What if we looked not just at ethnic brand management globally but distinguished between economically building the brand and presenting it to audiences? We’d surely notice that the ethnicity of the brand in terms of its country of origin and its portrayal are not necessarily the same thing!
This insight would lead us to recognize the brand’s identity work that goes into responding to authenticity tensions, especially for brands with pronounced ethnicity.
In a research paper together with Elena Chtazopoulou published in the Journal of Business Research titled “Ethnic brand identity work: Responding to authenticity tensions through celebrity endorsement in brand digital self-presentation” (Chatzopoulou, E., & Navazhylava, K., 2022, “Ethnic brand identity work: Responding to authenticity tensions through celebrity endorsement in brand digital self-presentation.”Journal of Business Research, 142, 974–987. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2022.01.020), we explore identity work brand engage in to sound and look authentic for their target audience.
When brands dissociate their ethnic identity from their town country
Identity work, for people and companies alike, means figuring out who they are and transmitting it to others. When it concerns ethnicity, Brands that are happy with theirs communicate it to others with their names, clothes, products, and the story they tell.
But sometimes, companies dissociate their ethnic identity from the country they come from.Our research finds two authenticity tensions that ethnic brands run into: tensions about appropriation and continuity.
The first means sorting out what this ethnicity is: an adaptation, an adoption, an origin. The second means companies need to figure out how long will this ethnic self-presentation last.
Involving celebrities as part of a brand strategy
Through a qualitative study interviewing expert fashion brand representatives and studying brands’ social media, we find that ethnic brands develop strategies that respond to such tensions.
Their go-to method is to involve celebrities to communicate the brand’s ethnicity, whether coming from the country, giving back to it, or being culturally inspired. The only strategy which does not call for a celebrity endorsement is historically deriving from a particular culture.
Brands that want to create a convincing ethnic self-presentation can use these findings to decide whether they should engage a celebrity for social media, depending on the source of the authenticity tension specific to this brand.
Building on sustainability
Another application could be choosing a self-presentation strategy of the four discussed in the paper, depending on the overall brand’s strategy. For instance, giving back to the country of origin could work best for brands that highlight their sustainability, while inspiration could fit social media displays of high-end luxury brands.
Kseniya NAVAZHYLAVA, Ph.D. of HEC Paris, is a Researcher and Professor at EMLV Business School