A Brand As a Character, a Partner and a Person: Three Perspectives on the Question of Brand Personality


Jennifer Aaker and Susan Fournier (1995) ,"A Brand As a Character, a Partner and a Person: Three Perspectives on the Question of Brand Personality", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, eds. Frank R. Kardes and Mita Sujan, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 391-395.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, 1995      Pages 391-395


Jennifer Aaker, Stanford University

Susan Fournier, Harvard University

Introduction and Objective of Session

The idea of a brand personality is familiar and accepted by most advertising practitioners (e.g., Plummer 1985) and many marketing academics (e.g., Gardner and Levy 1955). For decades, researchers have argued that brand personality is an important topic of study because it can help to differentiate brands (e.g., Crask and Laskey 1990), develop the emotional aspects of a brand (e.g., Landon 1974) and augment the personal meaning of a brand to the consumer (e.g., Levy 1959). However, although brand personality is intuitively appealing and, as a result, has received considerable academic attention, it has been criticized on a number of dimensions; conceptual, methodological and substantive. First, at the conceptual level, there is still some ambiguity over what a brand personality is. How should it be defined and conceptualized? How (or when) is it different from brand image and/or user imagery? The answers to these questions have important implications for managers and academics interested in understanding the larger questions of why brand personality is important and how brand personality works.

Second, at the methodological level: how is brand personality best measured? While most researchers generally rely on qualitative methods, such as photo-sorts, free associations, psychodramatic exercises (cf. Levy 1985) these open-ended techniques are often dropped in the later stages of research as marketers look for more quantitative ways to detect and enumerate differences among their brands (Blackston 1993), the most common of which is the differential semantic scale (e.g. Birdwell 1968; Plummer 1985). However, studies using such scales are limited since the "right" way to compile the adjectives has not yet been determined. [Some researchers have used adjectives extracted from personality inventories used for detecting emotional instability, schizophrenia or neuroticism (e.g., Maheshwari 1974). Others simply use attributes most related to the products being tested (e.g., Birdwell 1968; Schewe and Dillon 1978). Moreover, regardless of how the adjectives are selected, reliability and validity problems are generally not addressed. (See Sirgy 1982 for a more complete review of these and other measurement difficulties).] Clearly, a brand personality research program should flow from the conceptual definition that guides it. Moreover, it would likely include both qualitative and quantitative methodologies in order to retain the advantages of both. However, what those methodologies are, and how they work together to articulate the conceptualization remain unclear.

Third, at the substantive level: what does personality do for a brand? What are the implications of having a brand personality? What marketing activities create or alter it? In the past, researchers have suggested that brand personality is most important when used as a research tool to identify personal meaning for the consumer (King 1989). Others assert that brand personality is needed as information for creatives when developing advertising (Lannon and Cooper 1983). Still others have suggested that brand personality should be seen as a more global construct: a key determinant of brand equity (Aaker 1991; Biel 1993). In brief, brand personality, as a construct, has multiple uses. However little systematic research has been conducted to understand or classify these uses. Is brand personality best used as a research tool, a clue for creatives or as a key element to brand equity? Or is the answer "D"?

The primary objective of this session is to address these three areas of ambiguity in brand personality research. As illustrated by the set-up of the session, our goal is not to converge on one definition, conceptualization and measurement tool for brand personality. Rather, we draw on diverse literatures such as narrative theory, social psychology and psychometric theory, and illuminate their potential contributions to the study of brand personality.

The secondary objective of this session is to provide a platform for future research on brand personalities and related topics. Upon reviewing the literature on brand personality, one gets the sense that each study does not receive the attention it may deserveCwheels are spinning yet brand personality research doesn't get very far. In order to give past, current and future studies some traction, solid theoretical frameworks and a sense of the topic's breadth are needed. By focusing on what brand personality is, how it can be measured and how it works, we hope to spur further research to take one of these three perspectives and address other issues of brand personality. [Further areas of research might include; to what extent does a brand take on a personality before vs. after use? What roles do brand names, logos and symbols play in developing a brand personality? What impact does a brand personality have on loyalty? Under what situations is one brand personality preferred over another? What type of advertising (e.g., transformational vs. informational) is most effective in developing a brands with a strong personality? The three papers in this session will raise these and other ideas for future research.]

