Special Session Summary Fitting It All Together: a Look At the Fit Construct Across Brand Extension, Sponsorship and Endorsement


Karen Becker-Olsen (2003) ,"Special Session Summary Fitting It All Together: a Look At the Fit Construct Across Brand Extension, Sponsorship and Endorsement", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, eds. Darach Turley and Stephen Brown, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 347-349.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 2003      Pages 347-349



Karen Becker-Olsen, New York University, USA

Fit has become a central focus for many marketing relationships in which we create affect transfer. In the marketing literature, the fit construct typically embodies the idea of transferability of feelings, associations, expertise or synergies from one organization, product or brand to another because of consumer perceptions of appropriateness between the two entities. Fit is important for several reasons: First, it is the basis for the affect transfer. Second, it determines how much thought people give to a specific relationship and the nature of those thoughts. Third, it affects the favorability of attitudes and behavioral intentions.

Current research on brand relationships, advertising alliances, and sponsorships have all noted the importance of fit in creating effective programs. However, the research has stopped short of examining many important dimension of the fit construct. Specifically how various consumers are likely to use fit to process information, how it influences consumer thoughts about efficacy, what types of fit are best in terms of creating affect transfer and when might fit not be important. This session begins to explore all of these ideas.

In the first paper the influence that age, cohort and period effects have in determining the meaning of a brand and its fit with several extension categories is examined. This is particularly important for brands with a wide target audience, or multiple target audiences, which need to examine how various groups of potential customers perceive fit. However, little research has examined the differences between children and adults in determining brand fit with extension product categories. The influence of cohort and period effects on consumers’ perceptions of brand meaning and, hence, brand fit, has yet to be examined in the academic literature. The second paper looks at the effects of fit on sponsorship efficacy. The key finding in this paper is that a high fit brand is perceived as helping an event more than a low fit brand. The laboratory findings are replicated across a stratified sampling of Irish households. The third paper tests the claim that there are times when fit does not matter. This endorser study finds that no matter what the level of fit, a brand may benefit when the most salient endorser associations are positive character traits. However, when a celebrity has a negative character, the brand may suffer unless the fit between the product class and the endorser is perceived as intrinsically high.

This session is likely to appeal to a broad audience of researchers. The strengths of the session include the number of studies which are presented, the broad areas of investigation (e.g., brand extension, sponsorship and endorsement) and exploration of new ideas about fit. While this session is likely to be of interest to those researchers in the areas of brand extension, sponsorship and endorsement, it is also likely to be of interest to any researchers who are interested in affect transfer.

We hope the session will spark considerable interest and dialogue on the role of fit in various domains. As such each presenter will be limited to 20 minutes, allowing for 30 minutes of discussion.




Gillian Oakenfull, Miami University, USA

Sabrina Neeley, Miami University, USA

Michael McCarthy, Miami University, USA

Past research in brand extension has found that consumers favor extension products that are perceived to "fit" with the parent brand category (Boush and Loken, 1991; Keller and Aaker, 1992; Loken and John, 1993). Brands with a wide target audience, or multiple target audiences, must be concerned about the "fit" for all consumers, adults and children. However, little research has examined differences between children and adults in determining brand fit with extension product categories (see Zhang and Sood, 2002 for an exception.) The influence of cohort and period effects on consumers’ perceptions of brand meaning and, hence, brand fit, has yet to be examined in academic literature. This research is designed to examine the influence that age, cohort and period effects have in determining the meaning of a brand and its fit with several extension categories.

Children’s ability to form brand and product categorizations and meanings is dependent on age and level of cognitive development (John, 1999; John and Sujan, 1990). Younger children tend to use highly salient, perceptual attributes (Bahn, 1986; Diamond, 1977; Macklin, 1996; Rust and Hyatt, 1991; Shamir, 1979) as a basis for categorization and judgment, whereas the use of underlying attributes and symbolic meanings to categorize products increases with age (John and Cole, 1986). However, information processing difficulties appear once again as people age, particularly as ability relates to the task environment (John and Cole, 1986). Additionally, John and Cole (1986) suggest that the younger children have difficulty processing large amounts of information. This tendency diminishes as children age, but tends to reoccur in elderly adults.

From this, we could infer that young children would tend to make fit judgments on a unidimensional basis, whereas adults tend to make product (brand) judgments based on multiple dimensions, and in many cases, use an integrative strategy that incorporates preference of the dimensions into a single complex judgment (Capon and Kuhn, 1980). Consistent with John and Coe’s (1986) findings, we also expect the number of dimensions used as a basis for a fit judgment to decrease among elderly adults.

Additionally, because consumers in the same cohort will experience the brand in a similar way during their lifespan, this can explain similarity of brand meaning and fit judgments within age cohorts (Ryder, 1965; Pol and Thomas, 1997; Rentz et al., 1983; Reynolds and Rentz, 1981). Further, the types of associations used to determine fit within cohorts may be influenced by period effects.

To test these proposed effects, we modified an existing procedure for measuring brand meaning (Oakenfull et al. 2000) so that it could be used effectively by young children, adults and older adults to identify brand meaning and measure perceptions of brand fit with extension categories.

Results from the study support the idea that children make fit judgments on a unidimensional level while adults use a multiattribute approach. Additionally, the depth of associations used in fit judgments tend to increase with age. Similarities in brand meaning are found within cohort groups and the types of associations that are used to justify fit perceptions appear to be related to the period in which the brand has been experienced.



