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One hundred eight college students who had purchased either a Mac or PC laptop computer completed measures of the Big Five personality traits, ratings of brand characteristics of Macs and PCs, measures of implicit attitudes toward these products, and determinants of brand choices. Big Five personality traits did not differentiate between Mac and PC owners. Students overall rated Macs higher on various product attributes (attractive style, cool, youthful, and exciting) and PCs higher on reasonable price and good for gaming. Brand owners rated their own brands higher on characteristics of reliability, good for homework, ease of use, good for Internet surfing, and good features. PC owners placed greater importance on cost as a determinant of brand choice, whereas Mac owners placed greater emphasis on style. Personality traits may have more nuanced effects on brand choices, as shown by relationships between Neuroticism and greater importance placed on cost and lesser importance placed on ease of use. Openness to Experience was associated with greater importance placed on reliability and lesser importance placed on style. Supporting the predictive validity of the Implicit Association Test (IAT) in predicting consumer preferences, Mac owners showed more favorable implicit attitudes and stronger implicit self-identification with Macs than did PC owners. Implicit attitudes also predicted self-reported ratings of various product characteristics.
In a recent advertising campaign sponsored by Apple Computer pitting Macs versus PCs featured an anthropomorphic representation of a Mac personality (“I'm a Mac”) and a PC personality (“I'm a PC”). The “Mac” personality was represented by a spokesperson who appeared youthful, cool, and laid back, whereas the “PC” personality was depicted as staid, conventional, and something of a “fuddy-duddy.” Forced to respond to the nerdy image of the PC owner portrayed in the Apple commercials, Microsoft responded in kind, emphasizing in their commercial campaign the creative spontaneity of typical PC users. The question is, are there personality differences between owners of these respective brands?
The study of relationships between personality and consumer behavior has a long history but was largely abandoned in the 1970s (Bosnjak, Bratko, Galesic, & Tuten, 2007). A review of the literature through the 1960s showed relationships between brand choice and consumer personality that was best described as equivocal, with personality accounting for no more than 10% of the variance in consumer behavior (Kassarjian, 1971). In recent years, investigators have stirred the pot again by examining relationships between consumer behaviors and individual difference factors in such areas as retailing (Puccinelli, Deshpande, & Isen, 2007), online shopping behavior (Bosnjak, Galesic, & Tulen, 2007), and postpurchasing processes (Mooradian & Olver, 1997).
Much of the attention among marketing researchers on the role of personality in consumer behavior has focused on development of models of brand personality, and in particular, relationships between the organization of brand personality and human personality, as represented by the Big Five model. The Big Five model of personality represents five broad factors (Extraversion, Neuroticism, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness) found most consistently in research on personality traits across many different cultures (Hofstee, 2003; McCrae & Terracciano, 2005; Schmitt, Allik, McCrae, & Benet-Martínez, 2007; Widiger, 2005).
Aaker (1997) introduced the concept of “brand personality” to represent the set of human characteristics associated with a particular brand. Brand personality is influenced in part by the image of the brand the company projects in its branding and advertising. Investigators have examined relationships between consumer personality and various aspects of brand personalities. For example, consumers who were higher in the Big Five trait of Conscientiousness showed stronger preferences for “Trusted” brands, whereas trait Extraversion was related to preferences for “Sociable” brands (Mulyanegara, Tsarenko, & Anderson, 2009). A Taiwanese survey of consumers at a shopping mall reported associations between trait Extraversion in consumers and “excitement” brand personality (Lin, 2010). Moreover, trait Agreeableness was associated with excitement, competence, and sincerity brand personalities.
Other investigators find that consumers seeking to enhance their self-image are drawn to brands with attractive personalities (Escalas & Bettman, 2003). Other evidence indicates that using a brand with an appealing personality (e.g., Victoria's Secret shopping bag) can “rub off” on some consumers, producing more positive self-perceptions of characteristics associated with the brands they used (Park & John, 2010).
