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Keeping It Real: How Perceived Brand Authenticity Affects Product Perceptions

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This paper examines the effects of firm motivation (an intrinsic or extrinsic interest in their product) on perceptions of brand authenticity and anticipated product quality. Specifically, studies 1 and 2 show that an intrinsic motivation increases authenticity perceptions which, in turn, increase perceived product quality, even for negatively regarded products. Studies 3a and 3b demonstrate that motivation affects perceived product quality (through perceived authenticity) by influencing deliberate attribute‐level inferences consumers make about the product, and Study 4 demonstrates that the positive effect of intrinsic motivation (through authenticity) disappears in the presence of objective product attribute information, when such inferences are no longer necessary. These findings suggest that authenticity perceptions are malleable, and they shed light on the mechanism through which brand authenticity leads consumers to anticipate that a brand's products will be higher in quality. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
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doi: 10.1002/jcpy.1123
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DR. MELISSA CINELLI (Orcid ID : 0000-0002-8641-9544)
Article type : Research Article
Keeping it real: How perceived brand authenticity affects product perceptions
MELISSA D. CINELLI
ROBYN A. LEBOEUF
Melissa D. Cinelli (corresponding author; mcinelli@bus.olemiss.edu) is associate professor,
Marketing Department, College of Business, University of Mississippi, Oxford, MS 38677.
Robyn A. LeBoeuf (leboeuf@wustl.edu) is professor of marketing, Olin Business School,
Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO 63130.
Associate Editor: Meng Zhang
Jan 2020 issue
Acknowledgments
The authors would like to thank Richard Lutz, Alan Cooke, Chris Janiszewski, and
James Shepperd, as well as student members of the University of Florida Behavioral Lab, for
their constructive feedback on earlier drafts of this work.
European. Luxury.” “Old-world traditions and craftsmanship” (Spiegel 2015). The
imagined history of the Haagen-Dazs brand stems entirely from its brand name, deliberately
chosen to conjure a premium, imported brand image—an image that the company’s original
brand name, Senator Frozen Foods, was unlikely to evoke (Carlson 2007). Although Haagen-
Dazs’s false provenance has undoubtedly contributed to consumers’ quality and value
perceptions (Aichner, Forza & Trentin 2017; Greenberg 2016), such strategic brand image
construction has the potential to backfire if consumers learn that the brand’s image was
deliberately constructed to sell ice cream and was not based on the true history of the brand.
Indeed, many elements of a brand’s narrative, beyond country of origin, can be manufactured
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artificially, as brands can “construct” a narrative of environmental friendliness, athleticism,
luxury, and so onbut, of course, these elements can instead be a genuine reflection of the
brand and its products. This potential for performative branding raises the question of what
happens when consumers decide that a brand’s image is a strategically manufactured front
versus a genuine reflection of the firm’s values. How does such a decision affect consumers’
product-level inferences and quality expectations? More broadly, what is the value of
authentic branding?
Consumers today crave authenticity in the marketplace, demanding authentic travel
experiences (Fitchett, Caruana, & Crane 2008; Thompson & Tambyah 1999), souvenirs
(Chhabra 2005; Costa & Bamossy 1995), retail settings (Penaloza 2001; Wallendorf,
Lindsey-Mullikin & Pimentel 1998) and brands (Beverland 2005, 2009; Holt 2002).
Authenticity is used colloquially in many ways and, similarly, authenticity in the marketing
literature has taken many forms. Recent research, following theoretical discussions of the
importance of authenticity in branding (Beverland 2009; Holt 2002; Pine & Gilmore 2008),
has endeavored to separate brand authenticity from judgments about the authenticity of a
product or service (Morhart et al. 2015; Moulard, Raggio, & Folse 2016; Napoli et al. 2014).
That work has provided some evidence regarding the antecedents of brand authenticity
perceptions as well as the benefits of a brand being perceived as authentic, but relatively little
is known about the mechanism through which brand authenticity affects product-level
perceptions. An understanding of this mechanism is of clear importance for understanding the
impact of authenticity on the brand and firm. This paper will discuss the importance of brand
motivation (intrinsic or extrinsic) in brand authenticity perceptions, will experimentally
demonstrate the effects of motivation on perceived brand authenticity and product quality,
and will suggest and test a mechanism through which such effects arise.
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What is authentic?
Although the importance of authenticity for modern branding has been suggested in
the popular business press and recently examined in the marketing literature, academic work
has historically focused on how consumers determine whether an object is authentic. In
general, this work on object authenticity has focused on the provenance of the product, asking
who made it, as well as when, where, and how it was made. For example, Grayson and
Martinec (2004) identified two types of authenticity relevant to products: indexical and iconic
authenticity. An object is indexically authentic if it is believed to be “the original” or “real”
thing. For example, a Picasso painting is considered authentic if Picasso did indeed paint it
and if the painting is an original, not a reproduction. In contrast, an item is iconically
authentic if it faithfully resembles something that is indexically authentic. For example, a
reproduction of a Picasso painting could be deemed iconically authentic if it accurately
replicates the real painting.
The literature further suggests that product offerings may be considered authentic if
they are produced using traditional or artisanal methods (Beverland 2005; Boyle 2003;
Groves 2001; Munoz, Woods & Solomon 2006; Peterson 2005), if they are perceived as
unique (i.e., not “mainstream”; McLeod 1999; Munoz, Woods & Solomon 2006), or if they
live up to marketers’ claims (Gilmore & Pine 2007). As an example of this last type of
authenticity (which Beverland, Lindgreen & Vink 2008 call “pure authenticity”), a beverage
that calls itself “fruit juice” should actually be made from fruit to be deemed authentic.
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Brand authenticity
Whereas object authenticity focuses on the provenance, makeup, and manufacture of
the product (the “how”), brand authenticity asks a more abstract question about the interplay
between the brand’s “front stage” (i.e., public) and “back stage” (i.e., private) behaviors, and
research on brand authenticity parallels psychological theories of interpersonal authenticity.
For example, self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan 1985, 2002; Ryan & Deci 2000)
suggests that people are authentic when their actions reflect their true- or core-self. Implicit in
this discussion of operating according to one’s true self is the notion that in doing so, one is
not involved in pretense. According to Hughes (2000; p. 190), being authentic means being
“not fraudulent, manufactured for ulterior purpose, or contrived” and for Trilling (1972; p.
13) it is “the absence of dissimulation or feigning or pretense.” Handler (1986; p. 3) similarly
asserts that the true self is “our individual existence, not as we might present it to others, but
as it ‘really is,’ apart from any roles we play.” These perspectives resonate with other
speculation about the factors that determine whether an audience perceives a target to be
authentic: for the audience, the attribution of the target’s behavior to internal versus external
sources may be the key in judging the target’s authenticity (Goffman 1959). Thus, in the eyes
of the audience, authentic self-expression appears as the absence of impression management.
These conceptualizations of authenticity as the absence of impression management
are readily applied to, and important for, branding, as consumers are attentive to the
relationship between brands’ public and private performances (Holt 2002). Historically,
brand images have been described as strategically selected, with consideration given to
factors such as “consumer needs…fit with macroenvironmental trends and relevant
stakeholders” (Park, Jaworski & MacInnis 1986, p. 136). However, given the more recent
view of brands as entities with personalities (Aaker 1997) and relationships (Fournier 1998),
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the marketing literature has begun to conceptualize brand authenticity as the extent to which
the brand’s image reflects something deeper than impression management. For example,
brand authenticity has been defined as a “subjective evaluation of genuineness” (Napoli et al.
2014; p. 1091) and as a reflection of whether a brand is “faithful and true toward itself and
customers” and supports “consumers being true to themselves” (Morhart et al. 2015; p. 202;
see also Beverland 2005, 2009; Holt 2002).
Consistent with these recent discussions, we conceptualize brand authenticity as a
judgment about the genuineness of a brand’s image. We suggest that consumers judge
whether that image reflects what the brand “really is” (Handler 1986) or is instead a managed
“front” that has been strategically cultivated to attract customers. As such, authenticity is not
so much a quality or attribute of the brand itself, but is instead an assessment of the veracity
of the brand’s image. This implies that any brand image has the potential to be deemed
authentic: a brand could be authentically sophisticated, authentically rugged, authentically
exciting, and so on.
Given the centrality of impression management (or lack thereof) in evaluations of
authenticity, one cue that consumers may use to infer the authenticity of a brand is the extent
to which the brand appears to be intrinsically or extrinsically motivated in its business
decisions. The potential link between an intrinsic motivation and perceived authenticity has
received some theoretical and empirical support in the literature. Examining judgments of
consumption authenticity, Ferraro, Kirmani, and Matherly (2010) found that extrinsically
motivated consumption (e.g., to signal status) was viewed less favorably than intrinsically
motivated consumption (e.g., for utilitarian reasons), and that this effect was mediated by the
perceived authenticity of the consumer. Similarly, in a branding context, a product orientation
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(Moulard, Raggio, and Folse (2016) or “love of doing” (Beverland 2009) have been
conceptualized as central to being an authentic brand. According to Holt (2002; p. 83), to be
considered authentic, brands must be “perceived as invented and disseminated by parties
without an instrumental economic agenda, by people who are intrinsically motivated by their
inherent value.” Conversely, the appearance of extrinsic motivation (e.g., being solely
motivated by profit) may be damaging to perceptions of brand authenticity (Beverland 2005,
2009; Holt 2002; Morhart et al. 2015; Moulard, Raggio, & Folse 2016). While profitability is
a concern for all brands, some appear to recognize the value of intrinsic motivation,
promoting not only the functional superiority of their products, but also their passion for
making them. For example, Harley-Davidson claims, “Fulfilling dreams of personal freedom
is more than a phrase. It’s our purpose and our passion...We are Harley-Davidson” (n.d.).
