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Journal of Consumer Behaviour, J. Consumer Behav. 10 : 290–303 (2011) Published online 18 April 2011 in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com) DOI : 10.1002/cb.355

Consumers’ perceptions of the dimensions of brand personality

NATALIA MAEHLE 1 * , CELE OTNES 2 and MAGNE SUPPHELLEN 3

1 Norwegian Institute of Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture Research (Nofima), P.O. Box 6122, 9291Troms , Norway

2 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 515 E. Gregory Drive, Champaign, IL 61820, USA

3 Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration, NHH, Breiviksveien 40, 5045 Bergen, Norway

ABSTRACT

Brand personality (human-like characteristics of a brand) has been a popular topic in the marketing literature for over 50 years. However, there is a lack of consumer-focused studies investigating what factors shape perceptions of brand personality. To address this gap, the purpose of the current study is to understand how consumers form their perceptions of the different dimensions of brand personality identified in Aaker’s scale (sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication and ruggedness), and what product or brand characteristics influence these perceptions. Sixty-six interviews were conducted with graduate students, who were asked to discuss which brands reflected the specific dimensions of brand personality in Aaker’s scale. As a result, we identify the kinds of brands consumers perceive as typical for each personality dimension, discover their common characteristics and explain the reasons why some brands are strongly associated with a particular dimension and some are not. Our findings indicate that specific brand personality dimensions are associated with particular product categories. However, brands mentioned as strong on respective personality dimensions share commonalities beyond just a product category. For instance, sincere brands share family-related associations and high morals, exciting brands offer consumers the opportunity to experience exciting feelings and are related to special ‘exciting’ occasions, competent brands are mostly associated with expertise and quality, sophisticated brands are usually of feminine nature, whereas rugged brands are of masculine nature. Moreover, we find that brands which consumers perceive as lacking on a particular personality dimension also share common attributes. Copyright # 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

INTRODUCTION

In contemporary consumer societies, people often buy products not only for what they can do, but also for what they symbolize (Levy, 1959; Belk, 1988; Holt, 1995, 2002; Arnould and Thompson, 2005). Furthermore, because people are constantly engaged in building their identities, the symbolic qualities of products are often the primary reasons for their purchase (Solomon, 1983). As a result, much research has emphasized the importance of brand personality (or the ‘set of human characteristics associated with a brand’; Aaker, 1997: p. 347), since this aspect of the brand serves a symbolic or self-expressive function (e.g. Levy, 1959; Belk, 1988; Johar and Sirgy, 1991; Arnould and Thompson, 2005). Brand personality has been a popular topic in the marketing literature for over 50 years (Martineau, 1957; Dolich, 1969; Hamm and Cundiff 1969; Aaker, 1997; Wee, 2004; Freling and Forbes, 2005a, 2005b; Govers and Schoormans, 2005; Ramaseshan and Tsao, 2007). However, most of the existing literature has focused on defining the construct (e.g. Aaker, 1997; Azoulay and Kapferer, 2003), developing and refining scales (e.g. Aaker, 1997; Aaker et al ., 2001; Austin et al ., 2003) and studying the effects of brand personality on other brand-related variables (e.g. Siguaw et al ., 1999; Freling and Forbes, 2005a; Govers and Schoormans, 2005; Ramaseshan and Tsao, 2007). Only a few studies explore the nature of brand personality and identify

* Correspondence to: Natalia Maehle, Norwegian Institute of Food, Fish- eries and Aquaculture Research (Nofima), P.O. Box 6122, Tromsø 9291, Norway. E-mail: natalia.maehle@gmail.com

Copyright # 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

its sources (e.g. Maehle, 2008; Maehle and Supphellen,

2008).

To address this gap, we conducted in-depth interviews to understand how consumers form their perceptions of the five different dimensions of brand personality identified by Aaker (1997) – namely, sincerity, competence, excitement, sophistication and ruggedness – and what characteristics of brands influence these perceptions. Specifically, we strive to identify what brands consumers perceive as typical for each dimension, to identify the common characteristics of these brands and to explain the reasons why consumers attribute some brands as exemplary (or not exemplary) of a particular dimension. Therefore, the current study contributes to the literature on brand personality by exploring the process of brand personality formation on the dimensional level – or specifically, whether and how consumers form assessments of brands that possess the five personality characteristics identified in Aaker’s (1997) study. Most previous studies explore the brand personality construct as a whole. However, there are several reasons for focusing on the dimensional level. Aaker herself declares that by ‘isolating the distinct dimensions versus treating brand personality as a unidimen- sional construct, the different types of brand personalities can he distinguished, and the multiple ways in which the brand personality construct influences consumer preference may be understood better’ (Aaker, 1997: p. 348). This knowledge can provide guidelines for brand managers when they develop strategies for building particular dimensions of brand personality. Moreover, there is a lack of focused research investigating the factors that shape people’s perceptions of brand personality (Arora and Stoner, 2009). Our study is one of

the first to hone in on the topic of consumers’ perceptions of brand personality. Thus, it offers a valuable opportunity for researchers to gain a deeper understanding of the nature of brand personality dimensions.

THEORETICAL BACKGROUND: THE BRAND PERSONALITY CONCEPT

Several studies assert that consumers find it natural to build relationships with brands (Fournier, 1998) and to

imbue them with different personality characteristics, such as ‘honest’, or ‘cheerful’ (Aaker, 1997; Malhotra, 1981; Plummer, 1985). Moreover, as is true of personality traits associated with an individual, those associated with brands tend to be relatively enduring and distinct (Aaker, 1997; Wee, 2004). Anthropomorphic theory offers an explanation for this phenomenon. Anthropomorphizing non-human objects, and

a brand in particular, is a natural tendency for people,

because they try to explain objects in terms of their own experiences and conceptions (Moynihan, 1997). This kind

of thinking is ingrained into the human repertoire of ways

to compare and communicate about inanimate objects (Kennedy, 1992). Anthropomorphic research offers several explanations for why people tend to grant human qualities to objects (Guthrie, 1993). First, anthropomorphizing makes non-human objects seem more human, and thus more familiar. Second, people gain comfort and reassurance when interacting with objects they have anthropomorphized. Finally, by ascribing human characteristics to objects, people decrease their uncertainty in a complex, ambiguous world. However, for consumers, brand personality performs another highly important function. Specifically, research demonstrates that consumers use products as a sort of language in social groups (Lannon and Cooper, 1983); thus, brands can serve as conduits that communicate about consumers’ identities, status and aspirations. This symbolic use of brands is only possibly, however, because consumers imbue brands with human personality traits. For these reasons, the concept of brand personality has gained increasing attention in the marketing literature. Aaker (1997) offers the most widely used definition of

Dimensions of brand personality

291

brand personality; as previously noted, she states it consists of ‘the set of human characteristics associated with a brand’ (p. 347). However, all of the definitions offered in the literature recognize the use of human descriptors to portray brands (e.g. Plummer, 1985; Batra et al ., 1993; Goodyear, 1993; Blackston, 1995; Freling and Forbes,

2005b).

