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A Cinderella Story: How Past Identity Salience Boosts Demand for Repurposed Products

A Cinderella Story: How Past Identity Salience Boosts Demand for Repurposed Products

Bernadette Kamleitner, Carina Thürridl and Brett A.S. Martin

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This research proposes a new form of storytelling as an alternative way of promoting repurposed products and, thus, encouraging a comparably green choice.

An increase in the choice of repurposed products (i.e., upcycled and recycled products) can contribute to tackle the looming environmental crisis. Rather than stressing the environmental benefits and marketing these products as green as green, marketers should focus on the fact that these products have two identities embedded in them: a past identity and a repurposed present identity. Together, these life episodes constitute a biographical product story, which makes customers feel special with the product and increases its demand. What is more, people are so attuned to stories that they will readily self-infer a story if they are equipped with minimal information. Knowing that the product has had a different identity in the past than in the present suffices to highlight that there are causally related episodes in a character’s life, i.e., that the product has a biography in the shape of a story of transformation. This amounts to a new type of story where customers, rather than marketers, do the storytelling and where the individual product, rather than the brand or user, acts as the main character.

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Related Marketing Courses: ​
Principles, Core, and Intro to Marketing Mgmt; Consumer Behavior; Innovation/New Product Development; Marketing Communications; Social Media Marketing​​​​ ​​​​

Full Citation: ​
Kamleitner, Bernadette, Carina Thürridl, and Brett A.S. Martin (2019), “A Cinderella Story: How Past Identity Salience Boosts Demand for Repurposed Products,” Journal of Marketing, 83(6), 76-92.

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Article Abstract
Like Cinderella, many repurposed products involve a biographical transformation, from a tattered past identity (e.g., an old airbag) to a product with a valuable but different new identity (e.g., a backpack made from an airbag). In this article, the authors argue that marketers should help customers infer such product stories by highlighting the products’ tattered past identities. Three field experiments and four controlled experiments show that making a product’s past identity salient boosts demand across a variety of repurposed products. This is because past identity salience induces narrative thoughts about these products’ biographies, which in turn allows customers to feel special. Results also suggest that this strategy of past identity salience needs to be particularly well-crafted for products with easily discernible past identities. These findings highlight a promising new facet of storytelling (i.e., stories that customers self-infer in response to minimal marketer input); create new opportunities for promoting products with a prior life; and deliver detailed guidance for the largely unexplored, growing market for upcycled and recycled products.

Special thanks to Kelley Gullo and Holly Howe, Ph.D. candidates at Duke University, for their support in working with authors on submissions to this program.

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Bernadette Kamleitner is Professor of Marketing, WU Vienna University of Economics and Business.

Carina Thürridl is Assistant Professor of Marketing, University of Amsterdam.

Brett A.S. Martin is Professor of Marketing, QUT Business School, Queensland University of Technology.