We predict that altering whether a brand (and the people behind it) seems to be
intrinsically or extrinsically motivated will alter how authentic the brand seems to be. For
example, learning that the Haagen-Dazs founder had a personal interest in European ice-
cream making techniques (intrinsic motivation) should lead consumers to perceive the brand
as relatively more authentic than would learning that the Haagen-Dazs founder was interested
in capturing a share of an expanding premium ice cream market (extrinsic motivation).
Formally:
H1: A brand with an intrinsic motivation for producing its products will be perceived
as more authentic than a brand with an extrinsic motivation.
Benefits of authenticity
From a managerial perspective, the importance of brand authenticity lies in its effects
on consumer decision making and behavior. Recent work on brand authenticity supports the
notion that authentic brands are perceived positively in a variety of ways. Morhart et al.
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(2015) found that greater perceived brand authenticity correlated with stronger emotional
brand attachment and greater inclination to spread positive word of mouth about the brand,
and that an increase in brand authenticity led to a greater likelihood of choosing that brand
over another. Similarly, Napoli et al. (2014) found that perceived brand authenticity
correlated with brand purchase intentions and Moulard, Raggio, and Folse (2016) found that
an increase in perceived brand authenticity led to greater trust and expected quality.
We concur with these prior papers that more authentic brands should be perceived
more positively, but we note that much prior work on authenticity has been correlational,
asking people to think of brands they consider authentic (Napoli et al. 2014) or otherwise
examining brands that already vary on authenticity (Beverland 2005, 2009; Holt 2002;
Morhart et al. 2015 Study 5; but see Morhart et al. 2015 Study 6 and Moulard, Raggio, Folse
2016). Further, existing experimental manipulations of perceived brand authenticity (e.g.,
Morhart et al. 2015’s Study 6 and Moulard et al. 2016’s Study 1) often involve alterations to
the traits of the brand or its offered product (e.g., brand age, product features). Given the
nascent state of experimental inquiry into brand authenticity, it is important to establish that
perceived brand authenticity is malleable (and is therefore not inherent in a brand or limited
to specific brand images or product features) and that changes in perceived brand authenticity
have robust and reliable effects on anticipated product quality. It is possible, after all, that
quality makes a brand seem authentic (“Quality Commitment”; Napoli et al. 2014), and not
vice-versa. Drawing on our conceptualization of brand authenticity and on the prior literature,
we predict that perceived authenticity can be manipulated both for familiar and unfamiliar
brands, and that changes in perceived authenticity will alter the quality that people anticipate
from that brand’s products.
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H2a: Consumers anticipate higher quality products from brands that are perceived to
be intrinsically motivated than from brands that are perceived to be extrinsically
motivated.
H2b: The effect of perceived motivation on perceived product quality will be
mediated by perceived brand authenticity.
That said, we go beyond that prediction and prior work on brand authenticity and its
antecedents to explore why authenticity has this positive effect on anticipated product quality.
Specifically, we argue that consumers view authentic brands’ products as higher in quality
because of attribute inferences that they make about authentic brands. We hypothesize that
consumers draw two types of inferences about brands they perceive to be authentic. First,
because authentic brands are perceived to be more trustworthy and reliable than inauthentic
brands (Napoli et al. 2014), we predict that consumers will infer that an authentic brands
products will be more likely than a less authentic brand’s products to possess the attributes
that the brand explicitly claims in its brand communications. Second, stemming from
discussions of authenticity as consistency between “front-stage” and “back-stage”
performances, we predict that consumers will infer that an authentic brand’s products also
possess other positive attributes that are consistent with the brand’s image, even if those
attributes are not explicitly claimed by the brand. That is, to the extent that people believe
that a brand is intrinsically motivatedand thus perceive it to be authenticwe predict that
consumers will be more likely to infer that the brand’s image is borne out in its products in
myriad ways, even those that are not formally advertised to consumers.
For example, if a brand such as Under Armour has an authentic-seeming innovative,
rugged, and athletic brand image, we predict that consumers will expect the brand to make
product-level decisions consistent with that image (even if those decisions would never be
made public; cf. “pure authenticity,” Beverland, Lindgreen, & Vink 2008). Such beliefs
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would result in the perception of more image-consistent product attributes, relative to a brand
with a similar, but inauthentic-seeming, image. Thus, if Under Armour advertises that its
products wick moisture away from the skin, consumers would be more likely to believe this
advertised claim than if the brand did not seem authentic. They might also believe that the
products are extra rugged and durableeven if those features are not advertisedbecause
Under Armour seems authentic and those attributes are consistent with Under Armour’s
brand image.
Taken together, we thus predict:
H3: Consumers believe that intrinsically motivated brands’ products are more
likely to possess (a) explicitly claimed attributes, and (b) image-consistent, but
not explicitly claimed, attributes.
H4a: The effect of perceived motivation on anticipated product quality will be
serially mediated by perceptions of brand authenticity and inferences that the
brand possesses the attributes it claims in its communications.
H4b: The effect of perceived motivation on anticipated product quality will be
serially mediated by perceptions of brand authenticity and inferences that the
brand possesses image-consistent, but not explicitly claimed, attributes.
Overview of the current research
This paper contributes to the literature in several ways. First, we examine brand
motivation’s ability to affect perceived brand authenticity, consistent with the
conceptualization that authenticity requires intrinsic motivation and an absence of strategic
impression management (Holt 2002; Hughes 2000; Morhart et al. 2015; Moulard, Raggio,
and Folse 2016). Our work thus goes beyond prior work that has altered brand authenticity
by manipulating attributes of the brand’s products (Moulard, Raggio, and Folse 2016;
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Morhart et al. 2015), and demonstrates that perceived brand authenticity is not only a
function of product offerings but can be changed through storytelling about the brand.
Further, a relationship between perceived brand authenticity and product quality has only
been experimentally demonstrated in two studies (Moulard, Raggio, & Folse 2016). We
demonstrate the robustness of this effect by examining the relationship between motivation,
perceived authenticity, and product quality using real and fictional brands, as well as a brand
in a disliked product category. Finally, and most importantly, we advance work on brand
authenticity by demonstrating how intrinsic motivation affects perceived brand authenticity
and quality by examining the intermediate inferences consumers draw about intrinsically
motivated brands, revealing that motivation (through perceived brand authenticity) affects
consumers’ beliefs about the attributes a brand’s products possess.
We test our hypotheses in six studies plus a pretest. Our pretest both shows that
manipulating whether a brand is intrinsically or extrinsically motivated affects perceived
brand authenticity and validates a two-item perceived brand authenticity measure. Studies 1a,
1b, and 2 test hypotheses 1, 2a, and 2b by examining the effect of perceived motivation on
anticipated product quality through perceived brand authenticity. Then, addressing our
hypothesized mechanism and hypotheses 3, 4a, and 4b, studies 3a and 3b examine the types
of inferences consumers draw about the attributes of intrinsically and extrinsically motivated
brands and the effect of these inferences on anticipated product quality. Finally, study 4
demonstrates that the positive effects of intrinsic motivation on anticipated product quality
disappear when consumers possess objective information about product attributes and no
longer need to draw inferences from perceived brand authenticity.
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Pretest
Intrinsic motivation could be conveyed in many ways. In this paper, we primarily
manipulated perceived motivation by altering a brand’s origin story. In this pretest, we
examine whether such a manipulation affects perceived motivation and brand authenticity (as
measured by existing brand authenticity scales), and we validate the brief measure of
authenticity we use in our studies. The existing scales are the Perceived Brand Authenticity
scale (PBA, with subscales for credibility, integrity, continuity, and symbolism; Morhart et
al. 2015) and the Consumer-Based Brand Authenticity scale (CBBA, with subscales for
sincerity, heritage, and quality commitment; Napoli et al. 2014).
Participants (N = 116) were undergraduate students at a southern university and
received course credit in exchange for their participation. Participants reviewed product
information about a brand of granola (Sweet Things) before reading an excerpt purportedly
taken from an article reviewing the brand. The excerpt provided a brief account of the origins
of the brand. Approximately half of participants (the intrinsic motivation condition) were
randomly assigned to read that the brand was founded by “Kelly,” a young woman who was
known among her friends for her homemade granola and who decided to make a living
selling the product she loves making. This story was adapted from the true origin of the brand
Bear Naked granola. The remaining participants (the extrinsic motivation condition) read that
the brand was created as an extension of a larger company that already made gourmet snack
foods using ingredients similar to those used in granola, and that this company branched into
granola to expand their market.
After reviewing this information, participants indicated whether they believed Sweet
Things’ motivation was primarily intrinsic or extrinsic (measured on a single 9-point scale
anchored Primarily Intrinsically Motivated/Primarily Extrinsically Motived). Participants
then completed the PBA scale (Morhart et al. 2015) and the CBBA scale (Napoli et al. 2014),
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both on 7-point scales, as well as our proposed authenticity measure: two items that asked
them to indicate (on 9-point scales) how authentic they believed the brand to be and whether
they believed the brand to be passionate about its business. Two additional items, assessing
brand trust, were initially included in this measure but were dropped as we refined our
conceptualization of brand authenticity. The results in all studies are unchanged if the full set
of items is used.
