Brand Personality: How Well Does a Human Personality Scale Apply to Brands?

ABSTRACT - The goal of this article is to test the applicability of a human personality scale (Saucier, 1994) to brands. The test is conducted by means both of confirmatory factor analysis and of congruence analysis between human and brand personality structures. Results show congruence between the two scales for a reduced scale and reveals that brands exhibit contrasting profiles on the reduced scale uncovered.


Jean-Marc Ferrandi, Dwight Merunka, Pierre Valette-Florence, and Virginie De Barnier (2002) ,"Brand Personality: How Well Does a Human Personality Scale Apply to Brands?", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, eds. Ramizwick and Tu Ping, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 53-60.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 2002      Pages 53-60


Jean-Marc Ferrandi, University of Dijon, France

Dwight Merunka, University of Aix en Provence, France

Pierre Valette-Florence, University Pierre Mendes, France

Virginie De Barnier, EDHEC School of Management, France


The goal of this article is to test the applicability of a human personality scale (Saucier, 1994) to brands. The test is conducted by means both of confirmatory factor analysis and of congruence analysis between human and brand personality structures. Results show congruence between the two scales for a reduced scale and reveals that brands exhibit contrasting profiles on the reduced scale uncovered.

Do brands have a personality? Can they be described in terms of a set of traits or in terms of a limited and stable set of generic terms such as extraversion or openness to new experiences as it is done for human beings? This might be argued as advertisement tends to associate personality dimensions to brands (Plummer, 1984) and that marketing managers try to create an image and associate a personality to their brands through an array of strategies such as positioning, branding and advrtising. Since the late 1950’s (Martineau, 1958), the concept of brand personality has been of interest to both managers and academics for it might help differentiating brands and increase the personal meaning of the brand for the consumer. However, in spite of the ancientness of the study of human personality, there has been surprisingly no piece of research exploring the specific components of brand personality before the famous article by Aaker (1997). This research aims at filling that gap and contributing to a better understanding of the concept.

Human personality scales have been developed through factor analysis of items describing the self and others, these items having been found in English language dictionaries (Goldberg, 1990). This lexical approach has led to a number of scales developed to capture dominants personality traits of individualsBthe 16thPFQ (Cattell et al., 1970), the Neo-PI-R (Costa and McCrae, 1992) or the Mini-Markers (Saucier, 1994). The Mini-Markers scale is particularly interesting, first because it’s structure corresponds to the dominant approach found in the literature and second, because of it’s parsimony (40 items).

As far as brands are concerned, the research conducted by Aaker is a transposition to brands of approaches normally used to measure human personality. As a result, the proposed brand personality scale exhibits dimensions, some of them having no real equivalents in terms of human personality (such as "sophistication" and "ruggedness"). Contrasting this approach, we believe that the direct application of a human personality scale to brands can be of interest. For example, brand personality is certainly an interesting segmentation basis (Ferrandi et al., 1999) and resulting consumer segments might be described on operational variables such as human personality traits. What we propose here is to apply the Saucier Mini-Marker scale directly to brands and to study whether this scale is indeed applicable for brand personality measurements. Using a scale developed in English we also have to wonder whether this instrument is stable across languages since our study is conducted in French. Thus, the key questions we address in this research are:

Can we transpose a human personality scale to brands, i.e. what is the dimensionality of the brand personality scale, and can the factors be interpreted in the same manner as for the human personality scale?

Is the human personality scale developed by Saucier (1994) stable across languages and do we find the same dimensionality in a French context?

In order to answer these questions, we divide this article into three parts. The first part is a literature review pertaining to human personality and it’s transposition to brands. The second part describes data collection procedures and the methodology with a focus on congruence analysis. Finally, we discuss results and both theoretical and managerial implications in the last part of the article.


Human personality conceptualization and measurements have been developed for decades particularly in the domain of psychology. This will be presented first, followed by the transposition of the personality concept to brands proposed recently (mainly by Aaker in 1997).

1.1 Human personality traits

The origin of personality traits research is ancient since it can be traced back to ThTophraste (4th century B.C.) who described different types of human characters and associated behaviors. However, in spite of the long research tradition, no unique and universally accepted definition of human personality traits prevails. Generally, they are defined as "tendencies to show consistent patterns of thoughts, feelings and actions" (Costa and McCrae, 1998). They are understood a being psychological cues that determine human action and experiences. Following the work of Allport (1937), Cattell (1950) and Eysenck (1960) considered as the founders of the dominant approach, a number of psychologists believe that the best representation of personality trait structure is given by the five-factor model, factors generally named the "Big Five" (John, 1990). This dominant paradigm considers that personality traits can be described through five basic dimensions that summarize a great number of distinct and specific characteristics of human personality. The Big Five are usually labeled O.C.E.A.N.:

* O Factor: Openness to experiences, to intellectual curiosity, to culture and imagination. This factor described the scope, the intensity and the complexity of life experiences and of the psychology of an individual.

