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Humanizing Brands: When Brands Seem to Be Like Me, Part of Me, and in a Relationship with Me



We review a growing body of research in consumer behavior that has examined when consumers humanize brands by perceiving them as like, part of, or in a relationship with themselves. One research stream shows that sometimes consumers perceive brands as having human-like forms, minds, and personality characteristics. A second stream identifies ways that a consumer perceives a brand as being congruent with or connected to the self. Finally, a third highlights that consumers can view brands in ways that are analogous to the types of relationships they have with people. We review research in these three areas and point out connections among these research streams. In part, we accomplish this by showing that factors associated with the SEEK model, which are designed to explain anthropomorphic tendencies, are also relevant to other ways of humanizing brands. We identify major propositions derived from this research and several areas for which additional research is needed. We conclude with recommendations for the many opportunities for expanding our conceptual and empirical understanding of this domain.
Humanizing Brands:
When Brands Seem to Be Like Me, Part of Me, and in a Relationship with Me
Deborah J. MacInnis*
Valerie S. Folkes**
December 26, 2016
* Charles L. and Ramona I. Hilliard Professor of Business Administration, Professor of
Marketing at the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California, 701 Exposition
Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90089-0441 ( Debbie MacInnis is the corresponding
** Robert E. Brooker Chair of Marketing and Professor of Marketing at the Marshall School of
Business, University of Southern California (
Humanizing Brands:
When Brands Seem to Be Like Me, Part of Me, and In a Relationship With Me
We review a growing body of research in consumer behavior that has examined when consumers
humanize brands by perceiving them as like, part of, or in a relationship with themselves. One
research stream shows that sometimes consumers perceive brands as having human-like forms,
minds, and personality characteristics. A second stream identifies ways that a consumer perceives
a brand as being congruent with or connected to the self. Finally, a third highlights that
consumers can view brands in ways that are analogous to the types of relationships they have
with people. We review research in these three areas and point out connections among these
research streams. In part, we accomplish this by showing that factors associated with the SEEK
model, which are designed to explain anthropomorphic tendencies, are also relevant to other
ways of humanizing brands. We identify major propositions derived from this research and
several areas for which additional research is needed. We conclude with recommendations for the
many opportunities for expanding our conceptual and empirical understanding of this domain.
Keywords: Anthropomorphism, branding, brand personality, brand-self-congruity, brand-self
connections, brand attachment, brand relationships
In the past 20 years, we have witnessed a growing literature that can be subsumed within
the domain of “humanizing brands”. This broad topic comprises three subdomains shown in the
bottom half of Figure 1. Each subdomain has developed somewhat independently, in part
because each assumes a different reference point. Anthropomorphism, the first of these
subdomains, takes a human-focused perspective, examining consumers’ perceptions of brands as
having human-like qualities. Here, researchers have studied brands as having (1) human-like
features or physiognomy (as when one perceives a handbag as having features that resemble a
human face); (2) a human-like mind (as when one infers that a computer has its own intentions
and motives); and (3) a human-like personality (e.g., the brand is friendly). A second stream
adopts a more self-focused perspective, examining not how the brand is like people in general,
but rather how it is specifically like oneself. This subdomain includes work on the perceived
congruity between the brand and the self, as well as the extent to which consumers are connected
to the brand (brand-self connections). A third subdomain takes a relationship-focused
perspective, examining how consumers’ relationships with brands can resemble their
relationships with people. This work acknowledges that consumers have different types of
relationships with brands and that such brand relationships can vary in their strength and
affective intensity, as well as in the relationship norms that guide them. Our paper aims to
summarize the literature in this domain, integrate this research, and identify issues that the field
should address in moving this perspective forward.
We review the expansive yet recent literature pertaining to each subdomain sequentially,
following Figure 1. We first discuss background research on individuals’ tendencies to humanize
non-human entities. We then review research that has emphasized the human-focused, self-
focused and relationship focused perspectives shown in Figure 1. In reviewing each area, we also
show that factors noted in the upper portion of Figure 1 help us understand the conditions under
which these tendencies are most likely to operate. We also draw connections between and within
the subdomains, showing linkages and common drivers that might otherwise remain obscured
given the relative independence of each stream’s development. We conclude with a set of
propositions that reflect accumulated knowledge, as well as a discussion of future work in the
broad domain of humanizing brands. Figure 1 and the propositions noted in Table 2 provide the
broad overview of our understanding of research on humanizing brands.
----- Insert Figure 1 here -----
Whereas considerable research has focused on branding, our review is necessarily
selective. We emphasize articles in the field of consumer psychology rather than articles that
highlight managerial issues. We consider consumer research on such topics as goals and branding
(e.g., brands as cultural symbols, brand extensions, brands and social signaling, and brands and
self-expression) only to the extent that they bear on the topics in Figure 1. Our review
emphasizes brands as opposed to unbranded possessions (i.e., non-branded products people
own), though some findings extend to the context of unbranded possessions.
Before reviewing the three research streams that investigate the way consumers’
humanize brands, it is useful to provide a broader perspective for this domain. The tendency for
people to humanize – “to attribute humanlike capacities to other agents” (Waytz, Epley and
Cacioppo 2010, p. 58) - varies, even if that agent is human or nonhuman. At issue is not whether
a human brand (e.g., Taylor Swift), an organization (e.g., the United Way) or a branded product
(e.g., Mazda) should be treated as human, but rather whether these entities are humanized in
consumers’ minds. Some consumer psychology research on humanization takes the perspective
that a brand implies a corporate entity and, as such, is as likely to be perceived as human as other
social categories (e.g., Kervyn, Fiske & Malone 2012; Keller 2012). Social categories include
occupational groups (e.g., tax lawyers), ethnic groups (e.g., Asian-Americans) and genders (e.g.,
women). The greater perceived cohesiveness of corporate entities (e.g., Burger King,
McDonalds) compared to some other social categories (Waytz & Young 2012) makes them
particularly susceptible to being humanized. Nevertheless, even social categories are
dehumanized (the inverse process of humanization according to Waytz et al. 2010), as when the
category is considered an outgroup. Recent consumer psychology literature has focused on when,
why and to what effect humanization occurs, rather than dehumanization, an emphasis that is
reflected in our review.
The tendency for people to humanize refers to both human and nonhuman targets, but
anthropomorphism is restricted to humanizing nonhuman agents or events (Waytz et al. 2010).
We might perceive that a Mazda’s front grill makes it look like our Uncle Charlie, and we might
describe it as having a human-like personality (e.g., it is “sassy”) and a “mind of its own”. Given
that anthropomorphism can be seen as the extreme version of humanization and that theorists
have often identified anthropomorphism as the precursor to developing a relationship with the
brand (Fournier 1998), a model of anthropomorphism should provide a basic framework for
understanding the consumer psychology literature on brand humanization.
Outside of a branding context, Epley, Waytz and Cacioppo (2007) have developed a
model that identifies factors that drive individuals’ tendencies to anthropomorphize objects.
According to this SEEK (Sociality, Effectance, and Elicited agent Knowledge) model, the
tendency to perceive non-humans in human-like terms is facilitated by an individual’s knowledge
of people and how they behave (called elicited agent knowledge in the top half of Figure 1).
Factors that enhance the accessibility of this knowledge enhance anthropomorphizing tendencies.
These knowledge representations “guide inferences about the properties, characteristics and
mental states of nonhuman agents” (Epley, Waytz, & Cacioppo, 2007, p. 871). This process is
often automatic, occurring outside of one’s awareness. When people become cognizant of having
anthropomorphized an object, they often correct for having done so, though the correction or
adjustment to their cognitions may be insufficient.
Countering such correction tendencies are two motivational factors that can increase the
tendency to view non-human objects in human-like terms: the drive for a social connection (a
sociality motivation) and the desire to make sense of and/or gain control over one’s environment
(an effectance motivation; see the top half of Figure 1). For example, activation of a sociality
motivation occurs when individuals are lonely, are low in self-esteem, or come from a more
individualist culture show greater anthropomorphic tendencies (see Figure 1). Reflecting
activation of an effectance motivation, factors like the need for power, the need for control and
competence and the desire to avoid uncertainty have been linked with tendencies to
Agent knowledge and the sociality and effectance motivational forces that reflect the
SEEK model can be activated by dispositional, situational, developmental, and cultural factors.
As Figure 1 shows, a sociality motivation might be triggered by individual difference variables
that are part of one’s enduring character (e.g., chronic loneliness), situational factors stimulated
by context (e.g., situational loneliness), developmental factors learned early in life (e.g.,
attachment styles), or cultural factors (e.g., individualism and collectivism). As our review
suggests, the factors that represent the model (elicited agent knowledge, sociality motivations
and effectance motivations) help us to understand not just when and why consumers
anthropomorphize brands but also when they might humanize brands in other ways (e.g., seeing
brands as like or connected to the self; regarding brands as relationship partners). We now move
to an examination of each of the three research streams.
----- Insert Figure 1 here -----
Perceiving a non-human object as having human-like features, a human-like mind or
human-like traits has been labeled “anthropomorphism” (Epley et al., 2007; Epley et al., 2008).
Following Figure 1, we review consumer research that has examined brands as being “like us” as
a result of having human-like features, human-like personality characteristics, and/or a human-
like mind.
Brands with Human-Like Features
Human-like features of brands include having a human name, gender, or human-like
physical characteristics (e.g., a face). A number of the studies described below show that
consumers can perceive a brand in such anthropomorphic terms. Furthermore, several factors
identified in Figure 1 seem to enhance the likelihood that consumers do so.
Consistent with the notion of agent knowledge, consumers are more likely to perceive a
brand as having human-like features when the brand is depicted in a way that activates a
“human” schema, creating some degree of perceived similarity to humans. A number of studies
in consumer research have used visual, verbal and/or rhetorical devices to induce
anthropomorphic tendencies. Notably, marketers appear to use such devices; giving certain
brands a human name (e.g., Amazon’s Alexa), a human, gendered voice and accent (Siri), or a
human form (the Michelin Man).
Activating agent knowledge through visual cues. Some studies have induced
anthropomorphism of a brand through visual cues; for example, by making the brand’s features
resemble a human face (e.g., Hur, Koo, & Hoffman, 2015; Kim, Chen, & Zhang, 2016) or body
(e.g., Touré-Tillery & McGill, 2015; Kim & McGill, 2011) or by representing it as an avatar
(Nowak & Rauh, 2005). Depicting a set of soda bottles as a “product family” induces greater
tendencies to anthropomorphize compared to describing them as a “product line” (Aggarwal &
McGill, 2007, study 2). Images that show the brand engaged in typically human actions, such as
sunbathing, can also increase human schema accessibility and stimulate anthropomorphism
(Puzakova, Kwak & Rocereto, 2013). Brand characters, like the Pillsbury Doughboy, Tony the
Tiger and the Jolly Green Giant, strongly evoke a human schema and hence increase perceptions
of the brand as human-like (Wan & Aggarwal, 2015). When consumers imagine that the brand
has come to life (Aggarwal & McGill, 2012; Kim & Kramer, 2015) or has human personality
characteristics (Chandler & Schwarz, 2010), they are more prone to anthropomorphize.
Activating agent knowledge through verbal devices. A variety of verbal marketing
tactics also seem to activate human schemas and encourage consumers to perceive brands in
human-like terms. Giving the product a human name (Eskine & Locander, 2014; Waytz, Heafner,
& Epley 2014), describing the product in the first person (Aggarwal & McGill, 2007; Puzakova
et al., 2013), and labeling the brand as gendered (e.g., Chandler & Schwarz, 2010; Waytz et al.,
2014) increase consumers’ tendencies to anthropomorphize brands. Websites that use avatars
who speak, have a gender, follow social conventions (e.g., interacting with the audience by
asking questions or saying “goodbye”) also increase anthropomorphic tendencies (Nowak &
Rauh, 2005). Sociality motivations may increase these tendencies. Describing the brand in
human relationship terms (e.g., “the brand is a great ally”) or using closeness-implying pronouns
(e.g., “we” versus “you and the brand”) when describing the brand can also enhance
anthropomorphic tendencies (Touré-Tillery & McGill, 2015; Sela, Wheeler & Sarial-Abi, 2012).
