Personality As Metaphor: Extension of the Psycholexical Hypothesis and the Five Factor Model to Brand and Product Personality Description

ABSTRACT - Extension of the psycholexical hypothesis for describing human personality to brands, products and services is examined. Personality can serve as a Ametaphor@ to describe stable characteristics identifying brands and products. However, the usual meaning of personality terms (attributes) should be contextually ascertained when applied to marketing stimuli. Empirical findings show that the factor structure underlying descriptive personality terms changes when these terms are used to assess different brand and product personalities. Though some attributes load on different dimensions, new terms foreign to human personality should be included when examining the personality of brands and products. Practical implications for consumer and marketing research are discussed.



Citation:

Gian Vittorio Caprara, Claudio Barbaranelli, and Gianluigi Guido (1998) ,"Personality As Metaphor: Extension of the Psycholexical Hypothesis and the Five Factor Model to Brand and Product Personality Description", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, eds. Basil G. Englis and Anna Olofsson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 61-69.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, 1998      Pages 61-69

PERSONALITY AS METAPHOR: EXTENSION OF THE PSYCHOLEXICAL HYPOTHESIS AND THE FIVE FACTOR MODEL TO BRAND AND PRODUCT PERSONALITY DESCRIPTION

Gian Vittorio Caprara, University of Rome, Italy

Claudio Barbaranelli, University of Rome, Italy

Gianluigi Guido, University of Rome, Italy

ABSTRACT -

Extension of the psycholexical hypothesis for describing human personality to brands, products and services is examined. Personality can serve as a "metaphor" to describe stable characteristics identifying brands and products. However, the usual meaning of personality terms (attributes) should be contextually ascertained when applied to marketing stimuli. Empirical findings show that the factor structure underlying descriptive personality terms changes when these terms are used to assess different brand and product personalities. Though some attributes load on different dimensions, new terms foreign to human personality should be included when examining the personality of brands and products. Practical implications for consumer and marketing research are discussed.

Do brands have personalities? Do they have stable sets of attributes which evoke feelings, emotions, and behaviors just like humans who are extroverts, friendly, conscientious, or intelligent? The plausibility of this hypothesis is well documented in many studies by cognitively oriented social psychologists, who are interested in applying findings regarding social stimuli (mainly person-related) to marketing stimuli (mainly object-related) (cf. Schneider 1991). Though there may be important differences between person and object perception (Sujan and Bettman 1989), empirical evidnce indicates the soundness of applying it to the product context of both processes and structures developed in the social field (see, e.g., Heckler and Childers 1992; Kardes 1986; Sujan 1985).

Since brands are targets of preferences, expectations and attributions as persons, it is plausible that, when forming a stable impression of brands, individuals use a kind of heuristic similar to the one that leads to forming impressions of other persons in terms of stable dispositions or traits. Attitudes towards brands probably rely on beliefs associated with a stable set of attributed characteristics which make them distinctive from their competitors. Then it is plausible that individuals can summarize the brands main characteristics in terms of more economical, limited, generalizable and relatively stable dispositions like features, as they do in the case of persons, because this heuristic is further reinforced by advertisers when imbuing brands with personality attributes (e.g., Allen and Olson 1995; Plummer 1984/85). It is intuitive that this heuristic plays a significant role in selecting, maintaining, retrieving and organizing information (see Fiske and Taylor 1991). Attributions of dispositions, in fact, may ultimately be critical in providing a reason for one’s own preferences and in orienting behavior toward the various brands.

However, the pertinence of a generic "anthropomorphization" of any kind of brand is questionable, as the hypothesis which assumes that names convey meanings independent of the objects and contexts they refer to. Words, in fact, can assume different meanings according to situations, and multiple meanings can be conveyed using a limited number of words. To describe human personality attributes are commonly used to refer to a limited number of highly general traits such as Extraversion, Agreeableness, Emotional Stability. However it is still questionable whether the same traits occur in all different contexts and whether the same attributes convey the same meanings when applied to different subjects in different situations.

