Brands as an extension of the self

16 08 2011

A recent in-press article was covered by the Economic Times. The story reports on research by Shirley Y. Y. Chen and colleagues which tested the connection between brands and the sense of self. Previously it had been assumed consumers interacted wit product brands as an interpersonal relationship. But this research seems to point to the idea that brands can, for some consumers at least, become a part of the self, and any challenge to the brand becomes a challenge to the self. We are motivated to protect the self against such attacks.

They basically presented information about Blackberry performance which made it look either fair or poor. Participants who identified highly with the brand suffered reduced self-esteem after the poor performance manipulation.

When the researchers had participants engage in a self-affirmation task (to “briefly describe their most important personal values”), the effect disappeared, which lends credence to the idea that it was some aspect of the self that was damaged by the poor brand performance.

Moreover, when the brand fails, high Self-Brand Connection (SBC) individuals evaluate it more favorably, in an attempt to protect the self. In the words of the researchers:

in an effort to maintain a positive self-view, high SBC individuals react defensively to brand failure by evaluating the brand favorably despite the poor performance.

and:

when high SBC consumers are given the opportunity to self-affirm, they lowered their brand evaluations as well as their self-brand connections in response to negative (vs. non- negative) information.

Link to the article at Science Direct

Cheng, S.Y.Y., White, T. B., & Chaplin, L. N. (in press). The effects of self-brand connections on responses to brand failure: A new look at the consumer–brand relationship, Journal of Consumer Psychology. doi:10.1016/j.jcps.2011.05.005