Special Session Summary Fit, Similarity and Congruity: an Exploration of Overlap in Aalikeness@ Constructs


John W. Pracejus (1999) ,"Special Session Summary Fit, Similarity and Congruity: an Exploration of Overlap in Aalikeness@ Constructs", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, eds. Bernard Dubois, Tina M. Lowrey, and L. J. Shrum, Marc Vanhuele, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 238-239.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 1999      Pages 238-239



John W. Pracejus, University of Alberta, Canada


The idea that things differ in the degree to which they are alike is not a new one. Quantifying the alikeness of objects, places and people has a considerable history in psychology and consumer research. In his "Dimensions of Similarity", Tversky (1977) set forth what has become the seminal work on this topic. Since then, research on the impact of various alikeness constructs has blossomed in a wide variety of consumer research domains.

Research on brand extensions, for example, has focused on the role of alikeness (fit) between extant brand and extension on consumer evaluation of the extension (Aaker and Keller, 1993; Broniarczyk and Alba, 1994). Within the context of "composite branding alliances," Park, Jun and Shocker (1996) have explored the importance of fit between two brands in the alliance on evaluation of the composite brand. In the domain of celebrity endorsers, Kamins and Gupta (1994) have looked at the impact of alikeness (match-up) beween endorser and brand on advertising effectiveness.

Currently, several new consumer research domains are exploring the impact of such alikeness constructs. This special session explores three of these new applications of alikeness constructs in the study of consumer behavior. By presenting studies from a wide variety of domains, it is hoped that audience members will be able to think about "alikeness" at a sufficiently abstract level so as to spur conversation about macro-issues during the subsequent discussion.

Each study looks at a different facet of alikeness. The first looks at how alikeness (fit) between an event and a sponsoring brand impacts the inferences people make about the sponsor. The second paper explores how alikeness (similarity) between a leader brand and a "copycat" impacts consumer inferences about the copycat, as well as choice between the leader and the copycat. The third paper explores how alikeness (congruity) between a brand name and it’s home country impacts consumer acceptance of the brand when produced in a different country.


Aaker, David and Kevin Lane Keller (1993) "Interpreting cross-cultural replications of brand extension research." International Journal of Research in Marketing, 10, 55-59

Broniarczyk, Susan M., and Joseph W. Alba, (1994) "The importance of the brand in brand extension." Journal of Marketing Research, 31 (May), pg. 214-228

Kamins, Michael A., and Kamal Gupta (1994) "Congruence between spokesperson and product type: a match-up hypothesis perspective." Psychology & Marketing, 11, 6, 569-586

Park, C. Whan, Sung Youl Jun, and Allen D. Shocker (1996) "Composite branding alliances: an investigation of extension and feedback effects." Journal of Marketing Research, 33, 4, 453-466

Tversky, Amos (1977) "Features of similarity." Psychological Review, 84, 4, 327-352



John Pracejus, University of Alberta, Edmonton, 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 $6B was spent on sponsorship in North America in 1996 (Andrews, 1990), yet little is known about how fit between a brand and an event impacts the success of such an association.

A pair of experiments investigates the relationship between brand/event fit, and consumer inference making about how much the brand is "facilitating", or helping the event. Fit is manipulated in EXP1 by selecting actual sponsors of the US Open Tennis tournament, which differed in perceived fit with the event (high fit-Evian;low fit-Texaco). Knowledge about the event domain (tennis) is also measured to test for any moderating role. In an attempt to unconfound fit and brand, EXP2 replicates EXP1 with an event (the Indy 500) for which Texaco is high fit and Evian is low fit. Since the goal of this second experiment is to unconfound fit and brand, domain knowledge measures about auto racing were not taken.

Results show that for both events, the high fit brand was perceived as facilitating the event more than the low fit brand. That is, Evian was perceived as helping the US open more than Texaco (p<.02), despite identical sponsorship levels. Likewise, Texaco was perceived as facilitation the Indy 500 more than Evian (p<.03). Further analysis revealed significant interactions between domain knowledge and fit on perceived facilitation. Both subjective (p<.05) and objective (p<.001) knowledge interacted with fit. High-knowledge subjects exhibited less difference in perceived facilitation between high and low fit brands than did low-knowledge subjects.

These findings have several implications for sponsorship managers. The fit between brand and event can impact perceived facilitation of the event by the brand. This is especially important when the association is intended to build goodwill. Also, this impact may be greatest for low knowledge consumers. Considerations of fit, therefore, may be more important for events attended by caring non-experts, such as festivals as opposed to sporting events.


Aaker, David and Kevin Lane Keller (1993) "Interpreting cross-cultural replications of brand extension research." International Journal of Research in Marketing, 10, 55-59

Andrews, Jim (1996) "Sponsorship overview: what you need to know." Paper presented at the 1995 IEG Event Marketing Conference, Chicago Illinois.

Kamins, Michael A., and Kamal Gupta (1994) "Congruence between spokesperson and product type: a match-up hypothesis perspective." Psychology & Marketing, 11, 6, 569-586



Luk Warlop, K.U. Leuven, Belgium

Joseph W. Alba, University of Florida, U.S.A.

