If you’re active on social media, chances are you’ve seen companies, especially ones with large followings, with distinct brand presences online. Maybe you’ve stumbled across the Twitter altercations between Wendy’s® and Burger King®, and it’s made you want to purchase from one of the brands since their wit and humor align with your own. Believe it or not, but this is because you see yourself in these restaurants. You find Wendy’s® and Burger King® to be relatable.
Personally, I had never craved Wendy’s® until I consistently started to notice how they used their Twitter platform to roast their competitors. Did their comebacks make their food any more delicious or their service any better? No. Instead, I wanted to purchase from Wendy’s® because I admired their marketing and admittedly thought their branding was brilliant, and I really liked the brand image that the food chain had built online. Wendy’s® definitely has successful branding, because their online activity made me go from nearly forgetting the restaurant exists, to waiting in a line of cars to receive my four-for-four at their drive-through window.
The desire to purchase from brands whose values align with our own is not new. This could be understood as a result of consumers’ perception that our own self-image overlaps with that of the brand (Graham & Wilder, 2020). If you see yourself in the brand, you’re more likely to want to purchase from the brand.
The Customer’s Self-Image and Brand’s Messaging
Since self-image plays a role in purchasing decisions, and as brands continue to increase their investment in online advertising channels and their presence in the online marketplace, it is imperative that they understand how to mitigate and defend against the impact of negative online messages in all its forms (Graham & Wilder, 2020). If there’s an increase in activity and messaging on social media and advertising platforms, then brands have to be diligent and careful in the messaging that they spread and ensure that none of their content can be misinterpreted from how they intended it to be spread. For example, in 2017, Pepsi released a controversial ad campaign featuring Kendell Jenner that immediately sparked backlash for trivializing the Black Lives Matter movement. The advertisement showed a police officer accepting a can of Pepsi from Kendell Jenner, a white woman, in the middle of a protest. After the ad was posted, commentators on social media accused Pepsi of “appropriating imagery from serious protests to sell its product, while minimizing the danger protesters encounter and the frustration they feel” (Victor, 2017). The company made a statement saying, “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace, and understanding” (Victor, 2017).
Besides having to be prepared for negative reactions to negative messaging, you also have to be aware of backlash you might receive from opinionated advertisements where you take a stance. Increasingly, consumers have expectations of brands and their leaders to take clear stands on social and political issues in large part because consumers prefer purchasing from brands whose values align with their own (Graham & Wilder, 2020). Although some consumers might feel more connected to your brand for taking a public stance and therefore might have more loyalty, there’s still the unavoidable group of consumers who will oppose your stance and in turn, will no longer invest in your brand.
Consumer-Brand Identification and Brand Attitude
Consumer-brand identification (CBI) is defined as the “extent to which the consumer sees his or her own self-image as overlapping with the brand’s image” (Graham & Wilder, 2020, p. 112). Based on CBI, consumers “who perceive a low level of personality incongruity with a brand are more likely to tolerate a lower level of perceived quality and still identify with the brand” (Graham & Wilder, 2020, p. 115). This process of resisting negative brand information by choosing to cognitively disengage allows consumers with high CBI to maintain their positive attitudes toward the brand (Graham & Wilder, 2020, p. 115). Effects of advertising are cumulative; thus, the impact of negative brand messaging may have a greater effect on consumers that highly identify with specific brands over time. This may explain why loyal Pepsi customers quickly reprimanded the brand after the controversial ad campaign.
Relevance to IMC
This research is relevant to the practice of IMC because it focuses on establishing brand identity and how to represent your brand to keep consumers engaged. Consumer-brand identity is influenced by advertising messages, and consumers need to feel like they can identify with the brand to remain loyal to the brand. Some brands are able to recover after unsuccessful ads or messaging, but not all of them are so lucky. Messaging is important and it’s critical that a lot of thought is put into the execution of advertising. Customers with high consumer-brand identity will feel a sense of belonging to a brand, which is crucial to the success of any brand.
Graham, K. W., & Wilder, K. M. (2020). Consumer-brand identity and online advertising message elaboration. Journal of Research in Interactive Marketing, 14(1), 111–132. https://doi.org/10.1108/jrim-01-2019-0011
Victor, D. (2017, April 5). Pepsi Pulls Ad Accused of Trivializing Black Lives Matter. The New York Times. Retrieved September 13, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/05/business/kendall-jenner-pepsi-ad.html.
Well written post. And the risks are clear. You rightly point out that some choices have risks. Humor has risks, linkages have risks. One of the larger challenges in all of this is that traditional/historic divisions between the private and public spheres, the commercial and the civic spheres is not as distinct as it once was. We talk about brands much like we would a personality. We see corporate influence manifest in good and bad ways in the public and civic/political spheres. So, IMC specialists can stand on the shoulders of Cicero who noted that rhetoricians must be well versed in many forms of discourse if they are to do their job well. Rock on.