Resolving Contradictions in Human Brand Celebrity and Iconicity

Eagar, Toni and Lindridge, Andrew (2016). Resolving Contradictions in Human Brand Celebrity and Iconicity. In: Thyroff, Anastasia E.; Murray, Jeff B. and Belk, Russell W. eds. Consumer Culture Theory. Research in Consumer Behavior (17). Emerald, pp. 311–330.



Purpose - The academic discourse around celebrity and iconicity has resulted in the same human brand as labeled as an inauthentic and illegitimate celebrity and as a culturally important symbol of legitimate achievement. We address the research question of how are contradictions between celebrity and iconicity resolved in creating and managing a human brand.

Methodology/approach - Using structuration theory, we analyzed David Bowie’s 50 year career, from 1964 to 2013, totaling 562 documents. Applying Langley’s (1990) stages of data collection of grounding, organizing, and replicating, we develop a process of model of celebrity and iconicity.

Findings - We identify three stages of human brand symbolic associations: forming, fixing, and transitioning associations. These represent alternate trajectories that Bowie and Ziggy Stardust followed to become icons. In resolving his trajectories across these stages, Bowie adapts and adopts commercial materials, business practices, and new technologies to converge his symbolic associations into a coherent iconic human brand.

Research limitations/implications - Limitations of this paper lie in focusing on one human brand in a particular industry. Future research is suggested in three areas: (1) the relationship between the proposed model and other human brand activities; (2) to explore how the process is manipulated by other market agents; and (3) whether a human brand’s association shifts can precede culture.

Originality/value - This perspective challenges existing conceptualizations of celebrity and iconicity by framing them as inter-related processes, where celebrity associations are fixed in time, while iconic associations transition across time periods to reflect changing cultural values and concerns.

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