Special Session Summary Beyond Brand Equity: Managing Mature Brands

Cynthia Huffman, University of Pennsylvania
[ to cite ]:
Cynthia Huffman (1997) ,"Special Session Summary Beyond Brand Equity: Managing Mature Brands", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, eds. Merrie Brucks and Deborah J. MacInnis, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 251-252.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, 1997      Pages 251-252



Cynthia Huffman, University of Pennsylvania

Consumer researchers have developed a substantial body of research that can be applied to the management of mature brands. For example, research on consumer expertise directly acknowledges that over time consumers may form extensive knowledge bases regarding brands and their attributes, etc., and that this knowledge influences how they process information and make decisions. However, research indicating that consumers may have long-lived relationships with brands has often not been explicitly or consistently applied to mature brands. This session was designed to begin this process and to stimulate research addressing the unique concerns and challenges of mature brands.

Recent research in consumer behavior that does have direct implications for the concerns of mature brands has concentrated on leveraging brand equity through brand extensions. This stream has been valuable for managers and has brought to practice much of the promise of categorization research conducted throughout the 1980s. However, marketers and consumer researchers are both beginning to question the wisdom of indiscrimant brand extension and to seek other means of managing a brand franchise. Thus, a second purpose of this session was to stimulate research that moves brand equity beyond its focus on brand extensions.

Two themes underlie the collection of papers in this session. First, mature brands often enjoy opportunities that newer brands do not. For example, consumers’ knowledge of mature brands may in some cases facilitate learning new information, and many mature brands enjoy widespread positive attitudes among consumers. Second, mature brands may face different challenges than do new or growth brands, because of consumers’ established beliefs about the brand and the necessity of working with those beliefs.



Susan Broniarczyk, University of Texas

Andrew Gershof, University of Texas

Susan Broniarczyk and Andrew Gershoff of the University of Texas examined the role that brand names play in the value inferred to a unique, but irrelevant, attribute. Their research extends recent research by Carpenter, Glazer, and Nakamoto (1994) questioning the widely-held assumption that marketers need to differentiate on an attribute that is relevant, meaningful, and valuable. Specifically, Carpenter et al. (1994) found that products can benefit by differentiating on attributes that give the appearance of being valuable, but in fact are irrelevant to improving product performance. Moreover, this benefit occurred even after subjects were explicitly informed that the attribute was meaningless.

Broniarczyk presented two laboratory experiments exploring the mechanisms through which a brand name affects the value inferred to a differentiated, irrelevant attribute. Brand equity suggests that high-tier brands should benefit most from differentiation because consumers confidently infer high performance to the attribute and are more likely to make pragmatic inferences that the brand would not offer the unique attribute unless it positively improved performance. However, the decision-making literature suggests that consumers may have different ambiguity tendencies depending on the quality tier (Einhorn and Hogarth 1985; Kahn and Sarin 1988). In the domain of high-quality brands, people tend to display ambiguity-aversion such that they may prefer to stay with the status quo and avoid the differentiated alternative if they are uncertain of its benefit. Thus, even though consumers may have high expectations about the performance of a brand’s unique attribute, the existing attribute level offered by other high-quality brands is more than acceptable. Conversely, in the domain of low quality brands, people tend to be ambiguity-seeking such that even if there are low expectations about the performance of a unique attribute, consumers may be willing to take a chance saying "what do I have to lose?"

Results from the first experiment supported an ambiguity tendency such that low-quality brands increased their tier market share through use of a meaningless differentiation more than high-quality brands. However, as uncertainty about the irrelevance of the attribute increased, high tier brands also benefited from a meaningless differentiation strategy. The second study found a reversal of context effects such that the leading quality brand in a category was penalized for using a questionable differentiation strategy whereas the middle quality brand was rewarded. The implications of consumers making manipulative inferences to high quality brands using a meaningless differentiation strategy were discussed.



Margaret Campbell, UCLA

Kevin Lane Keller, UCLA

Margaret Campbell and Kevin Lane Keller, of UCLA and the University of North Carolina, respectively, presented a paper examining how the equity of a brand (e.g., the extent to which the brands are well-known or well-liked) influences consumers’ responses to alternative advertising tactics. Specifically, they examine the effects of one executional tactic-the timing of brand identification within the ad-and one media tactic-the degree of ad repetition-for high equity versus unfamiliar brands. They propose that brand equity influences the effects of these advertising tactics on consumer evaluations of the ad and brand.

Campbell and Keller argue that the manner in which advertising works may, in fact, be quite different for high equity brands than for brands that are unfamiliar (Machleit, Allen and Madden 1993). For example, recent research suggests that familiar brands have important advantages in terms of consumer recall of advertising information (Kardes 1994; Kent and Allen 1993). Kent and Allen (1994) found that brand familiarity increased ad memorability, produced greater recall of new information, nd reduced the negative effects of competitive interference. Such findings suggest the need for a better understanding of differences in the advertising process due to the equity of the advertised brand.

Campbell and Keller reported the results of an experimental study of TV advertisements in which three factors were varied: the equity of the advertised brand (high vs. low), the timing of brand identification (early vs. delayed), and the number of exposures to the ad (one, two, or three). They found the hypothesized differences in evaluative responses to the ad and sponsoring brand, differences that were not equivalent to differences in memory. Specifically, the results indicated that an unfamiliar brand received significantly lower evaluations than a well-known and well-liked brand when advertised with an ad employing late identification or at a high level of concentrated ad repetitions.