In addition, scholars have debated how to measure brand personality. Aaker (1997) introduced the most widely used and well-developed brand personality scale, which reveals five distinct and robust personality dimensions: sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication and ruggedness, as previously noted (see Figure 1). Aaker’s model was confirmed by exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses, as well as through replications (Aaker, 1997; Caprara et al., 2001). This scale, or parts of it, has also been successfully used in numerous studies of consumer behaviour. Therefore, we choose Aaker’s (1997) scale components as the focal brand personality dimensions for our study, while acknowledging that other studies argue that other dimensions of brand personality may also be salient in different cultures and contexts (e.g. Aaker et al .,

2001).

RESEARCH QUESTION

To further understand the salience of brand personality dimensions for consumers, we explore the following research questions:

(1) What brands or products do consumers perceive as exemplary (or as not exemplary) of the specific dimen- sions of brand personality identified by Aaker (1997), and what common characteristics emerge across these brands for each personality dimension? (2) Which brands do consumers perceive as excluded from possessing a particular personality dimensions, and what common characteristics emerge across these brands for each personality dimension?

In addition to the popularity of Aaker’s scale among studies of brand personality, our focus on the dimensions Aaker identifies is warranted for several reasons. First,

BRAND PERSONALITY Sincerity Excitement Competence Sophistication Ruggedness Down-to- Daring Reliable Upper class
BRAND PERSONALITY
Sincerity
Excitement
Competence
Sophistication
Ruggedness
Down-to-
Daring
Reliable
Upper class
Outdoorsy
earth
Spirited
Intelligent
Charming
Tough
Honest
Imaginative
Successful
Wholesome
Up-to-date
Cheerful

Figure 1. Brand personality dimensions and related constructs (from Aaker, 1997).

Copyright # 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

J. Consumer Behav. 10: 290–303 (2011) DOI: 10.1002/cb

292 N. Maehle et al.

Aaker’s scale demonstrates psychometric rigor across a variety of studies. Second, these dimensions are linguisti- cally accessible in discussion with consumers; that is, they represent common personality characteristics of people as well as objects. Finally, using these dimensions allows us to draw parallels with the experimental literature that also explores dimensions of brand personality.

METHOD

We conducted interviews to explore our research question, because they enable us to acquire a deep, meaningful understanding of consumers’ conceptualizations of the construct (McCracken, 1988a). Sixty-six graduate students from a Scandinavian business school (40 females, 26 males) participated in the interviews. The average age of the informants was 23.6 years. Students were recruited by announcing the opportunity to participate in the interviews during three graduate courses. We paid each informant 100 Norwegian crones (or approximately 18 US dollars) for their participation. Interviews lasted between 50 and 60 minutes. The researcher began by explaining the purpose of the project; that is, to understand the concept of brand personality. The interviewer reassured the informants that all information provided would be kept confidential. The interviewer also asked for the permission to record the interview, and all respondents agreed to be recorded. The interviewer then explained the concept of brand personality to each informant, and provided several examples of well-known brands that possess distinct personality traits to help the informant understand the concept. The researchers felt it was important to provide examples of brands having strong personality associations, in order to help the informants better understand the parameters of the study, and better grasp the concept of brand personality. Next, the researcher presented Aaker’s (1997) brand personality scale, and all five dimensions were explained in detail. The informant was invited to ask questions if he or she needed clarification about the brand personality concept. Using a structured interview guide, the interviewer asked informants about their perceptions of brand personality dimensions. To avoid fatigue, each informant was asked about two out of the five dimensions of brand personality in Aaker’s scale. The procedure yielded between 25 and 27 in- depth responses for each dimension. The specific interview procedure was as follows: First, the informant was asked to name and discuss a few brands that he or she considered as strongly associated with a particular dimension. Then, the informant was asked to name a few brands he or she considered not associated with the same dimension, and again asked to discuss these choices. This procedure was repeated when the informant was asked about the next dimension of brand personality. In addition, informants discussed other aspects of brand personality such as importance of different brand personality dimensions and consumer-based sources of brand personality, which are

Copyright # 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

beyond the scope of this paper and will be described elsewhere. At the end of the interview, the informant provided demographic information (e.g. age and gender). Informants were then thanked and provided with their monetary incentive.

ANALYSIS

The interview procedure yielded 80 pages of double-spaced text, after transcription. The interviews were analysed using the constant comparative method (Glaser and Strauss, 1968). Our objective was to ‘winnow the data, searching out patterns of association and assumption’ (McCracken, 1988b:

p. 19). The first author read all of the interviews and created initial coding categories that reflected the consistency that emerged for each brand personality dimension. The second author audited the text, paying careful attention to those the first author identified as exemplary responses that illumi- nated the emergent themes associated (or not associated) with each dimension. The third author, who was not involved in the data analysis, served as an impartial reader and assessed the validity of the themes and exemplars offered as exemplars in the paper. The most illuminatory exemplars of the themes were retained for the paper, and incorporated into the interpretation section and subsequent tables. All identifying characteristics were removed from informant quotes, and the informant names included in the paper are fictitious.

INTERPRETATION OF TEXT

As stated earlier, our interpretation focuses on unpacking the following research questions. We want to understand what brands consumers do (or do not) associate with various dimensions of brand personality, as well as what common characteristics emerge across these brands for each personality dimension. Below, we unpack these questions by exploring the findings for each brand personality dimension in turn.

Brands consumers perceive as sincere/insincere The brands our informants associate with sincerity are typically those encountered in their everyday lives. Most are located in the beverage, food, cosmetics and supermarket product categories. Consumers use those brands often, trusting them and developing loyalty to them. One informant explains why he considers Kiwi, a Norwegian supermarket chain, as sincere:

Maybe it is because I do most of my shopping there The people working there are friendly and nice and service-oriented. They have more guarantees there than other shops. That’s something honest and family-oriented, the shop where I have always done my shopping there with my family, with my sisters and brothers. I have also watched an advertisement on TV and seen different ads around [with] the guarantees. For example, if you are not

J. Consumer Behav. 10: 290–303 (2011) DOI: 10.1002/cb

satisfied with the product you bought you can get your money back. (Anne, 21)

This excerpt indicates that two key elements of the promotion mix – personal selling and guarantees – both contribute in a consistent manner to the image of this brand as sincerely interested in their customers’ well-being. Guarantees convey credible information to customers about attributes that are hidden or difficult to evaluate (Harvey, 1998). Thus, providing guarantees may contribute to consumers’ perceptions of honesty and sincerity of the brand. Many of the sincere brands our informants discussed are also strongly associated with family and family-related activities – such as this informant’s discussion of Chuck E. Cheese’s:

I just remember going there many times when I was a little kid and it sounds very family-like They play these little games – you know – you jump in a big pile of balls – things like that It is very sincere because it welcomes all, kids can play and they have birthday parties there and all kinds of stuff. Really it’s not just kids who are there grandparents come there with their grandkids. [and it’s] not just kids and their moms – also dads take their sons there. (Tom, 22)

Thus, for this informant, the intergenerational appeal of the brand experience contributes to its perception as possessing a sincere personality. However, informants also name several brands of technical appliances and cars, such as Sony Ericsson,

Table 1. Examples of brands having strong associations with sincerity

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293

General Electric, Toyota and Skoda as high on sincerity. Consumers appear to perceive these brands as sincere because of their high quality and positive consumer experiences. In general, positive product experiences that meet or exceed expectations regarding product performance tend to reinforce strong associations with sincerity. One informant describes the Skoda car brand as follows:

It is not a very exciting car. I do not think it is meant to attract attention. But it’s kind of reliable car, it’s affordable and for me it means reliability. I have had experience with Skoda and I am satisfied I am not like very, very happy but I am satisfied and I can rely on that. I know that if I repeat the purchase, the products do what they say. They do not try to pretend for being something more. (Ken, 25)

Not surprisingly, several informants also name help organizations such as UNICEF and Red Cross as sincere brands. These organizations possess high moral values and are known to help people in need, two qualities strongly associated with sincerity (Ozar, 2009). Steve (22) notes when discussing the Red Cross: ‘Sincere for me is something

wants to

which has a good aim. It fights for something

reach something positive and it seems to be an honest, good thing to fight for. It supports good things’. Table 1 contains more examples of sincere brands discussed by our informants. Turning our attention to the brands named as insincere, informants often mention brands that have been involved in scandals. For example, Mary (21) names the Gilde meat

Characteristics of sincere brands

Examples

Brands providing positive service experience (e.g. personal selling)

Brands strongly associated with family and childhood memories

Brands of high quality that meet consumer expectations

Brands known to have high moral values and idealistic purposes

It’s like a boutique style, like small scale. They are international. They are lingerie

producer for the larger sizes. They make sizes D to J, something like that. I went to find a bra that would fit me – when they never do – and a woman – you know, I think that has a lot to do with a boutique I went to – but she did a fit in and she told me my size, and she suggested some bras. She made sure they fit perfectly and she brought me these two Freya bras and they were just fantastic. They are like the world’s greatest bras ever. They really are. (Sophie, 23, about Freya lingerie). The booking process is very smooth and I achieved the reference number in a short time and came to the ticket office to get tickets. Service was friendly from the telephone receptionist and also in the ticket office. The selling person was friendly, always keeping smiling The price was good. They were honest because after I said that I am a student they told me about instructions and some low fares and also some promotions for students (Nick, 25 about Lufthansa airlines)

The cake thing they have

(Julie,

27 about Sara Lee cake mix)

delicate and like a mother made a cake and then you just reheat it and have it

feel like you can have home-made cake it’s very like

you

I feel that they have been here for a long time. It is very cozy there. It’s not very cheap to eat at Bakker Hansen but you know in a way what you get. You can get a coffee and a roll and you see old people there That’s something what I did very often with my grandmother. (Anne, 21 about Bakker Hansen bakery)

I have had many products from this brand. I have never had problems with them, just the

good experiences. I know many people who also like them. (Mary, 21 about Sony Ericsson) We have it in Hungary and the leader of it is a priest whom we know very well and this is

something very similar to Red Cross. It’s ‘Malta love service’ if I translate it from Hungarian. But I am sure it’s not Hungarian, it’s international. It has hospitals, it has other things to do with medicine They don’t seem to deceive people, they seem to fight for good, for true things. (Steve, 22 about Malta, humanitarian organization)

Copyright # 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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294 N. Maehle et al.

producer brand because of the recent scandal related to its meat quality. Another example is Nike, which is known to have used child labour and had sweatshops:

I read something about the sweatshop and how they make

money. These shoes cost probably 1 USD, 2 USD but they sell like 100 times more expensive so it’s like 100-200

USD

they are trying to create a very fashion[able]

professional image but actually, in the back[ground] a lot

of things are happening they are not telling the people. (Julie, 27)

Another category of brands includes those associated with health problems. Informants are especially negative when brands try to downplay their negative health effects. Fast- food brands and cigarette brands are often named as insincere for this reason. One informant explains why McDonald’s seems insincere:

Their commercials are very family-oriented. So, in that way they are very family-oriented and so positive And the only thing they are selling is unhealthy food! So if the kids actually eat this food they are gonna get not very healthy. It [offers] unhealthy food and they make it look better than it is. (Ally, 24)

Informants also name brands that have proven disappoint- ing with respect to performance; consequently, informants no longer find these to be trustworthy. Tor, 21, described his experience with Swiffer:

That’s a mop that I bought in the shop. It broke very fast. I went to the shop and they said that I should contact Swiffer and they promised to send a new mop. It never came. I called them again and they again promised to send it. It has never happened. I am a really dissatisfied customer.

Moreover, informants indicate they felt cheated when a brand does not perform as well as promised in the advertisement: ‘The advertisement of Solidox [toothpaste] guarantees you white teeth. I feel that it is insincere because none of toothpaste can make teeth white. When they stand there and promise it I feel that they are insincere’ (Anne, 21). High-end expensive brands are also often named as insincere due to their exclusiveness. Informants perceive this kind of brands as not affordable for ordinary people and, therefore, aloof and unattainable:

It’s very out of reach, very, very prestige, and very luxury. It’s almost the opposite of sincere. And you know it’s not down-to-earth, not family-oriented. It might be honest but

The brand

comes off as very – and even Coco Chanel and

Chanel No5 and other perfumes – very out of distance [distant]. They are very luxury. They are very not normal person. They are very ‘‘supermodel’’. (Sophie, 23, about Chanel)

As we can see, the brands consumers perceive to be sincere share a number of common characteristics. These are: down-to-earth, family-oriented, representing high

it’s definitely not real for many people

itself

Copyright # 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

morals and providing positive experiences that meet or exceed their consumers’ expectations regarding product performance. On the other hand, brands deemed insincere do not meet expectations, are associated with unethical business practices, cheat consumers, or are too exclusive for the average person.

Brands consumers perceive as competent/ incompetent Consumers mention brands of technical appliances and cars most often as exemplars of competent brands. Informants

explain their choice by linking those brands to high-quality associations. For example, Philips and Sony ‘don’t break

down or stop working whatever; it’s like

(Lene, 32). One informant describes Audi as follows:

It’s technically good and good to drive. The advertising they have highlights exactly these qualities. I know people who drive Audi and they say that it is a comfortable car to drive and they have not had any problems with it. I have tried it myself and think it is a good car. (Frank, 21)

Consumer perceptions of a brand are influenced by their beliefs about the corporation that produces it (Wansink, 1989; Keller and Aaker, 1992; Brown and Dacin, 1997). Informants believe that big companies with products that are market leaders, as well as companies with long histories, are highly competent. One informant chooses Statoil as an exemplar because ‘They are a leading company in oil offshore production in the world. This is a big company with billions in turnover’ (Tor, 22). Likewise, one informant considers the Friele coffee company competent, due to its long history: ‘They are old, trustful, and traditional and they make very good coffee’ (Tor, 22). The same reason is given for choosing Nivea:

I

consider it to be a competent brand because people use it for many years. Even now when it’s [offered] a lot of product variation and product extensions, it’s still considered to be this ‘‘blue thing’’ [Nivea’s colour] which you use for babies and for the whole family. I really trust this brand. I would use this cream for my babies. I think it’s the best [indication of] trust for them. (Tiffany, 22)

According to our informants, competent brands should be

staffed by highly qualified employees. For example, Ernst & Young employees ‘do not brag about themselves. They have

self-confidence

(Frank, 21). See more examples of competent brands in Table 2. Interestingly, however, many brands of technical appli- ances and cars are also named as incompetent. The main reason given by informants is that those products do not function well, and informants consequently experience problems. One informant explains his attitude to Hewlett Packard printers and Samsung mobile phones:

[HP Printers] are horrible. They never work really

buy them and then they work for a couple of

the quality’