The results reveal that our manipulation of the brand’s origin story successfully
affected perceived motivation (Mintrinsic = 3.78 v. Mextrinsic = 6.05; t(114) = 6.15, p < .01). The
manipulation also affected perceived brand authenticity, with participants in the intrinsic
motivation condition finding the brand to be more authentic than participants in the extrinsic
motivation condition. This finding emerged on our two-item brand authenticity measure,
which we averaged into a composite score (r = 0.41; Mintrinsic = 6.72 v. Mextrinsic = 5.64; t(114)
= 4.22, p < .01) and the overall scores on both the PBA scale (Mintrinsic = 4.83 v. Mextrinsic =
4.50; t(114) = 2.06, p < .05) and the CBBA scale (Mintrinsic = 4.55 v. Mextrinsic = 4.10; t(114) =
2.60, p = 0.01). Our two-item authenticity measure was significantly correlated with both the
PBA (r = 0.68, p < .01) and CBBA (r = 0.57, p < .01) scales. Supplementary sub-scale-level
analyses for the PBA and CBBA are available in the Methodological Details Appendix. With
these findings in mind, we use this type of motivation manipulation and our two-item
authenticity measure in the studies that follow. Here, and in all remaining studies, the results
are unchanged if brand authenticity is assessed using either of the two items in the
authenticity measure individually or their average. Because these items are correlated, we use
their average as an index of authenticity. A table summarizing item-level analyses is available
in the Methodological Details Appendix.
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Study 1a
Studies 1a, 1b, and 2 test hypotheses 1, 2a, and 2b by examining whether
manipulating whether the brand reflects the founder’s intrinsic interests affects perceived
brand authenticity, and in turn, anticipated product quality.
Study 1a uses our pretested brand origin stories to manipulate motivation, and we
measure participants’ brand authenticity and quality evaluations at two stages, both before
and after learning about the brand’s origins. This procedure serves two purposes. First, it
controls for idiosyncratic participant-level differences in brand perceptions and allows us to
isolate the effects of the motivation manipulation on perceptions of brand authenticity and
product quality. Second, it mimics how consumers actually receive information about brands
over time, and allows us to demonstrate that perceived authenticity is not inherent in a
brand’s image and is not fixed, but can be affected by providing motive information about the
brand.
Design and procedures
Participants (N = 56) were recruited from an introductory marketing course at a
southeastern university and received course credit in exchange for their participation.
Participants read that the experimenters were interested in how consumers form judgments
about brands. They learned that they would receive information about a randomly selected
brand over the course of the experiment and that, after receiving each piece of information,
they would evaluate the brand. Participants received information about the brand in two
stages: Time 1 and Time 2. The fictional brand was Sweet Things and the product was
granola.
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At Time 1, participants saw an image of a bag of granola bearing the Sweet Things
label as well as a paragraph describing the product’s ingredients (e.g., rolled oats, nuts,
chocolate, dried fruit) and uses (e.g., breakfast, snack while hiking). They were encouraged
to carefully read the product information and form a general impression of the product and
brand. After forming their impression, participants completed the pretested authenticity
measure and then evaluated Sweet Things’ product quality on a four-item scale adapted from
Grewal et al. (1998). Specifically, participants indicated how high in quality they anticipated
the product to be, how good they believed the product to be, how satisfied they would be
after using the product, and how positive their attitude toward the product was. All measures
were collected on 9-point scales. Participants then completed two unrelated filler tasks.
At Time 2, participants saw the same product image and a second product description
that briefly explained why the company began producing Sweet Things granola, using the
intrinsic and extrinsic motivation manipulations from the pretest. After reading this additional
information, participants reevaluated the brand and its product on the authenticity and quality
measures used at Time 1. The Methodological Details Appendix provides the authenticity
and quality measures used in all studies as well as other measures that we collected but that
were not central to our hypotheses and are therefore not analyzed here.
Results
We averaged the two authenticity items to form a single measure at both Time 1 (r =
0.58) and Time 2 (r = 0.52), then subtracted the Time 1 authenticity measure from the Time 2
measure to create an authenticity difference score. We averaged the four quality measures to
form a single measure at both Time 1 (α = 0.89) and Time 2 (α = 0.91). We then subtracted
the Time 1 quality average from the Time 2 average to create a quality difference score. For
each difference score, we analyzed participants’ responses using a one-way ANOVA with
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motive story (intrinsic vs. extrinsic) as a between-subjects factor. Although our analyses
focus on these difference scores for simplicity, Table 1 presents the full Time 1 and Time 2
results for this and each study.
Perceived authenticity
Consistent with H1, manipulating the brand’s motivation for producing the product
affected participants’ beliefs about the authenticity of Sweet Things granola. Learning that
Sweet Things was intrinsically motivated led to a significantly greater increase in authenticity
perceptions than did learning that Sweet Things was extrinsically motivated (Mintrinsic = 1.23
v. Mextrinsic = -0.47; F(1, 54) = 24.33, p < .001).
Product quality
In support of H2a, learning that Sweet Things was intrinsically motivated led to a
significantly greater increase in quality perceptions than did learning that Sweet Things was
extrinsically motivated (Mintrinsic = 0.91 v. Mextrinsic = -0.25; F(1, 54) = 12.09, p < .01).
Mediation
To test whether motivation (0 = extrinsic, 1 = intrinsic) indirectly affected quality
perceptions through perceptions of brand authenticity (H2b), we conducted a mediation
analysis using Hayes’ (2018) PROCESS Model 4 with 5,000 bootstrap samples and 95%
bias-corrected confidence intervals. As predicted, there was a significant indirect effect of the
perceived change in authenticity (IE = 1.02, CI [0.36, 1.99]), suggesting that the change in
perceived authenticity mediated the effect of perceived motivation on the change in perceived
quality.
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Discussion
The results of study 1a support H1, H2a, and H2b. Participants believed that Sweet
Things was a more authentic brand after learning that the company was intrinsically
motivated to make its product than after learning it was extrinsically motivated. This increase
in perceived authenticity led participants to anticipate higher quality products from the
intrinsically motivated brand than from the extrinsically motivated brand. Note that this latter
finding arose despite the fact that the extrinsically motivated brand was described as
originating from a large firm, which one might assume had greater resources for developing a
higher quality product (Paharia et al. 2010). Nevertheless, the authenticity of the intrinsically
motivated brand led to a belief that this branddespite its possibly smaller resource pool
made better products.
It is also possible, however, that participants believed the intrinsically motivated
brand to be higher in quality because of an inference related to the firm’s experience in
making the product. (Kelly was described as having experience making granola, while the
extrinsically motivated company had just begun making granola). To eliminate this potential
confounding factor, Study 1b uses a new manipulation that holds product experience
constant. The new manipulation also allows us to test our hypotheses using a real brand:
Panera Bread Company. Panera is a fast-casual bakery-café with more than 2,000 locations
whose value proposition centers on serving good food that is good for you, a mission that
has been prominently featured in their advertising (Wohl 2017).
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Study 1b
Design and procedures
Participants (N = 90) were recruited from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) and
were paid in exchange for their participation. The procedure closely mirrored that of Study
1a, with neutral product information offered at Time 1 and brand motivation manipulated at
Time 2 through the use of a brand story. We measured perceived authenticity and product
quality at both Time 1 and Time 2.
To manipulate motivation, participants read information about how Panera began,
purportedly excerpted from a news article. In the extrinsic motivation condition, participants
read that Panera was founded by an entrepreneur, Ron Schaich, who had been in the apparel
business but was restless to expand his business empire. They further read that Schaich
“identified the growing popularity of European-style bakeries in California and thought that
he could cash in on the trend” by serving fresh, artisan-style bread and other café fare in his
new restaurants. In the intrinsic motivation condition, participants were similarly introduced
to entrepreneur and apparel retailer Ron Schaich, but read that he did not feel a connection to
his work. Participants then read that while looking for inspiration in his career, Schaich
“decided that his personal interests really lay in nutritional health and wellness,” and that he
decided to open a new restaurant serving fresh, artisan-style bread and other café fare that he
would be happy to feed his family.
Results
We subtracted the Time 1 authenticity average (r = 0.52) from the Time 2 authenticity
average (r = 0.50) to create an authenticity difference score. We subtracted the Time 1
quality average (α = 0.94) from the Time 2 average (α = 0.94) to create a quality difference
score.
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Perceived authenticity
Consistent with study 1a, and providing additional support for H1, participants who
read a story describing Ron Schaich’s intrinsic motivation for creating Panera showed a
greater increase in perceived authenticity than did participants who read that Schaich was
extrinsically motivated (Mintrinsic = 0.89 v. Mextrinsic = -0.11; F(1, 88) = 19.06, p < .001).
Product quality
Further supporting H2a, learning that Schaich was intrinsically motivated to create
Panera led to a significantly greater increase in quality perceptions than did learning that
Schaich was extrinsically motivated (Mintrinsic = 0.32 v. Mextrinsic = -0.06; F(1, 88) = 7.14, p <
.01).