Overall, these results suggest that high equity brands can use certain advertising tactics more successfully than can unfamiliar brands. Brand equity provides some greater acceptance of delayed brand identification and postpones the onset of advertising wearout (whereas wearout occurred for the unfamiliar brand, it did not occur for the high equity brand). The research presented substantiates the importance of brand equity and sheds some light on how a familiar, well-liked brand can facilitate advertising effectiveness by influencing consumer reactions to the advertising tactics employed.



Sung Youl Jun, University of Pittsburgh

Robert Gilbert, University of Pittsburgh

C. Whan Park, University of Pittsburgh

Sung Youl Jun, Robert Gilbert, and C. Whan Park of the University of Pittsburgh presented a paper investigating composite branding as an alternative branding strategy and examining the effectiveness of two different ways that this might be operationalized. Their paper builds on research on brand equity and brand image associations and is based on the idea that composite branding strategies may afford cost efficiency and competitive advantages.

Composite branding involves combining two existing brand names to create a name for a new product (e.g., Eggo Waffle by Special K). Jun et al. based their study on the concept combination literature in psychology which explains the formation process of composite concepts ("apartment dog," "ocean book," etc.). According to this literature, when two different concepts are combined to form a composite concept, the perceived value of an attribute of the composite is determined by the levels of the attribute values of the constituent brands. Specifically, even if an attribute (e.g., nutrition) is strongly associated with one concept (e.g., Special K cereal) but not with the other (e.g., Eggo Waffle), the attribute becomes strongly associated with the composite. Thus, the composite can take on attributes of both of the "sponsoring" brands.

The effectiveness of the composite branding strategy was examined across two combinations of product category membership. In the first context, Jun et al. examined composite branding when both "sponsoring" brands were in the same category as the to-be-introduced product (e.g., Jaguar sedan by Toyota). In the second context, only one sponsoring brand was in the same category as the new product (e.g., Eggo Waffle by Special K). Jun presented results suggesting that when the two sponsoring brands had complementary characteristics, the new product was more favorably perceived than direct extensions of a single brand. For extensions of mature brands into new categories (e.g., suppose Domino’s pizza introduces breakfast rolls), the implication was that co-branding with a breakfast food manufacturer facilitated consumer acceptance of the new product. Co-branding effects on the original brands, and the importance of "fit" between the established brands and the new product category, were discussed.



Cynthia Huffman, University of Pennsylvania

Brian Wansink, University of Pennsylvania

Cynthia Huffman and Brian Wansink presented a framework to guide the choice of revitalization strategies for mature brands. They argued that when management refuses to see the product life cycle as deterministic or product category size as static, numerous options for increasing a brand’s sales arise. These options can be categorized based on whether they impact how consumers perceive the brand, the likelihood they will choose the brand, or how they use the brand. Considerations for choosing among the options, based on brand market share and including effects on brand equity, etc., were discussed.

Perceptions were defined as the beliefs and evaluations a consumer holds in memory regarding a brand and its attributes, and their relation to the consumer’s goals and the usage situations in which the brand might or might not be appropriate. Based on accessibility research and the goals literature, Huffman and Wansink argued that managers can revitalize a brand by creating or strengthening associations that will bring the brand to salience when new goals are activated. For example, the growing importance of convenience in many consumers’ lives suggests that in order for a brand to be considered, it must be associated in memory with the goal of convenience. Similar principles of accessibility apply to usage situations, and accordingly other revitalization tactics focus on influencing perceptions of brand appropriateness for alternative usage situations (e.g., Arm & Hammer being used in multiple ways) and evaluations of using the brand in those situations.

Revitalization can also focus on increasing the likelihood of choice and the quantity purchased on any single purchase occasion. In particular, product availability and favorable comparisons given the product context are especially important. Finally, management can influence usage by focusing on either the frequency of usage or the amount used. Drawing on research on stockpiling and promotional and package size effects, Huffman and Wansink suggested that for many types of products, a marketer can encourage increased usage by keeping the brand salient and by altering the perceived unit price of the brand.


In sum, the session papers all expressed the theme that brand maturity and consumer familiarity offer both opportunities and challenges. Broniarczyk and Gershoff examined how a mature brand might successfully differentiate itself in a crowded marketplace. Campbell and Keller’s paper demonstrated that mature brands enjoy advantages over unfamiliar brands in terms of the advertising executional and media strategies they use. Jun et al.’s work investigated various methods to extend a mature brand into categories and usage situations that are removed, in some sense, from the original equity. Huffman and Wansink presented an overall framework tying the three empirical pieces together.


Carpenter, Gregory S., Rashi Glazer, and Kent Nakamoto (1994), "Meaningful Brands From Meaningless Differentiation," Journal of Marketing Research, 31 (August), 339-350.

Einhorn, Hillel J. and Robin M. Hogarth (1985), "Ambiguity and Uncertainty in Probabilistic Inference," Psychological Review, 92 (4), 433-461.

Kahn, Barbara E. and Rakesh K. Sarin (198), "Modeling Ambiguity in Decisions Under Uncertainty," Journal of Consumer Research, 15 (September), 265-272.

Kardes, Frank R. (1994), "Consumer Judgment and Decision Processes," in Handbook of Social Cognition, Vol. 2, R. S. Wyer and T. K. Srull (Eds.) Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc.

Kent, Robert J. and Chris T. Allen (1993), "Does Competitive Clutter in Television Advertising 'Interfere’ with Recall and Recognition of Brand Names and Ad Claims?" Marketing Letters, 4 (2), 175-184.

Kent, Robert J. and Chris T. Allen (1994), "Competitive Interference Effects in Consumer Memory for Advertising: The Role of Brand Familiarity," Journal of Marketing, 58 (July), 97-105.