Orientation of Session and Topics Covered

As outlined above, the goal of the proposed special session, "A Brand as a Character, a Partner and a Person: Three Perspectives on the Question of Brand Personality," is to serve as a forum to discuss current issues on brand personality and suggest areas for future research within the domain of brand personality. All three papers will address three fundamental questions involving brand personality via a particular behavioral perspective (a narrative, relationship and trait approach) and using a particular methodology (narrative analysis, depth interviews and multivariate analysis). Those questions are:

(1) What is brand personality?

(2) How can brand personality be measured?

(3) What are the implications of (a) having a brand personality, and (b) the advocated conceptualization of brand personality?

The first paper by Allen and Olson addresses these three questions by viewing brand personality from a "naive-psychological" (Heider 1958) and narrative (Bruner 1990) perspective. Brand personality is conceptualized based on the way that observers attribute personality characteristics to people during everyday interaction. Based on this conceptualization, the possibilities for using narrative theory as a profitable framework for understanding the processes by which consumers form personality impressions (via brand characters and behaviors) are discussed. Viewing brand personality with a narrative perspective has direct implications for (a) the mode of thought used by consumers to derive personality meaning for brands, (b) the techniques used by advertisers to create brand personality and (c) how to measure consumers perceptions of brand personality. Finally, issues for future research on brand personality and the use of narrative theory are outlined.

The second paper by Fournier addresses the three questions by taking a relationship approach to brand personality research. Within Fournier's theoretical framework, the brand is treated as an active, contributing member of a relationship dyad that joins the consumer and the brand. It is suggested that consumers form trait inferences from the behaviors undertaken by the brand in its partnership role, and that these trait inferences then form the basis for consumer's evaluative conceptions of the brand. While previous work (cf., Allen and Olson 1994) suggests that consumers may draw inferences from the behaviors enacted by the brand or the brand character in advertising (e.g., the California Raisins, the Pillsbury Doughboy), Fournier suggests a broader source of behaviors from which trait inferences are made. Specifically, she proposes that all marketing mix activities and brand management decisions can be construed as "behaviors" enacted on the part of the brand, and applies act frequency theory (Buss and Craik 1983) to aid in understanding the personality implications of a range of observed brand behaviors. To illustrate the kinds of personality inferences consumers make based on brand behavior as well as the types of brand-consumer relationships, a series of depth interviews with consumers are described. In closing, the relationship-oriented view is compared to existing conceptualizations of brand personality. Measurement implications for articulating the character of a brand's personality, assessing brand personality strength, and tracking personality change over time are highlighted and discussed.

The third paper explores by Aaker the three questions by taking a trait approach to the study of brand personality. By drawing on personality measurement theory (e.g., Norman 1968; Osgood et al. 1957), Aaker operationalizes brand personality as the human characteristics of a brand. In order to identify the core factors which represent brand personality (much like the Big Five represent people personality), Aaker factor analyzes the individual ratings of 40 brands on 114 personality traits by 631 respondents recruited in the United States. The principal components factor analysis results in five significant factors. A second order factor analysis structures these five factors into fifteen sub-factors. Next, 45 personality traits that represent the Big-Five structure are identified via a clustering procedure (Nunnally 1967). In addition, the implications of this brand personality hierarchy (5 factors, 15 sub-factors and 45 traits) are discussed. Specifically, Aaker examines (1) what types of brands (and product categories) have particular personality profiles, (2) the relationship between self-concept and the personality of a chosen (and preferred) brand and (3) what types of brands have a different personality vs. user imagery, as well as what such a distinction means for the brand.