Mediation
To test whether motivation (0 = extrinsic, 1 = intrinsic) indirectly affected quality
perceptions through perceptions of brand authenticity (H2b), we conducted a mediation
analysis using Hayes’ (2018) PROCESS Model 4 with 5,000 bootstrap samples and 95%
bias-corrected confidence intervals. As predicted, there was a significant indirect effect of
the perceived change in authenticity (IE = 0.31, CI [0.13, 0.53]), suggesting that the change
in perceived authenticity mediated the effect of perceived motivation on the change in
perceived quality.
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Discussion
The results of study 1b provide additional support for H1, H2a, and H2b using new
brand origin stories and a well-known brand. Again, learning that a company’s founder was
intrinsically motivated increased authenticity perceptions and thus quality perceptions,
compared to learning that the founder was extrinsically motivated.
Study 2
Studies 1a and 1b highlight the importance of having passion for one’s product
(Moulard, Raggio, & Folse 2016), and indeed many brands proclaim such a passion
(Beverland 2009). Toyota is passionate about quality control; Kashi is passionate about all-
natural ingredients; and Johnson & Johnson is passionate about making family-friendly
products. Notably absent is a company passionate about something negative: a product that
has harmful effects or is generally disliked, such as cigarettes. To our knowledge, prior
research has not examined the effects of authenticity for such products. Would a brand that is
passionate about a negatively regarded product also be perceived as authentic, or is
“goodness” required for authenticity? If intrinsic motivation can confer authenticity even for
brands that make negatively regarded products, would people infer that the brand’s products
are more likely to be higher in quality, even if people do not generally like those products?
To begin to answer these questions, study 2 examines the robustness of the effect of
motivation on perceived authenticity and, in turn, anticipated product quality, by using a
brand of cigarettes to test whether having an intrinsic motivation for making a product
increases perceptions of authenticity and quality even when a product is generally disliked.
We hypothesize that being true to oneself, operationalized here as being intrinsically
motivated in business endeavors, should always be perceived as authentic, even if it means
being passionate about a disliked product. Study 2 then examines whether this increased
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authenticity leads to increased anticipated product quality, even for cigarettes, an often-
disliked product.
Design and procedures
Participants (N = 125) were recruited via MTurk and were paid to complete the
study. Study 2 used a single factor (motive story: intrinsic vs. extrinsic) between-subjects
design, with participants evaluating the product at Time 1 and Time 2, as in studies 1a and
1b. Study 2 used a fictitious brand whose creator was described as having either an intrinsic
or extrinsic motivation for entering the market.
At Time 1, participants saw an image of a pack of York brand cigarettes and a brief
description of the product and brand. The packaging had elements conveying luxury (e.g.,
saturated jewel-tone colors, a crown insignia) and the cigarettes were described as “blended
cigarettes” possessing a “smooth, unique flavor for maximum smoking pleasure.”
Participants then evaluated the brand on the authenticity and quality measures used in studies
1a and 1b before completing two unrelated filler tasks.
At Time 2, participants again saw the product image. Participants then read why the
company owner entered the cigarette business. In the intrinsic motivation condition,
participants read that the owner of York cigarettes was a nightclub manager who had long
been hand-rolling cigarettes using unique tobacco blends for himself and had decided to start
a business based on this hobby. In the extrinsic motivation condition, participants read that
the owner of York cigarettes was a nightclub manager who noticed that blended cigarettes
were becoming more popular among patrons of the club and bar scene. He capitalized on this
market knowledge by starting a blended tobacco cigarette business. Participants next
reevaluated the brand on the measures used at Time 1. Participants’ global attitudes toward
cigarettes were also measured by asking participants about their attitudes toward cigarettes
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and the cigarette industry, whether they believed cigarettes were a good or bad product, and
whether the cigarette industry as a whole was harmful to society, using 9-point scales.
Finally, participants were asked to indicate how frequently they smoke cigarettes, ranging
from 1 (never) to 9 (every day).
Results
We subtracted the Time 1 authenticity average (r = 0.39) from the Time 2 authenticity
average (r = 0.60) to create an authenticity difference score. We also subtracted the Time 1
quality average (α = 0.86) from the Time 2 quality average (α = 0.91) to create a quality
difference score. We analyzed each dependent measure with a one-way ANOVA with motive
story (intrinsic vs. extrinsic) as a between-subjects factor.
Cigarette attitudes
To examine overall attitudes towards cigarettes, we averaged the four cigarette
attitude measures into a single item. Participants held negative attitudes towards cigarettes
and the cigarette industry (compared the 9-point scale’s midpoint: M = 1.95; t(124) = -25.34,
p < .001).
Perceived authenticity
Learning that the owner of York cigarettes was intrinsically motivated led to a
significantly greater increase in authenticity perceptions than did learning that the owner was
extrinsically motivated (Mintrinsic = 1.48 v. Mextrinsic = 0.19; F(1, 123) = 20.74, p < .001).
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Product quality
Learning that the owner of York cigarettes was intrinsically motivated led to a
significantly greater increase in quality perceptions than did learning that the owner was
extrinsically motivated (Mintrinsic = 0.86 v. Mextrinsic = 0.32; F(1, 123) = 6.01, p = .02).
Mediation
To test whether motivation (0 = extrinsic, 1 = intrinsic) indirectly affected quality
perceptions through perceptions of brand authenticity (H2b), we conducted a mediation
analysis using Hayes’ (2018) PROCESS Model 4 with 5,000 bootstrap samples and 95%
bias-corrected confidence intervals. As predicted, there was a significant indirect effect of
the perceived change in authenticity (IE = 0.42, CI [0.20, 0.70]), suggesting that the change
in perceived authenticity mediated the effect of perceived motivation on the change in
perceived quality.
Discussion
Study 2 demonstrated that consumers perceive greater authenticity in brands with an
intrinsic motivation, even if that motivation is directed towards a product about which
consumers have negative attitudes. Despite participants’ negative attitudes towards cigarettes
and the cigarette industry, learning that a cigarette brand owner was intrinsically motivated
increased perceptions of brand authenticity and, in turn, increased perceptions of product
quality. Taken together, studies 1a through 2 provide support for our first and second
hypotheses and demonstrate that one can manipulate the brand’s apparent motivation
(intrinsic versus extrinsic) to affect perceived authenticity and that these changes in perceived
authenticity have predictable, reliable effects on perceived product quality.
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Study 3a
Studies 1a, 1b, and 2 manipulated perceived brand authenticity by manipulating a
brand’s motives. Learning that a brand was created due to the interests of its founder rather
than for economic gain made the brand seem more authentic to consumersand made it
seem higher in quality. Study 3 investigates the mechanism through which these effects on
perceived quality arise. We predict that when a consumer believes a brand and its image to be
more authentic, consumers will be more likely to draw a variety of (largely positive)
inferences related to that image, ultimately affecting perceived product quality.
Study 3a examines two types of attribute-level inferences that consumers may make
when they judge a brand to be authentic: inferences that the brand possesses the attributes it
claims to have, and inferences that the brand possesses attributes not explicitly claimed by the
brand but implied by the brand’s image. For example, a brand may espouse a “green,” all-
natural image and may claim that its products are made with all-natural ingredients.
Consumers may infer (or not infer) that the brand’s products are indeed made with all-natural
ingredients depending on how they evaluate the brand’s authenticity. Additionally,
consumers may make other inferences based on the brand’s image, even if these inferences
do not necessarily follow from the brand’s claims. Consumers may infer that the brand’s
products contain no high fructose corn syrup, because such an inference seems consistent
with the brand’s all-natural image, even though the presence of corn syrup is not technically
inconsistent with the all-natural claim. We hypothesize that one or both of these types of
inferences (inferences about claimed attributes, and inferences about image-consistent, but
not claimed attributes) are affected by perceptions of brand authenticity, and that these
beliefs, in turn, affect perceptions of product quality.
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To test H3, study 3a thus examines perceptions of brand authenticity as well as
perceptions of how likely it is that the brand possesses attributes that it claimed to have and
attributes that were only implied by the brand’s image. Additionally, to rule out the
possibility of a halo effect stemming from being intrinsically motivated, study 3a also
examines whether consumers draw other positive, but image-inconsistent, inferences about
the brand. We predict that only inferences about image-consistent, but not image-irrelevant,
attributes will be affected by information about the brand’s motivation.
Design and procedures
We conducted two pretests to identify positively-valenced attributes that were
perceived to be consistent and inconsistent with Sweet Things’ brand image. In the first
pretest, participants (N = 28, recruited via mTurk) saw an image of Sweet Things granola as
well as a brief product description (as in study 1a). This product description was rewritten to
contain several explicit product claims about the brand (e.g. “Sweet Things is made with
REAL whole grains”). Participants then read a series of statements and indicated how
consistent each statement was with Sweet Things’ brand image on a 9-point scale anchored
Very Inconsistent/Very Consistent. The statements included three attribute statements
explicitly mentioned in the description of Sweet Things’ granola (purportedly taken from the
brand’s website; “Sweet Things granola is made with REAL whole grains;” “Sweet Things is
made with all-natural ingredients;” “Sweet Things’ granola is 100% pure and natural”), three
attribute statements regarding attributes that could reasonably be inferred from the brand’s
image but which were never explicitly claimed by the brand (“Sweet Things’ granola
contains high fructose corn syrup [reverse coded];” “Sweet Things’ granola contains
preservatives [reverse coded];” “Sweet Things’ granola is vegetarian and kosher friendly”),
and four statements that reflected a charitable brand image (e.g., “Sweet Things is a
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prominent participant in partnerships that support housing initiatives for the economically
disadvantaged.”).
