Current Thinking

Creating and maintaining a brand image through advertising is something planners and buyers do every day. But how often do you participate in a campaign that works to create an identity for the consumer?

Not very often. But Wharton School of Business professor Americus Reed has recently published a paper that provides some clues as to how brands can develop a "social ID." The best examples are Nike and Harley-Davidson. Nike uses its logos, ad messages, and repetition to help consumers believe in their identities as athletes. Harley-Davidson has so aligned itself with a free-spirited ethos that its customers will often wait a whole year for a Harley rather than buy a competitor.

"Most auto companies are selling transportation," Reed says. "Harley-Davidson is selling a lifestyle. There's a big difference."

Reed believes advertisers should achieve social ID by identifying brands with work ethic, family, religious groups, or gender. It should appeal above all to strong and positive thoughts the consumer has about him- or herself. He describes a test in which consumers saw several ads for PDAs but preferred the one that stressed the product's ability to connect "families."

Reed also suggests that media professionals stay on the lookout for "new promising social identities that come about because of societal change," such as more women athletes and working mothers. If the marketing mix can successfully include social ID elements, customers will feel that "they simply

can't do without the product."
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