The discussant of the session will contribute in two ways: First, Keller will offer a global and critical perspective of brand personality by addressing questions such as: Does brand personality really exist? If it does, do all brands have personalities? When is it most helpful to think of brands in terms of "personalities"? Second, Keller will draw on his own research on brand equity to examine the relationship between brand personality and equity. Specifically, the discussant will address questions such as; Under what conditions do brand personality and brand equity positively correlate? Do they ever negatively correlate? Is it the strength, the favorability and/or uniqueness of the brand personality that leads to brand equity? Alternatively, is there a certain type of personality that leads to greater equity?

Intended Audience

It is hoped that the session will appeal to marketing academics and practitioners interested in brand personality from both a consumer perspective (e.g. How do consumers see brands? When do consumers personify brands? How do they feel about brands?) and a branding perspective (e.g. What types of personal meanings are imbued in brands? What types of brands take on personalities? What does a personality do for a brand?). In addition, we hope to attract researchers interested using a variety of methodologies such as narrative analysis, depth interviews and multivariate analysis.

Statement of Contribution

The session has been designed so that its primary contribution will be to advance brand personality research at three levels: conceptual, methodological and substantive. However, in addition, we hope that, with the help of the discussant, a critical view of the topic is provided and areas for future research on brand personality are suggested.



Douglas E. Allen and Jerry Olson, Penn State University

In this paper, we offer a conceptual analysis of the concept of brand personality and begin to develop a theory of brand personality. We show how this theory can guide research into the antecedents and consequences of brand personality. Narrative theory, which is especially useful in explaining how consumers interpret advertisers' attempts to create brand personality, is a key element in our approach. With this perspective we address a variety of questions, including: (a) What is brand personality? (b) How can brands have personalities? (c) How can marketers create a brand personality? (d) How can we measure brand personality? (e) What are the implications of having a brand personality?

Our definition of brand personality is based on an approach to understanding human interaction referred to as "naive psychology" (Heider 1958) or "folk psychology" (Bruner 1990). This perspective seeks to explain interpersonal relations by focusing on the way in which observers naturally attach meaning to everyday social situations. Thus, our conceptualization of personality is based on the process by which people attribute personality characteristics to other people. We define personality as the set of meanings constructed by an observer to describe the "inner" characteristics of another person. Personality meanings such as traits are created via inferences or attributions based on observations of another person's behavior. For example, an observer witnesses a person kick a dog and infers that the person is "mean". We emphasize that attributions about personality traits are based largely on observations of behavior (supposedly "caused" by the unobserved personality trait). Despite the circularity of this process, personality meanings have a useful function as they are abstract meanings that can be used to summarize complex behaviors and form expectations of future behaviors.

We use this same logic to conceptualize brand personality. Creating a brand personality literally involves the personification of a brand. Attributions of personality to a brand require that the brand performs intentional behaviors. To do so, the brand must be "alive" C the brand must be an action figure that intentionally does things. Based on the observed behaviors, consumers can make attributions about the brand's personalityC"inner character," goals and values. In some marketing strategies, the brand is actually made to be "alive" and action-oriented ... as when the Raid can strides into a room and kills the bugs by itself or when the scrubbing brushes of Dow bathroom cleaner scurry around, joyously cleaning the tub. In other cases, the brand is personified in a character that is "alive" - Joe Camel represents Camel cigarettes, while the Jolly Green Giant personifies Green Giant vegetables. In sum, we define brand personality as the specific set of meanings which describe the "inner" characteristics of a brand. These meanings are constructed by a consumer based on behaviors exhibited by personified brands or brand characters.

The "folk psychological" perspective we use to explicate the concept of brand personality has several implications. For one, the mode of thought consumers use to derive personality meanings from brand behavior is likely to take on a narrative form. As opposed to a more scientific thought process used to form brand impressions, personality impressions formed in a folk-psychological manner involve a narrative thought process (Bruner 1986; 1990). As Bruner (1990) states, "its [folk psychology's] organizing principle is narrative..." (p. 35). Thus, Bruner argues that the primary way people make sense out of the behaviors of others (or fictional characters in a story) involves creating stories. Furthermore, Schank (1990) argues that all human knowledge is stored in the form of narratives. Thus, narrative thought plays an important role in constructing a brand personality.

