Advertising is a funny thing.
While we may like to think of ourselves as conscious consumers who aren’t swayed by product branding, studies have long shown that our feelings and impressions of particular brands are incontrovertibly, if subtly, influenced by advertising.
Recent research out of Johns Hopkins’s Carey Business School indicates that some people feel that influence even more strongly than others. A certain category of consumers — “materialists who strongly link possessions to happiness and who tend to have poor personal relationships” — show a preference for anthropomorphized brands that present themselves in a subservient role (think products that trumpet their helping attributes, as with Scrubbing Bubbles’s slogan we work hard so you don’t have to), over brands that present themselves as partners. That is, materialist consumers prefer brands that are advertised as being a little bit human — and a little bit submissive — more than their non-materialist counterparts.
“When materialists encounter an anthropomorphized servant brand, they sense an opportunity to fulfill their need to dominate something. They would rather dominate other people, but socially that’s not an easy thing to accomplish. So, for this type of consumer, the next best thing is to dominate a servant brand,” says study author Hyeongmin Christian Kim, an associate professor at the Carey Business School. “The feeling wouldn’t be the same toward an objectified brand [that is, one lacking human attributes] or an entirely inanimate object like a rock. It has to be anthropomorphized.”
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