Investigators have also examined whether brand personalities are organized in a factorial model similar to that of the Five Factor Model (FFM) or Big Five model. Although Aaker (1997) reported some overlap between the respective set of factors, other investigators find more variant factor structures (e.g., Caprara, Barbaranelli, & Guido, 2001; d'Astous & Boujbel, 2007; Venable, Rose, Bush, & Gilbert, 2005). Caprara, Barbaranelli, and Guido (2001), for example, failed to find support for the comparability of brand personalities and human personality organization. These investigators had participants rate themselves and the personalities of three brands on the same set of adjectives representing the Big Five model of personality. A factor analysis showed a higher level structure in ratings of brand personalities that was better represented by a two-factor model than the five-factor model. Moreover, the personality descriptions conveyed different meanings when applied to brands than persons. These results suggest that brand personalities may not be reducible to the same set of factors found in studies of human personalities. Irrespective of whether the same set of personality descriptions can be used to represent human and brand personalities, research is needed to further explore the degree to which consumer personality traits map onto brand preferences and product choices.
There is ample research literature attesting to the usefulness of Big Five traits in predicting a wide range of outcomes. For example, Extraversion is associated with personal happiness, whereas Agreeableness predicts such outcomes as relationship satisfaction, social cooperation, and safer, less aggressive driving (Cellar, Nelson, & Yorke, 2000; Fleeson, Malanos, & Achille, 2008; Graziano & Tobin, 2009; White, Hendrick, & Hendrick, 2004). Conscientiousness predicts grades in college and stronger performance motivation (setting attainable goals and pursuing them), whereas Neuroticism is linked to lower grades and greater levels of depression in college students adjusting to stressful demands of college life (Cheng & Ickes, 2009; Hutchinson & Williams, 2007; Judge & Ilies, 2002; Kappe & van der Flier, 2010; Poropat, 2009). Conscientiousness also predicts health and longevity, perhaps because more conscientious people tend to engage in healthier behaviors and to adopt healthier lifestyles (Deary, Batty, Pattie, & Gale, 2008; Kern & Friedman, 2008; Roberts, Smith, Jackson, & Edmonds, 2009). Investigations examining the utility of the Big Five model in predicting brand preferences or choices remain lacking. The general purpose of the present investigation was to examine relationships between consumer personality traits based on the Big Five model and choice of laptop computers between two competing types of computers with distinctive brand identities—Macs versus PCs. Although the designation “PC” does not represent a particular computer brand, it is associated with the Microsoft Windows operating system used by many computer companies which are in direct competition with the Apple brand of computers.
The present study also examined how college-age consumers rated these competing products on product-related attributes. This study had the advantage of comparing personalities of Mac and PC user groups based on actual product choices, rather than relying on questionnaire ratings of brand preferences. The study was conducted in the context of a laptop distribution program in which incoming undergraduate students selected either a Mac or a PC at their point of entry into college. We also examined explicit and implicit attitudes toward these competing consumer brands. Finally, we explored whether Big Five personality traits mapped onto values these student consumers placed on various product characteristics in determining their product choice.
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The general personality traits represented by the Big Five model failed to differentiate between Mac and PC owners. This study had the advantage of comparing actual brand users from similar demographic backgrounds who had selected these brands of laptop computers upon entry to college. Our results are thus not consistent with a personality-based categorization of ownership groups (“I'm a Mac” vs. “I'm a PC”) represented in television commercial advertising. In our sample, Mac users did not differ from PC users in Neuroticism, Openness to New Experiences, Extraversion, Agreeableness, or Conscientiousness. These negative results on personality differences between owners of competing laptop brands using a contemporary personality model (the Big Five) is consistent with the those of the much earlier review by Kassarjian (1971) of equivocal relationships between personality and consumer behavior based on the then prevailing models of personality. In the earlier review, some studies showed strong relationships, some reported no relationships, whereas the majority of studies showed relationships that were weak and of questionable value to marketers.
