Humanizing a Brand: Consumer Relationships Through an Anthropomorphic Lens

By Kristen Calabro
Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications
2014, Vol. 5 No. 2 | pg. 2/3 |

Methodology

This study sought to discover the relationship between brand personality traits, the use of spokescharacters and brand preference by conducting an online survey. Elon University students, 211 students between the ages of 18 and 22 years old, were selected as a convenience sample group, and the brand variables were selected from body wash and beer brands given the high frequency of use and purchase by the survey’s sample demographic. Old Spice and Dove Men+Care represented the body wash category, and Corona and Dos Equis represented the beer category.

These brands were coded for two major personality traits through extensive reviews of their major marketing campaigns and brand literature, such as mission statements, vision statements, and positioning. Once created, the survey was posted on the researcher’s personal Twitter and Facebook accounts, as well as shared in Elon University class group. The survey was also distributed via class email rosters to reach individuals more directly. Sixty-nine respondents submitted completed surveys (Appendix B) during the three days that the survey was open to collecting responses. Given the demographics of Elon University, it can be assumed that women were the slight majority of respondents.

Old Spice (Confident & Sexy)

According to a Forbes analysis of spokescharacters used in American advertising, the Old Spice Man (Isaiah Mustafa) appeals to 66% of consumers. The article describes him as an “impossible debonair heartthrob” and upon his commercial debut, sales increased notably (Bercovici, 2011). “The Man Your Man Can Smell Like” campaign implied that by using Old Spice, you would smell like the Old Spice Man, ergo an impossible debonair heartthrob. Thus, the traits assigned to Old Spice were confident and sexy.

Dove Men+Care (Caring & Protective)

The personality traits caring and protective were chosen for Dove Men+Care based on analysis of commercial copy and the parent brand Dove. In the television commercial spot, the following copy is used in a voiceover: “Warning: standard body wash can cause damage to man’s skin. Maintain it properly with Dove Men+Care body wash. It cleans man and protects skin from dryness” (Benim, 2009). Copy on the product’s website frequently refers to the care it provides your skin with.

Dos Equis (Mysterious & Interesting)

“The World’s Most Interesting Man” campaign has launched Dos Equis into being the fastest growing import beer brand in the United States. Jonathan Goldstein, the journeyman actor who plays the Most Interesting Man, has a well-developed mystique that intrigues viewers and leaves them wanting to learn more about him. The tidbits of life experiences he relates during his commercials are always unexpected and, as his name would suggest, interesting (Carr, 2010). The Forbes analysis revealed that Dos Equis’ spokescharacter has a 62% appeal rate and 46% found him intriguing. Mysterious and interesting were suited for Dos Equis’ personality traits (Benim, 2009).

Corona (Laid back & Fun)

The most popular imported beer in the county; Corona is a firmly established brand. Set to Pocket Submarine’s bohemian track “Drifting Days,” Corona’s latest TV spot, “Shoes,” features a slew of young, attractive adults kicking off their shoes as they enjoy a Corona and walk on to the beach (SpotTV, 2014). Corona has used the beach and its associated mentality of a fun place to go to relax and unwind, to market its product for the past several years. The messaging for Corona centers on the idea that “Corona transports you to a beach state of mind” (Corona, 2013). Given its close association to the beach mentality, fun and laid back were chosen as its associated personality traits.

Survey Format

The survey (Appendix A) begins by having respondents identify three traits they believed to be apart of an ideal personality. They had to choose from a list of the eight traits associated with the four brands being tested: laid back, protective, confident, mysterious, fun, interesting, caring and sexy. The inherent ambiguity of the question was intentional to replicate the ambiguity that exists in real-life points of contacts with brands, as marketers are not able to control how consumers receive, or interpret, their messaging.

Next, the survey asked respondents to view 30-second commercial spots for Old Spice and Dove Men+Care. The Old Spice commercial featured their spokescharacter, the Old Spice Man, and the Dove Men+Care was a computer-generated graphic with a voiceover reading the benefits of Dove Men+Care body wash over other brands’ products. Once they watch the commercials, respondents selected which brand they prefer. Since these products are for men, a note was included under the question asking female respondents to select the brand they would prefer men to use.

The next section asked respondents to watch a 30-second commercial for Corona and a 30-second commercial for Dos Equis. The Corona commercial was its previously described “Shoes” spot, and the Dos Equis commercial was one of the first Most Interesting Man spots that introduced the spokescharacter and set the tone for his character. Then respondents selected which of the two imported beers they preferred. The survey did not call attention to the use of spokescharacters in either the Old Spice commercial or the Dos Equis commercial in order to preserve the authenticity of the spokescharacter’s effect and to prevent biases from forming. The target sample received the survey through social media sharing and direct emails.

Results

The top three traits that respondents identified as being a part of an ideal personality were caring(24%), fun (23%), and confident (21%) interesting (16%), laid-back (10%), protective (3%), sexy (1%) and mysterious (1%). Corona’s traits cumulatively accounted for the majority of the responses at 33% (23% for fun and 10% for laid-back), followed by Dove Men+Care’s traits at 27% (24% for caring and 3% for protective). When sorted and compared by brand association, there is a five-percentage point gap between the body wash brands’ preferred traits (22% for Old Spice vs. 27% for Dove Men+Care), and a 16-percentage point gap between the beer brands’ preferred traits (33% for Corona vs. 17% for Dos Equis).