In the second pretest, participants (N = 35) received no information about Sweet
Things, but indicated how good or bad it would be if each statement were true about an
unnamed food products manufacturer, using a 9-point scale anchored Very Negative/Very
Positive. In this second pretest, participants indicated that the charitable claims (Mcharitable =
7.61) were more positive than either the claimed brand attributes (Mclaimed = 7.11; t(34) =
3.31, p = .002) or the image-consistent attributes (Mconsistent = 6.04; t(34) = 7.23, p < .001).
Importantly, however, in the first pretest, these charitable claims (Mcharitable = 5.21) were
perceived to be less image-consistent than either the claimed (Mclaimed = 8.49; t (27) = -7.53, p
< .001) or image-consistent (Mconsistent = 7.29; t (27) = -4.63, p < .001) attributes.
For the main study, participants (N = 160) were recruited via MTurk and were paid to
complete the study. Study 3a used a single factor (motive: intrinsic vs. extrinsic) between-
subjects design. As in studies 1-2, all participants first saw an image of a fictional brand
(Sweet Things granola) and a brief product description that contained several explicit product
claims (e.g., Sweet Things contains 100% whole grains). Participants then completed the
authenticity measure. At Time 2, participants read either the intrinsic or extrinsic motivation
story, manipulated as in Study 1a. Participants then completed the brand authenticity measure
and indicated the extent to which they believed the ten pretested statements (3 claimed
attributes, 3 unclaimed image-consistent attributes, and 4 unclaimed image-irrelevant but
positive attributes) to be true of Sweet Things.
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Results
We subtracted the Time 1 authenticity measure (r = 0.29) from the Time 2 measure (r
= 0.60) to create an authenticity difference score. We averaged the three claimed attribute
believability measures (α = 0.79), the three image-consistent-attribute believability measures
(α = 0.65), and the four charitable (image-irrelevant) attribute believability measures (α =
0.87) to form three composite measures. We analyzed responses using a single factor
(motive story: intrinsic vs. extrinsic) between-subjects ANOVA.
Authenticity
Participants showed a greater increase in authenticity perceptions after learning that
Sweet Things’ owner was intrinsically motivated rather than extrinsically motivated (Mintrinsic
= 0.20 vs. Mextrinsic = -0.75; F(1, 158) = 14.78, p < .001).
Attribute believability
Consistent with H3, participants believed that Sweet Things was more likely to
possess both the attributes that it claimed (Mintrinsic = 7.35 vs. Mextrinsic = 6.74; F(1, 158) =
8.10, p = .005) and that were consistent with the brand’s image (Mintrinsic = 6.12 vs. Mextrinsic =
5.52; F(1, 158) = 6.018, p = .015) when they believed the brand to be intrinsically motivated.
However, intrinsic (vs. extrinsic) motivation did not lead participants to infer that the brand
was more charitable, a positively-valenced, but image-irrelevant, attribute (Mintrinsic = 4.84 vs.
Mextrinsic = 5.10; F(1, 158) = 1.00, p = .319). Further, the effect of motivation (0 = extrinsic, 1
= intrinsic) on perceptions that Sweet Things possessed both attributes it claimed and
attributes that were image consistent was mediated by perceptions of the brand’s authenticity
(claimed: IE = 0.23, CI [0.07, 0.45]; image-consistent: IE = 0.20, CI [0.04, 0.39]).
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Discussion
Study 3a provides initial support for H3, showing that intrinsically motivated brands,
due to their perceived brand authenticity, are expected to possess image-relevant product
attributes, whether or not these attributes are formally claimed by the brand. This result is
consistent with our claim that brand authenticity reflects a judgment about the veracity of the
brand’s image, leading consumers to expect an authentic brand to make decisions consistent
with that image, even if those decisions are never formally advertised. Participants did not
expect Sweet Things to be more charitable when it was intrinsically motivated rather than
extrinsically motivated, suggesting that an intrinsic motivation does not merely generate a
positive halo for the brand.
Study 3b
Study 3a provided initial evidence in support of H3 and suggested the mechanism
through which motivation (via brand authenticity) affects perceived product quality.
Specifically, participants believed that Sweet Things’ products were more likely to possess
positive, image-consistent attributes (whether the brand advertised possessing them or not)
when Sweet Things was described as intrinsically rather than extrinsically motivated. Study
3b tests H3a and H3b and connects motivation to product quality through perceived
authenticity and these attribute-level inferences.
Study 3b also examines the effect of cognitive load on authenticity judgments,
attribute-level inferences, and quality judgments. Study 3a demonstrated that participants
used their authenticity beliefs to draw inferences about the brand’s possession of desirable
attributes. If these inferences lead consumers to believe that authentic brands are likely to
have higher quality products, anything that interrupts that inference-making process (e.g.,
cognitive load) should weaken (or eliminate) the effect of perceived authenticity on
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anticipated product quality. Additionally, to allay concerns that the results of the prior studies
were due to our use of repeated measurements of authenticity and quality, study 3b
manipulates and measures authenticity exclusively between-subjects, with participants
completing the authenticity manipulation check and evaluating perceived product quality
only once (at Time 2), rather than twice.
Design and procedures
Participants (N = 164) were recruited at a southeastern university and received course
credit in exchange for their participation. Participants were randomly assigned to one cell of a
2 (motive: intrinsic vs. extrinsic) X 2 (cognitive load: low vs. high) between-subjects design.
As before, participants learned that they would receive information about a brand and would
be asked to evaluate that brand. As in studies 1 and 2, information was provided in two stages
(Time 1 and Time 2), but brand evaluations were collected only after Time 2.
At Time 1, participants saw an image of a fictional brand (Sweet Things granola) as
well as a brief product description. As in study 3a, this product description contained several
explicit product claims about the brand (e.g. “Sweet Things is made with REAL whole
grains”). Participants then completed an unrelated filler task.
During the filler task, participants were informed that the experimenters were
studying the effects of eye blinking on information processing (Fitzsimons & Williams
2000). Participants were asked to count the number of times they blinked their eyes during
the experiment. All participants then completed a second, unrelated filler task. Cognitive load
was manipulated by varying when participants reported their number of eye blinks.
Participants in the low cognitive load condition reported their eye blinks after the second
filler task but before Time 2 of the main experiment. Participants in the high cognitive load
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condition reported their eye blinks after Time 2; that is, after reading Sweet Things’ motive
story and evaluating the brand.
At Time 2, participants saw the same product image and a second product description
explaining why Sweet Things began producing granola, with motivation (intrinsic vs.
extrinsic) manipulated between-subjects as in study 1a. Next, participants completed the
brand authenticity measure before indicating the extent to which they believed a series of
statements about the brand and its attributes. Half of these statements were explicit claims
taken from the product description provided at Time 1 and half were attributes that could be
reasonably inferred from the brand’s image but were never explicitly claimed; these claims
were the ones used in Study 3a. Finally, participants evaluated the brand’s quality on the
measures used in study 1a.
Results
Figure 1 shows this study’s main results. We analyzed responses using a 2 (motive
story: intrinsic vs. extrinsic) by 2 (cognitive load: low vs. high) between-subjects ANOVA.
Perceived authenticity
We averaged the two authenticity measures together to form a single composite (r =
0.36). The results revealed a significant main effect of perceived motivation on perceived
authenticity (F(1, 160) = 26.58, p < .001): participants both low and high in cognitive load
reliably perceived Sweet Things to be more authentic following the intrinsic motivation story
than following the extrinsic motivation story (low load: Mintrinsic = 5.10 vs. Mextrinsic = 3.86;
F(1, 160) = 27.83, p < .01; high load: Mintrinsic = 4.93 vs. Mextrinsic = 4.38; F(1, 160) = 5.35, p <
.05). This main effect was qualified by a significant interaction between motive and cognitive
load (F(1,160) = 4.41, p < .05), reflecting the larger mean difference for participants under
low cognitive load. These results suggest that perceptions of authenticity arise relatively
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automatically (given that people under both high and low cognitive load showed effects of
the motive manipulation).
Product quality
We averaged the four quality measures to form a single composite (α = 0.91). The
ANOVA revealed a significant main effect of motive story on quality perceptions (F(1, 160)
= 7.02, p < .01), qualified by a significant motive story by cognitive load interaction (F(1,
160) = 4.20, p < .05). Low cognitive load participants who read that Sweet Things was
intrinsically motivated believed the product to be of significantly higher quality (Mintrinsic =
5.23) than did participants who read that Sweet Things was extrinsically motivated (Mextrinsic
= 4.42; F(1, 160) = 11.13, p < .01). However, among participants under high cognitive load,
there was no reliable effect of motivation on quality perceptions (Mintrinsic = 4.97 vs. Mextrinsic
= 4.87; F(1, 160) = 0.17, p = 0.68). These findings provide some support for our hypothesis
that a deliberate inference-making process connects perceived motivation to anticipated
product quality (given that only those not under cognitive load perceived a quality difference
between the products of intrinsically and extrinsically motivated brands).
Claimed attribute believability
We combined the three assessments of the believability of explicit product claims
into a single measure (α = 0.83). We found a main effect of motivation on this composite
(F(1, 160) = 9.87, p < .01), but no interaction with cognitive load (F(1, 160) = 1.90, p = .17).