Activating agent knowledge through rhetorical devices. Rhetorical devices that use
visual or verbal metaphors or similes to convey a particular meaning about the brand can
increase anthropomorphic tendencies by activating agent knowledge. One such device, called
“personification,” depicts the brand as engaging in human-like actions, even when the image
does not have a human-like form or physiognomy (e.g., a face) (Delbaere, McQuarrie & Phillips,
2011). Another type of rhetorical device is the representation of the brand as filling the role of a
human character (or archetype) in stories or ads. Brands have been portrayed by marketers in the
roles of the “hero” (coming to the consumer’s rescue), the “outlaw” (breaking the rules of other
brands), the “care-giver” (taking care of the consumer’s physical and mental health) and the
“magician” (performing miracles that other brands cannot), among others (Mark & Pearson,
2001). Indeed, consumers’ stories about brands also depict brands in these anthropomorphic roles
(Woodside, Sood & Miller, 2008). Representing a brand in biographical form as an “underdog”
(passionate, determined, under-resourced, arising from humble beginnings, and having some
success despite struggling against the odds) is another rhetorical device that may increase
consumers’ tendencies to perceive the brand in human-like terms (Paharia, Keinan, Avery &
Schor, 2011). Current research on the role of brand archetypes is limited, making this area a
fruitful one for understanding how consumers perceive, connect with and form relationships with
brand in human-like ways. This is particularly so given the emphasis that practicing marketers
are placing on the importance of storytelling as a method for developing brand perceptions (e.g.,
Gunelius, 2013).
Other drivers. Other research identifies additional drivers of anthropomorphic tendencies
beyond the activation of agent knowledge. Relevant to the sociality motivations shown in Figure
1, Ghuman, Huang, Madden, and Roth (2015) suggest that consumers in collectivist cultures
(e.g., China, India) have stronger anthropomorphic tendencies because people live closer
together, making knowledge about humans highly accessible. In contrast, in non-collectivist
cultures (e.g., the US), consumers are more frequently exposed to mechanical and technological
items, thus making knowledge about humans comparatively less accessible. Relevant to the
effectance motivations shown in Figure 1, Kim, Chen and Zhang (2016) observed that consumers
enjoyed a computer game less when an anthropomorphized helper facilitated their actions. The
use of a helper made individuals feel less autonomous in their actions, undermining the extent to
which winning could be attributed to the individual.
Effects of perceiving brands as having human-like features. In general, consumers tend
to form more favorable attitudes toward brands whose features are anthropomorphized
(Aggarwal & McGill, 2007; Kim & Kramer, 2015; Aggarwal & McGill, 2012). As a
consequence, and as a prelude to other effects noted in Figure 1, consumers might be more likely
to view the brand as similar to or connected to the self, or to engage in a relationship with the
brand when it is (vs. is not) depicted as having human-like features. We discuss these effects later
in the paper.
Brands with Human-like Minds
As the preceding material implies, depicting a brand with human-like features can elicit
consumers’ perceptions that the brand can form intentions, make moral judgments, form
impressions or evaluate others, have self-serving motives, and have free will (e.g., Epley &
Waytz, 2010; see Figure 1-). The fact that some brands (Alexa, Siri, Watson) are called
“intelligent agents” may enhance such perceptions. Some research suggests that
anthropomorphizing a brand’s features prompts the inference that it has a human-like mind. For
example, brands depicted as having human-like features tend to be more negatively evaluated
(relative to those that do not display such features) when the brand engages in a transgression
(Puzakova, Kwak, & Rocereto, 2013). This effect might occur because the consumer attributes
intentionality for the action and a lack of goodwill to the anthropomorphized brand.
Although viewing a brand as having a human-like mind is likely less common and
probably more subject to self-correction than perceiving a brand as having human-like features,
several studies described below posit that consumers can act or react toward a brand as if it had a
human-like mind. Regarding a brand as acting with intentions, forming judgments, acting with
free will or acting with benign or self-serving motives can influence (a) how consumers evaluate
the brand’s actions, and (b) how consumers choose to interact with the brand in the future. Both
of these effects are described next.
Trustworthiness. If consumers judge a brand as having an anthropomorphized mind,
they might be more inclined to judge the brand in terms of its trustworthiness. Trustworthiness
implies that the anthropomorphized brand understands the consumer, that it acts morally and
with goodwill, and that brand will use its free will in ways that benefit (or are at least benign to)
the consumer. Consistent with this idea, Waytz, Heafner and Epley (2014) observed that
passengers’ trust in a car was greatest for those who drove an anthropomorphized self-driving car
because the car seemed more human-like and more mindful than human car drivers or drivers of
a non-anthropomorphized self-driving car.
However, whether anthropomorphizing a brand affects trust positively or negatively may
depend on (1) how much consumers trust other people in general, (2) how deeply consumers
process the brand’s advertising message and (3) the baseline for comparison (whether the
anthropomorphized brand is compared to a non-anthropomorphized brand or a human agent).
People who have low trust in companies are more likely to trust non-anthropomorphized brands
than anthropomorphized ones (Eskine & Locander, 2014), perhaps because the
anthropomorphized brand looks more human and hence seems less trustworthy than the non-
anthropomorphized brand. Yet, people who generally regard others as untrustworthy tended to
evaluate peripherally processed marketing messages more positively and attribute more goodwill
to the brand when the message comes from anthropomorphized vs. human messengers (Touré-
Tillery, & McGill 2015). Perhaps this is so because the anthropomorphized brand looks “less
human” in comparison with the human spokesperson. High trust consumers tend to trust the
human spokesperson more than the anthropomorphized brand, but only when they processed the
advertised message attentively. Message attentiveness may have enhanced consumers’ abilities to
correct for having made anthropomorphic judgments.
Fairness. An additional judgment suggesting that consumers can regard brands as having
an anthropomorphized mind is the extent to which consumers judge the brand and its actions as
fair. Using IRI data, Kwak, Puzakova and Rocereto (2015) examined the effect of consumers’
beliefs that the brand had a mind of its own on perceptions of the fairness of price changes. The
more the brand was perceived as having a mind of its own, the more consumers were likely to
regard a brand that increased its price as unfair and one that decreased its price as fair. Agentic
consumers (those focused on the self) were most likely to conclude that a brand that increased its
price was trying to take advantage of them, as contrasted to communion-oriented consumers
(those focused on unity with others).
Attributions of credit or blame. If consumers view anthropomorphized brands as having
intentions, their reactions to consumption experiences may impact whether they attribute credit
versus blame (responsibility) to the brand for positive versus negative outcomes.
Anthropomorphized brands can even take some of the blame for the consumer’s own bad
behavior. For example, consumers exhibit less self-control when a tempting dessert is
anthropomorphized because they regard the anthropomorphized product as an agent that
intentionally supports their indulgence (Hur et al., 2015; see also Kim et al. 2016). This diffuses
responsibility for lack of self-control, and thus, the conflict consumers feel from indulgence.
Interacting with the brand as if it had a human mind. Additional research finds that
consumers, perhaps subconsciously, can interact with brands as if they had human-like minds.
Specifically, consumers seem to want to have an effective interaction with brands that are (vs. are
not) anthropomorphized, even though they are unaware of this desire. They are more likely to
assimilate (act similar) to an anthropomorphized brand that they like and to contrast (act
different) from an anthropomorphized brand that they dislike (Aggarwal & McGill, 2012).
Furthermore, activation of agent knowledge via schema congruity between the brand and a
human affects the degree to which individuals attempt to present themselves in a better light to a
brand (Sproull, Subramani, Kiesler, Walker, & Waters, 1996). For example, people behave in a
more relationship-supportive way in a computerized game when the computer screen is depicted
with human-like eyes (Haley & Fessler, 2005). Ahn, Kim and Aggarwal (2014) observed that
depicting cause-related brands as having human-like features created more compliance with the
message (i.e., donations to the cause), because consumers anticipated more guilt from not
complying with the anthropomorphized brand. Similarly, people show more concern for an
object when it is (vs. is not) anthropomorphized (Tam, Lee & Chao, 2013). Individual
differences in anthropomorphism tendencies also affect how wrong people feel it is to harm
inanimate objects like computers or motorcycles (Waytz et al., 2010).
Factors impacting perceptions of brands as having human-like minds. Related to
effectance motivations in Table 1, people who perceive themselves as low in power felt more
vulnerable to risky outcomes when a brand was (vs. was not) given human-like features (Kim &
McGill, 2011). In contrast, people who perceive themselves as high-power felt less vulnerable
when the brand’s features were (vs. were not) human-like. High-power people were less likely
than lower power people to feel the brand could exert control over them. Also related to an
effectance motivation, people seem to imbue even an abstract entity like “time” with a human-
like mind (e.g., “time has a will of its own,” May & Monga, 2014, p. 924). Perhaps underlying
this judgment is the lack of effectance associated with time (i.e., time is difficult to control).
Brands with Human-like Personalities
To the extent that consumers humanize brands, they may characterize them as having
human-like personality traits (see Figure 1). Research using FMRI imaging techniques suggests
that a brand’s personality traits activate areas of the brain associated with implicit reasoning,
imagery and affective processing – processes that should be implicated if consumers are thinking
about brands and relating to them in human-like terms (Chen, Nelson, & Hsu, 2015).
Consumers’ representations of brand personality seem to reflect cognitive categories that are
activated (though not necessarily constructed) when consumers are exposed to the brand. Indeed,
these researchers were able to predict which brands consumers were thinking about based on the
brain activations associated with personality judgments.
Specific brand personality traits. Because there are many human-like personality traits,
classifying them into a few broad groups offers a systematic and manageable way to identify
similarities and differences across brands. Fiske and colleagues (e.g., Malone & Fiske, 2013;
Kervyn et al., 2012) suggest that two evaluative criteria loom large in people’s categorizations,
descriptions, and judgments of others: warmth and competence. Warmth, which relates to the
characteristics of another (e.g., warm, friendly, sincere, trustworthy, moral) that are linked with
intentionality (i.e., will this entity have my interests at heart?), is judged first. Competence
judgments, on the other hand, relate to assessments of another’s ability and include traits like
intelligence, skill, creativity and efficacy. People judged as warm and competent (cold and
incompetent) are judged most (least) favorably, while warm/incompetent and cold/competent
people elicit more ambivalent judgments. Fiske and colleagues suggest that consumers use these
same traits to evaluate brands (Malone & Fiske, 2013; Kervyn et al., 2012). Consistent with
these ideas, Aaker, Vohs, and Mogilner (2010) find that non-profit brands are perceived to be
warmer but less competent than for-profit brands. The most admired brands are perceived to be
warm and competent.
Other work has examined traits that include but go beyond warmth and competence,
often with a focus on how brand personality should be measured. Table 1 identifies items used in
various brand-personality measurement studies and relates them to Fiske et al.’s warmth and
competence dimensions. In her pioneering work in the area, Aaker (1997) examined the brand
personality characteristics associated with well-known brands. A set of measurement
development studies resulted in the 42 empirically derived brand personality items identified in
Table 1. These characteristics mapped onto 15 brand personality “facets” (underlined in Table 1).
In turn, these facets were captured by 5 global factors: sophistication sincerity, excitement,
competence, and ruggedness (in italics in Table 1).
Some research has examined whether brand personality characteristics correspond to
major personality characteristics observed in humans. Research on human personality has
identified five overarching dimensions that encompass a large number of distinct personality
traits (e.g., Digman, 1990). These “Big 5” traits are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion,
agreeableness and neuroticism. Yet, when consumers were asked to describe brands using the
Big-5 personality scale, only a two-factor solution emerged (Carpara, Barbarbaranelli &
Gianlguigi, 2001). As Table 1 shows, these factors correspond with the Big 5’s agreeableness
trait and conscientiousness/extraversion/openness traits, respectively.