Because it has a long history, it’s really classical and

They have high levels of education’

well You

weeks and then it goes off. And also, for example,

J. Consumer Behav. 10: 290–303 (2011) DOI: 10.1002/cb

Table 2. Examples of brands having strong associations with competence

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295

Characteristics of competent brands

Examples

Brands with high quality associations Because it’s a very secure car, and really technical and successful. They are really a leader on the market. I think I first go with cars when I think of Competence because there is so much technical stuff in them and they are really secure, they have to be secure. I heard from some people who had a Volvo and had a bad accident that it was not so bad because they had a Volvo,

because they (Volvo) are supposed to be really good

where the winter and the weather is quite hard so they are built more for these conditions, so they work better. (Tiffany, 22 about Volvo) In my family electro domestics are from this brand and we have never got problems with them, so that’s why it’s competent. That’s quality. (Delia, 23 about Balay electro domestics) The quality is good. The product seems worth the price they take. It’s reliable and the technical aspects of the watch are – in terms as far as watch technology goes – they seem to be where they should be. (Sophie, 23 about Bulgari watches) It’s intelligent, successful, technical, leader on the market. Microsoft now is the most successful IT company. It’s growing fast and Bill Gates is like a benchmark for a lot of young people, he is intelligent. It’s a monopoly, a leading company in the field. Almost every computer uses their software. They produce intelligence intensive product – software. (John, 23 about Microsoft) It’s like a Burberry for kitchen aid, for kitchenware. It has a top of the line rollers, mixers, everything. It’s the thing that they use on the food show which is on the huge food network in the United States and Canada. As well as it’s the brand top of the line chefs and cooks use. (Jessica, 21 about Williams-Sonoma kitchen appliances)

they are from a Scandinavian country

Brands owned by companies with good reputation (leading position on the market, long history, competent employees)

Samsung mobiles – the battery runs out very fast and they

The mobile

also goes off after half an hour of phoning. (Tiffany, 22)

Bad personal experience is one of the important reasons for choosing Philips:

We’ve purchased many products – some electronics from

we seem always to have problems with them

and it’s always something that goes wrong. Maybe

because it’s more applied things, maybe because they

But we would invest

money into these products and they wouldn’t work. I

are not very much into design and quality

Philips and

have more [of a] tendency to break

never buy Philips products. (Jessica, 21)

Thus, negative or positive product experience, and the degree to which the product meets consumers’ expectations, prove to be crucial factors for judging brand’s competence. Another category of incompetent brands is those of low quality – or ‘copycat’ brands. For example, Robert (22) regards the TAB cola drink as a bad copy of Coca-Cola. Likewise, Euroshopper is named as incompetent because it is perceived as ‘a cheap brand making cheap versions of

absolutely everything

of this brand signals low competence’ (Tor, 22). To conclude, most competent brands are perceived to be of high quality, and our informants report positive experiences while using them. In addition, competent brands often occupy a leading position in the market and can demonstrate a long history of success. As was the case for sincerity, competence perceptions develop from product experiences in which performance expectations are met or exceeded. However, competence associations seem to require repeated expectations of consistent performance over time . Also, competence associations refer mainly to the functional benefits of brands (e.g. their problem-solving capacity; Keller, 1993), whereas sincerity associations are less tied to a specific type of brand benefit. Moreover,

image

low price and low quality

Copyright # 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

employees of competent brands are perceived as highly qualified. In contrast, brands deemed incompetent are mostly associated with bad quality and consumer experiences that are rife with unreliability.

Brands consumers perceive as exciting/unexciting Most brands that consumers describe as exciting are rooted in the car, beverage and clothes categories. Furthermore, informants discuss some technical brands with cool designs such as Apple, as exciting. Not surprisingly, given the link of brand personality to consumer identity (Dolich, 1969; Hamm and Cundiff, 1969; Belk, 1988; Maehle and Shneor, 2010) informants choose brands that help them to fulfil their aspirations to be perceived as more exciting in the eyes of their reference groups:

I think Apple is also exciting because of their colours and image right now. Everybody has an iPod. It’s not like an MP3 player, it’s an iPod other people buy it and if you want to join this group you have to have an Apple product It’s also unique because nobody else creates something like this. Like nobody has white computers; before, they were always grey or maybe you could find a black one, but never something which looks like Apple products. (Tiffany, 22)

Aesthetics also plays an important role in forming perceptions of brand’s excitement. Exciting brands include

cars with cool designs, beverages used in social gatherings, and fashionable, up-to-date clothes. One informant mentions

it’s a cool design, small but fast

car

Peugeot because ‘

city car’ (Lise, 28). The same is true for Porsche: ‘

It’s unique, up-to-date and cool design. It’s mostly young people who use it’ (Lene, 32). Reinforcing the role of aesthetics in consumers’ considerations of brand personality, one informant explains his choice of the Volcom clothes brand:

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They have very creative designers. They make usual clothes but always with some special features. A lot of fun Often you see that other brands in this category [typical snowboard and skating clothes] try to copy their ideas a year after. (Peter, 25)

Moreover, the personality descriptors associated with a brand arise from the underlying usage situation and emotions or feelings evoked by the brand (Plummer, 1985). Many informants argue that exciting brands offer them exciting experiences. As such, Norwegian (one of the airlines in Norway) is exciting because:

It gets you out of here and also they fly both to the cities and to the beaches. You can fly non-stop You can go to Paris, London, Warsaw, Berlin. It’s [the] exciting destinations. It’s like experiencing new places, seeing new things, have a bit warmer weather, a bit less of rain, maybe do some shopping, get some ideas about other places. (Ben, 27)

This ‘halo effect’ (e.g. that the brand actually is deemed exciting because it facilitates exciting experiences; Keller, 2008) is stated even more succinctly by one informant when discussing her perception of the Bergans casual clothes brand: ‘Bergans supports ‘‘71 grader Nord’’ [a Norwegian TV reality show where participants reach the North Cape]. I associate Bergans with this show’ (Mary, 21). Furthermore, informants note that exciting brands are integral to rituals or special occasions (e.g. weddings), or are used in stimulating social situations (e.g. meeting friends):

Coca-Cola is always present at parties with friends. So, when you have fun, when you are excited, when you have great time, when you are enjoying your time with friends, or maybe like at the cinema you are going to have fun, to share your spare time with friends – that’s when I use Coca-Cola. So, for this reason Coca-Cola is exciting. (Sara, 23)

Personality traits may also be transferred to a brand through user imagery, or the set of characteristics associated with a typical brand user (Plummer, 1985; McCracken, 1989; Aaker, 1996). Our informants reveal that exciting brands are those used by exciting people. Thus, for example, one informant states: ‘Young cool people wear Abercrombie & Fitch’ (Trond, 27). In contrast, Claire, (21) notes, ‘my mother would definitely not use Bourjours [a make-up brand she described as exciting]’. Not surprisingly, many informants also mention ads as a source excitement for a brand. Advertising represents one of the most powerful tools available to marketers for influencing consumers’ brand associations, including brand personality associations (McCracken, 1989; Batra et al ., 1993; Biel, 1993). The ads communicating excitement usually depict young people having fun or engaged in some exciting activity:

In Italy there is an advertisement of Coca-Cola on TV. The

It shows that Coca-Cola is

prepared by little men in a whole farm and they are working together, laughing, having fun. And then when

advertisement is very cool

Copyright # 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

you go to an automatic machine to have your bottle of

Coca-Cola you see that behind this machine there are all

these little men working, laughing and so on

you put the coin and after all of this you get your bottle.