Participants who read that Sweet Things was intrinsically motivated believed the brand’s
explicit claims more (Mintrinsic = 5.15) than did participants who read that Sweet Things was
extrinsically motivated (Mextrinsic = 4.48), supporting H3.
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Image-consistent attribute believability
We averaged the three assessments of the believability of image-consistent, but not
explicitly claimed, attributes into a single measure (α = 0.79). Further supporting H3, we
found a significant main effect of motivation on this composite (F(1, 160) = 5.08, p < .05),
qualified by a significant motivation by cognitive load interaction (F(1, 160) = 9.47, p < .01).
Among participants in the low load condition, those who read that Sweet Things was
intrinsically motivated found it more believable that the brand’s products possessed the
image-consistent, but not claimed, attributes than did those who read that the brand was
extrinsically motivated (Mintrinsic = 4.70 vs. Mextrinsic = 3.50; F(1, 160) = 14.18, p < .01).
However, the beliefs of participants in the high load condition were not affected by motive
story (Mintrinsic = 4.10 vs. Mextrinsic = 4.28; F(1, 160) = 0.34, p = 0.56; see Figure 1). These
results suggest that people infer that intrinsically motivated brands have these image-
consistent, but not claimed, attributes, but also that cognitive resources are required to
support this inference.
Analysis of moderated serial mediation
Hypotheses 4a and 4b predicted that perceived authenticity and inferences about the
brand possessing explicitly claimed (H4a) and/or image-consistent (but unclaimed; H4b)
attributes serially mediate the relationship between brand motivation and anticipated product
quality. To formally test these hypotheses, we conducted two tests of moderated serial
mediation using Hayes’ (2018) PROCESS Model 83 with 5,000 percentile-corrected samples.
Motive story (0 = extrinsic, 1 = intrinsic), cognitive load (0 = low load, 1 = high load), and
their interaction were predictor variables, perceived authenticity and either claimed attribute
believability (first analysis) or inferred attribute believability (second analysis) were the
mediators, and the quality composite was the criterion variable.
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The first analysis suggested that intrinsic motivation positively affects perceived
quality indirectly through perceptions of authenticity and inferences about the believability of
claimed attributes more strongly when cognitive resources are relatively more available
(Index of Moderated Mediation: -0.39, -0.01). Specifically, the serial indirect effect was
significant among participants high in cognitive load (IE = 0.16, CI: 0.04, 0.30) but stronger
among those low in cognitive load (IE = 0.36, CI: 0.21, 0.53).
The second analysis also suggested that an intrinsic motivation positively affects
perceived quality indirectly through perceptions of authenticity and inferences about the
brand’s possession of desirable, image-consistent (but unclaimed) attributes more strongly
when cognitive resources are relatively more available (Index of Moderated Mediation: -0.22,
-0.004). Specifically, the serial indirect effect was significant among participants high in
cognitive load (IE = 0.07, CI: 0.01, 0.16) but stronger among those low in cognitive load (IE
= 0.15, CI: 0.04, 0.33).
Discussion
In study 3b, after learning that Sweet Things was intrinsically motivated, all
participants believed that the brand was more authentic, but this effect was strongest among
those participants low in cognitive load. However, only participants who were low, but not
high, in cognitive load concluded that the intrinsically motivated brand was higher in quality,
providing some evidence that the link between perceived authenticity and anticipated product
quality does not arise automatically via a simple halo effect.
Additionally, while all participants found the claims of the intrinsically motivated
(more authentic) brand to be more believable than the claims of the extrinsically motivated
brand, only participants low in cognitive load believed that the brand’s products possessed
attributes that were consistent with the brand’s image but that were not overtly claimed.
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These results suggest that it takes cognitive resources to infer that intrinsically motivated
brands have these image-consistent attributes, just like it takes resources to infer that they are
high in quality.
Further, attribute-level beliefs (both claimed and image-consistent) mediated the
effect of motivation on perceived product quality (through perceived authenticity), but the
indirect of these inferences was stronger when participants had available cognitive resources
(and stronger authenticity perceptions). Collectively, the results of studies 3a and 3b provide
support for H3, H4a and H4b, and help to answer the important question of why people think
intrinsically motivated (and, in turn, authentic) brands are higher in quality.
Study 4
Study 3b provided evidence in support of a serial mediation chain connecting
motivation to anticipated product quality through authenticity and product-level inference
making. When that inference-making was interrupted (by depleting the cognitive resources
required for such inferences), the beneficial effect of intrinsic motivation on anticipated
product quality was eliminated. Study 4 provides additional evidence in support of these
inferences in connecting perceived brand authenticity and perceived product quality by
investigating whether motivation and authenticity affect anticipated product quality when
inference-making is rendered unnecessary, as is the case when objective information is
available. Additionally, to provide evidence of the robustness of the effects of motivation on
perceived brand authenticity, study 4 uses a new manipulation of motivation.
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Design and procedures
Participants (N = 288) were recruited via MTurk and were paid to complete the study.
Study 4 used a 2 (motive: intrinsic vs. extrinsic) X 2 (objective information given: claimed
vs. claimed + image-consistent) between-subjects design. As in studies 3a and 3b, all
participants first saw an image of a fictional brand (Sweet Things granola) and a brief product
description that contained several explicit product claims (e.g., Sweet Things contains 100%
whole grains). Participants then completed the authenticity and perceived product quality
measures.
At Time 2, participants read an excerpt from an article purportedly written about
Sweet Things’ recent decision to move their manufacturing facilities from New York to
Minnesota. The article stated that the brand had moved their manufacturing facility to be
closer to their primary ingredients supplier. The article then provided a quote from the CEO
explaining the motivation for this decision. In the intrinsic motivation condition, participants
read: “This move will shorten the geographic distance that these ingredients have to travel
before arriving at our facilities. Shorter travel times help us conserve natural resources
we’ll be protecting the planet and producing our product in a way that is consistent with our
spirit and values.” In the extrinsic motivation condition, participants read: “This move will
shorten the geographic distance that these ingredients have to travel before arriving at our
facilities. Shorter travel times help us conserve our financial resources—we’ll spend less
money on things like gasoline and we are less likely to experience delays in shipment,
meaning ingredients will get to us more quickly.”
Finally, to manipulate the available objective information available about Sweet
Things granola, participants were presented with a table purportedly excerpted from a
Consumer Reports article (see Methodological Details Appendix). The table contained a
series of product claims, with an indication of whether or not these claims were true for
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Sweet Things (ostensibly measured by an independent study of a variety of granola brands).
Half of participants saw a table containing only the claims explicitly made by Sweet Things
granola in the Time 1 product description, as well as notation indicating that these claims
were all true. The remaining participants saw a table containing both the explicitly made
claims and the unclaimed but image-consistent attributes (used in studies 3a and 3b), as well
as notation that all claims were true (with appropriate reverse-coding: e.g., Product contains
preservatives”: “No).
After reviewing all available product information, participants were asked to again
complete the authenticity and quality measures used in studies 1 through 3.
Results and discussion
We subtracted the Time 1 authenticity measure (r = 0.42) from the Time 2 measure (r
= 0.49) to create an authenticity difference score. We also subtracted the Time 1 quality
measure (α = 0.89) from the Time 2 quality measure (α = 0.93) to create a quality difference
score. We analyzed each dependent measure with a 2 (motive story: intrinsic vs extrinsic) by
2 (objective information given: claimed vs. claimed + image-consistent) between-subjects
ANOVA.
Perceived authenticity
We found only a significant main effect of motivation on the authenticity difference
score. Perceptions of Sweet Things’ authenticity increased more following the intrinsic
motivation story than following the extrinsic motivation story (Mintrinsic = 0.68 vs. Mextrinsic =
0.22; F(1, 284) = 11.40, p < .001).
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Product quality
We found a marginally significant main effect of motivation (Mintrinsic = 0.49 vs.
Mextrinsic = 0.33; F(1, 284) = 3.08 p = .08) qualified by the predicted motive by objective
information interaction (F(1, 284) = 4.95, p = .03). When participants received confirmation
only that the brand’s product possessed the attributes claimed in its advertising, participants
perceived a greater increase in product quality for the intrinsically motivated brand than for
the extrinsically motivated brand (Mintrinsic = 0.53 vs. Mextrinsic = 0.15; F(1, 284) = 7.86, p <
.01). However, when participants received information that the brand’s product possessed
both claimed attributes and attributes that were unclaimed but consistent with its brand
image, motivation no longer affected the change in perceived product quality (Mintrinsic = 0.45
vs. Mextrinsic = 0.50; F(1, 284) = 0.11, p = .74). Consistent with this pattern, an analysis of
moderated mediation (PROCESS Model 8; Hayes 2018) reveals that the perceived change in
authenticity mediates the effect of motivation (0 = extrinsic, 1 = intrinsic) on quality only
when available objective information levels are low (CI: 0.10, 0.40), but not when available
objective information levels are high (CI: -0.04, 0.23).
Study 4 thus provides evidence that motivation (through perceived authenticity)
enhances anticipated product quality only when participants lack full product information
(and need to use their authenticity perceptions to make attribute-level inferences). Having
objective information only about the attributes a brand explicitly claims leaves respondents
free to use their authenticity judgment to form inferences about attributes the brand may
possess but not claim. When participants are told that some of those image-consistent
attributes are present, the need for inference-making is lessened, and intrinsically motivated
(authentic) and extrinsically motivated (inauthentic) brands are both seen as producing
products of equally high quality.