----- Insert Table 1 here -----
Several studies have examined whether the dimensions identified by Aaker generalize to
other contexts (see Table 1). Venable, Rose, Bush, and Gilbert (2005) developed a personality
scale specifically for the non-profit context. This research revealed a factor labeled “nurturance”
that did not emerge in Aaker’s (1997) study of for-profit brands. Cross-cultural studies also
suggest differences in the traits used to describe brands, suggesting that cultural orientation (see
Figure 1) might affect when and how consumers characterize brands in terms of their personality
traits. For example, Sung and Tinkham (2005) found that American and Korean consumers share
similar personality perceptions of the same brands on five factors (sophistication, likeableness,
trendiness, competence, ruggedness). However, each culture also showed unique factors.
Specifically, traits comprising the likeableness factor for Koreans included fewer high arousal
traits (e.g., bubbly), leading authors to use the term “passive likeableness” to describe the
likeableness traits used by Koreans. As Table 1 shows, “ascendency” was unique to Koreans,
while “white collar” and “androgyny” were unique to US consumers. Other work examines
brands as having “male” and “female” personality traits (Grohmann, 2009).
Whereas the above-cited studies focus on positive traits and build on Aaker’s work,
Sweeney and Brandon (2006) developed a circumplex model that includes negative as well as
positive personality characteristics. Their model incorporates the dimensions of dominance
(dominant-submissive), extraversion (extraverted-introverted), nurturance (warm-cold), and
agreeableness (unassuming-arrogant). Sweeney and Brandon (2006) also replicated the
“nurturance” factor identified by Venable et al. (2005).
Debate over brand personality and its measurement. Brand personality has stimulated
considerable research, but some researchers have criticized Aaker’s scale for including traits
beyond personality characteristics, such as social class associations (e.g., upper class), cultural
factors (e.g., Western), gender characteristics (masculine, feminine) and abilities (competence)
(Azoulay & Kapferer, 2003). However, Aaker’s work is not alone in this wide-ranging approach.
These “non-personality” characteristics are relevant to – and, in terms of competence judgments,
perhaps essential for – brands. Moreover, Table 1 shows convergence in the diverse traits that
consumers use to characterize brands, despite different theoretical approaches, different brands,
and different cultures. Some criticize Aaker’s (1997) scale for its empirical (vs. theoretical)
derivation (Bao & Sweeney, 2009). Nevertheless, the Aaker scale demonstrates marginally better
predictive validity than the circumplex approach advocated by Bao and Sweeney. Aaker’s scale
also offers substantial richness by virtue of its scope and integration (see Table 1).
Factors impacting brand personality impressions. Additional work has examined the
conditions under which consumers form judgments of a brand’s personality. Related to the
activation of agent knowledge, using visual cues that activate a human schema can affect brand
personality perceptions (Landwehr, McGill, & Herrmann, 2011). Specifically, compared to car
brands with a downturned grille, brands with an upturned grille are evaluated as friendlier. The
depiction of the grille, coupled with a depiction of the shape and angle of the headlights, impacts
perceptions of the brand’s aggressiveness. Relatedly, personified images of brands encourage
more positive brand personality impressions (brand as cheerful, charming, glamorous, stylish,
etc.) than do non-personified visual metaphors (Delabaere, McQuarrie, & Phillips, 2011). Avatars
are rated as more intelligent and credible when they are (vs. are not) anthropomorphized (Nowak
& Rauh, 2005). Consumers judge websites that use avatars as more “social”, referring to an
aspect of a brand’s personality that might be relevant to how consumers perceive brands as like
them or as potential relationship partners (Wang, Baker, Wagner, & Wakefield, 2007). Seeing
one’s car in human-like terms also enhances judgments of its “warmth” (Chandler & Schwarz,
Also related to agent knowledge, chronics (people for whom a given personality trait is
chronically accessible) are more likely to update their impressions of a brand’s personality
compared to non-chronics (Johar, Sengupta, & Aaker, 2005). Additionally, individual differences
in knowledge about how changeable people are (also called entity orientation) affect personality
impressions (see Figure 1). Compared to entity-oriented theorists, incremental theorists are more
likely to update information about a brand’s personality when they encounter a low-fit brand
extension because they believe that personalities are malleable (vs. fixed) (Mathur, Jain, &
Maheswaran, 2012). Park and John (2012) observed that entity theorists respond more favorably
to ads that signal intelligence and sophistication (desirable personality associations) than
incremental theorists do, because entity theorists seek opportunities for self-enhancement (a
sociality motivation in Figure 1). Using a brand with a desirable personality signals to others that
the user is like the brand (intelligent and sophisticated). Incremental theorists responded better to
brands that suggest self-improvement, consistent with an effectance motivation in Figure 1.
Since incremental theorists believe their personalities are malleable, they are open to appeals that
suggest that the brand can “teach them how” to become more desirable.
Brands that are perceived to have male personalities are associated with different sets of
traits from brands with female personalities (Grohmann, 2009), as might be consistent with agent
knowledge regarding differences between men and women. Perceived self-complexity also
appears to influence consumers’ preferences for co-brands with distinct personality types (Monga
& Lau-Gesk, 2007). When consumers were induced to think about themselves in complex terms,
they preferred co-brands that combined distinct personalities.
Related to the sociality motivational driver is the role of attachment style in brand
personality impressions (see Figure 1). Individuals with a high anxiety/high avoidance
attachment style show a greater preference for brands with exciting (vs. sincere) brand
personalities, because they want to avoid intimate relationships. Individuals with a high
anxiety/low avoidance attachment style prefer brands with sincere (vs. exciting) personalities
because they have a positive view of others and the brand’s sincerity symbolizes the person they
would like to be (Swaminathan, Stilley, & Ahluwalia, 2009).
Related to an effectance motivation is the role of regulatory focus on preferences for
brands with specific personality characteristics. Consumers like brands with a sincere personality
better when they are exposed to prevention-framed (vs. promotion-framed) messages, perhaps
because prevention-framed messages prime thoughts about desires to be with others who will
support the individual in times of need. In contrast, brands with a sophisticated personality are
better liked when a promotion-framed (vs. prevention-framed) message is used (Kim & Sung,
2013), perhaps because a promotion focus activates thoughts about one’s ideal self.
Effects of brand personality. Imbuing a brand with a personality appears to affect
judgments beyond those noted in Figure 1. Brand personalities (including assessments of the
brand’s warmth and competence) help consumers to distinguish among brands (Kervyn, Fiske, &
Malone, 2012; see also Malone & Fiske, 2013), thus enhancing the cultivation of distinct brand
images (Yang, Cutright, Chartrand, & Fitzsimons, 2014; see also Dommer, Swaminathan, &
Ahluwalia, 2013). Moreover, brand personalities predict consumers’ brand attitudes (Eisend, &
Stokburger-Sauer, 2013) and brand equity (Valette-Florence, Guizani, & Merunka, 2011).
In sum, considerable research, has investigated consumers’ tendencies to perceive a brand
as having human-like features (e.g., a name, gender, physical characteristics), human-like
personality traits (e.g., warm, extraverted, agreeable), and/or human-like intentions. Such
perceptions can influence inferences about its trustworthiness, fairness, or blame worthiness.
Activation of a human schema using visual devices, verbal devices and rhetorical devices can
facilitate these perceptions. Sociality motivations (e.g., collectivism) and effectance (e.g.,
consumers’ differences in their felt power, their autonomy) also influence the extent to which
anthropomorphization occurs. Perceiving a brand as “like us” can enhance brand evaluations and
attitudes, and foster interactions that support an effective interaction with the brand.
In addition to viewing brands as having human-like features, minds or personalities,
consumers may perceive a brand as being “like me” (having brand-self congruity) or as being
“close to me” as a person (having brand-self connections) (Figure 1). This perspective on
humanizing brands adopts a self-focused perspective. Here, the brand is interwoven into
consumers’ sense of self—who they are, who they have been, and who they might become. This
incorporation into the self is likely to increase humanizing the brand because individuals tend to
attribute more humanness to the self than to others (e.g., people attribute personality traits that
are perceived as central or typically human to themselves more than to other people) (Haslam,
Bain, Douge, Lee & Bastian 2005). For example, beliefs that one is sincere may lead to
inferences that an owned brand is also sincere (Weiss & Johar 2013).
Brand-Self Congruity
Research finds that consumers perceive congruities between the brand and aspects of
themselves (i.e., the brand is perceived as similar to me or like me; Sirgy 1982). Indeed, research
finds that consumers can perceive a congruity between the brand and the self in terms of
personalities (e.g., Fennis & Pruyn, 2007), user or usage congruity (Liu, Li, Mizerski, & Soh,
2012), gender (Grohmann, 2009), reference group identification (e.g., White & Dahl, 2007), and
cultural identification (Deshpande, Hoyer, & Donthu, 1986).
Moreover, brand-self congruity may affect or be affected by perceptions of the brand in
human-like terms (hence the double arrow shown in Figure 1). For example, and suggestive of a
relationship between brand-self congruity and anthropomorphism of a brand’s mind, greater
personality congruity between a car brand and the self increased consumers’ expectations that the
car brand would be reliable, would play an important part in their life, and would treat them well
(Kressmann, Sirgy, Hermann, Huber, Huber, & Lee, 2006). Moreover, a meta-analysis of brand
congruity effects revealed a significant effect of brand personality congruity on brand attitudes,
intentions, and purchase (Aguirre-Rodriguez, Bosnjak, & Sirgy, 2012), perhaps setting the stage
for consumers’ conceptualization of the brand as a potential relationship partner (Wan &
Aggarwal, 2015). These effects were stronger for congruity between the brand personality and
the consumers’ personality than the brand’s personality with the personality of its users.
Factors impacting brand-self congruity perceptions. The factors that motivate
consumers to anthropomorphize brands (see Figure 1) also appear to affect consumers’
perceptions of the brand as similar to the self. Related to agent/self-knowledge, knowledge about
the extent to which personalities are stable or malleable affects brand-self congruity. Park and
John (2010) found that entity theorists (those who believe that personalities are stable and do not
change across time and situations) perceived themselves as more good-looking, feminine, and
glamorous after using a Victoria’s Secret shopping bag (studies 1 and 3) and viewed themselves
as more intelligent, more hardworking, and more of a leader after using an MIT pen (studies 2
and 4). These findings suggest that entity theorists may be sensitive to evaluating brands’
personalities in terms of their congruity to the self.
Sociality motivations may also influence considerations of brand-self congruity and
effects of congruence. Aaker (1999) observed that agent knowledge (knowledge of one’s own
personality) and sociality motivations (individual differences in self-monitoring) impact whether
and to what extent consumers perceive brands as similar to the self. Aguirre-Rodriguez et al.’s
(2012) meta-analysis also showed that brand self-congruity effects were greater when consumers
had a self-enhancement (vs. a self-consistency) motive, and hence wanted to look good in front
of others. Reflecting sociality and perhaps effectance motivations, the effect of brand-self
congruity on attitudes and intentions was greater when the brand was congruent with one’s ideal
(vs. actual) self.
Also relevant to effectance motivations, consumers are more likely to rely on brands
whose personality is consistent with consumers’ self-views when self-confidence is temporarily
shaken or cast in doubt (Gao, Wheeler & Shiv, 2009). Such shaken self-confidence should
activate a motivation for effectance (see Figure 1). Self-confidence is restored when consumers
have the opportunity to choose a product whose personality matches their own. Also possibly
eliciting an effectance motivation is the perception of oneself as an underdog (one who has
struggled against the odds to become successful). Consumers who strongly identify as underdogs
themselves react favorably to brands with underdog-type brand biographies (Paharia, Keinan,
Avery, & Schor, 2011).