And it’s very funny (Sara, 23)

and then

See more examples of exciting brands in Table 3. Conversely, the brands that informants perceive to be unexciting represent a wide variety of product categories. While this fact makes it difficult to summarize their commonalities, it is true that many brands our informants mention are those used in their everyday lives. Therefore, food, family cars and supermarkets are slightly over- represented. What these brands share is that they are boring, commonplace, mass-produced and do not relate to any exciting activities; in other words, they are ‘profane’ (Belk et al ., 1989). One informant describes Toyota in that vein:

It is a standard car without much of a personality. The design is boring. People who do not know much about cars usually buy Toyota. They just need a car which works fine and they can trust on, cheap and good. (Lise, 28)

The reasons why Benetton is not exciting are quite similar:

They always have the same models since some years ago

because sometimes they are not so trendy.

Sometimes they just change the colour; they always have the same model For example when you have to go out, you want to be more trendy, you don’t wear it [Benetton]. All my friends are saying ‘‘It’s so ugly, the clothes. I never buy anything’’. It’s a negative impression. (Laura, 22)

The same explanation is offered for Volkswagen: ‘It’s not

too fast, the design is old-fashioned’ (Lene, 32). Likewise,

Lois jeans are described as ‘old-fashioned

used mostly by

older women’ (Irene, 30). In addition, some brands like Tine milk, WASA bread and Danone yoghurt are just too simple to be exciting:

It’s a bread, just a bread. It’s not really exciting; what you really connect with certain events like Apple or Coke. I think with exciting brands you usually consider a party or a social event, or just like feeling good. If you think of bread you are just maybe having a breakfast. It’s just like

and

an everyday thing you do

(Tiffany, 22)

In summary, our informants indicate that exciting brands enable them to enjoy actual or anticipated exciting experiences and special feelings, and to help create a young and trendy image. Also, brands used in exciting situations and special occasions are named as exciting. As for unexciting brands, everyday brands and those with boring features (e.g. old-fashioned design, lack of personality) are exemplars.

Brands consumers perceive as sophisticated/ unsophisticated Clothes, cosmetics and car brands are highly represented among the brands informants perceive as highly sophisti- cated. Moreover, most of these brands are located in the high

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Table 3. Examples of brands having strong associations with excitement

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297

Characteristics of exciting brands

Examples

I’ve seen like older people using it (Lonely Planet) but when I travel I almost always see young

person like me – between 18 and 30 – using a Lonely Planet It’s exciting because it’s almost like a traveller’s Bible. Everyone else is using Lonely Planet, so I know that when I am travelling

I just know that’s the kind of people I will see later on. (Tom, 22 about Lonely Planet travel

guide) My sister is only 16 but she saved her money to buy an iPod. And for her it’s something Maybe it’s an icon for her and maybe when she purchases an iPod it makes her feel like an adult. For her being an adult is looking like a 20 year old. (Miranda, 24 about iPod) Brands with exciting aesthetics Because I feel like when I go to H&M stores I always find something new, something up-to-date, something that last time was not there. So, it’s like – I don’t know – when you meet a friend and you are sure that he is coming up with something new, new story to tell you and so on. And I always find something that I like. So, it’s cool, absolutely. (Sara, 23 about Hennes & Mauritz)

Brands that help consumers to build or express their identity

Brands that offer exciting experiences I use a lot of brands, not only L’Oreal but to my mind L’Oreal is something that is also professional like when I go to a hairdresser. I feel excited because my look is going to change. (Maria, 22 about L’Oreal) Because of the taste I feel excited a lot when I eat it. Even for example when I go to the website it’s very exciting for me to visit their website because there is a community where they provide a lot of recipes of how to prepare food with Nutella. (Laura, 22 about Nutella)

You meet people and you drink Coca-Cola. Whenever I don’t know what to order in a restaurant

Brands used for special occasions or in stimulating social situations

You use these things especially as a woman when you go out and want to be beautiful, so at

for this reason it’s exciting. (Sara, 23 about L’Oreal)

Brands used by exciting people

It’s exciting for me It’s for travellers who are outdoorsy and want to trek around the world. For example, they have the best sleeping bags if you want to go to the Arctic or something, or Everest kind of thing. They have endorsers like people who have successfully climbed the Everest or something. (Tom, 22 about The Northface)

Brands with exciting ads That’s advertisements on TV, and posters, and

I think it’s the image that is really exciting. They have these commercials which always are very colourful, with dancing people. I think this is an exciting brand. (Tiffany, 22 about Apple)

I drink a Coke. It’s cool to drink a Coke. (Tiffany, 22 about Coca-Cola)

parties and in this kind of situations. So

(Mary, 21 about Pepsi)

end of the market. Similar to the case for exciting brands, aesthetics is a crucial element in informants’ perceptions of sophistication. Informants name many designer clothes brands and several exclusive car brands. They explain their choices by expanding on the unique characteristics of these brands: ‘My impression about [Gucci] is that it is a high class, expensive, and exclusive brand’ (Lise, 28). Another informant explains why Ferrari is sophisticated:

Because it’s special, it has a kind of exclusivity that no other car has. So, and it’s not everybody can have a

it’s completely

different. It’s not only a car. It’s also sporty but it implies glamour and class, it’s good looking. (Kevin, 29)

Moreover, many sophisticated brands feature an aesthetic of elegant simplicity. Speaking about Tiffany, Jessica (21) observes:

For one thing, I know [Tiffany is] top of the line when it comes to diamonds because they are the highest quality and the most pricey They do very simple marketing. Like bags – you can always tell if it is a rich product by the bag – and the little boxes. There is a white ribbon. They are beautiful, like clear, smooth, blue, blue little boxes. Just having simple trademarks, rather than being elaborate, rather than having all these additional features. They just keep it very simple but expensive simple, sharp simple.

User imagery aimed at creating brand personality is often conveyed in promotion and advertising by using

Ferrari It’s different, the whole car

Copyright # 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

endorsers (Rossiter and Percy, 1987; McCracken, 1989). Therefore, sophistication is associated with the celebrities connected to a brand. For instance, Aston Martin is sophisticated because ‘James Bond drives Aston Martin. He is sophisticated’ (Frank, 21). The Dolce and Gabbana brand also is strongly related to its owners: ‘The two owners are always giving interviews on TV and they are always really glamorous and they work with other brands’ (Dan, 21). Furthermore, informants describe some (but not all) cosmetics brands as sophisticated. In this case, however, the attribution seems associated not with exclusivity, but with the feminine nature of the brands and their associations with beauty. One consumer explains her choice of the Chanel brand in the following way: ‘It reminds me of a good-looking woman’ (Miranda, 24). Besides cosmetics, other brands that are typically regarded as stereotypically ‘feminine’ also are perceived as sophisticated. Miranda describes Volvo in this manner, because of a specific new product it has developed:

They designed a car for women. They are trying to give a feminine look to the brand. It’s also somewhat upper class. I know that they used a team composed of only women for designing this car. They considered every component of this car as practical for women I’ve seen some news about it, but not advertising. They were broadcasting that now we have a feminine car, we are designing a car only for women. (Miranda, 24)

See more examples of sophisticated brands in Table 4.