* C Factor: Conscientiousness describes socially prescribed modes of control over impulse and translates into the fact of being scrupulous, persevering, orderly and trustworthy.

* E Factor: Extraversion or tendency to be sociable, to like talking to others, to be impulsive, communicative and to have positive emotions.

* A Factor: Agreeableness, this factor opposes a social orientation to others to hostility and includes traits as altruism, confidence, modesty and sweetness.

* N Factor: Neuroticism is opposed to emotional stability and results in anxious, unstable and nervous behaviors.

Practically, these factors have been identified through two main approaches: the lexical approach and the hierarchical approach. In both approaches, the objective is to uncover the factorial structure of personality traits.

The lexical approach (Goldberg, 1990) is based on the hypothesis that all important traits must have been encoded in natural language due to the centrality of these personality traits. A factor analysis of words used to describe personality traits must enable to uncover the structure of personality and to identify fundamental dimensions of personality. This approach first applied in the English language is now sustained by emic studies conducted in German and Dutch (Hofstee et al., 1997), in the Czech Republic (De Raad et al., 1998), and in The Philippines (Church et al., 1998). However, the lexical approach is difficult to implement because of the vast number of words to be analyzed. The smallest list of adjectives included 100 items (Goldberg, 1992). Therefore, Saucier (1994) sought to work with a reduced list of adjectives and proposed a list of 40 statistically robust items named "Mini-Markers" allowing to measure the Big Five dimensions of human personality.

In the hierarchical approach, each factor summarizes a great number of characteristics. The five factors are to be found at the highest and most abstract level of the hierarchy. They constitute the structure of human personality and are defined by six conditional and contextual traits named facets. These facets include a great number of distinct and more precise characteristics describing personality (John, 1990). McCrae and Costa (1992) have proposed the Neo-PI-R (Neo Personality Inventory Revised) for measurement purposes. This inventory is composed of 240 items (five factors x six facets x eight items) measured on a 5-point scale. The questionnaire has been validated at least partially in a number of countries including France and The Philippines (McCrae et al., 1998). The underlying structure has been shown to be stable among age, sex and ethnic groups. This has allowed authors to claim the universality of the model (McCrae and Costa, 1997). In spite of differences in education, social structures, religions and language itself, it seems that all individuals can be described and differentiated along th five basic personality dimensions.

However, in spite of a large international agreement about the hierarchical representation of personality, it is also argued that the proposed personality traits do not encompass all levels or domains of human personality that ought to be considered to give an appropriate representation of the complexity of personality and of human beings (Block, 1995). Relying on sole measurement of individual differences, the big five factor model ignores two other main areas belonging to psychology of personality: the understanding of the life of individuals and their motivational dynamics. Furthermore, other questions remain unanswered in the study of human personality traits. If traits describe recurrent ways of thinking, affects and behaviors, they do not describe the underlying mechanisms through which durable dispositions find a concrete expression in particular situations. Even the most ardent defenders of the five factor model concede that interpretation of the five dimension is a difficult task (McCrae and John, 1992). The number of factors itself remains a debated question: there might be three (Eysenck, 1960), five, seven (Benet-Martinez and Waller, 1997), or sixteen (Cattell, 1950). Researchers seem to agree on a sole dimension, that of extraversion, although definitions thereof might vary. The biggest debate pertains to the Openness dimension: does it concern intellect, culture or is it broader and concerns openness to culture and other novel experiences? Is there not a hierarchical level above the five factors (Digman, 1997)? Are there no other personality dimensions or is it that they are simply not uncovered through etic measurements performed in different cultures? (McCrae and Costa, 1997)?

In spite of the impressive number of studies conducted in psychology aimed at conceptualizing and measuring the structure of human personality, no parallel research has been conducted in the field of consumer behavior before the seminal contribution of Aaker (1997), nor has it been debated within the Association Consumer Research before 1995 (Aaker and Fournier, 1995).