A trade-dress imitation (or "copycat") strategy for the introduction of a new brand in an existing category uses visual similarity to an established leader brand as a persuasion tool. Successful copycats contradict common marketing wisdom that a new product should always attempt to differentiate itself from the competition. Prior work on copycats has examined the likelihood of confusing the copycat for the copied market leader. Confusion will be rare in practice and is actionable in court. We take a broader perspective and examine under which circumstances trade-dress imitation strategies can be viable in the market. Five experiments assess the effect of copycat appearance on the competitive strength of a follower brand relative to other followers in an established market.

In Experiment 1, we found that increasing the similarity of a follower brand package to a leading brand package made consumers more sensitive to reductions in price of the copycat brand in a simulated choice task. A copycat benefied more from a positive price difference with the leader brand than did a visually differentiated follower. In the absence of a price advantage, there was no effect of visual similarity on the share allocated to the follower brands. The finding was replicated when potentially confusing nondiagnostic product attribute information was removed (Experiment 2), and when subjects were able to obtain potentially diagnostic taste experience (Experiment 3). These results document a robust copycat effect, and support the hypothesis that differences between the leader and a follower become more diagnostic for choice when the overall appearance of the follower is similar.

Follow-up experiments examined boundary conditions to the effect. Experiment 4 showed that a copycat is penalized relative to differentiated competitors when it is charging a price premium despite lack of evidence for product superiority. Penalization also occurs when subjects are explicitly asked to consider the underlying strategy of the copycat brand manufacturer, and when the copycat brand is explicitly presented as a new brand trying to enter the market, but not when the copycat is identified as a known low quality brand (Experiment 5). In none of the experiments an effect was found on the attractiveness of the copied market leader.

In conclusion, there seem to be many circumstances under which a trade-dress imitation strategy can confer a competitive advantage over other follower brands. Contrary to speculation regarding consumers’ understanding of marketer persuasion tactics, there is little evidence in the present research that consumers spontaneously penalize brands for the use of such tactics. Skeptical reaction is conditional upon explicit cueing of the potential for unethical motives. Within the broader field of consumer inference making, our results suggest that similarity-based, holistic, inferences about product quality are ubiquitous and may impact many consumer choices.



Gerald HSubl, University of Alberta, Canada

Terry Elrod, University of Alberta, Canada

Consumers’ product quality judgments are often affected by heuristic cues such as brand name and country of production (COP). While there is strong and consistent support for brand and COP main effects in this context, little is known about interaction effects between these two pieces of product information. Understanding the nature of such interactions becomes increasingly important as more and more products are manufactured outside their brand’s home country. A recently-proposed hypothesis regarding brand - COP interactions is that consumers’ product quality judgments are affected less by changes in COP from the brand’s home country to another country when the product carries a strong brand name than when it carries a weak one. However, the empirical evidence regarding this brand-strength hypothesis has been mixed.

The authors propose an alternative explanation of brand - COP interaction effects that is based on the concept of brand-COP congruity. The latter is defined as the equality of a product’s COP and the original home country of the brand. That is, if a product is manufactured in the brand’s home country, it is said to possess brand-COP congruity. By contrast, a product lacks brand-COP congruity if it is manufactured in a country other than the brand’s home country. Based on the theory of cognitive consistency, attitude theory, and recent findings in the area of consumer decision making, the presence of brand-COP congruity is hypothesized to have a positive effect on product quality judgments above and beyond brand and COP main effects. Furthermore, the magnitude of the positive congruity effect is expected to be positively related to the strength with which a brand is associated with its home country, i.e., the degree of brand-COP congruity.

An empirical study was conducted to test the proposed explanation of brand - COP interactions in the context of consumers’ evaluations of alpine skis. A 4 (brand name) - 4 (COP) full-factorial design was used. Data were collected in face-to-face interviews of 284 Austrian skiers, each of which rated the quality of 16 pairs of skis. The results provide strong support for the hypothesized effects of brand-COP congruity. Specifically, they indicate that (1) brand-COP congruity has a strong positive effect on consumers product quality judgments, (2) the magnitude of the congruity effects varies across brands that differ in how strongly they are associated with their home country, (3) the relative sizes of the congruity effects for different brands are accounted for by the degree of brand-COP congruity, and (4) brand-COP congruity actually suffices to account for all brand - COP interaction effects. Due to the design of the study, brand strength can be ruled out as an alternative explanation of brand - COP interaction effects for the current data.

The findings suggest that manufacturing a brand outside its original home country will often have a double negative effect on consumers’ judgments about the brand’s quality. First, since production is typically moved to a lower-cost country with an unfavorable COP image relative to the brand’s home country, a negative COP main effect has to be expected in these cases. Second, the resulting loss of brand-COP congruity must be expected to have a negative effect on consumers’ quality judgments in addition to any negative COP main effect.



John W. Pracejus, University of Alberta, Canada


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4 | 1999

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