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Table 4. Examples of brands having strong associations with sophistication

Characteristics of sophisticated brands

Examples

Brands that offer uniqueness (a high class, exclusive, aesthetic of elegant simplicity)

Brands used by celebrities

Brands with feminine nature and beauty associations

It’s design, it’s new, it’s totally different. For me, it’s something that is different from the other ones. It’s not a normal computer, and it’s not Windows, it’s not Pentium. It’s totally different. And they have design. So, for me design is important if you want to be sophisticated. (Kevin, 29

about Mac computer) Burberry is more traditional. It still carries a lot of traditional signs like it did in early England – very traditional patterns, colours, simple materials but they always use the highest quality materials. (Jessica, 21 about Burberry)

Advertising It has this kind of characteristics

For cosmetics they choose movie-stars

they are very charming and sophisticated. (Trond, 27

about L’Oreal) They try to emphasize such kind of elegance and beauty. I think it’s more associated with Japanese culture. I have some understanding of their culture. I think they try to enhance beauty

in everyday life

When you smell it, it gives you smooth feeling. It’s strongly feminine I feel differently when I

am using a deodorant compared to when I use a fragrance like Chanel. My mother uses it (Chanel). Especially this femininity maybe comes from her, smooth and comfortable feeling, smoothness, charming. (Miranda, 24 about Chanel perfume)

to

be elegant, to be beauty, and charming

their food and their art

(Jack, 30 about Shiseido)

Conversely, the brands named as unsophisticated can be divided into three main categories. The first contains brands in the low end of the market, which are cheap and mass- produced. One informant explains his association of the Cubus clothes brand with a lack of sophistication: ‘It is mass- produced clothes. It is cheap clothes appealing to the most people, not just for an exclusive group that has a lot of money. People buy Cubus clothes for children to go to school’ (Lise,

28).

The second group of unsophisticated brands represents

those that can be of high quality, but that are used in everyday life, and not for any special occasion. Consumers do not see anything unique or elegant about them. Likewise, Procter & Gamble as a whole is labelled unsophisticated because ‘they

produce detergents

it’s for everyday use’ (Jack, 30). Similarly, Tine milk is an everyday product: ‘probably 80 per cent of Norwegians have

Tine milk in their fridge

(Peter, 25). The third category of brands described as unsophisticated are what we are calling ‘masculine’ brands, or those that decidedly lack the feminine touch. One informant (Jack, 30) explains that Marlboro and Levi’s ‘strengthen male image’ and therefore, are not sophisticated. The same attributions are made about Dell, Play Station, and Casio. Simply put, our informants believe their design is too masculine and not charming enough:

They were not good-looking at all and they were not feminine because I know only few girls who like playing

Playstation. The machine itself was really ugly but it was functional. So, all the guys who are into Playstation really

I had one in my salon [living room] and I

My boyfriend had it and I

hated it. I know couples who really have strong serious discussions about Playstation because all these guys come together and spend sometimes days on playing those games. Girls generally hate it. (Miranda, 24)

In summary, brands that are perceived as highly sophisticated are usually described as unique and exclusive.

I think that it’s not so sophisticated

it is not exclusive not unique’

loved it

thought it was very ugly

Copyright # 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

They are strongly associated with elegant aesthetics and are used by consumers in order to impress their peers. Also, these brands are often (but not always) perceived as feminine. In contrast, unsophisticated brands usually emerge from the low end of the market and are characterized by bad quality. In addition, they are used every day. Moreover, brands with masculine nature are not sophisticated.

Brands consumers perceive as rugged/not rugged Conversely, the ruggedness dimension is mostly represented by certain cars (e.g. Land Rover, Jeep, Jaguar), the Harley Davidson motorcycle, cigarettes (especially Marlboro), men’s cosmetics (e.g. Gillette and Old Spice) and men’s clothes. The explanations given by consumers pertain to the stereotypically masculine nature of those brands. One informant states simply that with respect to Gillette: ‘It’s more associated with men. It’s supposed to be used by men’ (Jack, 30). Likewise, one informant explains the ruggedness of Marlboro as follows: ‘It is always linked with the Western cowboy in the field, riding the horse. The package is the red and the white one – you feel like more masculine’ (Julie, 27). Another informant concurs:

the toughest smoke Marlboro because it is so

strong. They also have a clothes brand – very tough

clothes, like cowboy style. I associate it with cowboys,

Maybe when we are young and want to

seem tough and start smoking that is the brand which we

only

tough men

try first. (Anne, 21)

The explanation for Land Rover is similar to those offered

so I think

people who buy Land Rover are very outdoorsy; they tend to like adventures, quite masculine’ (Julie, 27). Likewise, Harley Davidson is described by one of the informants as ‘more or less like a symbol of masculine culture’ (John, 23). These masculine associations are confirmed by another informant:

above: ‘I used to work for the car loan industry

It’s a different kind of lifestyle. It’s like for rude men. Also because of the motorbike – it means freedom. Then Harley Davidson, they organize trips coast to coast in

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United States – driving through the desert. They drink beer and smoke cigarettes and drive I know that there are also quite a lot of girls but it’s a special kind of girls, usually they are really male-like. A girl who wears Dolce & Gabbana wouldn’t drive a Harley Davidson. (Dan, 21)

See more examples of rugged brands in Table 5. The brands informants state are decidedly not rugged include cosmetics for women and clothes, discussed mainly because of their feminine attributes:

Chanel is very feminine, elegant, it’s not masculine at all, it’s not outdoorsy definitely, because the shoes and the clothes they design kind of constrain women to go out When I think about Chanel, I see a very elegant woman walking slowly with the high heels. (Julie, 27)

In summary, the brands informants name as non-rugged include not only female cosmetics and clothes, but also other kind of brands with strong feminine associations (e.g. Ariel washing powder). Moreover, many informants consider family- and children-related brands as those that are in no way rugged. They offer examples of several toy brands (e.g. Barbie, Hello Kitty, Nicky teddy bear and McDonald’s). One informant discusses McDonald’s:

the clown is

It is all about children and Happy Meal

their image

I do not feel myself tough when I go to

McDonald’s

I associate ruggedness more with steak

usually teenagers work there.

They are not tough, they wear caps and are very colourfully dressed; the atmosphere there is very playful.’’ (Lene, 32)

In summary, one common characteristic of rugged brands is their masculine nature. On the contrary, brands related to women, family and children are perceived as decidedly not rugged in personality.

than with a Happy Meal

DISCUSSION

Our research reveals a wide variation in the brands named by informants as high or low with respect to different brand personality dimensions. Nevertheless, we can identify several general issues related to informants’ perceptions

of brands that are salient (or not salient) to Aaker’s five dimensions of brand personality (see Table 6). Below, we will discuss our main findings, as well as the implications for both research and brand management that these findings imply. First, it seems that specific brand personality dimensions typically are associated with particular product categories. For example, we find food and beverages are associated with sincerity, whereas technical appliances are mostly associated with competence (or incompetence, when they fail to meet consumer expectations). In addition, some product categories are over-represented among brands that informants decidedly do not associate with a particular personality dimension. For example, many fast-food and cigarette brands are considered insincere because they are perceived as unhealthy. Thus, the question is whether the brand personality concept can be applied not only to brands, but also in a more ‘umbrella’ sense to product categories. In other words, does a product category itself trigger immediate associations of brand personality dimensions among consumers? The consumer behaviour literature affirms that specific products and product categories are strongly associated with particular personality features. For example, Levy (1986) argues that different beverage categories carry different meaning:

liqueurs imply discrimination, whereas wine represents snobbism, and beer sociability and democracy. Likewise, Batra and Homer (2004) find that potato chips rate higher on ‘fun’ than expensive cookies, which are instead associated with being ‘sophisticated’. Based on this reasoning, Batra et al. (2006) argue that product categories themselves possess a personality. Moreover, the authors attempt to separate category personality from brand personality for three product categories. Our finding that particular product categories are strongly associated with particular brand personality dimensions supports Batra et al.’s (2006) conclusion that not only brands, but also product categories, can possess a distinct personality. However, further investigation on the link between product category and personality is needed. Second, the brands our informants identify as strong on respective personality dimensions share commonalities beyond just a product category. Indeed, their characteristics