John W. Pracejus, University of Alberta, Canada

The positive impact of fit between a brand and some associate of the brand has been demonstrated in several domains. In brand extension, for example, it has been generally found that brands can more easily extend into high fit, as opposed to low fit, product classes (Aaker and Keller, 1993) Likewise, celebrity endorsers who fit well (or "match-up") with the brand have generally been shown to be more effective as spokespeople (Kamins and Gupta,1994). Currently sponsorship, or the intentional association of a brand with an event, is emerging as an important part of the promotional mix. Over $9B was spent on sponsorship in North America in 2001 (IEG, 2001), yet little is known about how fit between a brand and an event impacts the success of such an association.

Two experiments (N=79) and a stratified sample survey of Irish Households (N=524) explore the relationship between brand/event fit, and consumer perceptions, attitudes and beliefs. Across the two experiments, the internal validity of the fit construct is maximized by finding a pair of events and a pair of brands for which fit can be "flipped". Specifically the brands were (1) Texaco and (2)Evian, and the events were (A) the US Open tennis tournament and (B) the Indianapolis 500 auto race. Experiment one pairs A with 1 (low fit) and A with 2 (high fit). Experiment 2 pairs B with 1 (high fit) and B with 2 (low fit). Note that 1 is low fit in Exp1 and high fit in Exp2, whereas 2 is high fit in exp1 and low fit in Exp2. Results show that Evian was perceived as facilitating the US open more than Texaco (p<.02) and that Texaco was perceived as facilitating the Indy 500 more than Evian (p<.03).

This effect of fit, therefore, cannot be explained by idiosyncrasies of individual brands. Across the two experiments, fit and brand are unconfounded. The key finding across the two experiments is that the high fit brand is perceived to be helping the event more than the low fit brand. This is particularly interesting in that the two brands used were, in fact, identical level sponsors of the US Open at the time.

While these experiments maximized internal validity, external validity was perhaps weak. A stratified sample survey was therefore conducted using real brands and real events with high familiarity. Five hundred twenty four Irish households were selected through a stratified sample of the population. Surveys were administered in the homes of those selected.

Here, perceived fit was measured rather than manipulated. Only respondents who correctly identified the sponsor of each event were included. This means that they were at least familiar enough with the event to know who the sponsors were in a recall task. Results show a significant (p<.01) correlation between perceived fit and perceived helping of the event by the brand for 5 of the 7 brand/event pairs tested. The other two, while not significant, were in the same direction (i.e. positive coefficients).

Specifically, Irish Permanent’s association with the FAI Schools Soccer Competition showed the strongest correlation between perceived fit and perceived helping (Pearson R=.458, t=5.5, p<.001). Murphy’s association with the Irish Open Golf event showed a similarly strong correlation (Pearson R=.33, t=6.22, p<.001). These results indicate that as people’s perceived fit increased, their perception as to how much the brand was doing to facilitate the event also rose. While the direction of causality cannot be determined solely from this correlational survey, in combination with the findings from the two experiments, it can be argued that perceived fit leads people to believe the brand is doing more for the event. Implications of these findings for sponsorship research are discussed.



Karen Becker-Olsen, New York University, USA

B. Andrew Cudmore, Florida Institute of Technology, USA

Scott D. Swain, Boston University, USA

Extant research on endorsers has demonstrated the importance of fit on consumer perceptions (Kahle and Homer 1985; Kamins 1990; Till and Busler 2000). Yet we see Michael Jordan successfully endorsing products that are not linked to his physical attractiveness or area of expertise (e.g., phone services). If Michael Jordan can do this successfully, do other celebrities also have the power to endorse products which are not perceived as high fit? In this study, we explore the notion that fit does not always matter. This investigation is the first of its kind to suggest that there are times when the effects of fit are outweighed by sheer notoriety.

In a content analysis of celebrity endorsement print ads, it was found that roughly one Bthird of the endorsement ads used celebrities which had a direct link to the product. Most of these high fit ads used expertise as the basis of fit. Thus some specific skill of the endorser made him or her an expert on the product. These ads tended to be skewed towards athletic apparel and supplies. However, two-thirds of the ads featured celebrities with no direct link to the product being endorsed. We did find that these low fit ads featured celebrities that have positive character associations. Product type varies across many categories of consumer products. Thus, despite the theoretical research which suggests that high fit creates more effective endorsement advertising programs and stronger brand attitudes, it appears that many companies are hoping that the celebrities personality will cut through the clutter to increase brand awareness and create a point of differentiation. This suggests that it may not be necessary to have a high degree of fit between the celebrity and the brand for the brand to be positively evaluated.

In order to empirically test the claim that there are times when fit does not matter, a 2 (positive character/ negative character) x 3 (high fit, low fit and created fit) study was conducted. This study used real endorsers and fictitious brands to determine the effect of character and fit on brand evaluations. We find that no matter what the level of fit, the brand benefitted when the most salient endorser associations were positive. However, when the celebrity had a negative character, the brand suffered unless the fit between the product class and the endorser was perceived as intrinsically high.

The results of the experimental study, combined with the content analysis findings suggest that fit matters when the most salient endorser character traits are negative, indicating that the use of nice guys as celebrity endorsers may override the effects of fit. As with much of what we do in marketing, it maybe important to match our objectives with the program. If our primary objective is to strengthen awareness or cut through the clutter, any positive endorser may work. However, if our objective is to create specific brand associations, then we might need to be more careful in terms of choosing our endorser. As evidenced by the content analysis, this effect is likely to hold in product categories which are highly fragmented and have numerous me-too type products in that the endorser is used to increase top of mind awareness rather than develop specific brand associations.


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Karen Becker-Olsen, New York University, USA


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6 | 2003

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