Employee as symbol: Stereotypical age effects on corporate brand associations

Gary Davies, Rosa Chun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: This paper aims to test one of the symbolic influences of the employee on brand associations and by doing so demonstrate why the stereotyping of employees should be added to the research agenda for corporate branding. Design/methodology/approach: The research is a quantitative study of the employees (n=424) and customers (n=964) in 28 branches of four fashion retailers providing data to model the influence of employee age on the associations customers make with such corporate brands. Findings: Theory suggests two competing employee age-related stereotypes influence the associations customers hold of a corporate brand. Using a measure of brand personality, the authors confirm that the older the average age of employees the more competent the corporate brand appears but the less enterprising. The overall effect on customer satisfaction is negative. The average age of employees and customers in the branches studied also correlate positively. The symbolism of the employee to the customer, in this instance due to their age, can be important in creating associations with the corporate brand. Practical implications: Discrimination in employment due to an employee's characteristics is illegal in most circumstances. However the authors' findings show employers need to recognize the potential influence on their corporate brand imagery (and consequently customer satisfaction) due to employee stereotyping by customers and the symbolic as well as the functional role that employees can have in marketing a corporate brand. Originality/value: While prior research argues that employees influence a corporate brand by how they behave, less is known about any symbolic effects due to their stereotyping by customers. The symbolism to customers of brand elements such as packaging has been researched but, thus far, the symbolism of employees, the employee stereotype effect, has been largely but wrongly ignored. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)663-683
Number of pages20
JournalEuropean Journal of Marketing
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2012


  • Age groups
  • Ageism
  • Corporate branding
  • Employee stereotyping
  • Employees
  • Individual perception
  • Stereotyping
  • Symbolism


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