Brand-Self Connections
Meaning of brand-self connections. Researchers have suggested that consumers can feel
connected to a brand in a way that goes beyond being similar to or like the brand. However, the
precise meaning of “brand-self connections” is a bit elusive, as this concept has been used to
reference terms that, while potentially related, have distinct elements. For example, to some,
brand-self connections reflect congruities (or similarities) between the image of the brand and
the image of the self, as when consumers view a brand as connected to their sense of self because
it is trendy like they are (e.g., Chaplin & John, 2005).
The term brand-self connection has also been used to reference the extent to which a
brand resonates with one’s identity (e.g., Escalas & Bettman, 2003, 2005). Not only is the brand
similar to the self, but also its associations can be appropriated from the socio-cultural system to
reflect or construct one’s actual or ideal identity. This perspective might be called identity
resonance. To the extent that consumers feel that they are like others who use the brand (i.e.,
have a self-verification goal) or feel that they want to be like others who use the brand (i.e., have
a self-enhancement (i.e., impression management) goal they are more likely to form a strong
connection between the brand and the ideal or actual self. By using brands that reflect self-
enhancement and self-verification goals, consumers gain emotional benefits in the form of
enhanced self-esteem and the liberty to use the brand for purposes of personal expression.
Fournier (1998; see also Keller, 2001) offers a somewhat broader perspective, which
might be called goal resonance. Here, the brand is not only important to one’s identity but also
relevant to one’s life tasks, themes or current concerns. Park et al. (2010, 2013a) go further to
describe brand-self connections as the extent to which the brand overlaps with or is included in
the self; that is, the extent to which the brand is me and I am the brand. According to them,
brand-self connection varies in closeness, from complete overlap between the brand and the self
to extreme distance between the brand and the self. As the overlap between the brand and the self
increases (given the brand’s resonance with goals, life tasks, themes or current concerns),
consumers come to view the brand as part of themselves, thus viewing the brand’s resources as
their own. In turn, with overlap, consumers are willing to devote their own resources to the brand
because it is part of themselves and of who they are. This perspective is also consistent with
Aron’s self-expansion theory as applied to brands, where closeness is revealed in a Venn diagram
showing the self as overlapping with the other entity (e.g., the brand). Park et al. (2013a) assume
that, as brand-self closeness increases, the positivity or valence of one’s relationship with the
brand also increases, suggesting that the sense of self can expand to include the brand as part of
the self (Reimann & Aron, 2009). This view is consistent with Belk’s (1988) notion that
consumers may regard products and brands as extensions of the self.
To a certain extent, these different ways of thinking about brand self-connections are
undoubtedly related. When a brand is seen as similar to the self, consumers may come to use the
brand to signal aspects of their own identity. As brands become more embedded in the
consumer’s higher-order goals, life projects and themes, brand-self connections may be further
strengthened. At some point, the brand is so closely connected to the consumer that the brand is
seen as part of the self. Although definitions of brand-self connections as a construct differ, many
papers that empirically examine this construct operationalize it similarly, with items that relate to
the extent to which the brand is “connected to the self” and reflects “me and who I am” (e.g.,
Escalas & Bettman, 2003, 2005; Park et al., 2010, 2013a; Chaplin & John, 2005).
Regardless, the discussion above suggests that the field has opportunities to examine
various dimensions along which brand-self connections can be described and examine their
relative impact on brand-self closeness. For example, does brand-self closeness vary as a
function of the number of brand-self connections, their valence, their salience, and/or their
importance to life goals? Which factors have the greatest impact on overall judgments of brand-
self closeness?
Factors impacting brand-self connections. Consistent with the notion of agent
knowledge and effectance motivations, the tendency to develop brand-self connections appears
to begin between middle childhood and early adolescence (Chaplin & John, 2005), as consumers’
self-concepts develop and they comprehend who uses a brand, what the brand personality is, and
what the brand says about one’s identity. As children’s reasoning strategy develops with age, they
are likely to develop a more abstract understanding of the brand, its similarity to the self, and the
extent to which it can serve as an identity marker.
Individuals also form stronger brand-self connections to brands whose meaning is
conveyed in the form of a story. Such narrative processing, involving the brand as an actor in the
story, may activate agent knowledge (Escalas, 2004). Brand-self connections are believed to
deepen as the length of a consumer’s brand relationship grows (Reimann, Castano, Zaichkowsky,
& Bechara, 2012; Park et al., 2010; Park et al., 2013a). Reflecting agent knowledge, longer brand
relationships provide more opportunities for consumers to understand and interact with the brand
and see the brand as part of the self.
Consistent with a sociality motivation, brand-self connections are strong for brands that
are central to one’s identity and reference group membership and status (Escalas & Bettman,
2003; 2005). The tendency to form brand-self connections may be particularly strong in the case
of brands that symbolize membership in an in-group and hence provide a social signaling
function (Escalas & Bettman, 2005; Chan, Berger, & van Boven, 2012). In contrast, consumers
perceive more distance from brands that are tied to outgroups/dissociative reference groups
(White & Dahl, 2007).
Consumers’ brand-self connections also are stronger for nostalgic than non-nostalgic
brands, perhaps because nostalgic brands link an individual to people and events of his or her
childhood or early adulthood (Kessous, Roux, & Chandon, 2015), thus serving sociality
motivations. Brand-self connections also can be facilitated through methods designed to enhance
customer intimacy (activating a sociality motivation). For example, Liu and Gal (2011) found
that consumers felt closer to a company when company representatives asked for their advice
about the product versus when asked for their expectations for the product.
When materialists are reminded of their own death, the importance of brands in staving
off loneliness (a sociality motivation) may be salient, leading materialistic consumers to form
stronger brand-self connections (Rindfleisch, Burroughs & Wong, 2009). The importance of
brand-self connections also may vary by self-construal. Brand-self connections appear to be
more important as drivers of brand attitudes for consumers from independent (vs.
interdependent) cultures (see Figure 1). For consumers from interdependent cultures, a brand’s
country of origin was more important than brand-self connections in driving brand attitudes
(Swaminathan, Page, & Gürhan-Canli, 2007).
Consistent with an effectance motivation, stronger brand-self connections are likely to
arise when the brand enables the self (Park et al., 2013). This could occur when the brand
protects customers and makes them feel powerful in overcoming problems or provides them with
a sense of self-efficacy that facilitates task performance (Park & John, 2014). Conversely, when
consumers are connected to the brand, they seem to react to a brand failure as if it were a
personal failure. Consumers who were strongly connected to a brand felt more threats to their
self-esteem when the brand failed than did consumers who were more distant from the brand
(Cheng, White, & Chaplin, 2012). Moreover, as brand-self connections increase, consumers are
less forgiving of a brand that transgresses against them or acts in unethical ways (Trump, 2014),
perhaps because the brand transgression activates agent knowledge and/or views of the brand as
having an anthropomorphized mind that acts unfairly and in morally inconsistent ways.
The perceived congruity between the brand and the self also affects brand-self
connections. In a longitudinal study of new product adoption of the iPhone in Spain, Lam,
Ahearne, Mullins, Hayati, and Schillewaert (2013) observed that the perceived personality
congruity between a consumer and a new brand predicted the extent to which consumers
identified with the brand. Identity was indicated by the extent of overlap between the brand’s
identity and their own (which might be regarded as an indicator of brand-self connections).
Those whose personalities were perceived as congruent with the brand also showed higher rates
of growth in brand identification over time.
Effects of brand-self connections. Consumers appear to show stronger and more positive
brand attitudes (Moore & Homer, 2008) and greater brand loyalty (Tsai, 2011) as the brand
becomes closer to the self. This appears to be particularly true in the case of the high congruity
between the consumer’s gender and gender’s relevance to the product category, as well as when
the brand is symbolic of a desired in-group (Moore & Homer, 2008). These findings hint at the
potential relationship between brand-self connections and consumers’ view of brands as
relationship partners. We discuss this topic next.
Research investigating a “self-focus” has examined when the brand is congruent with the
self (the brand is like me) and when the brand is connected to the self (the brand is close to me).
These are related issues since brand-self congruity can influence brand-self connections (see
Figure 1). Sociality motivations prompted by such factors as congruence with one’s ideal self,
ingroup relevance and nostalgia, and effectance motivations, prompted by such factors as
concerns about self-efficacy and shaken self-confidence, also influence the conditions under
which brands are regarded as connected to the self.
In addition to the previously discussed human-focused and self-focused perspectives on
humanizing brands, some prior work has studied the humanization of brands from a relationship
perspective. Following Figure 1, we review research suggesting that consumers relate to brands
in ways that are analogous to their relationships with people, even if the brand is concretely
associated with an object (e.g., a Big Mac). If a person treats an object like a human, then it
implies attributions of human mental capacities, such as intentions and feelings, to the object, as
well as the object’s ability to have intentions and feelings about the person (Waytz et al. 2010).
Of particular interest to consumer psychologists is a relationship described as brand attachment
and its potential to impact the consumer’s feelings of brand betrayal when the brand transgresses.
Moreover, just as consumers have relational norms that guide relationships with other people
(e.g., exchange norms, communal norms), they also appear to have relational norms that guide
their brand relationships.
Brand Relationship Types
Fournier (1998) pioneered the idea that consumers can think about their relationships
with brands in a manner that is analogous to their relationships with people. Some brand
relationships are strong and positive (e.g., committed partnerships, best friends). Others reflect
brand relationships for which consumers have a strong aversion (e.g., enmities). Still others
(dependencies) reflect ambivalent relationships, such as when consumers need the brand but feel
controlled by it. Secret affairs also reflect a brand relationship characterized by ambivalence.
Consumers feel passion toward such brands despite anticipating others’ disapproval.
Brand relationships also vary in power (Fournier & Alvarez, 2012). Sometimes, a
consumer perceives that power is equally shared with the brand (as with committed partnerships
and best friendships). In other cases, a brand has power over consumers who are dependent on
the brand (i.e., enslavement). Conversely, the consumer can have significant power over the
brand; in such cases, consumers view themselves as “masters” and they regard the brand as the
“servant” (e.g., Aggarwal & McGill, 2012; Fournier & Alvarez, 2012; Kim & Kramer, 2015;
Miller, Fournier, & Allen, 2012). The types of brand relationships may emanate from consumers’
perceptions of the brand as having a human-like mind and competencies that can be used to exert
control (power) over the consumer.
Factors impacting brand relationship types. Consistent with the sociality motivation that
drives anthropomorphism tendencies, consumers who are lonely may be more likely to develop a
positive relationship with a brand (Long, Yoon, & Friedman, 2015). However, more research is
needed to understand why consumers form certain types of relationships with brands and the
dimensions along which various types of brand relationships can be differentiated. Will
consumers who are low in power (effectance motivation), lonely (sociality motivation), high in
attachment anxiety (sociality motivation), or high in entity orientation (personal agent
motivation) be more likely to call brands “best friends” and less likely to regard them as
“enmities”? Research that links the study of brand relationship types to the other factors
identified in Figure 1 could add substantial richness to this domain.
Some of the aforementioned constructs in Figure 1 are also related to brand relationship
types. For example, consumers appear to gravitate to brands with unique and exciting
personalities when forming a positive brand relationship (Smit, Bronner, & Tolboom, 2007).
Moreover, in the case of “fling”-type relationships, consumers appear to gravitate toward those
with exciting personalities (Aaker, Fournier & Brasel, 2004).
Most brand relationship work has focused on positive relationships (Fournier & Alvarez,
2012), chiefly those characterized as best friendships or committed partnerships, neglecting
negative relationships, particularly those in which power is unequally distributed. More
generally, research should move beyond typologies to develop an overarching theory that
explains when and why certain types of relationships prevail, what causes changes in
relationships (as when a best friendship becomes an enmity), and why. The discussion below
hints at several factors that might be relevant to the development of this overarching theory.
