The Braggart and the Brand: The Role of Brand Attachment in Brand-Related Bragging

Tejvir Sekhon, Barbara Bickart, Remi Trudel, and Susan Fournier, 2018, 18-103

Bragging about brands on social media is pervasive. Marketers overtly encourage this behavior through their actions designed to increase brand mentions. However, consumers engaging in brand-related bragging face a tradeoff between enhancing perceptions of their competence and lowering perceptions of their likability. Likewise, for brands, consumers’ brags increase visibility but also convey negative brand-user imagery that might detract from brand equity. This research identifies ways to manage this tradeoff for both braggarts and brands. The authors show that the negative consequences of brand-related bragging can be mitigated by conveying one’s attachment to the mentioned brand.

Four experiments find that when brand attachment is conveyed (versus not), mentioning a high-status brand in a social media post results in more positive evaluations of both the communicator and the brand. Brand attachment cues lead the audience to infer that the communicator talks about the brand because of intrinsic motives such as personal enjoyment, versus extrinsic motives such as status signaling, resulting in more favorable communicator impressions and brand-user imagery.

The authors demonstrate this process both through a mediation analysis and by showing that when alternative extrinsic motives are made salient, observers tend to rely less on conveyed attachment when inferring motives. These effects are robust across product categories and across cues representing different facets of brand attachment. In sum, this research leads to a broader theoretical framework that can help understand brand-related bragging and suggests practical ways to mitigate its negative consequences.

Until now, the WOM literature has mostly focused on how the content of reviews and explicit recommendations influences consumer and product evaluations. Though consumers also mention brands when they talk about their everyday lives outside of a review/recommendation context, most academic research on brand mentions maintains a gross definition of the construct, noting simply whether and under what conditions a brand is mentioned.

Marketing practitioners, on the other hand, focus primarily on the frequency or valence of brand mentions and consider all positive and neutral statements in a summary “buzz” metric that drives awareness and visibility.

This research presents a more nuanced understanding of the content and context of brand mentions by exploring how brands are mentioned and, more specifically, what relationship the communicator has with the mentioned brands. This perspective allows for contextual insights that can shape how marketers encourage brand mentions in order to build brand equity and meaning.

Firms commonly encourage brand mentions on social media. This research shows that by nudging consumers to publicly enact their brand attachments using linguistic cues in their social media posts, such mentions will enhance brand visibility while limiting a negative impact on brand image.

This research also makes an important contribution to the consumer-brand relationship literature. Brand relationships are not ends in themselves but facilitators of social connections in terms of person-brand-person linkages. A key determinant of a triangular person-brand-person relationship could be the nature of the dyadic person-brand relationship as inferred by an outside observer.

By applying a social perception lens on consumer-brand relationships for the first time, this research shows how others’ inferences about a consumer change depending upon how the consumer describes his or her brand relationship, and demonstrates that there are benefits of signaling brand attachment for both consumers and brands. This perspective also provides the necessary theoretical linkage between dyadic constructs such as consumer-brand relationships and broader phenomenon such as brand communities. 

Tejvir S. Sekhon is Assistant Professor of Marketing at College of Business and Economics, Western Washington University. Barbara Bickart is Associate Professor of Marketing, Remi Trudel is Assistant Professor of Marketing, and Susan Fournier is Senior Associate Dean and Questrom Professor of Management, all at the Questrom School of Business, Boston University. This research was supported by a grant from the Marketing Science Institute.


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