Caprara and colleagues have recently shown that the number of traits becomes restricted, with the same attributes locating under different factors when using those same attributes to evaluate the personality of political leaders, as opposed to evaluating one’s own personality or that of other celebrities’ personality (Caprara, Barbaranelli, and Zimbardo 1997). This obviously should lead marketers and advertisers, who intend to describe brands with attributes taken from human personality, to place due attention on the adequacy of selected traits and on the property of words in conveying the desirable meanings.

To address this issue, evidence is provided that personality attributes can be effectively used in marketing and advertising, mostly when considering that they can assume different meanings depending on the brand or product they are associated with. To use a colorful expression, attributes "dance" and move from one personality trait domain to another depending on the object they refer to. This article is structured in the following way: first, the notion of brand personality is introduced together with a description of the psycholexical approach to the study of personality, and of one of the most established models for the description of human personality, that is, the Big Five or Five Factor Model. Then, the possible extension of this approach and this model to a consumer context is investigated by examining their generalizability and applicability to brands and products as well as to services.

THE LEXICAL APPROACH TO THE STUDY OF PERSONALITY AND THE EMERGENCE OF THE "BIG FIVE"

Different studies have provided empirical evidence to the hypothesis that personality may give greater concreteness to the perception of a brand than the more volatile concept of image (Dobni and Zinkhan 1990; Poiesz 1989; Reynolds and Gutman 184; Sirgy 1987). This has long been recognized in marketing (Arons 1961; Martineau 1958), but it became especially popular in the 1980s (Bettinger, Dawson, and Wales 1979; Debevec and Iyer 1986; Hendon and Williams 1985). Only recently, however, has one of the most established models of human personalityCthe Big Five or Five Factor ModelCbeen applied in marketing settings (Aaker 1995; Aaker and Fournier 1995; Caprara and Barbaranelli 1996).

According to a hypothesis formulated by Gordon Allport at the end of the 1930s, formalized by Raymond Cattell in the mid 1940s as the hypothesis of "linguistic sedimentation," which again became fashionable in the past 20 years, nounsBand particularly attributesBthat describe human personality are eminently functional in the development and maintenance of social relations. As such, they become part of the vocabulary used by people every day, and are transmitted from one generation to another through processes of socialization. A significant empirical confirmation is that the innumerable attributes describing human personality are definitely ascribable to a very limited number of classes; in each of these, "typical" attributes (the so-called "markers"), which communicate and evoke the specific characteristics of the class they belong to better than others, can be found. Another more surprising empirical confirmation is that the various lexicons tend to reproduce the same classes, thus suggesting the idea of a universal language of personality or of an "isomorphism" between common language and basic personality structure (still to be verified). Though some hypotheses state that the same classes can be found in all linguistic-cultural contexts, others findBin the resemblance between the descriptions of personality made by the lay-people and the descriptions resulting from the most confirmed personality testsBproof of the essential identity between what people see in personality and what it really is.

When physical attributes (such as tall, fat, pale, etc), strongly evaluative ones (such as handsome, good, etc.), and ambiguous and vague terms are not considered, the thousands of remaining attributes (between 12,000 and 18,000 according to the different studies) are traceable, through various types of factor analysis, to 5 factors or basic dimensions. In this regard, the emergence of a Five Factor Model (FFM) of the structure of personality traits has been the subject of much theorizing and research (Digman 1990; Goldberg 1993; John 1990; John, Angleitner, and Ostendorf 1988; McCrae and John 1992; Wiggins and Pincus 1992). A number of studies analyzing trait terms within the psycholexical tradition have converged on the same five factors, namely: (1) Extroversion vs. Introversion (or Energy); (2) Agreeableness (or Friendly Compliance vs Hostility or Friendliness); (3) Conscientiousness (or Will); (4) Neuroticism vs. Emotional Stability; and (5) Openness to Experience (or Culture or Intellect). These five factors emerged across variations in methods of subjects’ evaluation (self report vs. other ratings), techniques of factor extraction and rotation, sample characteristics (sex, age), and languages (English: Goldberg 1990; German: Ostendorf 1990; Dutch: DeRaad, Hendricks, and Hofstee 1992; Chinese: Yang and Bond 1990; Philippine: Church and Katigbak 1989; Japanese: Bond, Nakazato, and Shiraishi 1975, Isaka 1990; Italian: Caprara and Perugini 1994). The same Five Factors have been found in the analyses of scales and phrases contained in personality questionnaires developed by students of personality (for a complete review, see Ostendorf and Angleitner 1992). In this context, the Five Factors have been shown to be able to subsume alternative models of personality such as the Eysenck system (McCrae and Costa 1985), the Guilford structure (McCrae 1989), and the Cattellian structure (Boyle 1989).

