Brand Personality Perceptionbregional Or Country Specific?

ABSTRACT - Brand personality is a key determinant of brand equity. Consumers seek brands with congruent personalities and use brands’ personality to define their sense of self. However, far from being universal, previous researches found that European (Spanish) brand personality dimensions differ from those in America and Asia (Japan). Are these typical of the region or do they reflect national variations? This study examines brand personality dimensions among Chinese consumers with consumers responding to 10 different commercial brands. This shows perceptions of brand personality are country specific, due to the differences found between Japanese’ and Chinese’. Implications of these findings are discussed.


Priscilla Y.L. Chan, John Saunders, Gail Taylor, and Anne Souchon (2003) ,"Brand Personality Perceptionbregional Or Country Specific?", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, eds. Darach Turley and Stephen Brown, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 300-307.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 2003      Pages 300-307


Priscilla Y.L. Chan, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, China

John Saunders, Aston Business School, UK

Gail Taylor, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, China

Anne Souchon, Aston Business School, UK


Brand personality is a key determinant of brand equity. Consumers seek brands with congruent personalities and use brands’ personality to define their sense of self. However, far from being universal, previous researches found that European (Spanish) brand personality dimensions differ from those in America and Asia (Japan). Are these typical of the region or do they reflect national variations? This study examines brand personality dimensions among Chinese consumers with consumers responding to 10 different commercial brands. This shows perceptions of brand personality are country specific, due to the differences found between Japanese’ and Chinese’. Implications of these findings are discussed.


"A successful brand is a name, symbol, design, or some combination, which identifies the 'product’ of a particular organization as having a sustainable differential advantage"(Doyle 1989); however, it will depreciate if management fails to re-invest correctly in enhancing quality, service and brand image. In addition, "people buy things not for what they can do, but also for what they mean" (Levy 1959). An emotional tie is important in consumer’s choice of brand, as well as in brand positioning (Hooley and Saunders 1993), and consumers use brand to construct their own self-identity (Elliott and Wattanasuwan 1998; Fournier 1998).

Brand personality has been applied by practitioners to build and maintain brands (Plummer 1985) using brand personality portfolios and has been investigated by academics (e.g., Gardner and Levy 1955). It can help to differentiate brands (Crask and Laskey 1990; Doyle 1989; Meenaghan 1995), and identify meanings to consumers (Belk 1988; Malhotra 1981; Sirgy 1982). It is a key determinant of brand equity (Aaker 1991; Biel 1993), and helps developing advertisements (Lannon and Cooper 1983). Brand personality is determined by factors, such as attributes, benefits, price, and user imagery (Aaker and Fournier 1995), that are unlike human personality.

Marketing policies normally have to be tailored to idiosyncrasies of customers in different countries (Doyle, Saunders, and Wong 1994) and understanding cultural differences is considered as a prerequisite for successful international advertising (Keegan 1989). Consumers respond to advertising messages that are congruent with their culture (Buzzell 1968; Harris 1984; Hornik 1980; Zhang and Gelb 1996), and they seek brands with personalities that are congruent with either their own or their sought-after ones (Sirgy 1982).

It is the aim of this study to determine if brand personality perception is more country specific, as opposed to one country of the region representing brand personality perceptions for the whole region. Furthermore, the applicability of brand personality scales, developed in America, Japan and Spain, in China is investigated for developing effective brand communication.

Background information concerning previous studies on brand personality dimensions and scales in America, Japan and Spain, as well as cultural characteristics of China and Japan are discussed. A methodology of generating personality traits, refining the instrument for conceptual equivalence, selecting stimuli, collecting data, analyzing data and implications are also discussed.


Aaker (1997) defines brand personality as "the set of human characteristics associated with a brand" and systematically developed and validated American Brand Personality Dimensions based on personality traits from psychology literature e.g.,(John 1990; Piedmont, McCrae, and Costa 1991); marketing literature (Batra, Lehmann, and Singh 1993; Levy 1959; Malhotra 1981; Plummer 1985); marketing practitioners; and original qualitative research using free association with a group of 16 subjects. The resulted list of 309 candidate traits after eliminating redundancy was evaluated by another group of 25 subjects on the descriptivability of these traits on brands. Only traits with a score of 6 (very descriptive) were selected as traits for the study. Factor analysis, based on the ratings of 114 personality traits on 40 brands in various product categories by 631 American subjects, resulted in a highly stable five factors structure. After a series of factor analysis, cluster analysis, test-retest reliability, and confirmatory factor analysis on various groups of subjects, the American Brand Personality Framework with five dimensions, and fifteen facets and 42 traits scale was developed (Table 1).