Brand Attachment
The most thoroughly studied type of human-like relationship that consumers can have
with brands is brand attachment. Brand attachment has been described as the strength of the bond
connecting the consumer to the brand (Park et al., 2010). Brand-self connections (or brand
closeness) appear to be critical to attachment-based relationships. As consumers perceive a close
connection between the brand and the self, they are likely to become attached to it in a way that
is analogous to interpersonal attachment (see Figure 1). This has been observed with person
brands (i.e., celebrities; Thomson, 2006; O’Guinn, 1991), product brands (Thomson et al., 2005;
Park et al., 2010) and place brands (Debenedetti, Oppewal, & Arsel, 2014).
Park et al. (2010) argue that brand attachment requires not just brand-self
connections/closeness but also brand prominence (or salience), which can be independent of
brand-self connections. Prominence reflects the degree to which the cognitive and emotional
bonds that connect the brand to the self are highly salient in consumers’ memories. When brand
attachment is strong, the brand is interwoven into consumers’ autobiographical memories and is
frequently encountered in light of its connection to (and resonance with) the self and one’s goals
(Park et al., 2010). When brand attachment is strong, consumers not only regard the brand as part
of the self, they are also willing to invest resources (time, money, reputation) in the brand to
ensure that their brand relationship remains positive.
By separating prominence from brand-self connections, Park et al. (2013a) identify states
beyond attachment. Specifically, the opposite of brand attachment is brand aversion, which arises
when consumers experience negative brand-self connections to a brand that is prominent in
memory. Ambivalence describes a state in which a prominent brand creates an approach-
avoidance conflict. Consumers are indifferent to brands for which prominence is moderate to low
and for which brand-self connections are neither extremely close nor extremely distant.
Park et al. (2010, 2013a) developed a brand attachment scale showing that brand self-
connections and brand prominence are both important to the measurement of brand attachment.
Their scale also shows that brand attachment predicts outcomes like brand loyalty and brand
advocacy behaviors. (See also Jiménez & Voss, 2014, for a discussion of scales assessing brand
Increasingly, researchers have examined the construct of brand love, which seems to
predict many of the same effects as those predicted by brand attachment (described shortly).
However, prior research also suggests that the perceived connection between the brand and the
self (e.g., brand-self distance) and brand prominence better predict feelings of closeness to the
brand than does brand love (Park et al 2013). The extent to which consumers devote resources to
the brand may differentiate brand attachment from brand love, which tends to be self-centered
(vs. relationship focused; Batra, Ahuvia, & Bagozzi, 2012). Unfortunately, the term “brand love”
has been used inconsistently within the literature. Specifically, it has been used to refer to (a) a
state that is synonymous with brand attachment (Carroll & Ahuvia, 2006; Albert & Merunka,
2013), (b) as a psychological state that reflects pleasure from sensory, cognitive, and emotional
stimulation (i.e., feeling sexy, romantic, sentimental and warmhearted; Laros & Steenkamp,
2005), (c) as colloquial expression used by consumers to describe their overall brand affection
(Albert, Merunka, & Valette-Florence 2008), (d) as an emotion prototype that describes the
antecedents (e.g., brand-self integration), qualities (brand-self connection), and consequences
(e.g., separation distress, long-term relationship, attitude valence, certainty confidence, passion
driven behaviors) of close brand relationships (Batra, Ahuvia, & Bagozzi, 2012), and (e) as a
broad psychological state that describes brand relationships characterized by varying degrees of
intimacy, passion and connection (e.g., Swimberghe, Astakhova & Wolridge, 2014; Shimp &
Madden, 1988). Such diverse usages make it difficult to develop a generalized understanding of
the drivers, concept and effects of brand love.
Separation distress. One behavioral indicator of brand attachment is consumers’
separation distress at the prospect of terminating a relationship with the brand if it were to go off
the market or cease to be available to them (Thomson et al., 2005). Indeed, the loss of material
possessions to which one is attached is linked to feelings of sadness (Ferraro, Escalas, &
Bettman, 2011). Interestingly, a brand’s withdrawal from the marketplace appears to produce
phases of loss that resemble the coping process that follows the loss of interpersonal
relationships. That is, consumers’ feelings move through the following stages: (a) a state of
denial; (b) negative emotions like anger, disappointment and sadness; (c) a search for remnants
of the brand or other places in the market where the brand might be acquired; (d) hopelessness
and despair; and finally (e) recovery, where consumers accept the loss of the brand and move on
to alternative options (Russell & Schau, 2015).
Effects of brand attachment. The more consumers are attached to a brand, the more they
engage in pro-brand behaviors, such as brand advocacy (e.g., positive WOM, defending the
brand against criticism) and brand loyalty behaviors (e.g., brand commitment, refusal to consider
alternative brands; e.g., Thomson et al., 2005; Park et al., 2011; Park et al., 2013a). Consumers
are also more likely to accept extensions of the brands to which they are attached (Fedorikhin,
Park, & Thomson, 2008). Additionally, brand attachment enhances consumers’ willingness to
pay a price premium for the brand (e.g., Thomson et al., 2005; Park et al., 2011; Park et al.,
2013a; Orth, Limon, & Rose, 2010), and enhance consumers’ desires to be part of a brand
community (e.g., Schau, Muniz, & Arnould, 2009). These behaviors can sometimes seem
extreme, such as when devoted Barry Manilow fans display pictures and other memorabilia in
shrines that reflect their adoration to Barry (O’Guinn, 1991). Consumers also seem to be more
forgiving of minor brand transgressions as attachment to the brand increases (Donovan et al.,
2012). However, the effects of attachment on consumers’ responses to brand transgressions may
be complex, as we suggest later in our discussion of brand betrayal.
Factors impacting brand attachment. Effectance and sociality motivations (see Figure 1)
also appear to impact the extent of consumers’ brand attachments. Dunn and Hoegg (2014) find
that consumers are more likely to become attached to brands when they are afraid (but not sad,
happy or excited), because people cope with fear by seeking out others (people or objects) for
comfort and support (a sociality motivation). In such cases, consumers’ belief that the brand has
shared their (fearful) experiences drives brand attachment. Nevertheless, fearful individuals may
be inclined to affiliate with other people rather than brands when people are present.
Also consistent with a sociality motivation, consumers are more likely to become
attached to brands that enrich the self; that is, brands that help consumers develop, maintain and
promote a desired identity and a coherent sense of self (Park et al., 2013a). Consistent with this
notion, the more a place (e.g., a retail store) fulfills consumers’ sociality motivations (e.g., the
more customers bond with service employees), the greater consumers’ attachment to that place
becomes (Brocato, Baker & Voorhees 2015). Dommer et al. (2013) find that, when low self-
esteem consumers feel socially included, they develop stronger attachments to brands that reflect
status or superiority within a group. In contrast, social exclusion leads low self-esteem
consumers to develop stronger attachments to brands that reflect their individual tastes.
Some research suggests that attachments to brands can, in some situations, compensate
for deficiencies in interpersonal relationships, which may be related to a sociality motivation.
The tendency to become attached to possessions, for example, is impacted by loneliness. Pieters
(2013) observed a bi-directional relationship between loneliness (which should evoke a sociality
motivation) and attachment to possessions. Specifically, loneliness inclines consumers to develop
greater attachments to their possessions (i.e., exhibit greater materialism) as substitutes for
relationships with other people. In turn, materialism may isolate consumers from others, thereby
fostering greater loneliness. Elderly consumers may be more inclined to develop attachments to
brands as relationship partners (Jahn, Gaus & Kiessling, 2012), perhaps because elderly
consumers have fewer opportunities to actualize on sociality motivations.
As to effectance motivations, Park et al. (2013a) suggest that consumers become
increasingly attached to brands that fulfill three categories of consumption goals: (1) the brand
enables the self, providing a sense of self-efficacy, power, and competence and entices the self,
providing cognitive and experiential pleasure. The former perspective accords with an effectance
motivation. Similarly, Proksch, Orth, and Cornwell (2015) find that brand attachment is
positively affected by the degree to which the brand makes consumers feel competent.
Blending effectance and sociality motivations, consumers became more attached to
celebrities who enhanced consumers’ feelings of autonomy (which should be related to an
effectance motivation) and relatedness (which should be related to a sociality motivation)
(Thomson, 2006). Interestingly, competence (which should also be related to an effectance
motivation) was found to be unrelated to attachment strength. This null finding might be due to
the fact that the study focused on celebrities, who may be less effective than other brands when it
comes to actualizing on effectance motivations.
Brand personalities may also affect brand attachment. One of the few studies using
longitudinal data found such an effect. In this study, brand attachment was indicated by the
extent to which consumers were committed to the brand, felt a strong brand-self connection,
regarded their brand relationship as intimate, and were satisfied with the brand (Aaker et al.,
2004). Consumers’ relationships with (i.e., attachment to) sincere brands deepened over time. In
contrast, their relationships with exciting brands were more like flings, short-lived and intense.
However, this effect was contingent on whether the brand had or had not transgressed against the
consumer (e.g., inadvertently erased the customer’s online photo album). Attachment to sincere
brands was negatively affected by a transgression, but attachment to exciting brands was
somewhat rejuvenated following a transgression.
Finally, the perceived congruity between the brand and the self (see Figure 1) also affects
brand-self connections and brand attachment. A qualitative study revealed that brand-self
connections and brand attachment increased as the congruity between the brand and the self-
concept increased (Japutra, Ekinci, & Simkin, 2014). Malar, Krohmer, Hoyer, & Nyffenegger,
2011) found that the impact of personality congruity was greatest when effectance motivations
were high – specifically when consumers lacked self-esteem or were high in public self-
consciousness. The consistency between the brand’s personality and the consumer’s personality
is related to brand attachment (Orth, Limon, & Rose, 2010). Ghuman, Huang, Madden, and
Roth (2015) found a positive relationship between the degree to which a brand is
anthropomorphized and the perceived quality of the consumer-brand relationship.
Brand Aversion and Brand Betrayal
The opposite of brand attachment is brand aversion. Here, consumers regard a brand that
is highly prominent in memory as distant from (vs. close to) the self. Consumers might be averse
to brands that reflect dissociative reference groups with whom they do not wish to affiliate
(White & Dahl, 2007). However, recent research suggests that brand aversion can also be created
when a brand to which consumers are attached violates consumers’ trust. Researchers have
labeled this state “brand betrayal” (Grégoire & Fisher, 2008), a state also used to describe human
relationships where implicit relationship norms are violated.
Since attachment-based brand relationships evolve over time, consumers come to trust
the brand as the brand relationship deepens. Although brand attachment and strong/close brand-
self connections can insulate the brand from the repercussions of minor brand failures (Donovan
et al. 2012), there are limits to consumers’ tolerance of brand transgressions (Schmalz & Orth,
2012; see also Loken & John, 2010; Wan, Hui, & Wyer, 2011). When the brand violates the
fundamental norms that previously guided the brand relationship, the state of attachment changes
to one of betrayal, with the valence of the relationship changing from one of extreme closeness
to one of extreme distance (i.e., aversion; e.g., Grégoire & Fisher 2008; Wiggin & Yalch, 2015).
Feelings of brand betrayal can be so negative that consumers take revenge against the brand
(Grégoire & Fisher, 2008; Johnson, Matear, & Thomson, 2011).
Factors impacting brand betrayal. To date, limited research has examined whether the
motivational drivers that stimulate consumers’ tendencies to perceive brands in human-like terms
(see Figure 1) affect the intensity of brand betrayal. One study focusing on attachment styles
found that when a brand engaged in a transgression, anti-brand reactions were greater as the
attachment style was characterized by greater levels of anxiety and avoidance. Consumers who
were high on these attachment style dimensions experienced greater loss of benefits and self-
esteem than other consumers as a result of the brand’s transgression (Thomson, Whelan, &
Johnson, 2012).
