University of Pittsburgh
April 22, 2009

Consumers' Relationship Styles Can Affect Their Brand Choices, According to Study Coauthored by Pitt Professors Published in This Month's Journal of Consumer Research

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PITTSBURGH-According to a study published in this month's Journal of Consumer Research-"When Brand Personality Matters: The Moderating Role of Attachment Styles"-a consumer's relationship style, otherwise known as "attachment style," impacts an individual's brand choices.

Lead author Vanitha Swaminathan, Pitt associate professor of business administration in the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, and coauthors Karen M. Stilley, a doctoral candidate in marketing at the Katz School, and Rohini Ahluwalia, an associate professor of marketing at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, explored the ways attachment styles influence brand choices.

According to the authors, individuals who exhibit anxious attachments are more influenced by "brand personalities"-the idea that a brand possesses humanlike traits, such as sincerity or excitement. "Because of a low view of self, anxious individuals use brands to signal their ideal self-concept to future relationship partners and therefore focus more on the personality of the brand," the authors write.

In the studies, which were conducted at Pitt, researchers tested participants to determine their attachment styles. They then asked participants about their desires for "sincere" versus "exciting" products."

"Anxious individuals who were more avoidant of relationships tended to choose Abercrombie jeans, which were perceived to be more exciting than sincere. In contrast, anxious individuals who seek intimacy in relationships were more likely to pick Gap jeans, which were perceived as more sincere than exciting," the authors write.

"Our research points to an interesting but counterintuitive finding: brand personality can be most useful for forging consumer brand connections in a domain where past literature in the interpersonal relationship context suggests brand attachments are most unlikely (high anxiety/high avoidance consumers)," the authors write. "Interestingly, brand personality might hold the key to forming attachments with and enhancing the purchase likelihood of these consumers."