Using brand characters online to build an emotional connection with consumers and brand loyalty beyond immediate product consumption

Learnings from the success of the M&Ms characters


Project Report, 2016

24 Pages, Grade: 5.50


Excerpt

Table of Contents

Introduction

Literature review-Gap Identification (12 to 20 articles)

Research problem
Research objectives
Research questions

Methodology Description and Justification

Draft of Data collection Questioning Routes

Questionnaire design

In-depth interview questions design

A timetable of the Dissertation’s Completion Plan

Reference list

Abstract

The research addresses the question of how the usage of brand characters online builds emotional connection with consumers and brand loyalty beyond immediate product consumption, which will be analyzed through the learnings from the success of the M&M’s characters. This will be achieved through extensive research using both quantitative and qualitative methods and analysis. As an initial step, a top-line literature review has been done, with a specific end goal to pick up knowledge about the hypotheses behind the phenomenon of using brand characters online to build brand loyalty. This research requires the procurement of applicable information with respect to the importance and effect of using brand characters online.

This project underlines the multifaceted nature of the construct of brand loyalty and the need of an emotional connection towards a brand keeping in mind the end goal to be brand loyal. Then, consequently, the dissertation will take brand loyalty as a general behavioral approach, and identify with the emotional connection specified above in the construct of brand connection. Thusly, it will recognize both approaches by demonstrating the difference between them being the time for which the customer will keep up a tight relationship with a brand. It will argue that brand character usage online supports the prolongation of the time a customer is attached to a brand, due to the higher emotional connection which builds brand commitment.

I ntroduction

The aim of this research is to investigate the question of how the usage of brand characters online builds emotional connection with consumers and brand loyalty beyond immediate product consumption, which will be analyzed through the learnings from the success of the M&M’s characters. This research requires the procurement of applicable information with respect to the importance and effect of using brand characters online. Their perceived effect is evidenced by the increasing attention that regulators and NGO’s alike are paying to such tactics and the push for regulating their use in order to ensure they are used responsibly. In the marketing world, research has demonstrated that consumers nowadays buy products of a given brand not only for their purposes, but also for what they represent – a desirable lifestyle, a status symbol or even an ethical way of living (Arnould & Thompson, 2005; Holt, 1995; Levy, 1959).

Some consumers may choose a brand that matches their own personality or somehow describe their purchase behavior or purchase identity. “Many marketing activities are thus employed to attract consumers through establishing certain brand personality. In addition, brand personality is also found to strengthen consumers’ communication with brands and further improve brand loyalty and brand equality” (Govers & Schoormans, 2005). The meaning of brand identity has been getting numerous specialists' consideration in the marketing literature (J. L Aaker, 1997; Grohmann, 2009; Wentzel, 2009).

The project will not focus on the regulatory landscape but rather explore the growing positive potential of using animated characters which are specifically created to embody and represent a brand – so called brand characters. By creating brand characters that can tell a more engaging story of the brand and develop a consumer connection beyond product purchasing, online and social media marketers would have at their disposal a rich source of content, storylines and consumer engagement opportunities (e.g. games, surveys, etc.).

The project would look at the theoretical basis for successful brand character usage, character qualities which are particularly powerful when connecting with consumers and explore successful and failed attempts to activate brand characters online. As the most iconic brand characters in the world, that have existed over the last 5 decades, M&Ms will be used as a primary case study and the learnings from their success will be distilled for practitioners to use in the future.

“If you don’t get noticed,

you don’t have anything.

You just have to be

noticed, but the art is in

getting noticed naturally,

without screaming or

without tricks.”

Literature Review – Gap Identification

The story of the M&Ms characters

The M&M’s characters have represented the M&M’s product for over 60 years. They were amongst the first product characters created and are arguably the best known food characters in existence today. They are known and loved by consumers of all ages all around the world.

The M&M’s characters are unique amongst food characters because they are adult-oriented and adult-targeted. Unlike the majority of other characters used in food marketing, the M&M’s characters are distinctly adult, as evidenced by their personalities, mannerisms, humor and creative execution. The M&Ms characters were developed and launched in 1954. They were originally created for both adults and children, however over the last decade, MARS have evolved them to be adult in their creative execution.