1.2 Brand Personality

Consumer behavior research has explored the way in which brand personality allows consumers to express their self-concept (Kleine et al., 1995; Malhotra, 1988). Practitioners view brand personality as a means of differentiation within a product category and as an important factor affecting preference (Biel, 1993) as well as a common denominator allowing to market a brand across different cultures (Plummer, 1984). The brand personality concept has also been severely criticized:

B From a conceptual standpoint, what brand personality really is remains ambiguous. How should it be defined? How and when is it different than brand image or than the image of the brand buyer?

B From a methodological standpoint, how should brand personality be best measured? Should traditional qualitative studies be employed or should adjective lists of human personality inventories be used?

B Finally, from a managerial standpoint, what are the consequences of the acquisition of a personality for a brand and what marketing activities create or alter it?

Aaker (1997) proposed a theoretical model of the brand personality concept through the determination of the number and the nature of its dimensions. Acknowledging the lack of consensus concerning the definition of the construct and its underlying dimensions, Aaker (1997) defines brand personality as "the set of human characteristics associated with a brand".

The model developed by Aaker is based on a hierarchical approach similar to that McCrae and Costa (1997). Aaker identifies 42 traits and five brand personality factors: sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication and ruggedness. This scale has been shown to be quite stable across different cultural contexts as France (Ferradi, et al. 2000), Germany (Huber et al., 2000) or Japan and Spain (Aaker et al., 2001).

Two other methods have been proposed to measure brand personality. Caprara, Barbaranelli and Guido (1997) used a lexical approach to identify main attributes or markers of brand personality. Their approach is based on the hypothesis that main personality traits of products, services or brands are encoded in natural language daily used by individuals. Allen and Olson (1995) used a narrative approach to understand antecedents and consequences of brand personality. They consider that brand personality is the set of meanings that best describe fundamental brand characteristics. These meanings are constructed by consumers based on behaviors seen in brands when they are personified or based on their attributes.

Although the concepts of human and brand personalities might be similar, both constructs are different in their antecedents and in the roles they play. Human personality traits are created and communicated to others via attitudes, behaviors or physical characteristics (Park, 1986). They are thus inferred directly by others. By contrast, perception of brand personality traits is inferred through direct or indirect contact that consumers have with brands. Brand are inanimate objects which are associated with personality traits through marketing communications (Plummer, 1984). Managers rely on the image of the typical brand user or the set of human characteristics that consumers associate with the typical user, on endorsement by celebrities (as Michael Jordan, Anna Kournikova or Tiger Woods), on product attributes, symbols, logos and slogans or any means of personification to develop the associations of brand personality (Batra et al., 1993; Levy, 1959; McCracken, 1989). Contrarily to product attributes which are mainly functional, brand personality tends to have a symbolic function and one of self-expression (Keller, 1993).

Brand personality and human personality share indeed similarities: both are durable and might, at least under given conditions, help explain and predict the actions of individuals belonging to the target (see Fournier, 1998 for brand personality and Park, 1986 for human personality).

1.3 Research Design

Aaker’s methodology is a very nice adaptation to brands of what has been developed in the area of human personality measurement. Managerial implications are important mainly in terms of positioning and communication strategies. However, as Aaker’s brand personality scale contains dimensions that are not shared by human personality scales, we have opted for the direct transposition to brands of a personality scale developed for human beings, that of Saucier (1994). For this first test, we have used a convenience sample and have studied a limited set of brands on the French market well-known to the respondents.


We hereafter present the nature of the sample, the procedures used to validate the structure of the two personality scales (human and brand) and finally the analysis used to measure congruence between the two personality scales.

2.1. Sample

The sample is a convenience sample composed 537 undergraduate students in a major University in the southeastern part of France. It is composed of 38% males and 62% females, all aged between 19 and 21. This sample should be no threat to the validity of the research results since Saucier (1994) proved the stability of results across different groups of individuals including students. The sample has been divide into 4 groups. Each group was asked to evaluate:

* their own personality based on the scale of Saucier (1994) which had been previously translated from English to French and back-translated from French to English. This scale measures the five big personality factors based on 40 items each evaluated on a 9 point Likert disagree/agree scale.

* brand personality of 4 brands on the same Saucier scale: Swatch (watches), Benetton (clothes), Orangina (non alcoholic beverages) and Desperados (beer) for the first group, Danette (dessert pudding), Petit Ecolier (cookies), Levis (jeans) and Lee Cooper (jeans) for the second group, Nike (sportswear), Adidas (sportswear), NescafT (coffee) and Carte Noire (coffee) for the third group, and Perrier (mineral water), Badoit (mineral water), Renault (cars) and BMW (cars) for the last group.

