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TitleA Brand as a Character, A Partner and a Person- Three Perspectives on the Question of Brand Personality
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A Brand as a Character, A Partner and a Person: Three Perspectives on the Question of
Brand Personality

Jennifer Aaker, Stanford University
Susan Fournier, Harvard University

Introduction and Ot^lectlve of Session
The idea of a brand personality is familiar and accepted by

most advertising practitioners (e.g., Plummer 1985) and many
marketing academics (e.g., Gardner and Levy 1955). For decades,
researchers have argued that brand personality is an important topic
of study because it can help to differentiate brands (e.g., Crask and
L^skey 1990), develop the emotional aspects of a brand (e.g.,
Landon 1974) and a u ^ e n t the personal meaning of a brand to the
consumer (e.g.. Levy 1959). However, although brand personality
is intuitively appealing and, as a result, has received considerable
academic attention, it has been criticized on a number of dimen-
sions; conceptual, methodological and substantive. First, at the
conceptual level, there is still some ambiguity over what a brand
personality u. How should it be defined and conceptualized? How
(or when) is it different from brand image and/or user imagery ? The
answers to these questions have important implications for manag-
ers and academics interested in understanding the larger questions
of why brand personality is important and how brand personality
works.

Second, at the methodological level: how is brand personality
best measured? White most researchers generally rely on qualita-
tive methods, such as photo-sorts, free associations, psychodramatic
exercises (cf. Levy 1985) these open-ended techniques are often
dropped in the later stages of research as marketers look for more
quantitative ways to detect and enumerate differences among their
brands (Blackston 1993), the most common of which is the differ-
ential semantic scale (e.g. Birdweil 1968; Plummer 1985). How-
ever, studies using such scales are limited since the "right" way to
compile the adjectives has not yet been determined.^ Clearly, a
brand personality research program should flow from the concep-
tual definition that guides it. Moreover, it would likely include both
qualitative and quantitative methodologies in order to retain the
advantages of both. However, what those methodologies are, and
how they work together to articulate the conceptualization remain
unclear.

Third, at the substantive level: what does personality do for a
brand? What are the implications of having a brand personality?
What marketing activities create or alter it? In the past, researchers
have suggested that brand personality is most important when used
as a research tool to identify personal meaning for the consumer
(King 1989). Others assert that brand personality is needed as
information for creatives when developing advertising (Lannon
and Cooper 1983). Still others have suggested that brand person-
ality should be seen as a more global construct: a key determinant
of brand equity (Aaker 1991; Biel 1993). In brief, brand personal-
ity, as a construct, has multiple uses. However little systematic
research hasbeen conducted to understand or classify these uses. Is

ISome researchers have used adjectives extracted from personality
inventories used for detecting emotional instability, schizophrenia
or neuroticism (e.g., Maheshwari 1974). Others simply use
attributes most related to the products being tested (e.g., Birdwell
1968; Schewe and Dillon 1978). Moreover, regardless of how the
adjectives are selected, reliability and validity problems are gen-
erally not addressed. (See Sirgy 1982 for a more complete review
of these and other measurement difficulties).

brand personality best used as a research tool, a clue for creatives
or as a key element to brand equity? Or is the answer "D"?

The primary objective of this session is to address these three
areas of ambiguity in brand personality research. As illustrated by
the set-up of the session, our goal is not to converge on one
definition, conceptualization and measurement tool for brand per-
sonality. Rather, we draw on diverse literatures such as narrative
theory, social psychology and psychometric theory, and illuminate
their potential contributions to the study of brand personality.

The secondary objective of this session is to provide a platform
for future research on brand personalities and related topics. Upon
reviewing the literature on brand personality, one gets the sense that
each study does not receive the attention it may deserve—wheels
are spinning yet brand personality research doesn't get very far. In
order to give past, current and future studies some traction, solid
theoretical frameworks and a sense of the topic's breadth are
needed. By focusing on what brand personality is, how it can be
measured and how it works, we hope to spur further research to take
one of these three perspectives and address other issues of brand
personality.2

Orientation of Session and Topics Covered
As outlined above, the goal of the proposed special session, "A

Brand as a Character, a Partner and a Person: Three Perspectives
on the Question of Brand Personality" is to serve as a forum to
discuss current issues on brand personality and suggest areas for
future research within the domain of brand personality. All three
papers will address three fundamental questions involving brand
personality via a particular behavioral perspective (a narrative,
relationship and trait approach) and using a particular methodology
(narrative analysis, depth interviews and multivariate analysis).
Those questions are:

(1) What is brand personality?
(2) How can brand personality be measured^
(3) Whatare the imp/icfl/ionj of (a) havingabrand personality,
and (b) the advocated conceptualization of brand personality?

