Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Matthew Thomson


Using human brands (also termed “celebrities”) as product endorsers is a popular marketing tool. Although human brands are traditionally regarded as aspirational others, a concept based on reference group literature, no research has examined whether adopting a reference group framework is of theoretical or substantive value when predicting a human brand’s endorsement potential. I explore this issue, arguing that the traditional conceptualizing of human brands as purely aspirational, while not incorrect, is restrictive. How consumers interact with human brands and who they classify as such is evolving, and the result is that consumers see some human brands as similar others and even friends, concepts linked with membership groups. In this thesis, I propose and find support for the premise that predicting a human brand’s endorsement potential is best done by assessing both the aspirational and membership elements of the human brand, an approach which offers several benefits. To begin, it facilitates a deeper exploration of why reference group ratings matter. I demonstrate that reference group ratings exert their effects via affiliation motives, finding that whereas aspirational ratings positively predict both intrinsic and extrinsic affiliation motives, membership ratings almost exclusively predict intrinsic affiliation motives. Sex moderates this effect, with females more influenced by intrinsic motives and males more influenced by extrinsic motives. Finally, I demonstrate that human brands can strengthen their reference group ratings by increasing their self-disclosure levels, which benefits their persuasiveness as endorsers. I test my propositions across four studies, using a mix of survey and experimental methodologies.

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