Ted Matherly, Zachary G. Arens and Todd Arnold (2018), International Journal of Research in Marketing, 35, 1, 15-33. (Preprint)

The population density of a geographical area has a well-known and strong positive effect on sales in the area. Yet, for some brands, there may be factors that affect the strength of this density-sales relationship. The present research shows that for product categories that consumers use to signal their identities (e.g., clothing, restaurants and cars), the strength of this relationship varies with brand commonness. Consumers residing in densely populated areas are motivated to express their distinctiveness by reducing their preference for identity relevant brands that are common, such as large chains and brands owned by many people. Thus, as identity-relevant brands become more common, they suffer from a “population penalty” – a weakening of the positive effect of population density on sales. We show this effect with three experiments and two empirical analyses of automobile and alcohol sales. Our findings extend literature on distinctiveness theory by demonstrating these effects at the community level and provide insights for marketers on accounting and adjusting for this effect.

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