Brand betrayal has spurred recent interest, but much remains to be learned about what
causes consumers to feel betrayed by brands and how firms can recover from this negative
affective state. If strong brand attachment moderates the relationship between a brand’s actions
and betrayal, firms risk losing their best customers (and rousing them to take revenge) when their
transgressions are perceived as a betrayal. Future work on when and why consumers will
experience betrayal and how firms can recover is clearly important in order to better understand
how consumers relate to brands in human-like terms. Opportunities to advance our
understanding of brand betrayal and its relationship to the topics noted in Figure 1 are numerous,
since the study of brand betrayal is still in its infancy.
Feelings of brand betrayal may be more likely to arise when consumers make
anthropomorphic inferences about brands as having a human-like mind and acting with
intentionality. In other words, inferring that the brand has intentionally misled them (Parmentier
& Fischer, 2015), exploited them (Sayin & Gürhan-Canli, 2015), violated fairness-related
relational norms (Grégoire & Fisher, 2008), behaved in a highly unethical way (Schmalz & Orth,
2012; Trump, 2014) or shown disloyalty toward them (Luedicke & Pichler-Luedicke, 2015) may
increase the intensity of consumers’ feelings of betrayal.
Brand Relationship Norms
Types of norms. A fruitful direction for understanding brand attachment and brand
betrayal, as well as other brand relationship states and brand relationship types, draws on theories
about social relationship norms. Aggarwal (2004) proposes that brand relationships vary in terms
of the norms that guide them; specifically, whether and to what extent they are based on
“exchange” or “communal” norms. Exchange relationships involve a shared understanding that a
relationship is based on a quid pro quo mode of interaction. Exchange relationship norms dictate
a match between what customers give to obtain and interact with the brand (e.g., price paid, time
spent) and what the brand provides in return (e.g., brand benefits, service benefits). Consumers
for whom exchange relationship norms are salient become unhappy when a relationship is out of
balance in terms of the give–get interchange, such as when the consumer puts more (e.g., more
money, more time, more effort) into the brand relationship than he she gets in return.
Communal relationship norms, on the other hand, are based on a shared understanding
that a relationship partner (e.g., the brand) receives benefits or accrues costs depending on what
the other relationship partner (e.g., the consumer) needs at a given point in time. With communal
relationships, the brand is part of one’s “in group”. Contributions to the partner (i.e., the
consumer’s contributions to the brand or vice versa) are made on behalf of the consumer-brand
unit (vs. one’s self-interests). For example, if one member of a brand relationship (e.g., the
consumer) needs help, communal relationship norms would dictate that the brand would proffer
help without the expectation of compensation. What is new and relevant to the relationship norm
literature are the ideas that (a) brand relationships can be communal in nature, (b) different
relationship norms may be more vs. less salient in a given situation or for a particular type of
consumer, and (c) a mismatch between the type of relationship norm implied by the brand’s
action (i.e., exchange) and the type of relationship norm expected by consumers (i.e., communal)
can damage brand relationships.
Consumers sometimes relate to a brand in human-like ways, with distinctions across
types of relationships based on brand closeness/distance, brand prominence, relationship valence
and relative power in the relationship. Most of the experimental research has studied consumers’
feeling of attachment to the brand, perhaps partly because of its significant consequences to
marketers, which range from brand loyalty and defending the brand against criticism to brand
aversion and taking vengeance against the brand. A promising research direction involves
comparing brand relationships guided by communal norms to those guided by exchange norms
(Aggarwal 2004). Considering that most research focuses on attachment, it is not surprising that
the effects of sociality motivations (e.g., loneliness, brands as group status markers, self-esteem)
on how consumers relate to brands have been more thoroughly studied compared to those of
effectance motivations (self-efficacy).
As we show in this review, a substantial and recent body of research has examined
consumers’ perceptions of brands in human-like terms. Activity in this young field reveals a
promising trajectory, with most studies published within last decade and with considerable
potential for future research on important issues. In Table 2, we present a set of propositions that
summarize research findings to date. Below, we use these propositions to develop some
concluding thoughts.
----- Insert Table 2 here ----
Throughout this review, we have identified specific future research directions. Here, we
identify a set of research directions that relate to the domain of humanizing brands as a whole,
including the propositions noted in Table 2.
Human or Human-Like?
Whereas the literature reviewed above suggests that consumers can perceive and relate to
brands in human-like terms, two considerations must be kept in mind when carrying this research
forward. First, the fact that consumers can relate to brands in human-like terms should not be
taken as evidence that they always do (see Aggarwal, 2004; Alba & Lutz, 2013; Batra et al.,
2012; Miller et al., 2012; Park et al., 2013b). Individuals may correct for anthropomorphic
tendencies when they become cognizant of having done so (even if the correction is insufficient).
Indeed, there is an opportunity in consumer research to demarcate the boundaries of human
and brand relationships. Swaminathan and Dommer (2012) suggest that brand relationships
typically involve an economic exchange, whereas most human relationships do not. As such,
compared to interpersonal relationships, consumers may have more of an exchange than a
communal orientation towards brands. Moreover, whereas individuals can feel betrayed by
relationship partners who are unfaithful to them, consumers do not seem to believe that brands
experience feelings of betrayal or other negative responses to the consumers’ polygamous brand
relationships (though see Luedicke & Pichler-Luedicke, 2015, who find different results).
Is humanizing brands an accelerating trend?
The recency of research supporting P1 might suggest that consumers’ humanization of
brands is a contemporary phenomenon. It may be partly true in that brands have played an
increasingly important role in the modern marketplace. Additionally, social changes may have
enhanced consumers’ motivations, abilities or opportunities to humanize brands, which raises
numerous questions. Have consumers as a whole become more dependent on brands for
enhancing a sense of effectance? Have societal changes, such as greater stress and time-pressure,
or more shallow human relationships, led contemporary consumers to relate to brands differently
today than in previous generations? Do consumers look to brands as sources of emotional
gratification more now because consumers receive less emotional support elsewhere? Do
consumers look more to brands as relationship partners because global competition creates a
world-view of unpredictable, hostile or tenuous relationships among people? Have wealth and
high standards of living in the West made for a more entitled population that looks to the
marketplace for certain types of brand relationships (e.g., relationships where the consumer is the
master and the brand the slave)? Consumer research can benefit from historical, sociological, and
political science perspectives (as well as psychological perspectives) on whether and to what
extent consumers’ relationships with brands today differ from those of prior generations, and if
so, what drives these differences.
P1 also raises the question of whether technological innovations interact with societal
changes to offer more opportunities for consumers to view brands in human-like terms. The
increasing tendency for consumers to spend more time alone (e.g., Putnam, 2000), coupled with
the aging of the population and needs for assisted living tools, herald the advent of robots with
human features, voices, and actions, as well as the increased use of virtual reality and
technologies, like self-driving cars, all of which will likely further impact our perception and
experiences of brands. Such technological advances may actually exaggerate consumers’
tendency to see brands in human-like terms because they cue human knowledge schemas, they
offer a way to connect socially and they offer a way to exert control over an increasingly
complex world. For example, as consumers become increasingly dependent on technology and
brands to perform functions that previously required human skills (e.g., reading maps,
mathematical calculations, translation), these dependencies may lower effectance in certain
domains of our lives. A reduced sense of effectance may heighten consumers’ tendency to
anthropomorphize brands, as prior research suggests. A tendency to humanize may be even more
pronounced with the development of algorithms that “learn” customers’ habits and can be
customized to the consumer’s needs (see Kozinets, 2015, for a discussion).
What else impacts tendencies to humanize brands?
P2 suggests that dispositional, situational, development, and cultural factors related to agent
knowledge and motivations for sociality and effectance can heighten consumers’ tendencies to
humanize brands. Indeed, in this review, we have identified a set of variables that can be broadly
subsumed within the categories of sociality motivations, effectance motivations and elicited
agent knowledge. These constructs appear to influence whether, when, and why consumers
perceive and relate to brands in human-like terms (see Figure 1). For example, we see that
consumers are more likely to perceive and relate to brands in human like terms when situational
(situational loneliness), dispositional (chronic loneliness), developmental (e.g., attachment
styles) and cultural factors (individualism/collectivism) activate a sociality motivation.
Yet, other variables that reflect these higher-level factors noted in Figure 1 offer additional
opportunities to test the boundaries of the model. For example, individual differences in
introversion/extroversion, an instantiation of sociality motivations, might predict that introverts
(who gain less emotional energy from interactions with people) are more likely to humanize
brands than extraverts. Relatedly, research might examine whether consumers are more likely to
humanize brands when they interact with the brand themselves versus when they observe others
with the brand. In sum, we have the opportunity to build theory by examining other situational,
dispositional, developmental and cultural factors that are associated with a sociality motivation,
effectance motivation, and elicited agent knowledge.
What bi-directional causality relationships exist among constructs?
P3 suggests that the various ways in which humanize brands (as shown in Figure 1) can be
mutually reinforcing. Yet alternative paths that reflect the causal relationships between these
ways of humanizing brands have yet to be studied. For example, whereas consumers may be
more likely to see a brand as having a personality after they anthropomorphize it, does the
evocation of the brand as having a personality enhance anthropomorphism tendencies? Whereas
seeing the brand as having an anthropomorphized mind and being trustworthy might enhance
brand-self connections and attachment, is it possible that greater levels of brand attachment
enhance perceptions of the brand as a trusted partner? Future research should consider the
potential for bi-directional relationships among the constructs identified in Figure 1, particularly
as brand relationships develop over time.
What would a broadened set of relationship types reveal?
Consumers’ relationships with brands vary on a number of dimensions (P6), among which
include brand-self connectedness, prominence, attachment, power, and relationship norms. Yet,
as Fournier and Alvarez (2012) note, we have tended to focus on brand relationships
characterized by strong levels of attachment. This is not surprising given the importance of
attachment-based brand relationships to marketers. Yet, as these authors eloquently note, there is
clearly opportunity to study brand relationship types and forms beyond brand attachment. For
example, under what cases is power unequally distributed such that the consumer feels
dependent on the brand (as when the brand has more power than the consumer) or the consumer
feels that the brand is a slave (where the consumer has more power). How does the change of a
brand relationship change when an exchange relationship evolves to a communal one?
How does humanizing brands influence consumer happiness?
When consumers perceive, relate to and treat brands positively, marketers enjoy numerous
benefits. These include brand loyalty and commitment, enhanced consumer willingness to
disparage competing brands, greater willingness to spread positive WOM, and a willingness to
pay a price premium. These potential benefits can justify increasing consumer attachment and
brand anthropomorphism as a goal for marketing managers, even if the firm has relatively few
attached customers or customers that anthropomorphize the brand.
Whereas marketers might benefit when strong brand attachments form, P7 suggests that
consumers can be happier when they become attached to brands that satisfy various life goals (in
particular, brands that enable, enrich and entice them). Yet, one cannot help but ask whether,
when, and why brand relationships induce greater degrees of happiness than human relationships
do. Is it psychologically healthy for consumers to form attachments to brands? Does evidence of
brand attachment signify an absence of other sources of gratification in consumers’ lives?
How does humanizing a brand change over time?
P9 suggests that brand relationships are dynamic. Yet, little is known about the dynamic
nature of brand relationships. Research on brand betrayal is a step in this direction, but basic
questions remain. Recent research points to the importance of studying velocity or change in
brand relationships (e.g., Harmeling et al 2015). We have yet to understand what drives the pace
at which brand relationships develop, what psychological, social and marketplace factors can
create an ebb and flow in these relationships, and when certain types of brand relationships (e.g.,
flings) morph into different relationship types (e.g., dependencies). A study of how brand
relationships evolve over time will likely require the development of novel constructs, such as
relationship volatility, stability, productivity, interdependence, immutability, and discontinuity.
Important questions exist at the interface of consumer research and marketing on how brand
relationships can maintain consumers’ passion and excitement, how they can be revived after a
period of dormancy, and what factors encourage relationship continuity despite marketplace
mishaps (mishaps that evoke brand betrayal as well as those that evoke other feelings, like
abandonment, exploitation, and rejection).
