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Research Insight | Failure Is Not Fatal: How Failure Messaging Can Benefit Masculine Brands

This research reveals that people often turn to consuming “masculine” brands to manage the psychological discomfort that comes with failure. For example, when football teams lose, their fans consume liquor brands that are perceived as more masculine or order more masculine brands when purchasing on Amazon. This finding has significant implications for marketers seeking to promote masculine brands. Interestingly, ads that remind consumers of their failure experiences or use testimonies of consumers who have experienced failure) may be more effective than those that highlight success, particularly for brands with masculine associations or feminine brands with aggressive branding cues. To effectively use failure messaging in ads, marketers should focus on failures that occur in competence-related domains (such as work, education, or sports) and are attributed to temporary reasons such as effort (vs. ability, luck, and task difficulty). For example, imagine a sports drink ad (for a masculine or a feminine brand with aggressive branding cues) featuring a celebrated athlete speaking about their failure (attributed to effort) during a game, how they felt about it, and how they felt motivated to practice and move forward after the setback (while drinking the sports drink being advertised).

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What You Need to Know

  • Failure-focused ads work better for masculine brands, while success-focused ads may not be as effective.
  • Feminine brands with aggressive design elements, like the color red, can also benefit from failure messaging.
  • When failures are attributed to temporary causes within consumers themselves, the preference for masculine brands increases.


Marketers commonly use ads that associate brands with success in persuasive communications. Yet, these ads may not be the most effective way to promote brands, particularly masculine brands. The current research examines when and why failure messaging can be an effective promotional approach. Across eight studies using both observational and experimental data from field and lab settings, the authors demonstrate that experiences of failure in achievement contexts, and ads that employ failure (vs. success) messaging, are more effective in promoting masculine but not feminine or neutral brands. An increase in consumers’ hostility mediates these effects. Feminine brands that employ aggressive branding cues (e.g., the color red) can also benefit from failure messaging. Additionally, the benefits of failure messaging are enhanced when people do (vs. do not) take responsibility for their failures, and this moderating effect is intensified (weakened) when failures are attributed to unstable (stable) causes. Finally, the consumption of masculine options was found to assist consumers in recovering from achievement failures.