Investigating Attributes in Descriptions of Brand personality

Like persons, also brands have been seen as characterized by personality profiles defied by a series of attributes (Berry 1988; Durgee 1988; Plummer 1984/85). However, most attribute lists have not been carefully scrutinized over the years either in industry or in academia. For example, Linquist’s (1974) review has frequently been cited as the basis for selecting attributes because it summarizes the image dimensions specified by researchers in 19 articles; however, some of these dimensions are empirical and some conceptual and therefore only suggestive of dimensions that may or may not be meaningful to consumers.

To overcome these difficulties, the psycholexical approach can provide an important reference point for identifying the principal attributes (i.e., the markers) to be used in describing brand, product or service personality. Also in this case, it is reasonable to assume that the most important features characterizing products, services and brands are encoded in the natural language people use in everyday life. In this regard, markers allow for communicating the meaning of the dimension they belong to without ambiguity, thus reducing the risk of overlapping between different dimensions.

Three studies were designed to learn more about the possibility of applying the psycholexical hypothesis and the Five Factor Model of human personality to brands and products, and to test whether the same factorial structure (i.e., five factors) found in descriptions of human personality could be extended to brands.

STUDY ONE

Aims and Target Stimulus

The principal aim of the study was to examine the validity of the Five Factor Model of personality for describing a specific branded product, and to test differences in perception of brand personality based on use of the product. The semantic reliability of the attributes used in descriptions of human personality when applied to the realm of brand and product personality were also investigated. Targets for this study were two different products of the same leading brand (Buitoni)Bfresh pasta and hard wheat pastaBand the Buitoni brand itself.

Subjects

Twenty subjects participated in the preliminary studies (10 users and 10 non users; 100% women; age: 20-45) for fresh pasta, and twenty subjects (10 users and 10 non users; 100% women; age: 20-45) for hard wheat pasta. There were sixty subjects (30 users and 30 non users; 100% women; age: 20-45) in the main studies for fresh pasta and sixty (30 users and 30 non users; 100% women; age: 20-45) for hard wheat pasta. All subjects were contacted by a company specialized in marketing research and invited to complete a questionnaire related to brand preferences.

Research Design

Since the applicability of the Big Five structure of human personality to brands/products was not taken for granted, in a preliminary stage a list of 115 attributes, extracted from the list of the most useful attributes for describing human personality (see Caprara and Perugini, 1994), was administered to a group of 40 subjects who assessed the relevance of those attributes in describing each target product and the brand. Attributes rated on the average as the most useful in these descriptions were included in two lists: one list of 44 attributes to measure product personality (i.e., fresh or hard wheat pasta), and one list of 24 attributes to measure the Buitoni brand personality.

Results and Discussion

Two different factor analyses were made on the two lists of attributes for testing the applicability of the five-fctor structure either to descriptions of products or the brand. Factors were essentially similar. Specifically, the main product factors were, in order of extraction (see Table 1): (1) Agreeableness/Stability (loaded by attributes such as friendly, careless, neat); (2) Energy/Extroversion (loaded by attributes such as resolute, determined, active); (3) Openness (loaded by attributes such as innovative, modern, new); (4) Traditionalism (loaded by attributes such as old, traditional, conservative); (5) Conscientiousness (loaded by attributes such as trustful, accurate).

