Brand Marketing Personality Research

The Brand Personality of Rocks? Yeah, it’s a thing!

By Posted 19 October 2016

You’ve probably heard of the Nobel Prize. It’s sort of a big deal. But have you heard of the Ig Nobel Prize? Probably not. It’s less of a big deal. To keep it simple, the Ig Nobels are awarded to studies that are kinda of ridiculous and weird but ultimately make us think. Some of the winners this year included a guy that decided to wear a goat suit and live with some mountain goats in the Swiss Alps, Japanese researchers who discovered that objects appear smaller when you look at them between the inverted V of your own legs and also Volkswagen for ‘solving the problem of excessive automobile pollution emissions’  (Remember that?)

But my favourite? The economics prize, which was awarded for a study by Mark Avis, Sarah Forbes and Shelagh Ferguson that investigated the brand personality… of rocks. That’s right. Rocks. If you’re a bit of a science buff, you can take a look at the full 24 page article here. If you’d rather get your science/marketing news in easy, bite-sized pieces, then keep chewing my friend. I’ve got you covered.

Basically, the researchers were trying to figure out if the Aaker’s brand personality scale used widely in marketing research is legit. Brand personality, FYI is the set of human characteristics associated with a brand. It’s kind of a big deal in the marketing world. Anyway, the researchers had an inkling that maybe the Aaker’s scale actually creates the brand personality rather than measures it. To test this out, they put pictures of three fairly unexciting rocks in front of 225 New Zealand students who were then asked which personality traits applied to each. The students had to decide which of 42 traits, 15 facets and 5 factors to apply to the rocks.

And boy, did they come up with some good ones. The rocks’ personalities were described in vivid detail – like something out of a book – and included: ‘a big New York type businessman, rich, smooth, maybe a little shady’ (I’m thinking this was the Don Draper of rocks), ‘a gypsy or a traveller, a hippie’ and ‘liberal, attractive female… enjoys organic food’ (I’d be interested to meet the person that decided a rock was ‘attractive’). My personal favourites include a comment that one rock ‘probably [lived] rurally and kept chickens’ and another that referred to a rock as ‘emotionally distinct from its family’.

Here’s a photo of the rocks studied:

And you know, I reckon I can tell which is which.

But what does this mean, in the real world? Sure, it’s an amusing bit of research, but what does it mean? Well, first of all, it means that Aaker’s scale might need a revisit. Most important, though, is that this study showed that people can ascribe a personality to pretty much ANYTHING. They pick up on a thousand tiny cues to ultimately decide on a personality that is almost absurdly specific.

That’s important for marketers trying to push a particular look or angle for their brand. The Aaker’s scale might be a bit off, but don’t quit the market research – you’ve got to make sure you’re getting exactly the right message across. The right cues will have your brand perceived as ‘a big New York type businessman, rich, smooth…’ One wrong cue and it’s also ‘a little shady… Not a good dude…’

Whether you’re marketing rocks or something a little more practical, The Raiders are there to help foster your brand and ensure your audience is exposed to the right cues. Get in touch via our contact page or call 1300 71 61 41.

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