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Conspicuous Branding is Annoying

Nov 18, 2013
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If you’ve got it, don’t flaunt it. That’s the conclusion Smith School researchers came to when they studied how people display the brands they use. 

According to the study, people boasting the brands they use in a conspicuous manner – such as name-dropping their designer handbag label or wearing Gucci sunglass indoors – is a turn-off for many others.

The researchers found that these show-offs can reflect poorly on a brand and cause brand dilution. For consumers not connected to the brand, seeing someone flaunt it conjures up negative feelings toward the brand itself. But other consumers who are so bonded with a brand that they consider it a part of their self-concept easily dismiss the behavior, says Rosellina Ferraro, associate professor of marketing and co-author of the study. She did the research with Amna Kirmani, professor of marketing, and Ted Matherly, a Smith PhD graduate who is now an assistant professor of marketing at Oklahoma State University.

The researchers tested participants’ reactions to two well-liked brands, Apple and Tiffany, in a variety of situations that showed subjects either flaunting or inconspicuously using branded products. For example, one test had subjects reacting to a mock Facebook post of a man showing off his iPad in a specially designed T-shirt with a chest pocket for the device.The research raises a warning for companies, whose future customer base lies in the people who are currently not connected to their brand. “With the prevalence of social media, now everybody is a brand ambassador. and companies are trying to get everyday users of a brand to promote it,” Ferraro said. “While companies want to encourage this behavior, they don’t want people to do it a way that’s going to potentially turn off other consumers.”

So what’s a marketer to do? Getting people so connected to a brand that they can forgive and forget any fellow consumer’s behavior is agoal of all companies, says Ferraro.  She recommends brand managers focus on trying to build a self-brand connectionby  using messages about how the brand relates to self on a personal level. One effective example she points to is Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” that challenges beauty stereotypes with messaged aimed to make women reexamine their own images.

The bottom line: Companies can’t control how consumers use – or flaunt – their brand, but they can control their own brand messages, she says. “It’s in a brand’s best interest to try to discourage flaunting behavior, but also encourage people to get excited about the brand,” Ferraro says. “It can be a fine line to walk.”

About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business 

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, MS in business, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.