On the other hand, the main Buitoni brand factors were, in order of extraction (see Table 2): (1) Openness (loaded by attributes such as innovative, original, fanciful); (2) Agreeableness/Extroversion (loaded by attributes such as friendly, sociable, funny); (3) Stability (loaded by attributes such as solid, safe, stable); (4) Traditionalism (loaded by attributes such as old, conservative, traditional); (5) Conscientiousness (loaded by attributes such as trustful, accurate).

From these results it is clear that the five factors identified in this study do not correspond perfectly with the five human personality factors. The main difference concerns the "Traditionalism" factor, which in the case of human personality is a polarity opposed to the Openness factor and in the case of the pastas and the Buitoni brand is orthogonal (that is, uncorrelated) to Openness. This means that, though it is quite difficult to figure out how a person who is open to experience can also be traditionalist and conservative, products like pasta and the Buitoni brand itself can be both innovative (e.g., because they use extremely modern and sophisticated manufacturing systems) and traditional (e.g., because they taste like home-made pasta).

TABLE 1

FACTOR LOADINGS OF PRODUCT PERSONALITY (THE CASE OF PASTAS)

Another important peculiarity of this solution is that there is a kind of interaction among the target that is evaluated (i.e., the brand or the product) and the attributes used for making this evaluation. In fact, while in the case of product evaluation attributes regarding Agreeableness match with attributes related to Stability to build a new mixed factor, in the case of brand evaluation the matching process is among attributes of Agreeableness and of Energy/Extroversion, while Stability emerges as an isolated factor. We will come back on this topic later, in the conclusion section of this paper.

TABLE 2

FACTOR LOADINGS OF BRAND PERSONALITY (THE CASE OF BUITONI)

STUDY TWO

Aims and Target Stimulus

Compared to the first study, this study presents some innovative features. The target stimuli were: 1) a leading brand of bath foamBNeutro Roberts (the Italian version of Manetti & Roberts’ bath foam)Band three other competing brands in the Italian market; 2) a branded product, that is, the Neutro Roberts bath foam. As in Study One, the applicability of the Big Five structure of human personality to brands and products was not taken for granted, and the repertoire of attributes to be used as descriptors of the brand personality was varied to include, besides the Big Five attributes (that is, markers of human personality), also "Extra" Big Five attributes able to describe functional characteristics of brands according to consumers’ needs and goals.

Research Design

The study was broken down into two stages. In a preliminary stage, subjects evaluated the degree of relevance of a number of attributes (315 attributes divided into 5 lists, judged on a 5-point Likert scale) in representing the personality of the stimulus product. In the main stage, the first 60 attributes (50 Big Five and 10 Extra Big Five) rated as the most relevant were used. These attributes were divided into 2 lists: 1 list containing 20 Big Five attributes for assessing the Neutro Roberts brand personalityand that of some competitor brands, and one list containing 30 Big Five attributes and 10 "Extra" Big Five attributes for assessing product personality. Concerning brand evaluation, the Neutro Roberts brand was evaluated by 150 users and by 150 non users of Neutro Roberts bath foam. Regarding product evaluation, 100 users and 100 non users evaluated the "Neutro Roberts bath foam."

Subjects

Sixty subjects participated in the preliminary stage (30 users and 30 non users; 100% women; aged: 25-50); all were selected after an initial screening intended to test their familiarity with target brands. There were 300 subjects in the main study (150 users and 150 non users; 100% women; aged: 25-50). None of the pretest subjects took part in this stage. All subjects were contacted by a company specialized in marketing research and they were invited to complete a questionnaire related to brand preferences.

