Special Session Summary Cognitive and Relational Perspectives on Brand Equity

Zeynep Gnrhan-Canli, University of Michigan
Rohini Ahluwalia, University of Kansas
[ to cite ]:
Zeynep Gnrhan-Canli and Rohini Ahluwalia (1999) ,"Special Session Summary Cognitive and Relational Perspectives on Brand Equity", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, eds. Eric J. Arnould and Linda M. Scott, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 343.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, 1999      Page 343



Zeynep Gnrhan-Canli, University of Michigan

Rohini Ahluwalia, University of Kansas

Building stronger brands with high levels of equity is an important concern for most marketing managers. Current literature proposes a multitude of ways in which equity for new and existing brands can be influenced and measured. The cognitive perspective, which is dominant in the literature, has tended to draw primarily from the schema and memory literature to understand the concept of brand equity and the factors that help in building strong brands (e.g., Aaker and Keller 1992; Gnrhan-Canli and Maheswaran 1998; Loken and John 1993; Milberg, Park, and McCarthy 1997). The focus of this literature has been on the impact of various company actions (e.g., introduction of brand extensions) on the equity of the core brand.

An alternative and emerging perspective is the relational perspective, which focuses on the relationship between the consumer and the brand (e.g., Escalas 1996, Fournier 1988; McCracken 1993). It is argued that consumers develop meaningful relationships to brands because brands may help fulfill self-related needs of consumers. Therefore, the equity of a brand is the meaning that it holds for the consumer.

This session included four papers that explore the cognitive and the relational perspectives towards building strong brands. The first paper by C.W. Park and Sung Youl Jun’s linked brand extension decisions to pricing decisions, examined the directional (or vertical) aspect of brand extensions, and suggested a potential way to overcome or expand the boundaries of brand extensions. Specifically, the results of an experiment suggested that consumers’ reference price of an extension product was higher for downward (vs. upward) extensions. The postive influence of downward extensions compared to upward extensions on consumers’ reference price of an extension was also enhanced when the extension product was perceived to be similar to the parent product. Finally, consumers’ reference prices of an extension product were higher when consumers felt strong emotional attachment to the parent brand than when they did not.

The second paper by Rohini Ahluwalia and Zeynep Gnrhan-Canli proposed and empirically tested, via three experiments, an integrative framework, based on the accessibility diagnosticity model, for understanding dilution and enhancement effects. The notion of category fit is used to identify "far" and "close" extensions. The first two studies suggested that negative (vs. positive) information is more diagnostic in the context of close extensions. In contrast, positive (vs. negative) information is rated as more diagnostic when a far extension is considered. Consistent with these findings, Study 3 shows that when the information about the extension is not highly accessible, dilution (enhancement) effects are more likely in the context of a close (far) extension. When the information about the extension is highly accessible dilution and enhancement effects are found regardless of extension category.

The third paper by Andrew Norman and Susan Heckler examined how cross-promotions affect brand equity. Cross-promotions include any activity that promotes two brands from different companies in the same advertisement. Despite the popularity of the phenomenon in practice, there has been very little examination of these activities in an academic setting (Simonin and Ruth, 1998 is an exception). The presentation introduced a new conceptualization of the manner in which consumers process cross-promotional information and presented the results of an experiment designed to test some initial propositions regarding the roles of brand fit and product fit in this context. They explore brand fit and product fit, and hypothesize that these measures are important determinants of memory for cross-promotional material. The results of a 2 (product fit) x 2 (brand fit), full-factorial experiment suggested that memory performance tends to be the highest under conditions of low brand fit and high product fit. This not only provides support for the hypotheses, but suggests that the most successful fit combination is different than that hypothesized by Simonin and Ruth.

The session ended with Jennifer Escalas’s presentation on meaning creation for brands. In a series of two studies she examines the role of reference groups as a potential source of brand meaning. She hypothesizes that when there is a strong connection between a reference group and a brand and there is a strong connection between a reference group and the consumer’s self-concept or possible self, the brand’s meaning and hence equity is likely to be enhanced. This is because the brand meets the consumers need for affiliation or consistency. Study 1 measured subject identification with self-identified student types (as a measure of whether they were members of or aspired to be members of the group), the perceived use of a variety of (20) brands by these student types, and the subjects’ attachment to the brands. The results support the hypothesis that the use of a brand by a reference group creates meaning for the brand and that meaning is then transferred to the individual as they use the brand to define who they are as either members of or aspiring members of the reference group. Study 2 replicated these findings in an experiment, which manipulated the variables of student type/reference group and the fit between the reference group and the brand by using ads. This also supports the meaning transfer, use of brands to create oneself hypothesis.


Escalas, Jennifer Edson (1996), Narrative Processing: Building Connections between Brands and the Self" unpublished dissertation, Duke University, June 1996.

Fournier, Susan (1998), "Consumers And Their Brands: Developing Relationship Theory In Consumer Research", Journal of Consumer Research, 24, 343-373.

Gnrhan-Canli, Zeynep, and Durairaj Maheswaran (1998), "The Effects of Extensions on Brand Name Dilution and Enhancement," Journal of Marketing Research, 35 (November).

Keller, Kevin L. and David A. Aaker (1992), "The Effects of Sequential Introduction of Brand Extensions," Journal of Marketing Research, 29 (February), 35-50.

Loken, Barbara and Deborah Roedder John (1993), "Diluting Brand Beliefs: When Do Brand Extensions Have a Negative Impact?" Journal of Marketing, 57 (July), 71-84.

McCracken, Grant (1993), "The Value of the Brand: An Anthropological Perspective," in Brand Equity and Advertising: Advertising’s Role in Building Strong Brands, ed. David A. Aaker and Alexander L. Biel, Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, pp. 125-142.

Milberg, Sandra J., C. Whan Park, and Michael S. McCarthy, (1997), "Managing Negative Feedback Effects Associated with Brand Extensions: The Impact of Alternative Branding Strategies," Journal of Consumer Psychology, 6(2), 119-140.

Simonin, Bernard and Julie A. Ruth (1998), "Is a Company Known by the Company It Keeps? Assessing the Spillover Effects of Brand Alliances on Consumer Brand Attitudes," Journal of Marketing Research, 35 (February), 30-42.