identity theft in 2012

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

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Ownership increases the value of products

Aug 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 enhanc ...

Recommended for you

Election surprises tend to erode trust in government

13 hours ago

When asked who is going to win an election, people tend to predict their own candidate will come out on top. When that doesn't happen, according to a new study from the University of Georgia, these "surprised losers" often ...

Awarded a Pell Grant? Better double-check

Jul 23, 2014

(AP)—Potentially tens of thousands of students awarded a Pell Grant or other need-based federal aid for the coming school year could find it taken away because of a mistake in filling out the form.

Perthites wanted for study on the Aussie lingo

Jul 23, 2014

We all know that Australians speak English differently from the way it's spoken in the UK or the US, and many of us are aware that Perth people have a slightly different version of the language from, say, Melbournians - but ...

User comments : 0