When does identity marketing go too far?
According to a new university study, identity marketing may reach consumers drawn to brands that fit their personality, but the approach can also be a turn off when a person’s sense of ownership and freedom is threatened.
The study, from professors at Dartmouth College, Wharton School and NYU, will appear in the August issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.
The researchers define identity marketing as marketing positioned around identities individuals possess. According to their statement, "When a picky mom selects Jif peanut butter and sports fans who identify themselves as sports fans subscribe to Direct TV, identity marketing is working hard in the background."
In the study, participants were asked to answer questions about the importance of a given identity in their overall life. They then saw an advertisement for a brand that appealed to that specific identity, according to a press release. The headline in the advertisement either referenced the identity or explicitly linked it to a brand. Their likelihood to purchase a product was then assessed.
The result: explicit identity marketing messages backfired with consumers who cared about the specific identity and resulted in a lower likelihood to purchase the product.
"Contrary to the traditional thinking about identity marketing, our research shows that people who care deeply about an identity are not receptive to messages that explicitly communicate how a brand fits with their lifestyle," the authors said.
In a popular study from last decade, Wharton researchers wrote that identity marketing can "transform a firm’s brands or offerings from a mere collection of products into a deeper constellation of self-embodied lifestyle symbols."
At the same time, their research found that consumers’ identities were complex, changing across an individual’s lifetime and differing depending on the situation. For instance, people often view themselves differently when they’re at work, home or enjoying their favorite outside activity.
As such, lifestyle-oriented marketing approaches built around consumers’ personality traits often are "too simplistic because consumers have many selves — some of which might appear to contradict each other — that cannot be easily compressed into such neat categories."
- When identity marketing backfires: Consumers don’t like to be told what they like – University of Chicago Press Journals
- When Identity Marketing Backfires: Consumer Agency in Identity Expression – Journal of Consumer Research, Inc.
What are the pros and cons of identity marketing? What caution should marketers use when using this type of approach?