Meaning embedded in consumption symbols, such as commercial brands, can represent and institutionalize the values and beliefs of a culture (McCracken 1986; Richins 1994). Using a combined emic-etic approach and the American Brand Personality Framework and scales, Aaker et al (2001) explored this phenomenon in an East Asian culture (Japan) and a Latin culture (Spain). In the Japanese Brand Personality Framework (Table 2), there are five dimensions and 36 traits. The dimension Ruggedness is replaced by Peacefulness suggesting that these constructs captured culture-specific meaning.

In the Spanish Brand Personality Framework (Table 3), there are also five dimensions and 33 traits. Only the dimensions of Excitement, Sincerity, and Sophistication are similar to those for America. Dimension Passion appears to be culturally specific.

China has the greatest number of consumers in the world, over 1.27 billion as at Oct 2002 and the economy is booming. China is also different to all other large markets by having cultures of political, economic and social isolation until very recently. Chinese and Japanese are Asian and they share many common characteristics such as emphasizing harmony & relationship and have Confucian & Buddhist traditions. However, there are also marked differences between them. Japanese people tend to be more cooperative than the Chinese and less narcissistic than the Americans (DeVos 1985). Japanese are more holistic, have 'life-long’ employment and strong desire of belonging to some context to live and work together with its members and be protected by it, and are contextualist (Kumon 1982). They retain a personal identity, but this personal identity is virtually inseparable from the contextual identity. Thus individual changes, depending on the context s/he is in or the people s/he is with. (c.f. Hendry 1998) and they take group actions for the sake of the company or nation as a whole. The Chinese, on the other hand, tend to be comparatively more individualistic when compared with the Japanese, though less individualistic when compared to the Americans, and with close family kinship linkages. Chinese people are generally face (self)-loving, egocentric and authority-directed (Lew 1998), have a strong need for achievement (Atkinson 1977), and the achievement motivation generally aims at self-interest or interest of the family (Lew 1998).

The difference between the American, Spanish, and Japanese scales when compared with the other difference between Japanese and Chinese culture suggest that none of the previously devised scales will capture Chinese brand personality.








With the limitation of time and resources, a modified imposed-ethnic approach is taken following established procedures from the measure development literature (Churchill 1979; DeVellis 1991; Spector 1992).

Generation of brand personality traits

When developing their pool of items intended to capture brand personality traits, Aaker (1997) and Aaker et al (2001) used the three theoretically based item generation criteria set out by Osgood, Suci and Tannenbaum (1957). These criteria are: factorial composition of the items (to ensure the items are based on a theoretical framework), frequency of usage of the items (to ensure that the items are familiar and meaningful to individuals) and relevance of items to the construct of interest (to ensure external validity of the scale), into consideration. As a result, by grouping 42 American brand personality traits, 36 Japanese brand personality traits, and 33 Spanish brand personality traits, a pool of 85 brand personality traits was generated after eliminating redundancy. For the purpose of the current study, particular attention needed to be paid to the second and the third item generation criterion, namely frequency of usage of items and relevance of items, given the distinct national context in which the study was constructed. The following section explains how this was done.

Instrument refinement (content validity)

The same word may have different meanings in different cultures (Waldie 1981). An expert judgment team was formed to assess the content validity of these traits (DeVellis 1991; Lichtenstein, Netemeyer, and Burton 1990; Shimp and Sharma 1987). This expert judgment team consisted of one American that lived in Hong Kong for over 10 years, two American Hong Kong Chinese, two Japanese that lived in Hong Kong for over 10 years, one Hong Kong person that lived in Japan for over 8 years, and two Hong Kong people that speak Spanish and had lived in Spain. Craig and Douglas (2000) pointed out the importance of conceptual equivalence in cross-cultural research. It is important to understand if the same concept is available and expressed the same way across different countries or cultures. As a result, these experts were selected as they were familiar either with American, Japanese or Spanish culture and Hong Kong Chinese culture and were asked to comment on the applicability of these traits in the Hong Kong Chinese environment for conceptual equivalence. The 'corporate’ trait was suggested to be reworded as 'businessBlike’ and the 'western’ trait can imply cowboy or a comparison between New Yorkers and Californians. Deletion was the recommendation to avoid confusion. Traits that were commented to be more appropriate to persons rather than brands by more than three experts, such as 'naive’, 'talkative’ and 'shy’, were also deleted. This exercise resulted in a total of 68 brand personality traits.

Stimuli selection

Brands have to be well known to the targeted population, and they should pertain to a variety of product categories, both symbolic and utilitarian (Aaker 1997). Given these criteria, the expert judgment team plus a volunteer team of 5 students were asked to suggest appropriate brands. A list of 20 brands was formed.

Data collection

Hong Kong Chinese university students were selected as participants. English is the official language in university so questionnaires were in English to avoid potential language inequivalence (c.f.Van de Vijver and Hambleton 1996). Chinese words were given to participants along with English attributes to minimize potential problems arises from cultural differences (as per Aaker et al 2001).

