One of the most important tenets of brand strategy is that successful brands have a clear and distinct focus, devoid of any contradictory or conflicting elements. This belief originated with the introduction of the Unique Selling Proposition, which states that successful branding involves a single, clearly expressed claim (Reeves 1961). Over time, it became firmly established as marketing embraced the concept of positioning, where brand managers were taught that successful brands occupy a clearly defined, relatively simple, and unambiguous position in their categories (Trout and Ries 1986). However, as brands and markets evolve over time, there is often a need to expand the meanings associated with brands to sharpen their differentiation versus other brands, appeal to new consumer segments, and resonate with changes in cultural values and consumer tastes (Keller 1999). At times, these new meanings add elements that are contradictory to each other. For example, Land Rover positions itself as both rugged and sophisticated, bridging luxury and hardworking functionality (Adweek 2013). Clearly, the notion of ruggedness and hardworking is contradictory to the notion of sophisticated and luxury. Yet, I find across two essays that this inherent contradiction in the brand need not be viewed negatively, and such a brand can be very successful in the marketplace. Thus, my dissertation challenges the long-held assumption that brands with clear and consistent brand meanings are more appealing to consumers. Specifically, I show across ten studies that certain consumers actually prefer brands that incorporate contradictory meanings, which I refer to as paradox brands. I present individuals with descriptions of brands that include a set of brand personality traits or brand values. These elements are contradictory to one another in the case of a paradox brand (e.g., personality traits: rugged and sophisticated) or consistent with one another in the case of a traditional non-paradox brand (e.g., personality traits: rugged and outdoorsy). I then assess individuals’ evaluation of the given brand, and find that paradox brands are often evaluated more favorably than non-paradox brands. My dissertation consists of two essays, which examine two potential conceptual frameworks that might explain how people respond to brands with contradictory brand elements. The first essay examines the effect of dialectical thinking on the evaluation of paradox brands. Across seven studies, I find that consumers who embrace a dialectical style of thinking, and are thus more comfortable with contradiction, evaluate paradox brands more favorably than non-paradox brands. I find that this is because paradox brands fit well with their style of thinking, resulting in more favorable evaluations for paradox than non-paradox brands. The second essay looks at bicultural consumers and examines the effect of cognitive flexibility on the evaluation of paradox brands. Across three studies I find that bicultural consumers evaluate paradox brands more favorably than non-paradox brands, and that this is driven by their higher levels of cognitive flexibility.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2019. Major: Business Administration. Advisor: Deborah John. 1 computer file (PDF); iv, 97 pages.
Paradox Brands: Can Brands with Contradictory Meanings be More Appealing to Consumers?.
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