How Doppelgänger Brand Images Influence the Market Creation Process: Longitudinal Insights from the Rise of Botox Cosmetic

Markus Giesler
Journal of Marketing
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Executive Summary
A doppelgänger brand image is a family of disparaging images and stories about a brand that are circulated in popular culture by a loosely organized network of consumers, antibrand activists, bloggers, and opinion leaders in the news and entertainment media. As such, it can serve as a diagnostic tool for understanding, monitoring, and proactively managing the cultural vulnerabilities of a firm’s emotional branding efforts—the consumer-centric, relational, and story-driven approach to forging deep and enduring affective consumer–brand relationships.
However, doppelgänger brand images not only affect well-known brands such as Starbucks, Apple, McDonald’s, or Nike. They can also significantly undermine the diffusion of technological innovations such as new machines, techniques, or medical drugs. Botox Cosmetic’s status as a legitimate self-enhancement drug, for example, has been routinely undermined by negative technology stories about deadly poison, frozen faces, mutilation, and addiction. Through changes in its brand delivery, however, these technophobic brand meanings have been successfully neutralized, and the drug has gained wider acceptance. Negative brand stories about an ineffective, monstrous, unecological, or otherwise harmful technology have also been an issue for a wide variety of brands and industries such as Procter & Gamble’s Olestra (food), Pfizer’s Viagra (pharmaceutical), and Toyota’s Prius (automotive).
The author’s research explores how doppelgänger brand images influence the market creation process. Building on actor-network theory in sociology and an eight-year longitudinal investigation of the Botox Cosmetic brand, he suggests that the market creation process may be understood as a progressive sequence of brand image battles. The meanings of a new technological product or practice evolve in the course of contestations between brand images promoted by the innovator and doppelgänger brand images promoted by other stakeholders. By resolving a salient nature–technology contradiction, the innovator’s emotional brand delivery produces strong consumer–brand bonds. Almost invariably, however, this act also produces a new contradiction and thus provokes a new doppelgänger brand image. To address these contradictions and foster the innovation’s legitimation, innovators must frequently redefine the meanings of the brand and its users.
The author offers a four-step brand image revitalization process useful for either managers interested in fostering their innovation’s congruence with prevailing social norms and ideals or stakeholders (e.g., activists, competitors) interested in undermining the innovation’s marketing success. In the first phase (problematization), managers need to create a new emotional branding story that renders the innovation use (or avoidance) indispensable to the solution of the nature–technology contradiction emphasized by the contending brand image. In the second phase (interessement), managers must foster the validity of their new brand image through socially sanctified expert authorities. In the third phase (enrollment), the new brand image must be performatively enacted through brand ambassadors. Finally, in the fourth phase (mobilization), managers must ensure the speedy adoption of the new brand image. These findings integrate previously disparate research streams on branding and market creation and provide managers with the conceptual tools for sustaining a branded innovation’s legitimacy over time.
Markus Giesler is Associate Professor of Marketing in the Schulich School of Business at York University and Chair of Strategic Marketing at Witten/Herdecke University. He received his PhD from Witten/Herdecke University. His research involves understanding what drives the success of brands in entertainment, automotive, pharmaceutical, and other technology-driven industries and how firms can develop effective marketing strategies for such brands. He has pioneered the study of market system dynamics (market emergence and evolution). His wider interests include the impact of technological innovations on existing market structures, market-mediated consumer identity formation, and the application of sociological (network-driven) approaches to marketing problems. His research has been published in Journal of Marketing and Journal of Consumer Research.
Journal of Marketing, Volume 76, Number 6, November 2012
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Markus Giesler
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