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Research Digest Why consumers seek refuge in products branded as authentic in the pandemic and post-pandemic era

Overview

In The impact of COVID-19 on consumer evaluation of authentic advertising messages, published in Psychology & Marketing (2022), ESCP Business School Professors Ben Voyer and Hector Gonzalez-Jimenez and their co-authors investigate how a threatening situation like the COVID-19 pandemic influences consumers' evaluation of advertising messages that project authenticity.

Why study this

Authenticity – associated with heritage, credibility and tradition – is already a crucial element of advertising because it is a proven way of generating positive consumer responses in the form of enhanced brand loyalty and increased sales. Studies also show that authenticity is likely to lower perceived risk and uncertainty and fulfil individuals' psychological need for security. So in a threatening context like the COVID-19 pandemic, it is worth wondering whether consumers prefer products and brands advertised as authentic.

Findings

  • Individuals' perceived threat of COVID-19 leads to the positive evaluation of products advertised with authenticity appeals. 
  • No such effect is observed for products promoted with more generic, neutral advertising messages. 
  • What underlies consumers' preference for authentic products under the COVID-19 threat is the motivation to reduce uncertainty.
  • Consumers with high socioeconomic status during childhood evaluate authentic products more favourably than those with low childhood socioeconomic status.  
  • The reason behind these different responses is that individuals from resource-affluent childhoods follow proactive decision-making strategies, such as choosing a product that fulfils their needs, in response to situational changes.
  • As no link with the respondents' current socioeconomic status was observed, the effect of threat on preference for authentic appeals is likely rooted in consumers' life-history experiences.

When faced with uncertainty (e.g. an inundation of alternatives, personal relationships, and choosing restaurants) or threats (e.g. health concerns), consumers tend to prefer authentic options

Key insight

Consumers evaluate products and brands with messages of authenticity more favourably in times of crisis, for example during the COVID-19 pandemic, when they sense a substantial threat.

Impact

Because the pandemic changed consumers' purchase paradigms, the effect of authenticity marketing appeals is enhanced, especially when health or hygiene considerations enter the purchase choice. So advertisers can stress authenticity in their brands, for example by sharing the founder's story or by adopting a visual strategy to root a product in a specific location. Since the effect is more salient among consumers with high childhood socioeconomic status, marketers can adopt differential marketing tactics depending on their target. 

Final takeaways

“It is suggested that authenticity will be important for brands during and after the COVID-19 crisis because stories with genuineness and sincerity are likely to be a valued dimension of brand personality in the times ahead.”

AUTHORS


Jooyoung Park Jooyoung Park Assistant Professor at Peking University HSBC Business School (China)
Jungkeun Kim Jungkeun Kim Associate Professor of Marketing at the Faculty of Business and Law, Auckland University of Technology (New Zealand)
Daniel C. Lee Daniel C. Lee PhD student at the Auckland University of Technology (New Zealand)
Seongseop S. Kim Seongseop S. Kim Professor at the School of Hotel & Tourism Management, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Benjamin G. Voyer - ESCP Business School Benjamin G. Voyer Professor of Entrepreneurship, ESCP Business School (London campus)
Changju Kim Changju Kim Professor at the College of Business Administration, Ritsumeikan University (Japan)
Billy Sung Billy Sung Associate Professor at the School of Management and Marketing, Curtin University (Australia)
Hector Gonzalez-Jimenez - ESCP Business School Hector Gonzalez-Jimenez Professor of Marketing, ESCP Business School (Madrid campus)
Fernando Fastoso Fernando Fastoso Professor and Chair in Brand Management for Luxury and High-Value Brands at Pforzheim University (Germany)
Yung K. Choi Yung K. Choi Professor at the Department of Advertising & PR, Dongguk University (Korea)
Sukki Yoon Sukki Yoon Professor of Marketing at Bryant University (U.S.)