Abstract

Although considerable attention has been paid to the “brand-as-partner,” the current research shows that the “brand-as-servant” is embraced by consumers whose value system facilitates a master-servant relationship in the quasi-social experiences provided by brand anthropomorphism. Four studies evince that differences in hierarchical structure inherent in brands working with (i.e., partner brands) versus working for (i.e., servant brands) consumers engender materialism to play a systematic role in determining consumer responses to being an equal partner versus dominating master in consumer-brand relationships. In particular, materialists respond more favorably to a servant brand than to a partner brand when the brand is anthropomorphized (vs. objectified), and they respond more favorably to an anthropomorphized servant brand than do nonmaterialists. This effect is actualized through traits of materialists, moderated by brand status and mediated by an activated desire to dominate the servant brand. This finding shows that partnership may not be the only meaningful relationship that consumers form with their brands.

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