Also related to P9 is understanding the role of ownership. Whereas brand ownership provides
opportunities for the development and potential deepening of brand-self connections, we know
little about how or whether ownership issues impact perceptions of brands as having human-like
characteristics, traits, or minds. Do anthropomorphization tendencies increase as brand
relationships develop and/or products are owned over longer periods of time? Owning a product
may facilitate its being perceived as a distinct entity, but this sense of its human-like qualities
may not transfer over to identical replacements. Research on the process by which consumers
detach from brands to which they have previously been attached would also help us understand
the dynamic nature of brand relationships. Moreover, once consumers have detached from a
brand (e.g., one’s childhood Slinky), is it possible that factors related to sociality (e.g., nostalgia),
effectance (shaken self) and elicited agent knowledge (e.g., entity orientation) facilitate re-
How does humanization of products differ from humanization of brands?
Finally, although our focus has been on the humanization of brands, at the product level,
consumers are also capable of humanizing product categories (e.g., cars) and possessions (one’s
own car). Developmental issues related to brands generally being more abstract categories and
being learned later in life, may lead to different tendencies to anthropomorphize products (e.g.,
computers) vs. brands within a product class. One might also ask whether consumers are more
likely to anthropomorphize unbranded possessions more so than branded products? Some
research suggests that humanizing a brand may decrease the likelihood of humanizing any one of
the brand’s individual products or service providers. People who attribute a group mind to a
company (e.g., Burger King) are less likely to attribute a mind to an individual employee (Waytz
& Young 2012). Do consumers develop deeper or more differentiated personality impressions of
brands than of products? How does characterizing a marketplace entity as a brand versus a
product impact brand self-congruity and brand attachment? Will consumers feel a greater sense
of betrayal when a brand or a product acts in ways that counter relationship norms? In short,
while P1-P9 delineate a set of issues related to brands, whether all these hold true to the same
extent for products remains to be seen.
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Table 2
Summary Propositions
... Thus, research on brand anthropomorphism is still in its early stage Dessart and Cova, 2021;Tuškej and Podnar, 2018), and what exists to date has not focused on negative consumer-brand relationships. In this regard, MacInnis and Folkes (2017) suggest that more research is needed to gain a better understanding of why certain types of negative relationships prevail, what causes changes in relationships and what are the prevailing factors playing a role in the relationship between brand anthropomorphism and negative consumer-brand relationships. ...
... 2. Literature review 2.1 Anthropomorphism and brand anthropomorphism Brand anthropomorphism represents a growing phenomenon in the marketing domain (Golossenko et al., 2020;Liu et al., 2022;MacInnis and Folkes, 2017), and it has been recognized as an important construct within consumer-brand relationships. Aggarwal and McGill (2012) highlighted the tendency of people to humanize the brands, meaning that people perceive them as having human characteristics, both tangible and intangible, such as human forms, personality, ability to speak and mental state McGill, 2011), Puzakova et al. (2009) attributed to the anthropomorphized brands even "various emotional states, mind, soul and conscious behavior" (p. ...
... Anthropomorphism from a human-perspective refers to the perceptions of a nonhuman object as having human-like qualities, such as human-like physiognomy, a human-like mind and a human-like personality (Golossenko et al., 2020;MacInnis and Folkes, 2017). Most earlier studies focus on a specific dimension of anthropomorphism according to the objectives of the study [for example, Kim and McGill (2011) anthropomorphized slot machines in Mr Slot to analyze the impact of anthropomorphism on risk perception]. ...
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This paper aims to investigate whether brand anthropomorphism has a direct impact on brand hate, and what are the prevailing factors that play a significant role in this relationship. This study provides insights on brand anthropomorphism phenomenon and negative consumer-brand relationships in the context of social media-based anti-brand communities. Using a quantitative analysis of the data gathered from an online survey, this study analyses brand anthropomorphism in the three main online anti-brand communities toward Apple. Findings indicated that brand anthropomorphism in itself doesn’t impact on brand hate directly. Nevertheless, when it is used by consumers to express their negative feelings towards the hatred brand, the blame consumers attribute to the brand’s behavior positively affects brand hate, and ideological incompatibility is a good moderator for brand hate. This study is the first to investigate the link between brand anthropomorphism and brand hate, analyzed through a quantitative analysis. The results of this study are based on a limited number of survey respondents since antibrand communities members are very difficult to access and thus, it was not easy to have their collaboration for this research. This study highlights the power of social media as a tool for establishing negative consumer-brand relationships. Therefore, brand managers must recognize that consumer activists may be a serious threat to the company, and deal with the consumers’ tendency to use anthropomorphism to express their hate. Keywords: brand anthropomorphism; negative consumer-brand relationships; brand hate; anti-brand communities; social media.
... The process of humanizing an object triggers a mental perception similar to that experienced when interacting with a human on the part of consumers (Puzakova et al., 2013), and the use of virtual personal assistants (VPA) such as Siri or Alexa elevates this perception (MacInnis & Folkes, 2017). ...
... Sci-fi movies and future-inspired books have treated technology and computers like human beings since the former were invented: KITT in Knight Rider (1982), C-3PO in Star Wars (1977), or RoboCop (1987, for example. The tendency to include humanized objects and tools has been a recurrent factor in pop culture and, thus, in anthropomorphic and sociological studies in the literature (MacInnis & Folkes, 2017). This humanization process is made due to specific expression re-creations (Kim & McGill, 2011), through an avatar (Nowak & Rauh, 2005), or even due to cultural and recreational factors (Epley et al., 2007). ...
... This humanization process is made due to specific expression re-creations (Kim & McGill, 2011), through an avatar (Nowak & Rauh, 2005), or even due to cultural and recreational factors (Epley et al., 2007). Some researchers suggest that the process of making a brand or an object human triggers a human-like mind perception by the consumers (Puzakova et al., 2013), and the use of VPA such as Siri or Alexa might increase that perception (MacInnis & Folkes, 2017). The idea of holding conscious and meaningful conversations with robots and computers seemed futuristic only decades ago, but nowadays this is no longer a mere possibility: human-robot interaction is an available option. ...
Nowadays the online customer experience is shaped by relationships that are built using interactive technologies. Users can not only interact with other users or with the firm, but also with artificial-intelligence-powered agents such as virtual assistants, chatbots, or service robots. Consequently, interactive marketing goes a step further, despite the fact that any digital social interaction is based on three communication tools: text, sound, and image. This chapter, after reviewing the meaning and dimensionality of the emotion, explores interactive marketing experiences through text, sound, and image to finally, focus on virtual assistants and the role of anthropomorphic characteristics in the transmission of emotions. The contribution of this chapter is to provide an overview of the current state of research on the transmission of emotions through online interactive tools offering a variety of theories, studies, advances, and areas to be explored to serve as a starting point for researchers and practitioners.KeywordsEmotionsInteractive marketingArtificial intelligenceAnthropomorphismVirtual assistants
... As our aim was to augment the current understanding of the acceptance of robo-advisory services, our study methodology is grounded in the unified theory of acceptance and use of technology (UTAUT) (Venkatesh et al., 2003), social contract theory (Dunfee et al., 1999), humanizing experience theory (MacInnis & Folkes, 2017), and resource theories. This strategy is guided by prior research indicating that the theory integration approach facilitates a better understanding towards the inherently complex consumer behavior . ...
... In addition, owing to the considerable technological advances that have taken place in recent decades, there is a need to shift the focus of the humanizing experience theory from branding to the contemporary technology setting (Huang & Liu, 2021). This widely adopted theory posits that humans have a tendency to ascribe human-like attributes to non-human entities, either consciously or unconsciously, for various psychological and social motivations (MacInnis & Folkes, 2017), including the inherent desire for human interaction (MacInnis & Folkes, 2017). Therefore, it is advisable to provide inanimate agents a human-like appearance and equip them with the ability to interact in order to shape an optimal customer experience Huang & Liu, 2021). ...
... In addition, owing to the considerable technological advances that have taken place in recent decades, there is a need to shift the focus of the humanizing experience theory from branding to the contemporary technology setting (Huang & Liu, 2021). This widely adopted theory posits that humans have a tendency to ascribe human-like attributes to non-human entities, either consciously or unconsciously, for various psychological and social motivations (MacInnis & Folkes, 2017), including the inherent desire for human interaction (MacInnis & Folkes, 2017). Therefore, it is advisable to provide inanimate agents a human-like appearance and equip them with the ability to interact in order to shape an optimal customer experience Huang & Liu, 2021). ...
Robo-advisory services are gaining traction and could usher in the next cycle of disruptive change in the financial services industry. Yet, many are reticent to embrace this service innovation for their wealth management. This study probes this phenomenon by examining the interplay among technology characteristics (i.e. performance expectancy, effort expectancy, and perceived security), human-like characteristics (i.e. perceived autonomy, perceived intelligence, and perceived anthropomorphism), and consumer characteristics (i.e. financial literacy and affinity for technology interaction) to explain the acceptance of robo-advisory services. For this purpose, a fuzzy set qualitative comparative analysis and an artificial neural network analysis were performed to uncover the interdependency and complexity of the proposed variables, based on 375 responses collected through a large consumer panel survey in China. The findings revealed the presence of six configurations conducive for high acceptance of robo-advisory services, with perceived anthropomorphism and a combination of perceived effort expectancy and perceived security identified as core conditions. Moreover, according to the artificial neural network analysis, perceived intelligence is the most important determinant of robo-advisory service acceptance. This study challenges the conventional linear and symmetric perspective adopted in prior research.
... This, in turn, can increase the brand's or product's trustworthiness. For example, research has shown that consumers are likelier to trust brands with human-like names or personalities (Agrawal et al., 2020;MacInnis & Folkes, 2017). Similarly, research has found that anthropomorphism of technology-based products, such as robots or virtual assistants, can increase consumers' trust (Blut et al., 2021). ...
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Nowadays marketing practitioners are more interested to make a lifetime bond with consumers. Previous research studies have shown that brand anthropomorphism enhances consumer brand evaluations in terms of likability, positive sentiments, purchase intentions, and trust in that particular brand. Research reveals that consumers show a favorable attitude toward brands that are anthropomorphized. According to the implicit-personality theory, there are two broad human personalities, one who believes that people have fixed traits ("entity theorists") while others deem that people's personality is malleable ("incremental theorists"). However, less work is done to investigate this brand anthropomorphism-evaluation process in contingency with the personality of consumers. Hence this study aims to examine the role of implicit theory in brand humanization-evaluation phenomena. The results validate the existing research that anthropomorphizing the brands not only enhances consumer attitude towards the brand but also generates more trust and likeliness of purchase. Conversely, study data did not support the proposed hypothesis that the brand anthropomorphizing evaluation process is less positive for entity theorists. Nevertheless, this process remains same for the incremental theorists.
... First, this study responds to calls for research that examines the multifaceted nature of consumer-brand relationships (MacInnis & Folkes, 2017). This research indicates how to best communicate with different consumer segments (i.e., general consumers vs. brand community members) to generate more favorable consumer attitudes. ...
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Consumer‐brand relationships vary with regard to their degree of psychological connection to the brand. Some individuals may have a weak connection to the brand (e.g., general consumers), while others may possess a strong connection to the brand (e.g., brand community members). Marketers have yet to distinguish between the types of advertising appeals that are most effective for these different individuals. Hence, this research utilizes construal level theory to posit that consumers with a stronger [weaker] psychological sense of brand community will think about the brand more concretely [abstractly] and be more persuaded by utilitarian [symbolic] advertising appeals. Three original experiments reveal that a match between the degree of psychological sense of brand community and the type of advertising appeal directly influences favorable consumer attitudes, and subsequently consumer cognitions and behaviors. Furthermore, message elaboration is the process mechanism driving the effect of the match on favorable consumer attitudes, while relationship‐oriented cultural values attenuate this effect. This research contributes to both theory and practice by providing new knowledge regarding which advertising appeals are the most effective for consumers with strong versus weak consumer‐brand relationships.