Results and Discussion

A series of factor analyses were carried out on the various lists of attributes used. Results of the factorial analyses on the three lists for describing brands and on the list for describing the product were very different from the classical penta-factorial structure. Table 3 presents the factors that emerged from the factor analysis of the attributes used for evaluating brand personality. Table 4 presents the factors that emerged from the factor analysis of attributes used for evaluating product personality (Neutro Roberts bath foam). There is a clear difference between these solutions and that proposed by the Big Five. In this case, the principle human personality dimensions are collapsed: stability and conscientiousness form a factor that primarily expresses the characteristics of regularity, predictability and solidity of the brand, and openness and energy unite to form a factor that includes the characteristics of dynamism, innovativeness and competitiveness. The friendliness dimension is sometimes absorbed by the first factor (loyal, affectionate) and sometimes by the second (optimistic, joyful). The two additional factors found in the product personality analysis represent basically "extrinsic" factors, that is, linked to specific characteristics of the product such as softness, adequacy, truthfulness, or notoriety and reputation.

TABLE 3

FACTOR LOADINGS OF BRAND PERSONALITY (THE CASE OF NEUTRO ROBERTS)

STUDY THREE

Objectives and Target Stimulus

In Study Three, a service (the Sip cellular phone service, henceforth Scps) rather than a product was chosen as the target stimulus. The procedure was similar to that of the previous study but with a much broader subject sample. Sip was the Italian public company which, at the time, provided all telephone service in the country. Scps and Sip personality were measured by using two parallel lists of attributes, as in Study Three.

Subjects

There were 150 subjects (75 users and 75 non users; 67% men and 33% women; age: 16-60) in the preliminary study and 600 Subjects (300 users and 300 non users; 70% men and 30% women; age: 16-60) in the main study. None of the pretest subjects took part in this stage. Subjects were selected from among people using phone service for professional reasons.

Research Design

As in the previous studies, research was broken down into two stages. Attributes selected in a preliminary stageBbased on their relevance for describing the personality image of Scps and SipBwere included in two lists (i.e., A and B). Each contained 15 Big Five attributes (3 for each dimension)and 10 Extra Big Five attributes (as in Study Two). The methodology was similar to that of the previous studies, except for the modality of questionnaire administration, that is, by means of telephone interviews (conducted by experts of the Sip Opinion Survey Department). This modality explains why two lists of only 25 items were used to avoid creating phenomena of fatigue, refusal, or acquiescence in respondents.

Results and Discussion

Subjects’ responses were submitted to factor analysis; however, different from Study Two, Big Five factors and Extra Big Five factors were analyzed separately. [When Big Five and Extra Big Five attributes were analyzed conjointly uninterpretable factors were extracted. So, that solution has been abandoned in favor of the one presented here.] By limiting our discussion to Big Five attributes in the case of the Sip brand two main factors were found and named Reliability and Modernism/Innovativeness (see Table 5). The former was a mixture of the Big Five dimensions Emotional Stability and Agreeableness; the latter of the Big Five dimensions Openness and Energy. Therefore, also in this study the automatic applicability of the Big Five model of human personality to a stimulus other than human personality had to be rejected: two factors rather than five emerged from the analysis, and they could only be approximated to those characterizing human personality.

A similar result was obtained when considering the Scps personality. Again, by limiting our discussion to the Big Five attributes, two factors were found and named Reliability and Power/Innovativeness (see Table 6). The former was a mixture of the Big Five dimensions Emotional Stability, Agreeableness and Conscientiousness; the latter of the remaining Big Five dimensions Energy and Openness.

TABLE 4

FACTOR LOADINGS OF PRODUCT PERSONALITY (THE CASE OF THE BATH FOAM)

CONCLUSIONS

The results of the studies presented in this paper suggest that the Five Factor Model may serve as a metaphor for the description of brands, products and service characteristics, only to a limited extent. When considering brand personalities the structures that emerged were substantially divergent from the Big Five model. When assessing personality of targets other than persons, namely brands, dimensions underlying personality descriptors tend to diminish. It follows that the main traits are not the same when describing human personality and brands personality. Moreover, the same attributes locate under different factors when describing human personality and when describing brands personality. These considerations lead to the conclusion that the traits which describe human personality are usable in shaping and describing brands’ personality only to a certain extent and under certain conditions. It is likely that other traits specific to brands and extraneous to human personality should be taken into account to achieve a comprehensive picture of brand personality. This argument is sustained by the findings of studies in which attributes related to brand notoriety, availability, convenience, functionality, and benefits (such as economical, convenient, available, useful, easy, well-known, famous, great) have been added to Big Five markers in describing brands personality (Caprara and Barbaranelli 1996).

