Faculty Research

Vector illustration of woman happily receiving a present
Marina Carnevale, PhD, and Luke Kachersky, PhD, Associate Professors of Marketing
Have you ever received a gift from someone special that made a lasting impression?
New research by Gabelli School faculty members shows that how you feel about your relationship with a gift-giver affects how you feel about the gift’s brand — for better or worse.

In “The influence of interpersonal relationships on brand-related behaviors for gifted brands,” published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology this year, Marina Carnevale, PhD, and Luke Kachersky, PhD, associate professors of marketing, explored relationship dynamics and how they affect the way people perceive brands. Their findings show that the more positively the recipient feels about the gift-giver, the more positively and frequently he or she engages with the brand.

Consider this scenario: a woman receives a box of gourmet cookies as a gift from her boyfriend. Her affection for the brand noticeably increases, and she begins to purchase the cookies often and talk about the brand. However, when the relationship ends, she doesn’t purchase the cookies as frequently or mention the brand as often.

Other marketing research on gift-giving has analyzed the impact a gift has on a relationship, but Carnevale and Kachersky’s study flipped the script, looking at the impact a relationship has on how consumers engage with a brand.

“Our identity is tied to the people we have relationships with, and the way we feel about our partners or friends transfers to what we associate with them,” Carnevale said. “From a managerial perspective, it means that once you promote your brand as a desirable gift, it might become tied to dynamics that are out of marketers’ control.”

Considering what’s at stake in the lucrative gift-giving market—according to the Adobe Digital Economy Index, American consumers spent $204.5 billion online during the 2021 holiday season alone — understanding the impact relationships have on consumers’ engagement with brands can help marketers position their products more competitively.

To test their theory in real life, Carnevale and Kachersky conducted a series of experiments. In one field study, professors gifted notebooks to their entire class of college students. At the end of the semester, students who were satisfied with the professors were more than twice as likely to purchase that notebook brand over another.

Another key finding distinguished between different types of gifts: “durable” goods, or long-lasting items like clothes or jewelry, and “non-durable” goods, such as candy and flowers. The results showed that non-durable gifts had a greater impact on the recipients’ attitudes and behaviors toward the brand.

Carnevale and Kachersky’s research also proves the value of maintaining a balanced portfolio of products that appeals to a variety of consumers. For example, Ralph Lauren marketers encourage gift-givers to express their love with a “Romance” perfume.

However, relying too heavily on positioning one product as an ideal present for a loved one can leave brands vulnerable to the instability of personal relationships, the researchers said. “The behavior response was pretty incredible,” noted Kachersky about the strong connection the study drew between personal and brand relationships. “I think it would be wise for brands to open up other paths to the consumers as well, and try to build an independent brand relationship with people outside of the gift-giving context, because that will mitigate some of that risk.”

—Gabrielle Simonson