Examining the effect of group prototypes and divergent strength of identification on the effectiveness of identity appeals

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Past research argues that identity-linking messages must use established descriptors of the social group (i.e. prototypical identity appeals) to be effective. The authors show that less established descriptors (i.e. identity-linking messages low in prototypicality) can be optimal for an important customer segment, namely, for those that affectively identify with the social group. This is because of the distinct self-motives underlying the cognitive and affective social identity dimensions.

A pilot and two experimental studies were conducted, using gender and nationality as the target identities.

Consumers feel more hopeful and have higher purchase intention for products advertised using identity depictions that fit with their predominant (uncertainty-reduction or self-enhancement) self-motive. Consumers predominantly high in affective/cognitive social identity prefer identity-linking messages that are low/high in prototypicality. An abstract mindset reverses these effects by encouraging a similarity focus.

Research limitations/implications
Future work should identify potential boundary conditions of the findings. Further, all studies use ascribed social groups. Future work should explore whether consumers relate differently to different social group, such as achieved groups, non-human groups or aspirational groups.

Practical implications
Adverts using established descriptors of a brand’s target social group may no longer fit the brand’s positioning. Understanding when and when not to use less established group descriptors to market brands is important for practitioners.

To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this is the first research to explore the conditions under which priming consumers’ identity using less/more established (i.e. low/high in prototypicality) descriptors has a beneficial, or detrimental, effect on consumers’ purchase intention. In understanding these effects, the authors draw on consumers’ self-motives underlying cognitive and affective identification, a distinction not yet made in the identity-linking communications literature. The authors also explore the mediating role of hope – a central motivating emotion – in identity marketing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)817-839
JournalEuropean Journal of Marketing
Issue number3
Early online date18 Mar 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 Mar 2022


  • Affective social identity
  • Cognitive social identity
  • Construal level theory
  • Emotion
  • Hope
  • Identity-linking messages
  • Prototypicality
  • Self-motives


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