Participants were asked to evaluate ten familiar brands from a list of twenty brands rating the extent to which the 68 attributes describe a specific brand. A six-point Likert scale (1=not at all descriptive to 6=extremely descriptive) was used instead of five-point as per Aaker (1997) and Aaker et al 2001 because of Chinese cultural characteristics of Mean 'without inclination to either side’ (Yau 1994). Respondents were asked to repeat the task for the ten brands they selected. Two hundred and fifty questionnaires were distributed and 181 returned, and 36 were unusable due to spotted patterns in the answers (i.e., 145 respondents). After cases with a significant amount of missing data had been deleted, 1237 valid cases remained (note that cases represent respondents’ evaluation of each brand in turn. One respondent may have evaluated, say eight brands, resulting in eight valid cases).

Split sample and cross-validity

DeVellis (1991) recommends the splitting of the sample into two sub-samples to reduce the likelihood of obtaining spurious or chance results: one sample for measure development and the other for cross-validation. SPSS automatically selected a random sample of cases, 606 for development.


The objectives of this study are to identify the brand personality dimensions as perceived by Chinese consumers’, and to develop associated measures of these dimensions. The expert judgment team, combined with the literature review, and in particular Aaker’s (1997) and Aaker et al’s (2001) studies, uncovered 68 potential brand personality traits. In order to assess how these traits might collapse into brand personality dimensions, an exploratory factor analysis procedure was developed. More specifically, a principal component analysis was undertaken and a VARIMAX rotation was used to extract brand personality factors from the 68 traits identified. [This analysis was undertaken on both sub-samples. The results were consistent across samples.] A four-factor solution was obtained. The adequacy of this solution is supported by the following criteria: (a) the shape of the scree plot, and (b) the amount of variance explained by the first four components (43.59%) after purification. Nunnally (1978) indicated traits that load below 0.4 do not add to measure purification. Variables that did not load significantly on any factor, or with several high loadings, (i.e., cross-loading) were deleted (Hair, Anderson, Tatham, and Black 1998). The four-factor solution obtained with the both sub-samples after deletion of low-loading and cross-loading traits is reported in Table 4. Labels for all the dimensions were selected based on the attributes emphasized within each of the personality attributes.

Table 5 provides the reliabilities and associated statistics for each of the dimension of the two sub-samples. As can be seen, Cronbach’s alphas for these two sub-samples in all the dimensions are similar in magnitude and exceed the minimum level of .70 recommended by Nunnally (1978) except one, thus providing evidence of reliability and stability.

Tables 1 & 4 reveal that the four dimensions in the Chinese Brand Personality Framework (competence, excitement, sincerity & fascination) are similar to the first four of the American Framework (sincerity, excitement, competence & sophistication), although the traits are not identical. Dimension 1 represents Competence with traits like 'reliable’, 'secure’, 'hard working’, 'intelligent’, 'successful’, 'confident’, 'leader’ that are also markers in the Competence dimension of the American scale. The second dimension represents Excitement, with traits like 'exciting’, 'trendy’, 'daring’, 'up-to-date’ that are also markers in the Excitement dimension in the American scale. The third dimension represents Sincerity with the traits 'sincere’, 'cheerful’, 'family-oriented’. These also appeared in the Sincerity dimension of the American scale. Dimension four is similar to the American Sophistication dimension though it is named Fascination. Both of them have the traits 'glamorous’ and 'feminine’.

One dimension which appeared in the original Aaker (1997) study but is absent from the Chinese Brand Personality Framework is Ruggedness: 'rugged’, 'tough’, 'western’. This absence could be because of the social norm of 'non-aggression’ (Lew 1998). Also, Chinese are influenced by the doctrine of Way (Tao), the doctrine of Mean and emphasized politeness and harmony (Yau 1988; Yau 1994). The doctrine of Mean urges individuals to avoid competition and conflict to maintain inner harmony (Hsu 1947) and adopt a non-assertive approach to conflict resolution (Kirkbride 1991). Chinese believe that man should learn how to adapt to nature in order to reach harmony instead of trying to overcome and master it (Chan 1963). Chinese also conform to Li, meaning propriety, emphasizing politeness, gentleness and obeying rules (Jarvie and Agassi 1969). 'Tough’ and 'rugged’, having rather undesirable lexical meaning in Chinese, are opposite to desirable attributes for noble persons such as 'gentle’, 'polite’, 'elegant’ in China; therefore are not as likely to be endorsed and associations are often discouraged.

