Authenticity has become a fundamental human aspiration in times of uncertainty, such as the present. This is also true in the field of marketing. In a market oversaturated with fiction, authenticity emerges as a crucial component to forge strong brand-consumer relationships. As a consequence, CMOs have developed various strategies to make consumers perceive their brands as more authentic, thereby creating stronger relationships.
Given their nature, the so-called human brands, which are celebrities or well-known people who carry out marketing efforts for themselves, have a greater capacity for consumer connection, something they take advantage of in order to position themselves and, sometimes, the products or services they promote. In highly competitive industries—such as entertainment or sports—human-brand products are an extremely desirable differentiation factor. For example, the singer Rihanna capitalized on her participation in the most recent Superbowl halftime show to promote her FentyBeauty cosmetic range.
The authenticity existing in these human brands can help generate ‘love’ or ‘passion’ for that brand. Brand love is the degree of emotional attachment a satisfied consumer feels for a brand, which can involve affection and other positive emotions, and even the integration of the brand into the consumer's identity. This love for the brand also builds trust, boosts loyalty, protects the brand from negative emotions, and increases the probability of paying a higher price for the product.
Authenticity, in this sense, is related to love or passion for a brand. Consumers tend to lean towards offers they perceive as authentic, something that is particularly relevant in the case of human brands. But can they also love them more? Previous studies have shown that a celebrity is perceived as authentic when their behavior seems genuine and when their actions are consistent with the values they uphold.
In our new article, “An empirical examination of human Brand authenticity as a driver of brand love” (Journal of Business Research, 2023), published together with Jesús Cambra (Pablo de Olavide University), we examine how authenticity influences the generation of love for human brands. We also compare human brands operating in different contexts—politics, music, film, sports, social media, and business—to show that authenticity doesn't generate love equally across these different fields.
“Experience has taught me that the more honest and personal my work is, the more successful I am,” the Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar acknowledges. Undoubtedly, authenticity is a rising value. However, as we demonstrated in our study, the impact of authenticity on the generation of human-brand love is not the same across the different fields, and is even irrelevant in some of them. Authenticity has the greatest impact in the field of politics, followed by music, film and sports. In social networks and business, human-brand authenticity does not appear to have any bearing on brand love. Although existing branding research identifies authenticity as a predictor of positive marketing outcomes, this study’s findings uncover a boundary condition regarding the context in which the human brand performs. The need for authenticity varies given the differences between the diverse types of human brands, thus confirming that the context in which the relationship with the consumer occurs has an influence on brand love.
The narrower the gap between public and private figures, the easier it is to convey authenticity. Maintaining coherence between one's values and behavior builds, over time, the legitimacy, stability and consistency required for the brand to be perceived as authentic. Lastly, openness and honesty about the celebrity's achievements, as well as their failures, strengthen the belief that a genuine person lies behind the human brand.
Finally, this study quantitatively demonstrates that brand love can be monetized through the increased purchase intention of human brands’ self-branded products, thus allowing the human brand to benefit from passive income and brand building opportunities.
The authors are research professors in the Department of Marketing and Business Intelligence at EGADE Business School.