The second implication of a narrative approach to brand personality is that marketers need to show the brand "doing things" in their advertising. In essence this involves portraying brands as characters in a story (Deighton, Romer and McQueen 1989). Thus, the Listerine bottle dons shield and sword and engages in combat with the plaque and gingivitis monster. The Raid can, wearing a military hat, strides into the room and kills the bugs by reaching up and squirting the nozzle under its hat. Such ads have a narrative form since the story shows the action sequence performed by the brand. Narratives or dramas provide more opportunities for portraying the intentional behaviors which are the bases for personality inferences.

Finally, a narrative perspective provides direction for measuring brand personality. For instance, by using an approach based on narrative theory (e.g., Tell me a story about brand X; What would brand X do in this circumstance?; If brand X were a person, how would it respond?) researchers may be able to identify which pattern of actions for a brand are most salient and meaningful. In addition to the successful use of stories as a projective technique, consumer stories may be also analyzed using literary or dramatic theory. For instance, Burke's pentad (Burke 1945) of Actor, Action, Goal, Scene and Instrument may be used to analyze consumer stories.

We conclude the paper by reviewing the key concepts in our vision of brand personality, identifying several issues for future research and suggesting several ways to address these issues.



Susan Fournier, Harvard Business School

Despite its acceptance in advertising and marketing practice, the brand personality construct has yet to receive dedicated theoretical attention in the consumer behavior literature. This paper uses interpersonal relationship theory to develop a conceptual framework for understanding and extending the notion of brand personality. Specifically, the brand is treated as an active, contributing partner in the dyadic relationship that exists between the person and the brand, a partner whose behaviors and actions generate trait inferences that collectively summarize the consumer's perception of the brand's personality.

As a first step in the theory development, the legitimacy of considering the brand in a partnership role is debated. Can the brand be personalized as member of the relationship dyad? Do brands in fact reach out to customers on an individual basis, seeking to form one-on-one relationships with them? Can the brand be reasonably construed as an active contributor in the relationship? Through discussion, the "personalized," "dyadic," and "active" aspects of the brand are made salient. An important step in this argument is the author's proposal that, at a broad level of abstraction, all marketing mix activities and brand management decisions (e.g., a change in the brand's advertising campaign, a coupon drop, alteration of package size) can be construed as "behaviors" enacted on the part of the brandCbehaviors that trigger attitudinal, cognitive, and/or behavioral responses on the part of the consumer. This exercise allows the audience to elevate the status of the brand from that of a passive object in one-sided marketing transactions to that of full-fledged relationship partner.

With this as a foundation, the author proposes a conceptual definition of the brand-as-partner (BAP) based on how the brand is evaluated in its role as member of the relationship dyad. The conceptualization goes beyond traditional concepts of brand personality to consider additional sources of identity and to specify the processes by which these sources are integrated into an evaluative conception of the brand. A framework depicting the component processes involved in the creation of the brand-as-partner notion embellishes this definition. A hierarchical set of identity themes and goals is first identified for the company and brand (see Mick and Buhl 1992 for a discussion of life themes and life projects). These goals constructs purposively generate a set of marketing actions and brand behaviors that unfold over time. Literature on the formation of person impressions (Srull and Wyer 1989) suggests that these behavioral acts are spontaneously translated into trait language, and that the trait inferences then form the basis for the evaluative concept of the brand.

In order to articulate the personality inferences that are stimulated by a range of common marketing actions, a series of depth interviews were conducted and are described. Next, the act frequency approach to personality (Buss and Craik 1983) is applied to aid in understanding how personality is inferred from a range of observed brand behaviors. An example for Colgate toothpaste is provided to illustrate the model. As a final exercise, the BAP notion is compared with existing conceptualizations of brand personality to highlight the explanatory power afforded by the relationship-oriented view. Implications for assessing the strength of a brand's personality within the role-theoretic framework are discussed, and the notion of brand personality is considered. Previously unrecognized outcome variables (such as commitment, satisfaction and involvement) that may be influenced by the strength and character of the BAP are also suggested. In closing, the implications and future ideas for BAP measurement are considered.



