Vader vs. Eminem: Using the force of subconscious self-identification to boost your brand

By Aaron Reid
March 20, 2011
Admitting that a brand is part of your self-identity is difficult to do. Can you imagine admitting to the following “Pepsi is part of who I am.”? Or this: “Starbucks represents how I want to present myself as a person.”?
Those are easy to dismiss off the cuff, yet years of research tells us that we do connect personally with the brands that we buy, and that we use “brand badges” to reflect aspects our personality to the world. The trouble with traditional research methods is that consumers often can’t or won’t admit to that reality. Consumers either don’t have conscious access to ways in which they are connecting themselves with brand, or they are unwilling to actually admit to the connection. This problem begs for research methods that taps the consumer subconscious in order to reveal the personal connections we make between our self-image and the brands we buy.
The 2011 Super Bowl provided a wealth of examples of great branding connecting with the consumer subconscious sense of self. Two in particular stand out as examples from the automotive industry; the VW advertisement for the new Passat and Chrysler’s two minute tour de force for the Chrysler 200.
Watch this ad and see if you can pick out the ways in which it primes the values of Fatherhood, Wonder, Success and Family. The product is targeted at families, and the ad speaks directly to family values (there is actually no “speech” at all, and the methods are actually indirect).
Now take a look at the Chrysler angle. This ad is all about self-identification with “where you come from”, it primes American, Success, and Luxury, and does so in an edgy, defiant comeback kind of tone.
We were interested in the subconscious effects of these ads on the target audience, and specifically how these ads create a bond between the consumer’s sense of self and the brand. We created three experimental conditions and randomly assigned consumers to one of these conditions. The first condition was a control condition; participants saw an unrelated (non-automotive) Super Bowl ad. The second condition saw the VW Vader ad and the third condition saw the Chrysler Eminem ad. We took both explicit measures of brand identification (Escalas and Bettman, 2003; 2005) and implicit measures using Sentient Decision Science’s Automatic Brand Association methodology.
The results were striking. As you can see below, the explicit measures were not able to capture any significant effect in consumers’ willingness to admit that Chrysler connects with their self-identity after viewing the Eminem ad. However, the implicit measures told a very different story, clearly capturing the subconscious effects of the ad, and demonstrating how the Eminem ad boosts the subconscious connection between the consumer sense of self and the Chrysler brand. Additionally, exposure to the ad also boosts likelihood to purchase and it is the subconscious association of the self with the brand that drives that effect.

We’re presenting this and other research on how subconscious associations with the self drive brand premiums at the Colloquium for Consumer Brand Relationships this week at Rollins College. If you would like more information on this research or would like to find out what happened with the VW Vader ad, send us an email @
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Aaron Reid


Ph.D. Founder & CEO, Sentient Decision Science

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