December 01, 2011
Brand Effects Depend On Partner Or Servant Relationship

We grow up exposed to huge doses of advertising and the brands continue to pelt us with images and ideas our entire lives. Good to be aware of how they impact us. Some of the impacts go well beyond how they lure us into buying them. First off, exposure to the Apple brand causes people to behave more creatively while exposure to the Disney brand causes people to behave more honestly. What brands make people work harder or study harder?

Aggarwal, along with Ann L. McGill of the University of Chicago, looked at an effect called behavioral priming. Previous research has shown that you can affect people's behavior by reminding them about a social group. For instance, if you talk to people about the elderly, those who feel positively about the elderly will unconsciously mimic them by walking more slowly; people with negative feelings about the elderly will walk more quickly. Without realizing it people are trying to either show social affinity to the elderly or reject them.

Other research has shown that the same behavior happens with brands, even when they don't have a human-like mascot like the Doughboy. In one previous experiment, participants exposed to the Apple brand behaved more creatively, and those exposed to the Disney brand behaved more honestly than others. The brands were exerting a "quasi-social" influence.

I'm thinking that Disney movies projected up on the screen should be mandatory in the offices of used car dealers and in legislatures among other places.

Whether you think of a brand as a partner or a servant affects how you behave when reminded of that brand. So, for example, having a safe partner makes people more risk averse. But having a safe servant produces the opposite effect. Anyone want to explain that?

But Aggarwal and McGill found that it's not as simple as merely liking or disliking a brand. In a series of experiments they confirmed the social priming effect, but also showed that the social role that the brand represented also had an effect on behavior. Specifically, they looked at the difference between a brand that was perceived as a "partner," and one that was perceived as a "servant."

For instance, in one part of the experiment the researchers used questions about the Volvo automobile, which is perceived as extremely safe. They manipulated whether participants saw the Volvo as a partner ("Volvo. Works With You. Helping You Take Care of What's Important.") or a servant ("Volvo. Works For You Taking Care of What's Important.") Participants were asked to think of the brand as a person, and then were asked questions about what risks they would take in a gambling situation, and finally how likeable they found the Volvo brand.

People who dislike Volvo and people who see Volvo as a servant both become more willing to take risks.

People who saw the brand as a partner and liked it said they would take fewer risks; people who saw it as a partner and disliked it said they would take more risks. The opposite was true when the Volvo was seen as a servant: those who liked it said they would take more risks, and those who disliked it said they would take fewer risks.

Humans aren't anywhere near as rational as they imagine themselves to be.

So what brand changes the way you feel about life? Feel more confident from putting on a brand of watch? Does your iPad make you feel like you are a creative genius at the top of your game? Or does your Toro mower make you feel powerful? How about your brand of scotch or brand of hat?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 December 01 09:09 PM  Brain Conditioning

Russ said at December 2, 2011 6:40 AM:

Actually, while I'm not sure that rationality isn't overrated, in this case the results make perfect sense. "Partner" = I'm responsible for this guy. "Servant" = Has my back. I can take more risks if I know that there's somebody who's got my six.

While there are *many* aspects to our behavior that seem completely atavistic, this doesn't seem one of them.

Kudzu Bob said at December 2, 2011 7:07 PM:

I'm thinking that Disney movies projected up on the screen should be mandatory in the offices of used car dealers and in legislatures among other places.

I don't know whether this is on-topic, nor do I much care; but in the 1970s, Disney's biggest star was Kurt Russell, who went on to re-invent himself thanks in large measure to his role as Rudolph "Rudy" Russo, a car salesman-on-a-mission in the hilarious 1980 movie Used Cars.

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