According to these results, the factors found in the analyses of brands’ personality do not exhaust all the possible relevant characteristics of the brands that are important in the perception of consumers. One may guess that consumers reserve some "mental space" to characteristics that describe brands’ personality other than those provided by the FFM. Since the number of information to be mentally processed is not unlimited, it is likely that the restriction in categories derived from the description of human personality be complemented by other categories extraneous to humans and specific to brands.

TABLE 5

FACTORS UNDERLYING PERSONALITY OF SIP

TABLE 6

FACTORS UNDERLYING PERSONALITY OF SCPS

The tendency of attributes to locate under different factors is clear when comparing descriptions of different brands. In this regard, it is worthwhile to remember that several markers shfted from one factor to another depending on the brand being described. This may resemble what has been named as "concept-scale interaction" within the semantic differential approach to the study of connotative meanings of concepts (see Heise 1969; Kubiniec and Bean 1978; Mann, Phillips, and Thompson 1979; Osgood, Suci, and Tannenbaum 1957). With this label researchers made reference to the fact that the meaning of an attribute, and its relation with other attributes, varies according to the concept the attribute is referred to. Indeed, relationships among attributes are not determined by the sharing of a common component independent of the concept.

At the core of concept-scale interaction there is the fact that attributes may have different degrees of relevance for different concepts; in fact, if an attribute is irrelevant to a concept, ratings on it will have low correlations with ratings on other attributes that are relevant to the concept, thus the attribute will have a factor location different from its usual one. Likely this implies that attributes have a "contextual" or "relational" meaning, that is, attributes convey different meanings as they move from one dimension to another, according to the brand they are describing. Our preliminary hypothesis is that when evaluating a brand through attributes, the brand function as a prime which leads to select out of available attributes the latent structure which is compatible with the most comprehensive description of the target within the limited number of information-units (categories) that can be mentally processed. In this regard we are inclined to believe that, for brands as for human personality, descriptors can be ultimately traced to a limited number of categories (between 5-7) in analogy to what happens in other cognitive domains (Miller 1956). Then we are inclined to believe that when transporting descriptors from human personality to brands the number of categories which emerge when describing humans tends to restrict, so to leave "mental space" to other categories which are specific of brands.

Though the Five Factor Model is well established in the field of human personality description and assessment, it needs to be revised when it is applied to entities other than human stimuli (i.e., brands and products). Rather, the psycholexical approach provides a useful model for the marketing domain, leading the search for marker-attributes and for the latent structure they identify. In this regard, the personality metaphor is still plausible for understanding consumers’ perceptions of non-human stimuli. The sedimentation hypothesis, in particular, is plausible also for investigating brand attributes. However, the meanings of terms should be empirically ascertained in each case. In fact, some words assume different meanings when used to describe different entities, as happens in the studies presented in this paper.

The psycholexical approach has three main advantages. It is: (a) parsimonious, because it allows for choice among attributes that communicate the main personality traits of the brand without neglecting important features, in favor of less important or even redundant ones; (b) trenchant, because it allows for sending specific messages able to reinforce the weakest aspects of the brand personality when compared with its competitor; (c) reliable, because it allows for making adequate comparisons between subjects, situations, and targets, avoiding gathering descriptors which belong to separate dimensions. The implications of these findings for social and political marketing are important topics for future research.

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Authors

Gian Vittorio Caprara, University of Rome, Italy
Claudio Barbaranelli, University of Rome, Italy
Gianluigi Guido, University of Rome, Italy



Volume

E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3 | 1998



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