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Reverse (brand) anthropomorphism: the case of brand hitlerization

S. Umit Kucuk (Department of Marketing, Milgard School of Business, University of Washington Tacoma, Tacoma, Washington, USA)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 30 June 2020

Issue publication date: 21 August 2020

1070

Abstract

Purpose

Although marketer-generated brand anthropomorphism impacts on positive company returns is studied broadly, consumer-generated brand anthropomorphisms that focus on demonizing and hitlerizing brands is not extensively studied. This study aims to examine these consumer interpretations of the evil, its symbols and personifications of brands as evil, with a new concept: “reverse brand anthropomorphism.”

Design/methodology/approach

This paper provides a literature review of brand anthropomorphism and the application of the concept of evil. This paper also uses a qualitative analysis with consumer interviews to explore the proposed reverse brand anthropomorphism concept.

Findings

This study’s findings reveal that consumers see corporations as consciously evil, loosely as an embodiment of Adolf Hitler. Consumer interviews points out that corporate brand power aimed at controlling consumer value systems is associated with “evil,” an evil that secretly aims at possessing consumers and controlling their consumption practices. The findings of this study indicate that consumers also develop their own alternative moral market value systems, ones parallel to religious morality. Although “evil” imagery is often found distractive and disrespectful by consumers, the younger generation accept it as a new and alternative form of market speech.

Originality/value

This is the first study to introduces and conceptualize a “reverse brand anthropomorphism” concept with examples of consumer brand hitlerization semiotics. Further, this study is also the first study to discuss evil in a consumption context.

Keywords

Citation

Kucuk, S.U. (2020), "Reverse (brand) anthropomorphism: the case of brand hitlerization", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 37 No. 6, pp. 651-659. https://doi.org/10.1108/JCM-11-2019-3487

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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