The first paper by Allen and Olson addresses these three
questions by viewing brand personality from a "naive-psychologi-
cal" (Heider 1958) and narrative (Bruner 1990) perspective. Brand
personality is conceptualized based on the way that observers
attribute personality characteristics to people during everyday
interaction. Based on this conceptualization, the possibilities for
using narrative theory as a profitable framework for understanding
the processes by which consumers form personality impressions

^Further areas of research might include; to what extent does a
brand take on a personality before vs. after use? What roles do
brand names, logos and symbols play in developing a brand
personality? What impact does a brand personality have on
loyalty? Under what situations is one brand personality preferred
over another? What type of advertising (e.g. transformational vs.
informational) is most effective in developing a brands with a
strong personality? The three papersinthissessionwill raise these
and other ideas for future research.

391 Advances in Consumer Research
Volume 22, ©1995

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392 / A Brand as a Character, A Partner and a Person: Three Perspectives on the Question of Brand Personality

(via brand characters and behaviors) are discussed. Viewing brand
personality with a narrative perspective has direct implications for
(a) the mode of thought used by consumers to derive personality
meaning for brands, (b) the techniques used by advertisers to create
brand personality and (c) how to measure consumers perceptions of
brand personality. Finally, issues for future research on brand
pereonality and the use of narrative theory are outlined.

The second paper by Foumier addresses the three questions by
takingarelationshipapproachtobrandpersonatity research. Within
Foumier's theoreticat framework, the brand is treated as an active,
contributingmemberofa retationship dyad thatjoins the consumer
and the brand. It is suggested that consumers form trait inferences
from the behaviors undertaken by the brand in its partnership roie,
and that these trait inferences then form the basis for consumer's
evatuative conceptions of the brand. While previous work (cf.,
Atten and Otson 1994) suggests that consumers may draw infer-
ences from the behaviors enacted by the brand or the brand
character in advertising (e.g., the Catifomia Raisins, the Pillsbury
Doughboy), Foumier suggests a broader source of t^ehaviors from
which trait inferences are made. Specificatty, she proposes that att
marketing mix activities and brand management decisions can t>e
constmed as "tjehaviors" enacted on the part of the brand, and
appties act frequency theory (Buss and Craik 1983) to aid in
understanding the personality imptications of a range of observed
brand behaviors. To ittustrate the kinds of personatity infe ences
consumers make based on brand behavior as wett as the types of
brand-consumer relationships, a series of depth interviews with
consumers are described. In closing, the relationship-oriented
view is compared to existing conceptuatizations of brand personat-
ity. Measurement imptications for articutating the character of a
brand's personatity,assessingbrand personatity strength,and track-
ing personatity change over time are highlighted and discussed.

The third paper explores by Aaker the three questions by
taking a trait approach to the study of brand personality. By drawing
on personatity measurement theory (e.g., Norman 1968; Osgood et
al. 1957), Aaker operationatizes brand personality as the human
characteristics of a brand. In order to identify the core factors which
represent brand personatity (much tike the Big Five represent
peoptepersonatity),Aakerfactoranalyzes the individuat ratings of
40 brands on 114 personatity traits by 631 respondents recruited in
the United States. The principat components factor anatysis resutts
in five significant factors. Asecond order factor anatysisstmctures
these five factorsintofifteen sub-factors. Next, 45 personatity traits
that represent the Big-Five stmcture are identified via a ctustering
procedure (Nunnatty 1967). In addition, the imptications of this
brand personality hierarchy (5 factors, 15 sub-factors and 45 traits)
are discussed. Specifically, Aaker examines (1) what types of
brands (and product categories) have particular personality pro-
files, (2) the retationship between setf-concept and the personatity
of a chosen (and preferred) brand and (3) what types of brands have
a different personatity vs. user imagery, as well as what such a
distinction means for the brand.

