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Good Question: Can Brands Change Our Self-Image?

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(credit: CBS) Jason DeRusha
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By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Are you a Bloomingdale’s guy? A Victoria’s Secret gal? Certain personality types are attracted to certain brands, and certain brands market specifically to certain personalities. But can the brands we choose actually change the way we see ourselves?

“Brands that fit you can change your self-image,” said George John, marketing department chair at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.

Last year, University of Minnesota researchers sent women into a mall with a plain pink shopping bag and another group with a Victoria’s Secret bag. Those with the branded bag rated themselves more feminine, glamorous, and good-looking.

They also found that people who used a pen with the MIT logo rated themselves higher as leaders and smarter.

“Not just any brand. It has to be a brand that has the power to evoke things,” said John, noting that we could create a brand tomorrow that certainly would not have the ability to change anyone’s self-image.

“Brands are all about what it says when you feel it, when you touch it,” said Pat Milan, a branding expert and Executive Vice President with Tunheim Partners, a Bloomington strategic communications firm.

“Brands are badges. From the clothes we wear to the cars we drive, they all make statements about who we are or who we want to be,” said Milan.

It’s why when you see someone driving a Volvo, you might have a perception of them as safety-minded with young children. When you see someone driving a BMW, you might have a positive, or negative, perception about the kind of person driving that car.

The people driving those cars often live up to the position of the brand, consciously or subconsciously, according to George.

“When you’re wearing it, carrying it, you change your own perception of who you are. Because the brand is setting off things in your mind and telling you to focus more on certain things and less on other things,” he explained.

Companies spend billions of dollars trying to create an image for their brand, but it’s hard to know whether the product attracts a certain type of consumer, or whether a certain type of consumer is naturally drawn to a certain type of product.

“Like everything in life, it’s a little bit of both,” added George. “I can tell a lot about the person, but also a lot about the product from the people it attracts,” he noted.

“Do companies try to manipulate this?” asked WCCO reporter Jason DeRusha.

“They try to, but you can’t sell that Honda has a reliable car unless it is reliable. On a basic level you have to have truth,” said George.

WCCO-TV’s Jason DeRusha Reports

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