Brand Preferences

Brand preference results showed an unexpected split. For the body wash category, Old Spice (64%) was the clear majority over Dove (36%), while Dos Equis (51%) and Corona (49%) were neck and neck for the imported beer category. A Chi-Square test revealed the body wash category’s results are statistically significant. The respondents showed preference when choosing between Old Spice and Dove Men+Care, X2 (1, n=69) = 5.23, p < .05. A Chi-Square test of the beer brands resulted in X2 (1, n=69) = .014, p > .05, thus proving that there is no statistically significant difference in preference for these two brands.

Discussion

Initial analysis of the trait preference results would suggest that Dove Men+Care body wash (the preference rate of 27%) would be preferred over Old Spice (22%); and Corona (33%) over Dos Equis (17%). However, the opposite proved to be true in the survey. Old Spice garnered significant preference over Dove. The same phenomenon was seen between their preference for Corona or Dos Equis. This reinforces the findings of the literature review that anthropomorphizing brands into spokescharacters is effective at creating positive brand attitudes. Even though respondents chose one kind of traits as ideal, the presence of a spokescharacter allowed the consumers to more easily identify with the brand with different kinds of traits. The ease of identification of the brand’s personality through the spokescharacter let Old Spice significantly overcome the five-percentage point lead Dove Men+Care’s personality traits had. Dos Equis was 16-percentage points behind Corona in preferred traits, yet The Most Interesting Man was able to make up for what the brand personality lacked.

Marketing expert Susan Fournier analyzed consumer-brand relationships through her study “Consumers and Their Brands: Developing Relationship Theory in Consumer Research.” While her research supported the effectiveness of complete brand anthropomorphism through spokescharacters, she suggested brands “need not engage in such blatant strategies” for a relationship to develop (1998). However, personifying your brand by associating it with ideal traits like caring and fun, were not powerful enough to beat out the competition. As long as a comparable brand has at least one trait that consumers associate with their ideal self-concept, the use of a spokescharacter is powerful enough to overshadow non-anthropomorphized brands’ ideal traits, including those that consumers have a stronger connection to.

The Man Your Man Could Smell Like. When the marketing team at Old Spice saw that their category was filling up with competitors and their product was losing ground to them, they realized the need for a new advertising campaign. Based on the insight that women make more than half of all body wash purchases, “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign is meant to spark conversation between men and women about body wash. Old Spice wanted to tell consumers that by purchasing its manly-scented body wash, a man could become the perfect man (Grant, 2010). Dove Men+Care also wanted to play on the idea of what being a man means: “Dove is a brand that understands real men and provides real care through the products in the region” (“Dove men+care,” n.d.).

Though Dove Men+Care identified the right traits, caring and protective, the messaging strategy failed to communicate how they are a part of its brand image. Dove Men+Care lacks a clear attitude that consumers would be able to incorporate into their self-concept or social identity. Old Spice chose slightly weaker traits than Dove Men+Care, yet “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign created the perfect opportunity for brand identification to occur by demonstrating its beliefs and values in an easily relatable way.

How Dos Equis Closed the Gap. Corona is the number-one imported beer in the country (Cramer Krasselt, 2012). Its brand personality traits are significantly preferred over Dos Equis’ traits. Yet, Dos Equis closed the gap in brand preference. Like Dove Men+Care, Corona failed to communicate its idea of “find your beach” so that its brand personality traits could be easily transferred onto a consumer’s self-concept or social identity. It is a call to action focused on finding a state of mind, which is not the same as a call to action to adopt a behavior. The Most Interesting Man represents a philosophy. He embodies living life to its fullest in the classiest way possible: “Stay thirsty, my friends” (Arnold, 2012). The rules he sets forth give consumers clear behavior parameters, giving Dos Equis the power of a lifestyle.

Earning Brand Love and Loyalty. When compared to the criteria for brand love set forth by Ahuvia, Batra, and Bagozzi, the shortcomings of Corona and Dove Men+Care’s marketing communication become obvious. All of the brands are of comparable, superior quality and they all hold values with which consumers can identify. The four brands each have intrinsic and extrinsic rewards; however, Old Spice and Dos Equis communicate the intrinsic rewards more effectively by demonstrating, firsthand, how the product can positively affect the consumer’s life. Where Old Spice and Dos Equis shine the brightest is their expression of “existing identities and [enactment of] desired identities.”

Old Spice does this by calling attention to the man’s current self-concept and showing him, and his lady friend, what his ideal self could be (in the form of Isaiah Mustafa’s character). Dos Equis gives consumers an aspirational character to identify with. The Most Interesting Man is not a young, hotshot athlete or celebrity, like most beer commercials use. He is someone with real experience who has gained his wisdom through a full life. By making him older than Dos Equis’ target demographic, it is easier to create a desired identity that the consumers feel like they can aspire to be.

The success of the four brands is a statement to the fifth component of brand love – positive feelings. Passion for the brands exists across the board but is stronger for Old Spice and Dos Equis as their brands’ personification techniques enhance the feeling of natural fit. The emotional bond needed for brand love, again, is present more in Dos Equis and Old Spice. Spokescharacters give the consumer a direct line to form a relationship. They do not have to take the extra step of unpacking an abstract brand to pull out the shared attitudes and personality traits. This study did not measure the willingness to purchase but was based on the brand preference. Although the study did not look at frequency of use and thought for the products, it can be inferred that the sample group has had experience with both as common household items (Ahuvia, Batra & Bagozzi, 2012).

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