The discussant of the session wilt contribute in two ways:
First, Keller wilt offer a globat and criticat perspective of brand
personatity by addressing questions such as: Does brand personal-
ity realty exist? If it does, do all brands have personatities? When
is it most helpful to think of brands in terms of "personalities"?
Second, Ketter will draw on his own research on brand equity to
examine the relationship between brand personality and equity.
Specifically, the discussant will address questions such as; Under
what conditions do brand personality and brand equity positively
correlate? Do they ever negatively corretaie? Is it the strength, the
favorabilityand/oruniquenessofthe brand personatity that leads to

brand equity? Altemativety, is there a certain type of personatity
that teads to greater equity?

Intended Audience
It is hoped that the session witt appeat to marketing academics

and practitioners interested in brand personatity from both a con-
sumer perspective (e.g. How do consumers see brands? When do
consumers personify brands? How do they feet about brands?) and
a branding perspective (e.g. What types of personat meanings are
imbued in brands? What types of brands take on personatities?
What does a personality do for a brand?). In addition, we hope to
attract researchers interested using a variety of methodologies such
as narrative analysis, depth interviews and multivariate analysis.

Statement of Contribution
The session has been designed so that its primary contribution

will be to advance brand personality research at three levels:
conceptual, methodological and substantive. However, in addition,
we hope that, with the help of the discussant, a critical view of the
topic is provided and areas for future research on brand personality
are suggested.

CONCEPTUALIZING AND CREATING BRAND
PERSONAUTY: A NARRATIVE THEORY

APPROACH
Douglas E. Allen and Jerry Olson, Penn State University
In this paper, we offer a conceptual analysis of the concept of

brand personality and begin to develop a theory of brand personal-
ity. We show how this theory can guide research into the anteced-
ents and consequences of brand personality. Narrative theory,
which is especially useful in explaining how consumers interpret
advertisers' attempts to create brand personality, is a key element
in our approach. With this perspective we address a variety of
questions, including: (a) What is brand personality? (b) How can
brands have personalities? (c) How can marketers create a brand
personality? (d) How can we measure brand personality? (e) What
are the implications of having a brand personatity?

Our definition of brand personality is based on an approach to
understandinghuman interaction referred to as "naive psychology"
(Heider 1958) or "folk psychology" (Bruner 1990). This perspec-
tive seeks to explain interpersonal relations by focusing on the way
in which observers naturally attach meaning to everyday social
situations. Thus, our conceptualization of personatity is based on
the process by which people attribute personatity characteristics to
other people. We define personality as the set of meanings con-
structed by an observer to describe the "inner" characteristics of
another pwrson. Personatity meanings such as traits are created via
inferences or attributions based on observations of anotherperson's
behavior. For example, an observer witnesses a person kick a dog
and infers that the person is"mean". We emphasize that attributions
about personatity traits are based targety on observations of behav-
ior (supposedly "caused" by the unobserved personality trait).
Despite the circutarity ofthis process, personatity meanings have a
useful function as they are abstract meanings that can be used to
summarize complex behaviors and form expectations of future
behaviors.

We use this same logic to conceptualize brand personality.
Creating a brand personality literally Involves the personification
of a brand. Attributions of personality to a brand require that the
brand perfomis intentional behaviors. To do so, the brand must be
"alive"— thebrandmustbe an action figure that intentionally does
things. Based on the observed behaviors, consumers can make
attributionsabout the brand's personality—"innercharacter," goals

Page 3

and values. In some marketing strategies, the brand is actually
made to be "alive" and action-oriented ... as when the Raid can
strides into a nDom and kills the bugs by itself or when the scrubbing
bmshes of Dow bathroom cleaner scurry around, joyously cleaning
the tub. In other cases, the brand is personified in a character that
is "alive" - Joe Camel represents Camel cigarettes, while the Jolly
Green Giant personifies Green Giant vegetables. In sum, we define
brand personality as the specific set of meanings which describe the
"inner" characteristics of a brand. These meanings are con-
structed by a consumer based on behaviors exhibited by personified
brands or brand characters.

