Self-Effacing versus Self-Enhancing Brand Appeals: The Influence of Impression Management Styles on Consumption Behavior

Tessa Garcia-Collart, Florida International University, and Jessica Rixom, University of Nevada, 2019, 19-130

To make a good impression on others, people sometimes use self-effacement -- de-emphasizing or diminishing virtues and accomplishments -- or self-enhancement -- over-emphasizing virtues in an overly positive, even boastful manner.

Similarly, marketing and brand managers may use self-effacing or self-enhancing brand-communications, but they have little guidance on the effects of these strategies. The question addressed here is, what are the effects of modest versus boastful marketing communications on consumers’ judgements and decisions?

Across four studies, Tessa Garcia-Collart and Jessica Rixom find that consumers experience less skepticism and more trust toward brands presented as self-effacing rather than self-enhancing, which leads to more positive brand-related attitudes. They also assess the downstream consequences of these strategies by considering choice and purchase decisions when real monetary trade-offs are involved and find that consumers are more likely to purchase and do so in greater quantities from self-effaced as opposed to self-enhanced brands.

Although this work highlights the preference for self-effacing brands, the authors also identify a situation when consumers prefer self-enhancing brands. When choosing between an advertised and an unknown brand, consumers who place high (low) value on product efficacy are more likely to choose the advertised brand if it is presented as self-enhancing (self-effacing), but to choose the unknown brand if the advertised brand is presented as self-effacing (self-enhancing).

Put into Practice

Self-effacing brand communications have positive effects including less skepticism, greater trust, more positive brand attitudes, and greater purchase likelihood and quantity relative to self-enhancing brand communications.

However, in product categories where product efficacy is important, among consumers who value efficacious products, it may be more advantageous to present brands as self-enhancing by using bolstering rather than modest messages. When consumers place less importance on product efficacy or when efficacy is irrelevant to the product category, consumers respond better to self-effacing, modest marketing messages.

Marketing managers can use this information in conjunction with product category and target market knowledge to determine which impression management strategy will best serve their brand.

Tessa Garcia-Collart is a Ph.D. candidate in marketing, Florida International University. Jessica Rixom is Associate Professor of Marketing, College of Business, University of Nevada, Reno.


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