2.2. Validation of the Personality Scale Structure

In order to test the personality scale developed by Saucier (1994) in a French context, we have followed the recommendations of Churchill (1979) and the procedures used in cross-cultural research (Marchetti et Usunier, 1990). The methodology followed for both human and brand personality is threefold.

In the first step the 40 original items were translated and back-translated by an interpreting company and done independently by two translators. Individuals differences were solved jointly by both translators. In the second stage we tested the scale structure. Based on the results obtained after performing principal component factor analysis with promax rotation, an iterative procedure allowed to purify the measurements through successive elimination of items ill-represented of the factors (communality inferior to 0.4). Lastly, in the third stage, validity of scale structure was tested by means of trait validity performed through a confirmatory factor analysis, results of which were validated via a systematic bootstrap procedure. Trait validity was tested through convergent validity, discriminant validity and a reliability index. A dimension exhibits good convergent validity if the t tests associated to each of the factorial weights related to the measurements of the construct are greater than 2. Following Fornell and Lacker (1981), to this criterion can be added the computation of mean variance extracted. Discriminant validity is judged satisfactory if the model in which correlation between the different latent variables is free gives better results than the model in which the correlations are fixed to 1. The difference in the Khi-squares of the two models must be significant, taken into account the difference in degrees of freedom. Beyond both validity indexes, reliability of scales must be assessed. Although Cronbach’s a is popular, J├Ěreskog (1971) recommends the use of the r internal coherence coefficient that explicitly takes into account error terms and is thus more suitable for structural equations methodologies.

2.3. Congruence analysis

Congruence analysis (Chan et al., 1999) allows to test similarity in the structure of two scales and is performed through procruste rotations. This analysis estimates the quality of the adjustment between two sets of points having hypothesized a correspondence between them. It forces data to conform, as well as possible, to a predetermined structure. Thus, procruste rotation adjusts a configuration of N points in M dimensions (the target configuration) to another equivalent configuration (the fixed configuration) through a rotation which minimizes the distance between the points of the two configurations. Results obtained are the factorial coordinates after rotation and the procruste correlation coefficient which is a measure of the adjustment between both configurations. To conclude that both scales exhibit the same factorial structure, correlation between each corresponding dimensions must be greater than 0.9 (McCrae et al., 1996). A systematic bootstrap procedure allows to validate results.

In our study, given the factorial structure of human personality, we sought, through procruste rotation, the brand personality structure which maximizes the correlation coefficients between each corresponding dimensions.


Results are presented in three main parts: (1) the presentation of the human personality scale and of the brand personality scale obtained within the French context, (2) the comparison of the structure of both scales through congruence analysis, and (3) the differences in the perceptual positions of the brands on all dimensions of the brand personality scale.

3.1. Application of the Saucier scale within the French context

Principal component analysis performed on the 40 items of the Saucier scale did not allow to recover the initial structure of the American scale since the number of factors with eigenvalues greater than 1 was much higher than the 5 personality traits identified by Saucier (12 for the human personality scale and 8 for the brand personality scale). Having constrained the structures to 5 factors, 25 items were eliminated due to low communalities. The same items were eliminated for both scale allowing to use the same measurement instruments for both human and brand personality. Final scales are thus composed of 15 identical items resulting into a 5 factor structure. These scales explain 62.33% (human) and 63.88% (brand) of total variances. Theses scales are presented in Table 1.



Table 1 shows the factorial structure of each 15 item scales as well as indicators of convergent validity and reliability. All indicator levels are good and allow to conclude that trait validity of scales is satisfactory.

3.2. Comparison between the original Saucier scale (American context) and the reduced scale (French context)

Transposition of the original human personality scale within the French context is quite satisfactory. In both cases (American-original scale and French-reduced scale) interpretation and meaning of the dimensions are very similar. However, it is clear that the reduction process from 40 to 15 items did eliminate some underlying meaning. In the reduced scale, each factor is uni-polar. For instance, factor 1 concerns only introversion and the extraversion part of it has disappeared. Also, for factor 4, emotional stability is no longer directly observed.

We must now assess whether both scales (the human personality scale and the brand personality scale) really exhibit similar factorial structures. For that purpose, we conducted a congruence analysis following the procedure recommended by Chan et al. (1999). Results are very encouraging as correlation coefficients between each potentially similar factors are very high (from .995 to .999). Tables 2 and 3 show the correlation matrix and the factorial structures obtained after procruste rotation. These results have been validated through a bootstrap procedure. However, similarity in factorial structures of both scales does not necessarily imply that individuals transfer their personality traits (or a part thereof) to brands. This link will be explored later.