The "folk psychological" perspective we use to explicate the
concept of brand personality has several implications. For one, the
mode of thought consumers use to derive personality meanings
from brand behavior is likely to take on a narrative form. As
opposed to a more scientific thought process used to form brand
impressions, personality impressions formed in a folk-psychologi-
cal manner involve a narrative thought process (Bmner 1986;
1990). As Bmner (1990) states, "its [folk psychology's] organizing
principle is narrative..." (p. 35). Thus, Bmner argues that the
primary way people make sense out of the behaviors of others (or
fictional characters in a story) involves creating stories. Further-
more, Schank (1990) argues that all human knowledge is stored in
the form of narratives. Thus, narrative thought plays an important
role in constructing a brand personality.

The second implication of a narrative approach to brand
personality is that marketers need to show the brand "doing things"
in their advertising. In essence this involves portraying brands as
characters in a story (Deighton, Romer and McQueen 1989). Thus,
the Listerine bottle dons shield and sword and engages in combat
with the plaque and gingivitis monster. The Raid can, wearing a
military hat, strides into the room and kills the bugs by reaching up
and squirting the nozzle under its hat. Such ads have a narrative
form since the story shows the action sequence performed by the
brand. Narratives or dramas provide more opportunities for por-
traying the intentional behaviors which are the bases for personality
inferences.

Finally, a narrative perspective provides direction for measur-
ing brand personality. For instance, by using an approach based on
narrative theory (e.g.. Tell me a story about brand X; What would
brand X do in this circumstance?; If brand X were a person, how
would it respond?) researchers may be able to identify which
pattem of actions for a brand are most salient and meaningful. In
addition to the successful use of stories as a projective technique,
consumer stories may be also analyzed using literary or dramatic
theory. For instance, Burke's pentad (Burke 1945) of Actor,
Action, Goal, Scene and Instmment may be used to analyze
consumer stories.

We conclude the paper by reviewing the key concepts in our
vision of brand personality, identifying several issues for future
research and suggesting several ways to address these issues.

THE BRAND-AS-RELATIONSHIP PARTNER: AN
ALTERNATIVE VIEW OF BRAND PERSONAUTY

Susan Fournier, Harvard Business School
Despite its acceptance in advertising and marketing practice,

the brand personality construct has yet to receive dedicated theo-
retical attention in the consumer behavior literature. This paper
uses interpersonal relationship theory to develop a conceptual
framework for understanding and extending the notion of brand
personality. Specifically, the brand is treated as an active, contrib-
uting partner in the dyadic relationship that exists between the
person and the brand, a partner whose behaviors and actions

Advances in Consumer Research (Volume 22) 1393

generate trait inferences that collectively summarize the consumer's
perception of the brand's personality.

As a first step in the theory development, the legitimacy of
considering the brand in a partnership role is debated. Can the brand
be personalized as member of the relationship dyad? Do brands in
fact reach out to customers on an individual basis, seeking to form
one-on-one relationships with them? Can the brand be reasonably
constmed as an active contributor in the relationship? Through
discussion, the "personalized," "dyadic," and "active" aspects of
the brand are made salient. An important step in this argument is
the author's proposal that, at a broad level of abstraction, all
marketing mix activities and brand management decisions (e.g., a
change in the brand's advertising campaign, a coupon drop, alter-
ation of package size) can be constmed as "behaviors" enacted on
the part of the brand—behaviors that trigger attitudinal, cognitive,
and/or behavioral responses on the part of the consumer. This
exercise allows the audience to elevate the status of the brand from
that of a passive object in one-sided marketing transactions to that
of full-fledged relationship partner.

With this as a foundation, the author proposes a conceptual
definition of the brand-as-partner (BAP) based on how the brand is
evaluated in its role as member of the relationship dyad. The
conceptualization goes beyond traditional concepts of brand per-
sonality to consider additional sources of identity and to specify the
processes by which these sources are integrated into an evaluative
conception of the brand. A framework depicting the component
processes involved in the creation of the brand-as-partner notion
embellishes this definition. A hierarchical set of identity themes
and goals is first identified for the company and brand (see Mick and
Buhl 1992 for a discussion of life themes and life projects). These
goalsconstmctspurposively genera teasetofmarketingactions and
brand behaviors that unfold over time. Literature on the formation
of person impressions (Smll and Wyer 1989) suggests that these
behavioral acts are spontaneously translated into trait language, and
that the trait inferences then form the basis for the evaluative
concept of the brand.