There are a number of important differences that distinguish the M&Ms characters from other food brand characters in use today:

- The characters are the product – the M&Ms characters are the M&Ms product themselves
- The characters are the brand – the distinctive memory structures (DMS) of the brand are intrinsically linked to the characters.
- Their representation and personalities are adult oriented – M&Ms characters have highly developed three-dimensional adult personalities. They are presented in real scenarios and focus on adult comedic storylines. By contrast, child-oriented brand characters tend to be mythical creatures or animals, living in made-up or cartoon worlds with highly simplistic storylines, very little dialogue and childish personalities.
- There is no direct promotion of consumption – M&Ms characters do not promote the consumption of M&Ms directly – they try to avoid being eaten and do not promote the positive attributes of the product in M&Ms advertising and online marketing. The exact moment of consumption is not shown in the advertising directly.

Characters are frequently used in marketing communications for food and beverages. Over the last decade, the use of characters in food and beverage advertising has been increasingly criticized. This project outlines the different types of characters, and analyses how they build online emotional connection with consumers and brand loyalty beyond the immediate product consumption.

As it has been mentioned above, the main purpose of this research is to examine the use of brand characters online to build emotional connection with consumers and brand loyalty beyond immediate product consumption. The second aim is to explore the first aim through the learnings from the success of the worldwide known M&Ms characters. Both points will be accomplished through conducting in-depth research by using both qualitative and quantitative investigation methods.

Up to this point, academic literature can provide an unlimited amount of evidence and data about online marketing as a whole but very little exists on the specific topic area - how the use of brand characters online builds strong brand loyalty and strong brand image. However, the central research objective is concentrating on the M&M’s characters, which have been developed to a much more significant extent – in their use, merchandising, personalities, and position as inseparable from the brand/product. In order to legitimize this research area and provide appropriate results, an estimation scale will be made and connected for the scopes of brand loyalty, brand image and consumer perceptions regarding using the M&Ms characters online. Moreover, the study will pay attention to and assess the significance and credibility of the growing positive potential of using such animated characters as the M&Ms, which are specifically created to embody and represent the brand. It would also look at the theoretical basis for successful brand character usage, character qualities which are particularly powerful when connecting with consumers and explore successful attempts to activate brand characters online. Last but not least, the paper will observe “the correlation between character recognition and product intention” (Neeley and Schumann, 15). For example, certain experimental studies by academics such as Neeley and Schumann have shown that characters need to meet certain criteria to be effective and sometimes, when this criteria is not met, “the [consumers] who recognized the brand character did not show intention for the product”. (Neeley and Schumann, 15)

These days’ brands attempt to persuade shoppers to be increasingly involved in their marketing and advertising practices and marketers are leveraging brand communities by understanding their affinity for the brand and using it to amplify brand affinity among wider consumers. = (Algesheimer, Dholakia, & Herrmann, 2005). According to Keller (2008), ‘ a brand’ can be defined as a “name, term, sign, symbol, or design, or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods or services of a seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of the competition” (p.2). Brands empower organizations to separate their items from others, fulfilling the same need on account of both their tangible and intangible resources. The tangible resources identify with the item performance of the brand, while the second resource (the intangible one) identifies with what the brand speaks to (Keller, 2008).

Brand loyalty

A few unique definitions of loyalty can be found in the bibliography. Despite the fact that the greater part of the authors concede to the fact that loyalty incorporates repeated purchase of a single brand after some time (Warrington and Shim, 2000; Yi and Jeon, 2003), some go further than this definition. Oliver (2010), for example, defines loyalty as a “deeply held commitment to rebuy or re-patronize a preferred product/service consistently in the future, thereby causing repetitive same-brand or same brand-set purchasing [...]” (Oliver, 2010, p.432). In some other literature, brand loyalty is most commonly defined as “repeated purchase of a single brand over time” (Oliver, 2010). This estimation is generally executed in-store, by following consumers 'purchases’ (examine loyalty programs). However, this can't be the main example to be considered when talking about brand loyalty. In addition, in the research it will be difficult to quantify the past behavior of a group of customers. Subsequently, as said in some research, the dissertation would rather consider repurchase expectations as one of the segments of brand loyalty (Jacoby and Chestnut, 1978b; Oliver, 2010; Yi and La, 2004) together with word of mouth (WOM) effects of online engagement (cf. chapter 3.15.2.). Oliver (2010) underlines the significance of this goal by expressing that it is one of the segments of genuine brand loyalty.