Table 5. Examples of brands having strong associations with ruggedness

Characteristics of rugged brands

Examples

Brands with masculine nature In all the advertisements there are some beautiful men that are so masculine. They have a line of products exclusively for men. (Susie, 23 about Gillette) The kind of advertisements they make and all of them are focused on the western men with masculine features, always a cowboy there. It’s kind of a macho culture. (Celine, 23 about Marlboro) It’s a motorcycle producer. It’s tough, masculine and outdoorsy. The culture of the company is very outdoorsy and masculine. (John, 23 about Harley Davidson) It’s for men, I think it’s more in Spain than here (Norway) because here there are a lot of girls who like football but in Spain it’s the opposite. For example, for me I like football a lot but it’s very strange that a girl likes football. I think this brand is more oriented for men. Their T-shirts are always for men. You can’t find a T-shirt for a woman. The perfume is also only for men. (Nelly, 20 about Real Madrid) When you see the advertisements on TV men always appear there. They are only oriented for men. In some ads I think they have David Beckham. He is masculine. (Claire, 21 about Gillette)

Copyright # 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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Table 6. Trends among brands having strong personality associations with Aaker’s five dimensions

Product category of most brands

General characteristics of brands

Relevant brand benefits

Sincerity

Beverages Food Cosmetics Supermarkets Technical appliances Help organizations

Brands providing positive service experience (e.g. personal selling, guarantees) Brands strongly associated with family, childhood memories, and family-related activities Brands of high quality that meet consumer expectations Brands known to have high moral values and idealistic purposes

Functional Experiential Symbolic

Excitement

Cars Beverages Clothes

Brands that help consumers to build or express their identity Brands with exciting aesthetics Brands that offer exciting experiences Brands used for special occasions or in stimulating social situations

Symbolic Experiential

Competence

Technical appliances Cars Credit cards

Brands used by exciting people Brands with exciting ads Brands with high quality associations Functional Brands owned by companies with good reputation (leading position on the market, long history, competent employees)

Sophistication

Clothes Cosmetics Cars (most from the high-end of the consumer market)

Brands that offer uniqueness (a high class, exclusive, aesthetic of elegant simplicity) Brands used by celebrities Brands with feminine nature and beauty associations

Symbolic

Ruggedness

Masculine cars Motorcycles Cigarettes Men’s cosmetics Men’s clothes

Brands with masculine nature Symbolic

and associations suggest certain trends. For instance, sincere brands share family-related associations and high morals, exciting brands offer consumers the opportunity to experi- ence exciting feelings and are related to special or exciting occasions, competent brands are mostly associated with expertise and quality, sophisticated brands are usually of feminine nature, whereas rugged brands are of masculine nature. Third, we find that brands which consumers perceive as lacking on a particular personality dimension also often share common attributes. For example, insincere brands are often involved in scandals, or are perceived as conduits for negative experiences. Likewise, informants typically deem as ‘everyday’ mass-produced brands as unexciting, while low-quality and copycat brands are typically found to be incompetent. Mass-produced brands, especially those in the low end of the market, and masculine brands are perceived as relatively unsophisticated. Conversely, brands of a feminine nature and family-related brands are seen as not rugged. Fourth, we also find that performance expectations are important in perceptions of two dimensions in particular:

sincerity and competence. In their descriptions of sincere brands, consumers refer to specific experiences in which the product works as well as, or better than, expected. The premise here seems to be that consumers partly attribute their own expectations to the promises made in advertising. Our interpretation is supported by previous research, which shows that consumers are aware that their conceptions of brands are partly formed by advertising (Boush et al ., 1994). Hence, when expectations are not met, consumers naturally

Copyright # 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

blame the producers for exaggerating brand benefits and consider them insincere. Fifth, company associations also carry over to perceptions of product brands (Wansink, 1989; Keller and Aaker, 1992; Brown and Dacin, 1997). When expectations are met or exceeded, the company (and thus the brand) is considered sober and honest. But for a brand to be considered competent, it is necessary to meet or exceed expectations repeatedly over time. A final important observation is that consumer percep- tions of the five brand personality dimensions are differentially related to brand benefits (see Table 6). Keller (1993) and Park et al . (1986) distinguish between three types of basic brand benefits. Functional benefits refer to the problem-solving capacity of a brand, such as a detergent’s capacity to remove stains. Experiential benefits are the sensory pleasures or cognitive stimulations associated with a brand (e.g. the taste of Snickers; the creative joy associated with Lego). Symbolic brand benefits are related to the stereotypic social signals associated with brand usage (e.g. Mercedes drivers are wealthy and sophisticated; Caterpillar users are rugged and tough). Such adjectives are, in fact, brand personality traits. Previous research has considered brand personality as an antecedent of symbolic brand benefits (Plummer, 1985; Aaker, 1997). However, we observe that consumers’ perceptions of brand personality dimensions are also related to functional and experiential benefits. Sincerity perceptions, in particular, are associated with all three types of benefits (see Table 1). Brands in diverse categories (food, cosmetics and technical appliances) are considered sincere if they

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perform according to expectations, regardless of the content of expectations (functional/experiential/symbolic). Compe- tence perceptions relate mainly to the functional benefits of brands (product quality) and the qualifications of employees. Hence, competence associations may not necessarily serve a social/symbolic function, but can support consumers in evaluating the functional benefits of products (‘is this a high quality product?’). Perceptions of excitement relate to both symbolic (e.g. clothes for special occasions) and experiential benefits (exciting experiences). The two last dimensions, ruggedness and sophistication, are more exclusively associ- ated with symbolic benefits. These general trends open up many interesting avenues for discussion. For example, should everyday, copycat or low-quality brands that are typically regarded as unexciting accept their perception as non-personality brands? Or should they attempt to alter these perceptions, or strategize their positioning around other attributes that are important to consumers, such as price? According to McCracken (1988a), brands can acquire cultural meaning (including personality) through the transference of brand images when they are displayed with other social and cultural symbols that already contain that cultural meaning. Supporting McCracken’s (1988a) thesis, our informants indicate that advertising is one of the mechanisms that can transfer meaning from the culturally constituted world to the consumer good. Thus, by using tailor-made advertising strategies, almost any brand can acquire desired personality associations. Indeed, a number brands that consumers use in their everyday lives do possess strong personalities. For instance, our study shows that some consumers regard Nutella, a brand of chocolate spread, as high in excitement. However, the amount of effort needed to build strong personality for these types of brands is substantially higher than for more exclusive kind of brands. Furthermore, our data indicate that, when informants discuss why some brands are more exciting than others, they often mention aesthetic features of brands and their emotions associated with those brands. Taking into account the growing focus on emotions (e.g. ‘brand love’ concept:

Ahuvia, 2005; Carrol and Ahuvia, 2006), expanding the terrain of brand personality research in this manner can result in a more valid, encompassing, and robust construct. The issue of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ brands could also be expanded within the study of brand personality. Consumers tend to describe brands with masculine and feminine personality traits (Grohmann, 2009). Despite the importance of the gendered dimensions of a brand, there is little research that explores this issue. Grohmann (2009) was the first to develop a two-dimensional scale measuring the gender dimension of brand personality. She argues that the masculine brand personality and feminine brand personality concepts are distinct from Aaker’s (1997) ruggedness and sophistication dimensions, and complement Aaker’s (1997) original five dimensions of brand personality. Although we agree with Grohmann’s idea that brand personality com- prises masculinity and femininity, our study shows that masculinity is interrelated with ruggedness and femininity – with sophistication. Then, the question is whether we can combine two new gender dimensions and those in Aaker’s

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(1997) original brand personality scale. In short, while revising the scale may be necessary to account for the gender dimension, additional research is necessary to explore this issue in more detail.

MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS

Understanding the issues associated with brands and the personality dimensions consumers associate with them not only helps practitioners isolate the origins of brand personality, but also provides insight into how to develop tailor-made strategies to strengthen (or downplay) particular dimensions. Specifically, this paper demonstrates that consumers may associate particular brand personality dimensions with specific product categories, as well as with specific brands. As such, brand managers may need to begin their initial strategic decisions regarding the crafting of personality characteristics for brands at a higher level of abstraction – e.g. the category versus the brand level. The product category personality-related considerations should also be taken into account while planning brand extension strategies. Moreover, common characteristics of brands with strong personalities can be used as guidelines for both product development and planning of marketing campaigns. For example, if it is crucial for a brand to be perceived as possessing a high degree of sincerity, a family-friendly version of a product can be developed, or a brand can strengthen its associations with high moral values by supporting social programs. On the other hand, if a brand manager wishes to highlight an excitement dimension, new marketing campaigns focusing on special occasions and exciting events can be introduced. The findings on relationships between personality perceptions and brand benefits have implications for brand positioning. The core of a brand’s positioning are the points- of-differentiation (PODs) and the points-of–parity (POPs; Keller, 2008) associated with the brand. PODs are unique and favourable associations, whereas POPs represent those associations that consumers view as being necessary for all brands in a particular category (Keller, 2008); in order to enter the consideration set, brands need to meet (but not exceed) certain expectations on these factors. The findings on perceptions of sincerity in this research suggest that this personality dimension may operate as a POP-factor, because sincerity perceptions develop partly from observations of expectation-congruent brand performances. The ability of a brand to meet expectations is, in turn, related to overall satisfaction with the brand, which is a qualifier for future consideration of the brand (Oliver, 1996). Our findings on perceptions of competence are relevant to managers of brands with a positioning focused at functional brand benefits (the problem-solving capacity of brands). The results indicate that competence perceptions are formed over time on the basis of repeated experiences or observations of high product quality. However, consumers also develop perceptions of competence based on inferences about the qualification of employees. Thus, brand managers may

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302 N. Maehle et al.

strengthen the positioning of functional brands by adding relevant associations about the competence of employees. In ‘credence’ product categories, where consumers lack the ability to evaluate product or service quality (e.g. dental or legal services; Emons, 1997), competence may play a major role in consumer judgments as a proxy for product quality. Likewise, consumers who lack first-hand experience with a brand may rely on the competence associations.

LIMITATIONS

We chose to use Aaker’s (1997) brand personality scale as the starting point for the current research. In her own recent work, Aaker examines the extent to which the structure of personality attributes associated with brands differs across cultural contexts and finds that some of the dimensions are culture-specific (Aaker et al ., 2001). Moreover, Caprara et al . (2001) points out that personality is a metaphor. They argue that a higher level of abstraction in the hierarchical organization of personality characteristics is necessary and suggest a two-trait solution (Caprara et al., 2001). Their two meta-factors are blends of the five dimensions; moreover, adjectives describing traits may shift from one factor to another depending on the type of the stimulus brand. In addition, Austin et al . (2003) questions the general- izability of Aaker’s scale. However, they admit that the scale proves to be useful for understanding psychological mechanism driving the symbolic use of brands in general and exploring antecedents and consequences of brand personality with the use of cross-category stimuli which is the case in our study (Austin et al., 2003). Therefore, we argue that it is appropriate to use Aaker’s (1997) scale for the purpose of this study. To our current knowledge, it is still the only most substantially developed scale for measuring brand personality. Moreover, most of the research papers on brand personality are based on this scale (e.g. Supphellen and Gronhaug, 2003; Venable et al ., 2003; Okazaki, 2006).

SUMMARY OF THEORETICAL CONTRIBUTIONS

In summary, the current study contributes to the literature in several ways. First, we lend additional support to the idea that the concept of brand personality may be applied not only to brands, but also to product categories. We support the work by Batra et al . (2006), by offering further evidence of which product categories are associated with different personality dimensions. Second, the current study identifies the patterns of brand characteristics that are exemplary of for the five brand personality dimensions that Aaker’s (1997) scale captures. Third, we establish a link between consumers’ performance expectations and perceptions of brand’s sincerity and competence. Fourth, our results show that company associations (e.g. company’s moral values, position on the market, history, employees) influence consumers’ perceptions of brand personality. Fifth, we present the evidence that consumers’ perceptions of brand personality dimensions are also related to functional and experiential benefits, where previously, brand personality has been conceptualized as an antecedent of only symbolic

Copyright # 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

brand benefits (Plummer, 1985; Aaker, 1997). Sixth, the current study suggests the directions for a revision of brand personality scale in order to account for the gender dimension and the aesthetics and emotions connected to a brand. Thus, our findings not only lend support to some existing trends in the latest brand personality research but also pose new questions and suggest directions for deeper investigation of the brand personality concept. We hope that it encourages further study of issues pertaining to brand personality characteristics, and to the fascinating construct of brand personality in general.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

Natalia Maehle is currently working as a researcher at Norwegian Institute of Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture Research (Nofima). Dr Maehle has a Master in International Business and PhD in Market- ing from Norwegian School of Economics and Business Admin- istration, Norway. Maehle’s research interests and expertise include brand management, advertising, consumer behaviour and inter- national marketing. She has been teaching courses in marketing, brand management and consumer behaviour. Dr Maehle is a member of Association for Consumer Research and European Marketing Academy. She is a regular presenter at international conferences and has a number of publications.

Cele C. Otnes is the Investors in Business Education Professor of Marketing and Professor of Advertising at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests include consumer behaviour and marketing strategy. She teaches courses in consumer behaviour and qualitative research methods. She serves on the editorial review board of the Journal of Consumer Research and the Journal of Advertising , and is currently serving as Treasurer of the Association of Consumer Research.

Magne Supphellen is a professor of marketing at Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration, where he teaches and does research in the areas of brand management, entrepreneurship and market research methods. He has published widely in inter- national journals and has served as a consultant to a number of Scandinavian and international companies on branding and market research issues.

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