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When Identity Marketing Backfires: Consumer Agency in Identity Expression

Amit Bhattacharjee, Jonah Berger and Geeta Menon

Journal of Consumer Research, 2014, vol. 41, issue 2, 294 - 309

Abstract: Consumers prefer brands positioned around identities they possess. Accordingly, the consumer identity literature emphasizes the importance of a clear fit between brands and target identities, suggesting that identity marketing that explicitly links brands to consumer identity should be most effective. In contrast, five studies demonstrate that explicit identity-marketing messages can backfire. Messages that explicitly connect a particular brand to consumer identity increase the salience of external determinants of behavior, reducing consumers' perceptions of agency in identity expression. Hence, compared to messages that merely reference consumer identity, messages that explicitly define identity expression reduce purchase likelihood, despite more clearly conveying identity relevance. These findings highlight the need to consider consumers' need for agency in addition to their drive for self-definition and expression through consumption, offering a foundation to examine both the risks and the rewards of identity marketing.

Date: 2014
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