Although researchers have not clearly differentiated the personalities of users of different brands, personality traits may play a more nuanced role in relation to brand preferences. In our study, although PC and Mac users were not distinguishable in terms of Big Five personality traits, these personality traits were associated with judged importance consumers placed on determinants of their choice of computer brands. In particular, higher levels of Neuroticism were associated with more importance placed on cost and less importance placed on ease of use. The trait of Neuroticism is linked to proneness to anxiety, worry, guilt, and emotional instability. Students who are generally more prone to anxiety and worry may be more concerned about their finances and thus more cost conscious when purchasing a computer. Conversely, lower levels of Neuroticism (greater emotional stability) were linked to more emphasis placed on the usability (“easy to use”) in determining brand choice. We also found that the Big Five factor of Openness to Experience was related to greater emphasis on reliability and less emphasis on style. People who are high in Openness tend to be more imaginative, intellectually curious and open to nontraditional values. They may be less swayed by popular conceptions of style in making brand choices and more focused on how a particular product performs (reliability).
We also demonstrated that user groups differed in how they rated the respective brands. Students overall showed more favorable attitudes toward Macs on a number of factors relating to youthful or stylish appeal. They viewed Macs as more attractively styled, cool, youthful, and exciting than PCs. PCs received higher scores on “reasonably priced” and “good for gaming.” When we examined factors related to usability, however, brand ownership was generally associated with higher ratings of one's own brand (Mac owners rating Macs higher and PC owners rating PCs higher). Students rated their own brands higher on reliability, good for homework, ease of use, and good features. In addition, PC owners rated customer service higher for PCs than Macs, whereas Mac owners rated Macs higher on social networking. It appears that Mac owners give higher ratings to their brand choice on factors relating to styling/youthful appeal and usability, whereas PC owners give the nod to Mac on styling/youthful appeal, but favor their own brand on factors relating to usability. These results suggest that PC owners may be willing to look beyond styling, coolness, and youthfulness in favor of usability in determining their computer brand preferences.
The present study showed additional evidence supporting the predictive validity of the IAT with respect to consumer preferences. Mac users showed significantly more favorable implicit attitudes toward Macs, and stronger implicit self-identification with Macs, than did PC users. By contrast, PC users demonstrated significantly less favorable implicit attitudes toward Macs as well as significantly weaker self-identification with Macs. We have no basis for knowing whether these more favorable implicit attitudes toward Macs predated purchase decisions, or whether using Macs influenced implicit attitudes in a favorable direction. However, it appears that implicit attitudes can be useful in discriminating between groups of purchasers of different computer products.
We also found that implicit attitudes predicted consumer ratings of a number of product attributes. Specifically, more positive implicit attitudes toward Macs were associated with higher brand ratings of Macs on factors of reliability and ease of use and lower ratings of PCs on factors of reliability, good for Internet surfing, ease of use, and good features. These results thus provide additional support for the validity of IAT measures in predicting explicit consumer brand ratings. However, the Self-IAT (keyed to stronger self-identification with Macs) yielded only one significant correlate—more negative explicit ratings of PCs on good features. It may be that implicit self-identification is not as closely aligned with explicit ratings of product features as implicit favorability.
One limitation of the current study is that students who selected Mac computers for the laptop distribution program were required to pay an extra $400 fee. Thus, computer brand choice of students may be partially reflective of financial ability; those who selected a PC may have been influenced more by cost than features. It is conceivable that personality differences between Mac and PC users may have emerged if the respective costs of the two brands were held constant. However, the cost differential in our study mirrors that in the general marketplace in which Macs are generally priced many hundreds of dollars more than comparably equipped PCs. Another potential limitation is that the majority of the students were freshmen and had only received their computer several months prior to the study. It is possible that length of ownership of a computer may influence consumer ratings of the product, such that the longer consumers own a particular brand, the more positive (or negative) they may tend to rate it. Finally, it is conceivable that personality traits not represented by the Big Five model may play a more direct role in distinguishing between PC and Mac owners.
There are undoubtedly many factors that determine a consumer's choice of a particular computer brand, including price, peer and expert reviews, and perceived usability or utility. Although our results did not support an “I'm a Mac” versus “I'm a PC” personality type as a determinant of brand choice, marketers may benefit from a better understanding of relationships between personality factors and features consumers find most salient in determining brand preferences and purchase decisions. In our study, individual variations in personality traits emerged in the context of the values that student consumers placed on factors underpinning their choices of laptop computer brands.