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Moral Identity and Brand Anthropomorphism

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Across five studies, this research investigates the relationship between consumers’ moral identity internalization and their preference for anthropomorphized brands. We propose and find that higher moral identity internalization, whether chronic or situationally activated, increases people’s sensitivity to the human-ness and emotional expressions of anthropomorphized brands. In turn, this sensitivity to human expression affects brand attitudes and choice. We draw on theories of the expanding circle of moral regard, and morality as mind perception, to support our predictions. Specifically, we demonstrate that higher moral identity internalization is consistently associated with greater preference for anthropomorphized (vs. non-anthropomorphized) brands when the brand is neutral or friendly. However, when the anthropomorphized brand is aggressive, we find a negative relationship between moral identity internalization and brand preference. We show that perceptions of the human-ness and friendliness of the anthropomorphized brand is the psychological mechanism driving these effects (moderated-mediation). This research is the first to demonstrate that the extent to which people view an anthropomorphized brand as human, the and resulting downstream effects on brand attitudes and preference, can differ. It also demonstrates a novel entity to which higher moral identity internalizers are willing to extend their moral regard: anthropomorphized brands.

This talk is part of the CJBS Marketing Group Seminars series.

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