Jennifer Aaker, Stanford University

The idea that brands contain personal meaning for the consumer's self-conception has received a great deal of attention in the marketing and consumer behavior literatures in the last thirty years (see Sirgy 1982 for a review). Much of this research focuses on the idea that a brand can be thought of as having "personality," [The term, personality, is used differently in the context of brands (consumer behavior) than in the context of persons (psychology). For example, while a person's personality is determined by multi-dimensional factors (e.g., appearance, traits and behavior), a brand, by its nature of being an inanimate object, has a personality that is determined by different facts (e.g., attributes, benefits, price, user imagery). The term, brand personality, is not being used here in a strict of literal sense, but as a metaphor. Like the person-as-a-computer metaphor in psychology, the brand-as-a person has an element of truth in it; although brands are not people, they can be personified. In this paper, we address the questions of when and how brands are personified.] which is defined here as the human characteristics associated with a brand. For example, the brand personality of Levi's 501 jeans is American, western, ordinary, common, blue collar, hard working and traditional. By asking individuals to describe a brand as if it had come to life as a person, the meaning associated with a brand (as determined by factors such as brand attributes, benefits, price and product category; cf. Batra et al. 1993) can be identified.

Unfortunately, much of the research on brand personality has been limited due to the absence of a reliable and valid measurement tool that measures brand personalities across product categories. The primary purpose of this research was to develop a brand personality inventory (BPI) based on personality traits from psychology and marketing literatures that would capture the concept of brand personality. A factor analysis, based on the ratings of 114 personality traits on 40 brands in various product categories by 631 people, resulted in a highly stable five factor structure, termed here "The Big Five." A second level factor analysis (where each of the Big Five factors were individually factor analyzed) led to a secondary fifteen factor structure, termed here "The Little Fifteen." Finally, the personality traits which loaded into each of the Little Fifteen factors were cluster analyzed, resulting in the BPI, a 45 item inventory.

The BPI successfully met standards (Nunnally 1967) for internal reliability, test-retest reliability, content validity, nomological validity and construct validity. Tests of construct validity demonstrated that the traits which were positively related to a single factor had 1) high correlations with traits that measured the same factor and 2) low correlations with traits that measured other factors. Furthermore, although little theory exists to indicate what constructs brand personality predicts, attempts at illustrating predictive validity were made in two ways. First, the hypothesis that brands with strong personalities are associated with high levels of usage and preference (e.g. Biel 1993) was tested and supported. Second, the hypothesis that correlations between self-concept and brands used are higher than those between self-concept and brands not used (cf. Sirgy 1982) was tested and supported.

Finally, the theoretical implications of the existence of the Big Five factor structure as well as practical implications stemming from the 45 Item Inventory are discussed. Particular attention is given to the conceptual distinction between brand personality and user imagery. Specifically, we distinguish between the public vs. private nature of brand (i.e. to what extent the brand is bought/consumed by the consumer for him/her self vs. others), proposing that brand personality plays a greater role in consumer choice for private brands, while user imagery plays a greater role in consumer choice for public brands. In addition, however, we discuss what types of brands (and product categories) have particular personality profiles, and the relationship between self (actual and ideal) and brand preference and choice.


Aaker, David A. (1991), Managing Brand Equity, New York: The Free Press.

Belch, George E. and E. Laird Landon, Jr. (1977), "Discriminant Validity of a Product-Anchored Self-Concept Measure," Journal of Marketing Research, 14 (May), 252-256.

Bellenger, Danny N., Earle Steinberg, and Wilbur W. Stanton (1976), "The Congruence of Store Image and Self Image," Journal of Retailing, 52 (Spring), 17-32.

Biel, Alexander (1993), "Converting Image into Equity", in Advertising and Building Strong Brands, eds. David A. Aaker and Alexander Biel, Hillsdale: NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum and Associates.

Birdwell, Al E. (1968), "A Study of Influence if Image Congruence on Consumer Choice," Journal of Business, 41 (January), 76-88.