3.3. Positions of brands on the brand personality scale

The ability of the reduced brand personality scale to differentiate brand positions was tested through analysis of variance. The analysis was conducted on the factor scores of the brands on each dimension of the reduced Saucier scale. Results show that the 16 brands studied here have different personality traits, thus validating the application of the reduced scale to brands. All tests referred to in table 4 are significant.

Figure 1 shows for example the personality profiles for four brands at the aggregate level (the mean of individual perceptions) and reveals great differences in brand perceived personalities. For example, brand "Lee Cooper" is perceived rather negatively (high on dimensions "introversion" and "neuroticism") as brand "NescafT" is perceived positively, being high on the dimensions "agreeableness" and "conscientiousness".


The main objectives of this research is both to evaluate and validate the human personality scale developed by Saucier (1994) in another cultural and linguistic context (the French one) and to apply the scale to brand personality measurement. We thus propose one of the first cross-cultural validation of this scale. Results obtained after purification and simplification of the scale are quite encouraging. Firstly, the dimensions of personality dimensions identified have the same general signification than that of the original scale and secondly, the human personality scale (albeit reduced) has been shown to be applicable to brand personality measurement. The French purified scales are composed of 15 items that load on 5 independent dimensions and we believe that the dimensions furnish a coherent and plausible representation of personality traits for both the human and the brand personality concepts. On another hand, we wanted to test if both scales (human and brand personality) exhibited similar factorial structures which has been shown through congruence analysis. Finally, analysis of variance revealed that the brand personality scale allows to contrast positions of the brands on the different personality dimensions. The results are certainly exploratory, given some methodological limitations linked primarily to data collection and to statistical analysis.





As far as data collection is concerned, we have considered a limited number of brands (16) which have been evaluated by a convenience sample composed of undergraduate students. On another hand, the statistical analysis used was limited to principal component factor analysis and confirmatory factor analysis which limits validity of results. Factor analysis does not allow to consider the tri-dimensionality of the original data (brands x individuals x personality). Finally, in spite of encouraging results, it could be useful to develop a scale designed for the French context through a lexical approach as done in Italy by Caprara et al. (1997). We would then obtain a bi-polar personality scale suited for the French context.

Beyond these methodological limitations there are some conceptual ones which certainly open room for further research. The comparison between the English scale developed by Saucier (1994) and the scales we generated in a French context should be validated on other data bases and should also be confirmed through a finer analysis of similarity not only in terms of dimensions uncovered but also in terms of the facets composing these dimensions. Concerning the concept of brand personality, further research also needs to be conducted. One direction is to better understand the antecedents of brand personality. How can the latter be managed, modified or acted upon by managers, beyond obvious communication policies? How does brand personality evolve over time? Does the brand personality concept apply equally at the brand level and at the branded product level?

Both constructs (human personality and brand personality) are conceptually equivalent but certainly differ in terms of their antecedents. A consequence of this difference might be identified through the valence of the personality traits associated to the brand, on one hand, and to Humans, on the other hand. As far as Humans are concerned, positive and negative valences are mixed across individuals attractiveness (agreeableness) and repulsion (neuroticism) and within individuals (a personality both attractive and lazy). By contrast, since managers and communication seeks at creating positive attitudes toward the brand, personality dimensions associated to brands probably have a positive orientation rather than a mixture of positive and negative ones. Thus, when exploring the relationship between brand and human personality traits to assess the degree to which brands are used for self-expression, one might want to concentrate on dimensions with positive valence. Also the very signification of some personality traits applied to brand is questionable. The dimension "Anthropomorphism" is a good example. Is the meaning the same for brands and Humans? If human personality attributes are applied to brands, they might have different meanings depending on the brand itself or on the product category associated with the brand. Qualitative research could certainly give some valuable insights into this area.


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Jean-Marc Ferrandi, University of Dijon, France
Dwight Merunka, University of Aix en Provence, France
Pierre Valette-Florence, University Pierre Mendes, France
Virginie De Barnier, EDHEC School of Management, France,


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Lilian Carvalho, FGV/EAESP
Gad Saad, Concordia University, Canada

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Does a Blurry Background Make a High Roller? The Effects of Blurry versus Sharp Backgrounds on Consumers’ Risk-Taking Behavior

Yoonho Jin, INSEAD, Singapore
Amitava Chattopadhyay, INSEAD, Singapore

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