The Spanish, with Latin traditions, are perceived to be quite different from the Chinese, so dimensions and traits varying between these countries are of no surprise. The Passion dimension in the Spanish brand personality scales clearly revealed their outwardly communicated emotion, such as that displayed in the Flamenco. This dimension is missing in the resultant Chinese Brand Personality Framework because Chinese believe in modesty, self-effacement and are cautious (Bond 1991). Self-restraint is highly valued and self-protection taught by parents in very early childhood (Bond 1996).

Although both Japanese and Chinese have Confucius and Buddhist influences, there are differences in the dimensions when comparing Tables 2 and 4. Traits in the Excitement and Competence dimensions of the Japanese Brand Personality Framework are quite different from those of the Chinese. In the Japanese Competence dimension, there are traits like 'patient’, 'tenacious’ and 'masculine’. The trait 'masculine’, which appeared in the Competence dimension, seems to be in line with men responsible for working outside in the Japanese tradition. 'Patient’ and 'tenacious’ traits are cultural values and are consistent with the Japanese notion of "gambari" meaning perseverance, inner strength and ability to endure hardship (c.f. Aaker 2000). In the Chinese Competence dimension, 'hardworking’, 'intelligent’, 'successful’, 'independent’, and 'leader’ traits are in line with Chinese cultural value systems of high social status, surpassing others in achievement, gaining respect from others, and having authority and power reference (Bond 1996). A trait like 'well-mannered’ is in line with the Chinese cultural tradition of modesty, and politeness. The Japanese Peacefulness dimension is not available in the Chinese framework though the trait 'peaceful’ appeared in the Chinese Sincerity dimension. Traits like 'talkative’, 'shy, 'dependent’ and 'nanve’ seem to be culturally specific to Japan. The trait 'dependent’ is actually in line with the Japanese strong sense of belongingness, sO-centrism and 'great mother’ principle (c.f. Kumon 1982).


From this analysis, the differences in results of Japanese’ and Chinese’ brand personality frameworks confirmed that brand personality perception is country specific. Implications, limitations and future research are discussed as follows.






Marketing implications for certain brands which focus on ruggedness, such as Marlboro, are also of interest to explore. Shall advertising campaign remain consistent over time and across modes when advertised in foreign countries? Such an advertising campaign would aim at increasing associations (e.g., ruggedness in Japan), rather than shifting the meaning of the brand (e.g., imbuing Marlboro with less rugged but more exciting associations in Japan) or increase diagnosticity of the associations (e.g., attempting to make ruggedness more important in Japan) (c.f. Aaker 2000). The trait 'masculine’ is in the Japanese Competence dimension, so advertising campaign can emphasize masculine aspects, such as, confident, responsible, energetic and determined. For the Chinese, the American western cowboy does not necessarily need to be rugged and tough. He can be a well-mannered, intelligent and reliable cowboy leader. The advertising campaign can emphasize intelligent, leader, reliable, successful, confident, outdoorsy, free, trendy, imaginative and well-mannered characteristics. Marlboro Classics, the brand with the American Western cowboy image and more broadly American lifestyle (Chan 2002) also has urban and fancy lines with emphasis on good quality in construction and material. Advertising messages for the Marlboro Man for Philip Morris suggest that he is more than just a cowboy selling cigarettes (Camargo 1987). t is an Aristotelian aesthetic abstraction of the Twentieth Century David symbolizing individualism, independence, efficacy, reason and capitalism (Vacker 1992), neither 'rugged’ nor 'tough’.

Limitations & future research

From this analysis, the results confirmed brand personality perception is country specific. The failure of the Ruggedness dimension to appear in China suggests a need to explore more cases to find at what level the dimensions across counties can be aggregated. It is of interest to find out if a series of standard political and cultural measures, such as economic isolation, religion, and so on, can be of use to predict the different traits.

The present study used an imposed-ethic approach, as this has the advantage of easy comparison with previous studies. However, indigenous Chinese brand personality traits are therefore not explored. In addition, the study has only been conducted in the Hong Kong Chinese environment. It is of interest to explore other Chinese environmental situations such as in Shanghai Mainland Chinese, Beijing Mainland Chinese, Guangzhou Mainland Chinese, Taiwan Chinese, and Singaporean Chinese on brand personality perceptions. Hofstede’s culture clusters have grouped places under clusters of Latin, Germania, Anglo, Nordic, etc (Dawar and Parker 1994; Hofstede 2001). It is also of interest to explore similarities and differences in brand personality perceptions such as in Italy, France, Portugal and Spain of the Latin cluster, or Germany, Switzerland, and Austria of the Germanic cluster, or Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, U.K. and USA of the Anglo cluster and Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Netherland, Norway, Sweden of the Nordic cluster.


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Priscilla Y.L. Chan, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, China
John Saunders, Aston Business School, UK
Gail Taylor, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, China
Anne Souchon, Aston Business School, UK,


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6 | 2003

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