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Background – Anthropomorphism refers to the customer's tendency to think of a human characteristic that is in a product or brand and has become a brand positioning strategy that has received attention in marketing research in recent years. Anthropomorphism strategy is needed and becomes an effective alternative strategy in marketing communication, but there is some debate about the success of anthropomorphism strategy in marketing communication. The discrepancy in the findings of the debate makes the anthropomorphism strategy interesting for further research, especially on consumer attitudes. Aim – Anthropomorphism concept is very important in developing a brand for the consumers. Marketing strategies can provide information about the introduction and market’s problems, provide information on alternative solutions, analysis of alternative solutions, and evaluation. The anthropomorphism strategy is used to get closer and communicate the brand to the consumers. This study develops a conceptual framework that describes the philosophy of science about brand anthropomorphism from a marketing perspective. Design/methodology/approach – This study uses secondary data in the form of literature studies and mapping on 78 articles published in Scopus-indexed journals, especially Q1 and Q2 for 47 years from 1975 to 2021. The framework is presented in 3 main aspects that are ontology, epistemology, and axiology. That aspect is discussed in depth in accordance with the development of existing scientific studies. Findings – Brand anthropomorphism is one of the most effective marketing strategies to bring brands closer to their consumers. This study found the antecedents and consequences of brand anthropomorphism, such as brand image congruity, anthropomorphic advertisement, customer intention, willingness to register, etc. These findings, theoretically, it is expected to provide a roadmap for further anthropomorphism research and practice as the input in determining marketing strategies for companies. Research implication – A conceptual model of brand anthropomorphism is presented with an explanation of the influencing factors and the factors that are influenced. This study can help for further research about anthropomorphism. Limitations – This study only refers to Scopus Q1 and Q2 for 47 years from 1975 until 2021.
Purpose The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically disrupted everyday life, leading to a cascade of negative emotional responses such as death anxiety. Against this backdrop, the purpose of this paper is to focus on the buffering effect of brand attachment on death anxiety by exploring the roles of brand concepts and brand positioning on psychological compensation for security. Design/methodology/approach This multi-method paper features four studies and shows how brands can offer emotional support under high-risk circumstances. Findings Study 1 includes two surveys which offer preliminary evidence that death anxiety can enhance consumers’ brand attachment. Study 2 reveals a causal effect wherein consumers experiencing death anxiety are more likely to attach to brands with a self-transcendence (vs self-enhancement) concept. Study 3 examines the mediating role of need for security in the relationship between death anxiety and attachment to brands with a self-transcendence concept. Further, Study 4 indicates the moderating role of brand positioning: self-transcendence brands adopting local (vs global) positioning strategies are more likely to satisfy consumers’ need for security, thereby leading to strong brand attachment. Originality/value The findings of this paper contribute to the brand attachment literature and to the global branding literature regarding consumers’ emotional responses in the context of COVID-19. This paper innovatively frames brand concepts and brand positioning and provides actionable guidelines to help brands satisfy consumers’ needs amid a worldwide crisis.
The present research investigates brand love for luxury cars and extends the knowledge on brand love by testing and validating psychographic consumer qualities, including emotional stability. Data for the present research study was collected through an online survey administered to 700 respondents. A total of 426 responses were received, and after deleting 26 unfilled responses, the total sample size came to 400 responses. In the first stage, the data were tested for the construct reliability. After testing the composite reliability of constructs, convergent validity, and discriminant validity was estimated. AMOS 26 was employed for path analysis which revealed the robustness of the conceptual model. Using Model 1 and Model 4 in the PROCESS macro in SPSS Version 26, the present study performed mediation and moderation analysis. The results revealed that consumers brand love mediates the relationship between brand anthropomorphism and consumer’s intention to purchase and it also mediates the relationship of NWOM with purchase intention. Further, the analysis revealed that consumer’s brand attitude mediates the relationship between brand anthropomorphism and NWOM with purchase intention. The moderation results showed that emotional stability moderates the association of brand anthropomorphism with brand love and it also moderates the association of brand anthropomorphism with brand attitude. Further, emotional stability has a moderating effect on the relationship between NWOM and brand attitude.
In diesem Kapitel wird erläutert, wie der Begriff Marke definiert ist, was digitale Markenführung ist und mit welchen Modellen sich Marken erfassen lassen. Der Begriff Marke wird dabei aus drei verschiedenen Perspektiven beleuchtet: der juristischen, der psychografischen, und der ökonomischen. Dazu werden verwandte Begriffe wie Markenidentität, Markenimage und Markenführung definiert und voneinander abgegrenzt. Abschließend lernen Sie in diesem Kapitel die wichtigsten Markenidentitätsmodelle und ihre Elemente näher kennen.
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Fostering attachment between consumers and organizations is developing into a cornerstone of relationship marketing strategy. However, little is known about how an organization can develop strong emotional ties with consumers. Our research addresses one aspect of this gap by showing that in atmosphere dominant service firms, sense of place leads to place attachment, which in turn plays a critical role in driving desirable customer behaviors. In Study 1 we demonstrate that sense of place influences the strength of consumers’ attachment to a service location, which ultimately has positive effects on consumers’ behaviors. In Study 2, we identify characteristics that influence the sense of place dimensions and extend the model to better account for the dynamics of social relationships that develop within a service firm. This research provides an initial investigation into how organizations can better manage the service place and provides a rich framework for future research on managing attachment with service consumers.
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This research examined how consumer–brand relationships change when one contrasts brands perceived as nostalgic with brands perceived as non-nostalgic. Paired comparisons of brands in six product categories revealed that brand attachment, self-brand connections, and storytelling, as well as, the propensity to offer the brand as a gift and collect brand-derived products, depend on the nostalgic status of the brand. On a sample of 606 consumers, the results showed that a brand's nostalgic status has a positive effect on attachment, self-brand connections, and storytelling. These effects had not previously been considered in nostalgia research. Furthermore, the nostalgic status of a brand has positive effects in terms of intention to purchase the brand as a gift and collect brand-derived products. Moreover, ANOVA results illustrate that consumer relationships with nostalgic brands are systematically stronger than with non-nostalgic brands. Finally, results indicated that product category moderates all of the dimensions of brand relationships while gender does not.
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People are often reluctant to comply with social causes because doing so may involve personal sacrifices of time, money, and effort for benefits that are shared by other members of society. In an effort to increase compliance, government agencies and public institutions sometimes employ financial tools to promote social causes. However, employing financial tools to induce prosocial behavior is expensive and often ineffective. We propose that anthropomorphizing a social cause is a practical and inexpensive tool for increasing compliance with it. Across three prosocial contexts, we found that individuals exposed to a message from an anthropomorphized social cause, compared with individuals exposed to a message relating to a nonanthropomorphized social cause, were more willing to comply with the message. This effect was mediated by feelings of anticipatory guilt experienced when they considered the likely consequences of not complying with the cause. The theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed.
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Building on the Stereotype Content Model, this paper introduces and tests the Brands as Intentional Agents Framework. A growing body of research suggests that consumers have relationships with brands that resemble relations between people. We propose that consumers perceive brands in the same way they perceive people. This approach allows us to explore how social perception theories and processes can predict brand purchase interest and loyalty. Brands as Intentional Agents Framework is based on a well-established social perception approach: the Stereotype Content Model. Two studies support the Brands as Intentional Agents Framework prediction that consumers assess a brand's perceived intentions and ability and that these perceptions elicit distinct emotions and drive differential brand behaviors. The research shows that human social interaction relationships translate to consumer–brand interactions in ways that are useful to inform brand positioning and brand communications.
Although digital assistants with humanlike features have become prevalent in computer games, few marketing studies have demonstrated the psychological mechanisms underlying consumers' reactions to digital assistants and their subsequent influence on consumers' game enjoyment. To fill this gap, the current study examined the effect of anthropomorphic representations of computerized helpers in computer games on game enjoyment. In the current research, consumers enjoyed a computer game less when they received assistance from a computerized helper imbued with humanlike features than from a helper construed as a mindless entity. We offer a novel mechanism that the presence of an anthropomorphized helper can undermine individuals' perceived autonomy during a computer game. Across six experiments, we show that the presence of an anthropomorphized helper reduced game enjoyment across three different games. By measuring participants' perceived autonomy (study 1) and employing moderators such as importance of autonomy (studies 2, 3, and 4), we also provide evidence that the reduced feeling of autonomy serves as the mechanism underlying the backfiring effect. Finally, we demonstrate that the effect of anthropomorphism on game enjoyment can be extended to other game-related outcomes, such as individuals' motivation to persist in the game (studies 4 and 5).
Although considerable attention has been paid to the “brand-as-partner,” the current research shows that the “brand-as-servant” is embraced by consumers whose value system facilitates a master-servant relationship in the quasi-social experiences provided by brand anthropomorphism. Four studies evince that differences in hierarchical structure inherent in brands working with (i.e., partner brands) versus working for (i.e., servant brands) consumers engender materialism to play a systematic role in determining consumer responses to being an equal partner versus dominating master in consumer-brand relationships. In particular, materialists respond more favorably to a servant brand than to a partner brand when the brand is anthropomorphized (vs. objectified), and respond more favorably to an anthropomorphized servant brand than do non-materialists. This effect is actualized through traits of materialists, moderated by brand status and mediated by an activated desire to dominate the servant brand. This finding shows that partnership may not be the only meaningful relationship that consumers form with their brands.
Many consumers view their relationships with brands as part of their identity and this affects how they react to a brand's behavior that negatively impacts them. In assigning responsibility for negative outcomes, individuals often demonstrate a self-serving bias by assigning more responsibility to their partner and less to themselves. In three studies, we demonstrate that this tendency is resisted among consumers holding a strong relational self-view. However, their self-serving bias emerges when the outcome represents a near-miss situation in which a more favorable counterfactual alternative outcome was highly possible. This change in attributions is associated with increased feelings of being betrayed and perceived unfairness by the brand even though its actions are identical in the near-miss and far-miss situations.
Brand attachment has been regarded as a powerful and salient construct in marketing, argued to predict favourable consumer behaviours. Nevertheless, research trying to understand what are the determinants and outcomes of it is still limited. Using semi-structured interviews and projective techniques, this work identifies that self-congruity, experience, responsiveness, quality, reputation and trust are found to be the determinants of strong brand attachment. The outcomes of brand attachment are intention to recommend, purchase, revisit, resilience to negative information and act of defending the brand. This research sheds light for marketers in understanding the conceptualisation of attachment from the consumers' perspectives, so adopting an important perspective largely under-researched. In addition, this study guides marketers in the important factors regarding how to build stronger attachment and benefit from its outcomes.
Attaching consumers to a brand is a cornerstone of relationship marketing as attachment increases loyalty. This research investigates another possible benefit of attachment, its potential and limits for shielding brands from firms’ ethical missteps. Merging motivated reasoning and attachment theories, two studies focus on how brand attachment influences consumer judgments of firm ethics and the emotional and behavioral consequences developing from those. A field study indicates that attachment attenuates judgments of unethical behavior, contributes to emotional ambivalence, and affects purchase intentions. A subsequent experiment corroborates these findings and shows that the buffering role of attachment is limited to conditions when the information about firm ethics is moderately rather than extremely negative. Implications focus on advancing research on ethics and emotional ambivalence in consumer brand relationships and on managerial implications.
The primary purpose of our target article was to theoretically argue and empirically demonstrate that it is possible to elevate the customer–brand relationships to the desired level of human relationships by offering three types of self-relevant benefits. In this response, we discuss the major comments provided by each set of commentators, which are insightful and thought-provoking. It is our hope that this dialogue will open up a new avenue for future research regarding the nature and management of customer–brand relationships.