“Save yourselves!”*

History has shown that crises on a macro level (e.g. the 1930s Great Depression) or major social, political and technological changes (wars, health crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic**, new technologies) commonly trickle into cultural industries such as the film industry and affect its stakeholders. In such cases, structures and individuals (i.e. film directors in our paper) have to adapt themselves and find flexible solutions to avoid being endangered.

Weathering harsh times through professional human brand identity

We show in our article that history invites us to clear optimism. Artists such as film directors manage their cultural and social capital to weather storms and changes in the environment. To do so, they rely on their human brand identity (e.g. their combination of creativity, expertise, auteurism, genre eclecticism) and the ties they have with different constituencies (inside members of the industry such as producers or distributors; or outside members such as critics; or the general public). For instance, during the 1930s, filmmakers demonstrating strong expertise were those whom studio heads entrusted with their film projects, and thus indirectly with what little money they had to make films as profitable as possible. Because expertise was socially valued by producers, film directors who displayed such an attribute did acquire legitimacy in regards to them. Professional human brand identities are an asset and can be relied upon through the social valuation of identity attributes. In this paper, we explore the different professional human brand identities available to film directors, characterized by their identity attributes and their legitimacies allocated by stakeholders, across time and cultures.

Artists such as film directors manage to weather the storm because of their human brand identity and the ties they have with different constituencies

From the Western genre to the French film industry: a three-perspective methodology

In order to investigate the identity formation of what is termed the “film director human brand”, we explore which identity attributes are socially valued by producers, distributors, critics and the general public and thus bring legitimacy to film directors. To achieve this, we develop a three-perspective methodology that allows us to examine film director identity formation patterns at

  1. the external level (with a study of the Western genre, taking into account the macro influences of the political, economic, social and cultural environment from 1903 to 2017 and an analysis of 915 films and 357 directors),
  2. the individual level (with an analysis of the careers of 20 Western film directors), and
  3. the internal or legitimacy level (with 8 in-depth interviews of film directors and key constituencies in the French film industry). This triangulation leads to robust findings.

Human brand identity types and attributes: negotiation tools for managing one’s career

Our findings reveal the nature of the socially valued attributes anchoring film director identity and making four human brand identity types emerge (i.e. the chameleon conformist, the niche archetypecast, the mass archetypecast and the cultural influencer). They also reveal the central and ambiguous role played by cultural relevance, that is the resonance of identity attributes with its surrounding context (e.g. technological expertise that is current and aligned with ongoing technology). Legitimacy both can and cannot be fostered in cultural relevance. It depends on the identity attribute under scrutiny (expertise or creativity). It also depends on the influence of film directors on cultural frames. Indeed, the strongest and most legitimate film directors appear to be those who go beyond demonstrating cultural relevance with their films, but rather influence the context, and thus affect the whole of the film industry and sometimes beyond.

Our findings reveal the nature of the socially valued attributes anchoring film director identity and making four human brand identity types emerge

Among many implications, our research shows that identity attributes should not be considered static but rather dynamic elements for enhancing human brand identity evolution, or at the very least for allowing career adaptation when hard times make it difficult for film directors to achieve anything else. Moreover, socially valued attributes and human brand associated legitimacies can even become negotiation tools with some stakeholders for career purposes such as gaining more creative freedom or more resources.

* Media have highlighted the possibility of a covid outbreak at the 2020 Sundance film festival  where «Save yourselves!» (a film directed by Alex Fischer and Eleanor Wilson) was scheduled to premiere. Beyond the off-colour humour of this movie title given the circumstances, this title makes a good summary of how film directors can rely on their professional identity to progress and survive during harsh times, when their career may be endangered.
** Film directors around the world have been mobilized to weather the crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic. Steven Soderbergh, who made the premonitory film Contagion (2011), has been called to lead a new Directors Guild of America task force whose job is to assess when and how productions at a standstill may restart and Hollywood life go back to normal. In France, artists have also been voicing their concern about the general paralysis of the cultural industry and its forthcoming consequences


Read the original research article: Pluntz, C. & Pras, B. (2020). Exploring professional human brand identity through cultural and social capital: a typology of film director identities. Journal of Marketing Management. https://doi.org/10.1080/0267257X.2020.1763436

This post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, unless otherwise stated. Third party materials remain the copyright of the original rightsholder.

Camille Pluntz

Camille Pluntz

Camille Pluntz is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the ISG International Business School, in Paris. Her research explores strategic marketing with human branding, brand extension strategies and brand legitimacy. She has presented papers at the annual international conferences held by the Association for Consumer Research and the Association Française du Marketing

Bernard Pras

Bernard Pras

Bernard Pras is a Professor of Marketing at the Université Paris Dauphine and ESSEC Business School. A former President and founder of the AFM (Association Française du Marketing), he has published numerous articles on consumer behaviour, marketing strategy and international business that have appeared in the Journal of Marketing Research, International Journal of Research in Marketing, Journal of Business Research, Southern Economic Journal, Recherche et Applications en Marketing, Revue Française de Gestion, Journal of Marketing Management, European Journal of Marketing, and the Journal of Product & Brand Management.

Disclaimer: Any views expressed in this posting are the views of the Author(s), and are not necessarily the views of the JMM Editors, Westburn Publishers Ltd. or Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.