In order to articulate the personality inferences that are stimu-
lated by a range of common marketing actions, a series of depth
interviews were conducted and are described. Next, the act fre-
quency approach to personality (Buss and Craik 1983) is applied to
aid in understanding how personality is inferred from a range of
observed brand behaviors. An example for Colgate toothpaste is
provided to illustrate the model. Asa final exercise, the BAP notion
is compared with existing conceptualizations of brand personality
to highlight the explanatory power afforded by the relationship-
oriented view. Implications for assessing the strength of a brand's
personality within the role-theoretic framework are discussed, and
the notion of brand personality is considered. Previously unrecog-
nized outcome variables (such as commitment, satisfaction and
involvement) that may be influenced by the strength and character
of the BAP are also suggested. In closing, the implications and
future ideas for BAP measurement are considered.

MEASURING THE HUMAN CHARACTERISTICS
OF A BRAND: A BRAND PERSONAUTY

HIERARCHY
Jennifer Aaker, Stanford University

The idea that brands contain personal meaning for the
consumer's self-conception has received a great deal of attention in
the marketing and consumer behavior literatures in the last thirty
years (see Sirgy 1982 for a review). Much of this research focuses
on the idea that a brand can be thought of as having "personality,"^
which is defined here as the human characteristics associated with

Page 4

394 / A Brand as a Charat^er, A Partner and a Person: Three Perspectives on the Question of Brand Personality

a brand. For example, the brand personality of Levi's 501 jeans is
American, westem, ordinary, common, blue collar, hard working
and traditional. By asking individuals to describe a brand as if it had
come to life as a person, the meaning associated with a brand (as
determined by factors such as brand attributes, benefits, price and
product category; cf. Batra et ai 1993) can be identified.

Unfortunately, much ofthe research on brand personality has
been limited due to the absence of a reliable and valid measurement
toot that measures brand personalities across product categories.
Tlie primary purpose of this research was to develop a brand
personality inventory (BPI) based on personality traits from psy-
chology and marketing literatures that would capture the concept of
brand personality. A factor analysis, based on the ratings of 114
personality traits on 40 brands in various product categories by 631
people, resulted in a highly stable five factor structure, termed here
"The Big Five." A second level factor analysis (where each of the
Big Five factors were individually factor analyzed) led to a second-
ary fifteen factor structure, termed here "The Little Fifteen."
Finally, the personality traits which loaded into each ofthe Little
Fifteen factors were cluster analyzed, resulting in the BPI, a 45 item
inventory.

TTie BPI successfully met standards (Nunnally 1967) for
internal reliability, test-retest reliability, content validity,
nomological validity and construct validity. Tests of construct
validity demonstrated that the traits which were positively related
to a single factor had 1) high correlations with traits that measured
the same factor and 2) low correlations with traits that measured
other factors. Furthermore, although little theory exists to indicate
what constructs brand personality predicts, attempts at illustrating
predictive validity were made in two ways. First, the hypothesis
that brands with strongpersonalitiesare associated with high levels
of usage and preference (e.g. Biel 1993) was tested and supported.
Second, the hypothesis that correlations between self-concept and
brands used are higher than those between self-concept and brands
not used (cf. Sirgy 1982) was tested and supported.

Finally, the theoretical implications of the existence ofthe Big
Five factor structure as well as practical implications stemming
from the 45 Item Inventory are discussed. Particular attention is
given to the conceptual distinction between brand personality and
user imagery. Specifically, we distinguish between the public vs.
private nature of brand (i.e. to what extent the brand is bought/
consumed by the consumer for hinVher self vs. others), proposing
that brand personality plays a greater role in consumer choice for
private brands, while user imagery plays a greater role in consumer
choice for public brands. In addition, however, we discuss what
types of brands (and product categories) have particular personality

term, personality, is used differentiy in the context of
brands (consumer behavior) than in the context of persons
(psychology). For example, while a person's personality is
determined by multi-dimensional factors (e.g, appearance, traits
and behavior), a brand, by its nature of being an inanimate
object, has a personality that is determined by different factors
(e.g, attributes, benefits, price, user imagery). The term, brand
personality, is not being used here in a strict or literal sense, but
as a metaphor. Like the person-as-a-computer metaphor in
psychology, the brand-as-a-person has an element of truth in it;
although brands are not people, they can be personified. In this
paper, we address the questions of when and how brands are
personified.

profiles, and the relationship between self (actual and ideal) and
brand preference and choice.

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