Self-enhancement as a motivation for sharing online advertising

David G. Taylor, David Strutton, and Kenneth Thompson

Managerial overview

Why do some online advertising campaigns go viral while others fizzle? What motivates consumers to share commercial messages through the Internet? Previous research indicates that consumers tend to forward advertising messages that they find entertaining, informative, titillating, or shocking-that is, messages that evoke strong emotional responses. This study suggests an additional motivation for sharing messages: to express a sense of identity. Marketers have long understood that consumers purchase products not just for their practical or utilitarian benefits but also for their symbolic value. Driving a Porsche, carrying a Coach bag, or using a Macintosh computer all express something about the consumer's self-concept, which in turn motivates the consumer to purchase them. This study proposes that a similar phenomenon exists for electronic word of mouth (eWOM). Consumers should be more likely to share advertising that is consistent with their self-concept or how they see themselves. An online experiment examines whether consumers' likelihood to share an online ad depends on the extent to which the ad expresses their self-concepts, and the results suggest that consumers are indeed more likely to share ads that express their self-concepts. In addition, the extent to which the ad expresses self-concepts depends on the similarity between the brand image and the self-image, the importance of the product category to the consumer, and how entertaining the consumer finds the ad. Consumers believe that what they find entertaining (e.g., Sex and the City versus South Park) says something about who they are, which affects the likelihood that they share that entertaining content. Advertisers should consider the symbolic and self-expressive properties of their online ads and match them to targeted consumers' self-concepts.