When Identity-Based Appeals Alienate Consumers

37 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2019 Last revised: 15 Feb 2022

See all articles by Tami Kim

Tami Kim

Harvard University - Business School (HBS)

Kate Barasz

Harvard Business School

Leslie K. John

Harvard Business School

Michael I. Norton

Harvard Business School - Marketing Unit

Date Written: February 10, 2022

Abstract

From “Chick Beer” to “Dryer Sheets for Men,” identity-based labeling is frequently deployed by marketers to appeal to specific target markets. Yet such identity appeals can backfire, alienating the very consumers they aim to attract. We theorize and empirically demonstrate in five studies that identity appeals lead to consumer avoidance when they evoke a stereotype about a marginalized identity: females in Studies 1-3, racial minorities in Studies 4 and 5. We identify categorization threat—the feeling of being unwillingly categorized as (and reduced to) a single identity—as a critical driver underlying consumer reactions to identity appeals. The negative impact of identity appeals is mitigated in situations in which categorization threat is less likely to be activated: (a) when multiple identities are evoked, preventing consumers from feeling reduced to a single identity, and (b) when targeting by identity is seen as necessary for differentiating product offerings.

Keywords: Identity, Gender, Categorization threat, Stereotypes

Suggested Citation

Kim, Tami and Barasz, Kate and John, Leslie K. and Norton, Michael I., When Identity-Based Appeals Alienate Consumers (February 10, 2022). Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 19-086, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3329326 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3329326

Tami Kim

Harvard University - Business School (HBS) ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Kate Barasz

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Leslie K. John (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Michael I. Norton

Harvard Business School - Marketing Unit ( email )

Soldiers Field
Boston, MA 02163
United States

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