Brand loyalty: behavioral and attitudinal approach

Brand loyalty has regularly been examined with respect to two approaches: the behavioral and the attitudinal approach (Sung & Campbell, 2007; Warrington & Shim, 2000; Yi & La, 2004). Although throughout the years more mental and psychological viewpoints have been considered to define the idea of brand loyalty, it stays questionable. Generally, brand loyalty is referred to a behavioral construct that is characterized and measured by repeated purchase of a single brand after some time (Warrington & Shim, 2000; Yi & Jeon, 2003), not taking into account the attitudinal approach of it. The second approach of loyalty – the attitudinal, frequently alluded to as ― brand commitment (Traylor, M.B. 1981), has been characterized as an “emotional or psychological attachment to a brand within a product class” (Lastovicka & Gardner (1999). On this premise, some research has been looking into the development of brand commitment rather than brand loyalty (Traylor, 1981) underlining brand loyalty's failure, in its conventional definition, to recognize purchase manner conduct inferable from convenience and commitment (Yi & Jeon, 2003). However, brand commitment “reflects the degree to which a brand is firmly entrenched as the only acceptable choice within a product class” (Traylor, 1981), when in fact brand loyalty “can be considered as a way to simplify decision-making” (Warrington & Shim, 2000).

The brand character – a core brand element for consumers

Brand character can be characterized as an allegorical sign whose purpose is to represent a brand in a metonymic way (Aaker, 1991). What's more, brand characters figuratively symbolize a place branding: by similarity it conveys a brand's attributes, both functional and symbolic (Biel, 1993). Ultimately, blessed with human or animal attributes, brand characters infuse the brand with ‘life’ and enhance it with unique identity characteristics (Aaker, 1997; Fournier, 1998).

A brand character is specifically created to encapsulate a brand and to add to its visual personality (Callcott and Lee, 1995; Garretson and Niedrich, 2004). Brand identity is an arrangement of brand affiliations characterized by the company with a specific end goal to create consumer-perceived esteem by means of functional, passionate and self-expressive advantages (Aaker, 1991). Thusly, a brand character is a trademarkable “gadget” that distinguishes the brand and its items and separates them from its competitors.

Brand character, a sign to brand knowledge

Keller (2008) demonstrates that brand knowledge depends on two measurements. The first measurement is brand awareness: a customer knows a brand once he/she can remember it and to recall it. The second measurement of brand knowledge is brand image, i.e. the presence of memory affiliations which the customer might create with the brand. Various types of information are attached to the brand and create a brand image in customer’s memory.

As a segment of brand identity, brand characters add to the improvement of customers' brand knowledge, both brand awareness and brand image. To begin with, concerning brand awareness, brand characters offers consumers some assistance with recalling and their overall perceptions of a product category and brand. Pointing to the power of brand characters, from an early age, young customers can correctly relate a character with a product and a brand name (Bree and Cegarra, 1994; Mizerski, 1995).

Brand characters enhance a brand’s image. They are a representation of the brand that prompts a cognitive or emotional relationship in the customer's mind (Coop, 2005). Brand associations are comprised of all the considerations, feelings, knowledge, ideas and so on related to the brand.

[...]

Excerpt out of 24 pages

Details

Title
Using brand characters online to build an emotional connection with consumers and brand loyalty beyond immediate product consumption
Subtitle
Learnings from the success of the M&Ms characters
College
Anglia Ruskin University
Grade
5.50
Author
Year
2016
Pages
24
Catalog Number
V437341
ISBN (eBook)
9783668798175
ISBN (Book)
9783668798182
Language
English
Notes
This is the report preceding my diploma thesis, also published on Grin
Tags
brand characters, emotional connection, brand loyalty, consumers, immediate product consumption, success, learning, M&Ms characters
Quote paper
Silviya Stamenova (Author), 2016, Using brand characters online to build an emotional connection with consumers and brand loyalty beyond immediate product consumption, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/437341

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