Blackston, Max (1993), "Beyond Brand Personality: Building Brand Relationships," in Brand Equity and Advertising, eds. David A. Aaker and Alexander Biel, Hillsdale: NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum and Associates.

Bruner, Jerome (1986), Actual Minds, Possible Words. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Bruner, Jerome (1990), Acts of Meaning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Burke, Kenneth (1945), A Grammar of Motives, New York, NY: Prentice Hall.

Buss, David M. and Kenneth H. Craik (1983), "The Act Frequency Approach to Personality," Psychological Review, 90 (2), 105-126.

Crask, Melvin R., and Henry A. Laskey (1990), "A Positioning-Based Decision Model for Selecting Advertising Messages," Journal of Advertising Research, (August/Sept.), 32-38.

Deighton, John, Daniel Romer and Josh McQueen (1989), "Using Drama to Persuade," Journal of Consumer Research, 16 (December), 335-343.

Gardner, Burleigh B. and Sidney J. Levy (1955), "The Product and the Brand," Harvard Business Review, 33 (April), 33-39.

Heider, Fritz (1958), The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations. New York, NY: Wiley.

King, Stephen (1989), "Branding Opportunities in Financial Services", in Advertising and Marketing Financial Services Conference.

Landon, E. Laird (1974), "Self-Concept, Ideal Self-Concept and Consumer Purchase Intentions," Journal of Consumer Research, 1 (September) 44-51.

Lannon, Judie and Peter Cooper (1983), "Humanistic Advertising: A Holistic Cultural Perspective", conference paper.

Levy, Sidney J. (1959), "Symbols for Sales," Harvard Business Review, 37 (4), 117-124.

Levy, Sidney J. (1985), "Dreams, Fairy Tales, Animals and Cars," Psychology and Marketing, 2 (Summer), 67-81.

Meheshwari, Arun K. (1974), Self-Product Image Congruence: A Macro-Level Analysis, Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms International.

Mick, David Glen and Klaus Buhl (1992), "A Meaning-Based Model of Advertising Experiences," Journal of Consumer Research, 19 (3), 317-338.

Norman, Warren (1963), "Toward an Adequate Taxonomy of Personality Attributes," Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 66 (6), 574-583.

Nunnally, Jum C. (1967), Psychometric Theory, NY, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company.

Osgood, C.E., George J. Suci and Percy M. Tannenbaum (1957), The Measurement of Meaning, Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Plummer, Joseph T. (1985), "How Personality Makes a Difference," Journal of Advertising Research, 24 (December/January), 27-31.

Schewe, Charles D. and William R. Dillon (1978), "Marketing Information System Utilization: An Application of Self-Concept Theory," Journal of Business Research, 6 (January), 67-79.

Shank, Roger C. (1990), Tell Me a Story, New York, NY: Macmillan Press.

Sirgy, M. Joseph (1982), "Self-Concept in Consumer Behavior: A Critical Review," Journal of Consumer Research, 9 (December) 287-300.

Srull, Thomas K. and Robert S. Wyer (1989), "Person Memory and Judgment," Psychological Review, 96 (1), 58-83.



Jennifer Aaker, Stanford University
Susan Fournier, Harvard University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22 | 1995

Share Proceeding

Featured papers

See More


Cultural Values and Consumers’ Brand Preference

Jessie J. Wang, Miami University, Ohio
Ashok K Lalwani, Indiana University, USA
Devon DelVecchio, Miami University, Ohio

Read More


The Power of the Past: Consumer Nostalgia as a Coping Resource

Dovile Barauskaite, ISM University of Management and Economics
Justina Gineikiene, ISM University of Management and Economics
Bob Fennis, University of Groningen, The Netherlands

Read More


“I Desire A Brand When I See How They are Different from Me”: Differential Effects of Blatant and Subtle Brand Rejection

Jun Yan, University of Manitoba, Canada
Fang Wan, University of Manitoba, Canada
Americus Reed, University of Pennsylvania, USA

Read More

Engage with Us

Becoming an Association for Consumer Research member is simple. Membership in ACR is relatively inexpensive, but brings significant benefits to its members.