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General discussion
In this paper, we demonstrate the robustness of perceived motivation’s effects on
brand authenticity, and, in turn, anticipated quality judgments, then propose and test a
mechanism through which motivation affects these perceptions. We demonstrate that being
intrinsically, rather than extrinsically, motivated to produce a product increases authenticity
perceptions, even for brands that are passionate about making a product that consumers
dislike. These results emerged across three product categories, using both within-subjects and
between-subjects designs. We also found that consumers use brand authenticity perceptions
to draw inferences about attributes of the brand’s product.
Most important, we provided insight into the mechanism through which perceived
brand authenticity affects perceptions of the brand, providing evidence to suggest that the link
between authenticity and quality does not arise automatically via a halo effect. Specifically,
we found that perceptions of authenticity are linked to perceptions of quality through
inference making that is interrupted when consumers do not have sufficient mental resources
or do not need to rely on inferences (because objective information is available). Our results
suggest that motivation affects quality perceptions indirectly through perceived authenticity
by affecting the extent to which consumers infer that a brand possesses both attributes it
claims as well as desirable attributes that are consistent with its image, but that are not
explicitly claimed in the brand’s advertising. Eliminating the need for such inference making
by providing respondents with objective information about the brand’s attributes eliminated
the beneficial effect of perceived brand authenticity on perceived product quality.
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Fit with prior research
Our findings contribute to the existing literature by focusing on the importance of
brand authenticity, as opposed to product authenticity, in consumer decision making.
Previous work focused on the role of authenticity in consumers’ judgments about products
(Beverland 2005; Boyle 2003; Groves 2011; Munoz, Wood & Solomon 2006) and
experiences (Caruana et al. 2008; Thompson & Tambyah 1999), but gave less attention to
how brand authenticity affects judgments of the brand and its products (Beverland 2009; Holt
2002; Morhart et al. 2015; Moulard et al. 2016; Napoli et al. 2014). Brand authenticity refers
to the perceived genuineness of a firm’s branding efforts, not the provenance of its products.
Consistent with this conceptualization, Brown, Kozinets and Sherry (2003) found that as long
as a brand maintains its core values, it is able to change the physical features of its product
and still be deemed authentic.
Our participants expected an authentic brand’s products to reflect the brand’s image,
leading participants to infer that the brand possessed desirable attributes that were image-
consistent, even if those attributes were not explicitly claimed by the brand. No such
expectation existed for less authentic brands. These inferences, in turn, affected product
quality expectations. This influence of authenticity on quality is consistent with Moulard et
al. (2016) and Morhart et al. (2015), but diverges from other discussions of brand authenticity
that place quality commitment as a definitional aspect of being authentic (e.g., Napoli et al.
2014). Although beliefs that a brand possesses a product orientation (Moulard et al. 2016)
and is passionate about the products it produces (Beverland 2009; Holt 2002) contribute to
perceptions of brand authenticity, our results suggest that a brand may not need to produce
objectively high quality products to be perceived as authentic and that more authentic brands
are not always seen as making high-quality products (studies 3b and 4).
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From a managerial point of view, our two-stage experimental design further suggests
that brand authenticity is not necessarily fixed and that authenticity perceptions can change
throughout a brand’s life. Recall that, in studies 1a, 1b, 2, 3a, and 4, our participants first
evaluated the brand prior to the authenticity manipulation. Learning subsequently that the
brand’s founder was intrinsically motivated in his/her endeavors increased the perceived
authenticity of the brand. This is important for brand managers, as it suggests that actions can
be taken to increase the perceived authenticity of a brand, even if that brand has existed on
the market for some time. Our results also suggest that perceived authenticity may be easily
manipulated through storytelling about the brand. While prior manipulations relied, in part,
on aspects of the brand that may be difficult to change (e.g., its longevity or uniqueness;
Moulard, Raggio & Folse 2016), information about the brand’s motivation is malleable and
can be framed in different ways (beyond manipulating origin story; see Study 4), allowing for
a change in the perceived authenticity of even well-known brands (Study 1b).
Limitations, future directions and conclusions
The current work has several limitations that suggest directions for future
investigation. First, readers may wonder whether inferences about claimed or unclaimed but
image-consistent attributes are more important in supporting the inference that more
authentic brands are higher in quality. The evidence here is mixed. On the one hand, study
3b’s mediation analysis shows that changes in beliefs about claimed attributes can lead to
changes in anticipated product quality. On the other hand, the means in study 3b showed an
effect of intrinsic motivation on claimed attribute beliefs among respondents under high
cognitive load, but no effect on anticipated product quality, suggesting that changes in beliefs
about claimed attributes are not necessarily enough to affect perceived quality. Furthermore,
study 4 finds that, even when people know that a product possesses the attributes it claims, an
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increase in authenticity perceptions can still affect anticipated product qualitybut when
people know that the brand possesses both the attributes it claims and additional image-
consistent but unclaimed attributes, a change in perceived authenticity no longer affects
anticipated product quality. These latter results suggest that the unclaimed attributes are
especially important in supporting quality inferences, but study 3b’s mediation evidence
suggests that claimed attributes can play a role. Future research could do more to investigate
whether and when unclaimed but image-consistent attributes are critical for supporting
quality inferences.
Second, although we attempted to enhance the generalizability of our findings by
utilizing different brands and product categories, we did not explore the effects of perceived
motivation and authenticity on anticipated quality in product categories with which
consumers may have greater situational or enduring involvement. Authenticity may affect
quality judgments less for branded durables or for brands in other product categories for
which consumers engage in intensive information search, because consumers are likely to
possess accurate attribute-level information about these types of products and may rely less
on inference making to fill gaps in their knowledge. Indeed, study 4 demonstrated that when
full objective product information was available, participants no longer relied on authenticity
to make inferences about product quality. Future research could examine potential product
category characteristics that attenuate, or possibly reverse, the results we found here.
Third, although the current research focuses entirely on perceptions of consumer
packaged goods and services, future work could also address brand authenticity as it relates
to people as brands (Ilicic & Webster 2016; Moulard, Garrity, & Rice 2015). In a recent
interview discussing his “brand,” the comedian Kevin Hart said, “I’ve got authenticity behind
me. I don’t think I do anything that doesn’t coincide with my lifestyle. Ultimately, that’s my
brand. So, I’m not going to attach myself to anything that people wouldn’t believe is a part of
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what I do” (Stern & Dell’Abate 2017). As celebrity endorsers are typically used because of
an assumption of image transfer from the celebrity to the endorsed product, it would be
interesting to determine whether this image transfer is more pronounced for authentic
celebrities than for inauthentic celebrities. In instances where the celebrity endorser is also a
partner in the business (e.g., Jessica Alba and The Honest Company), perceptions of the
celebrity’s authenticity may also affect inferences about the products’ attributes and quality.
Future work might also investigate different ways of conveying authenticity to
consumers. In the marketplace, information that would convey authenticity or inauthenticity
(e.g., motive information) might be delivered by the brand (e.g., via advertising, websites,
and social media) or by third parties (e.g., news stories, consumers). While we tried to add
realism by informing participants that the information was from the brand’s website, future
research could inject more realism by manipulating authenticity in other ways, such as
through advertising.
Such research could also address a fundamental dilemma implicit in brand
authenticity: claiming authenticity appears inauthentic (Dickinson-Delaporte, Beverland, &
Lindgreen 2010). Because brand authenticity reflects a lack of (or at least reduced) extrinsic
motivation, using one’s authenticity to attempt to sell a product is inherently inauthentic. As
such, it is managerially important to identify ways in which brands can convey their
authenticity without appearing disingenuous. Traditional marketing communications (e.g.,
television commercials, print advertisements) may be less successful for this purpose than
other modes of communication such as blogs, informational websites, and public relations.
However, as consumers become more and more knowledgeable about marketers’ tactics,
more creative (and subtle) means of conveying authenticity may be necessary.
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Instead of explicitly claiming authenticity, marketers may be able to build a reputation
of authenticity through behavioral consistency (Morhart et al. 2015), a suggestion that aligns
with our findings that intrinsically motivated brands are perceived to be more authentic than
extrinsically motivated brands. However, it may not be enough to consistently deliver on
specific product claims. Instead, the brand must deliver on the image it projects to its
consumers. In other words, “the story that the brand tells through its actions [must align] with
the story it tells through its communications” (Breen 2007, para. 12). The beneficial
inferences consumers draw about authentic brands may actually be a double-edged sword. On
the one hand, inferring positive attributes may lead consumers to perceive higher quality.
However, these inferences mean that brands must deliver on not only their explicit product
claims, but also on additional beliefs that consumers derive as a function of the brand’s
image.
In summary, being “true to self” is important not only for individuals, but also for
brands. In The Managed Heart, Hochschild compares the work experiences of the service
provider (e.g., flight attendant) and the laborer (e.g., worker in a wallpaper factory). He
suggests that “in the case of the flight attendant, the emotional style of offering the service is
part of the service itself, in a way that loving or hating wallpaper is not a part of producing
wallpaper (pg. 19).Recent evidence, however, suggests that consumers prefer even
manufacturers with a “love of doing” (Beverland 2009; Moulard et al. 2016). As consumers
become savvier about the role of marketing in shaping the brands and products they consume,
they develop an appreciation for that which is “unspun.” For brands, this means that
consumers are looking for substance: brands with a genuine interest in the products they are
producing and that live up to their own hype.
