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Symbolic brands used to delineate group association

University of Chicago Press Journals

A new study in the forthcoming issue of Journal of Consumer Research examines the profound impact brand meaning has in constructing group preference. A certain car may associate you with a group of people you consider desirable--such as picking the hybrid in order to assimilate with environmentally minded consumers. In other cases, your decision may be a purposeful desire to distance yourself from others.

"Some individuals tend to focus on the personal self, thinking of themselves in terms of unique personal traits and attributes and de-emphasizing relationships with others, whereas other individuals tend to focus on the social self and how the self is related to other people," say Jennifer Edson Escalas (Vanderbilt) and James R. Bettman (Duke).

The authors explain that both interdependent and independent consumers build brand connections that are in concert with their "in-groups." Yet, independent consumers tend to reject "out-group" associations, with this rejection serving as a way to distance themselves further from other groups.

"Consumers make use of brands for these purposes [as] a function of whether the brand itself is symbolic, i.e., able to communicate something about the user, with greater effects for more symbolic than for less symbolic brands," write the authors.


Escalas, Jennifer Edson and James R. Bettman. "Self-Construal, Reference Groups, and Brand Meanings." Journal of Consumer Research, Dec. 2005.

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