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Table 1: Means (and standard deviations) for authenticity and anticipated product quality measures, all studies
PRETEST
STUDY 1A
STUDY 1B
STUDY 2
STUDY 3A
STUDY 3B
STUDY 4
Low Load
High Load
Low Information
High Information
Extrinsic
Intrinsic
Extrinsic
Extrinsic
Intrinsic
Intrinsic
Intrinsic
Authenticit
y
Time 1
-
4.21
(0.92)
4.46
(1.96)
-
-
6.62
(1.33)
6.17
(1.35)
Time 2
5.64
(1.44)
5.44
(1.15)
4.65
(2.19)
3.86
(1.13)
4.93
(1.03)
7.29
(1.33)
6.86
(1.33)
Quality
Time 1
-
4.27
(1.21)
4.84
(2.04)
-
-
7.33
(1.15)
6.98
(1.28)
Time 2
-
5.19
(1.12)
5.15
(2.16)
4.42
(1.08)
4.97
(1.04)
7.86
(1.19)
7.43
(1.36)
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Figure 1: Brand Beliefs, Study 3b
0
1
2
3
4
5
Low Cognitive Load
High Cognitive Load
Perceived Authenticity
Intrinsic Motivation
Extrinsic Motivation
0
1
2
3
4
5
Low Cognitive Load
High Cognitive Load
Perceived Quality
Intrinsic Motivation
Extrinsic Motivation
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0
1
2
3
4
5
Low Cognitive Load
High Cognitive Load
Claimed Attribute
Believability
Intrinsic Motivation
Extrinsic Motivation
0
1
2
3
4
5
Low Cognitive Load
High Cognitive Load
Unclaimed Attribute
Believability
Intrinsic Motivation
Extrinsic Motivation
... Consequently, firms need to identify new and meaningful paths to reach their customers. To this end, developing authentic brands appears to be a promising marketing strategy (Cinelli & LeBoeuf, 2020;Spiggle et al., 2012). Euromonitor International (2019) views authenticity as one of the top 10 trends in marketing, and Interbrand (2019) considers authenticity a key characteristic of all successful global brands. ...
... The findings show that intrinsic motivations mainly drive true and personal authenticity seeking, while extrinsic motivations drive iconic authenticity seeking. These findings extend the research on and deepen our understanding of antecedents of brand authenticity (e.g., Cinelli & LeBoeuf, 2020;Moulard et al., 2016), considered for the first time from the customer's viewpoint, and reveal that both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations play an important role in influencing the three CAS dimensions. ...
... Extant research has established links between brand authenticity and consumers' attitudes and behavior toward brands (Cinelli & LeBoeuf, 2020;Morhart et al., 2015). Yet they are not likely to be uniform across consumer segments and should vary depending on the type of authenticity a consumer is seeking (Beverland & Farrelly, 2010;Moulard et al., 2021). ...
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The concept of authenticity is gaining interest in research and managerial practice. While the focus has been on the supply side, investigating factors that make brands authentic, the demand side, or consumers’ search for authentic market offerings, has been neglected. Informed by the literature, this article develops a psychometrically sound and cross-nationally and temporally stable scale to measure consumer authenticity seeking (CAS) as a set of three dimensions: personal, true, and iconic authenticity seeking. Using a comprehensive theory-based nomological network, this research introduces CAS as an important moderator between brand authenticity and outcomes. It also examines consumers’ intrinsic and extrinsic motives that drive these effects. Finally, this research reveals different consumer profiles managers can use for targeting and segmentation purposes.
... Authentic brands are those brands that are sincere and true to their core values and principles, have a long-term commitment to high-quality standards, and exude a sense of tradition (Fritz et al., 2017;Napoli et al., 2014). Authentic brands are currently growing in popularity (Cinelli & LeBoeuf, 2020;Vredenburg et al., 2020) because, in highly competitive service environments (which is the case of the insurance services industry), customers tend to perceive many service offerings as undifferentiated from a functional perspective (Beverland & Farrelly, 2010;Taylor, 2001), and therefore BA often serves as a key differentiation element (Beverland, 2005;Fritz et al., 2017). This is because when a plethora of brands offer the same or similar services, customers largely consider other factors when making purchase decisions; sincerity, heritage, and the commitment to quality (i.e., dimensions of BA) being among those most important (Grayson & Martinec, 2004). ...
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Full-text available
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore further the dimensions of perceived private label authenticity. The aims are threefold. Firstly, to examine how consumers associate the concept of authenticity with manufacturer brands and private labels, comparing their perspectives on the perceived authenticity of manufacturer brands and private labels. secondly, to determine and verify the dimensions that would be appropriate for and specific to measuring private label authenticity. Finally, to offer a model for measuring private label authenticity and test the model empirically. Design/Methodology/Approach – Both qualitative and quantitative research methods were used. Qualitative research was conducted through six focus group interviews. A survey on a convenience sample of 415 respondents from Croatia was applied in the quantitative research phase. Confirmatory factor analysis was used to empirically test the proposed dimensions of the perceived private label authenticity model. Findings and implications – The results of qualitative research demonstrate that consumers have different views of private label authenticity compared to manufacturer brands. Consumers have positive perceptions of private labels, describing them as " a smart choice" and "good-quality products at lower prices". Still, they do not associate them with the notion of authenticity as presented in the existing models. Therefore, a new perceived private label authenticity model is proposed. The quantitative study empirically confirmed its five dimensions: credibility, originality, brand commercialization, trust in the chain, and employee passion. The new proposed model allows retailers to assess private label authenticity using dimensions that are important for private labels as a specific brand type. Additionally, it highlights the importance of trust in the retailer and employee passion as important dimensions of private label authenticity. Limitations – Limitations are related to the methods used in the studies. Participants in all six focus groups were graduate students in economics and business. The survey was done on a convenience sample of respondents. Originality – This paper sheds additional light on extant studies of the perceived brand authenticity construct in the context of private labels and manufacturer brands. Based on qualitative and quantitative research, it proposes a new model of perceived private label authenticity, comprising five dimensions: (1) credibility, (2) originality, (3) brand commercialization, (4) trust in the chain, and (5) employee passion.
... In reviewing literature on perceived authenticity, we note the comprehensiveness of Morhart et al.'s (2015) PBA scale could be adapted to communication management and extended to research with historically marginalized publics. Researchers acknowledge the applicability of Morhart et al.'s (2015) PBA scale (see Cinelli and LeBoeuf, 2020;Portal et al., 2019;S€ odergren, 2021) to other research areas such as social media influencer authenticity (Lee and Eastin, 2021) and CSR authenticity (Joo et al., 2019). Furthermore, Morhart et al. (2015)'s PBA scale was developed in consideration of differential effects of each dimension, while most prior research was not (e.g. ...
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... B. Beverland, 2005), being genuine and the "real" thing (M. Beverland & Luxton, 2005;Cinelli & LeBoeuf, 2020), having a unique identity (Manthiou et al., 2018), consistency (Becker et al., 2019), essence and self-authentication (Newman, 2016) and self-congruency (Moulard et al., 2021), and defining brand authenticity from a six-dimensional perspective (accuracy, connectedness, integrity, legitimacy, originality, and proficiency), in which the application of the specific dimension can change deoending upon the context (Nunes et al., 2021). Other definitions include Grayson and Martinic's seminal 2004 paper which identified two types of authenticity-indexical and iconic, with definitions such as, being true to self and cultural identity (Grayson & Martinec, 2004, p. 298), being open and honest (Ilicic & Webster, 2014) and surviving times and trends (Eggers et al., 2013). ...
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Amidst a rapidly changing marketplace, sharp behavioral changes, and increased social media usage, brand authenticity, already an important attribute, has become an essential asset for brands. Even though marketing researchers have been studying the topic for more than 25 years, our extensive literature review shows that a widely accepted definition and scale is still lacking. Many extant definitions and scales only address specific aspects of brand authenticity, thus only providing partial coverage. This paper proposes a new definition and amalgamated scale that addresses authenticity holistically in a germane/relatable manner. The disjointed, and often dated, extant definitions and scales require a re-conceptualization of brand authenticity to meet the needs of today’s consumer in relevant, meaningful manner.
... Considering WCA is novel and relevant because studies demonstrate the importance of authenticity in many other contexts, including products, brands, tourism destinations, celebrities, or retailers (Moulard et al., 2016;Napoli et al., 2014). For example, Cinelli and LeBoeuf (2020) note that consumers consider marketing offerings as authentic if they are "the original" or "the real thing," and show that authenticity increases perceived product quality. ...
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Book
I: Background.- 1. An Introduction.- 2. Conceptualizations of Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination.- II: Self-Determination Theory.- 3. Cognitive Evaluation Theory: Perceived Causality and Perceived Competence.- 4. Cognitive Evaluation Theory: Interpersonal Communication and Intrapersonal Regulation.- 5. Toward an Organismic Integration Theory: Motivation and Development.- 6. Causality Orientations Theory: Personality Influences on Motivation.- III: Alternative Approaches.- 7. Operant and Attributional Theories.- 8. Information-Processing Theories.- IV: Applications and Implications.- 9. Education.- 10. Psychotherapy.- 11. Work.- 12. Sports.- References.- Author Index.
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