Ask Not What the Brand Can Evoke; Ask What Can Evoke the Brand?

ABSTRACT - Research on consumer memory and choice has been dominated by paradigms that implicitly assume the availability of the brand, whether it is physically present in the choice situation or symbolically present in working memory as a member of a stable evoked set of brands in a product category. Research attention, therefore, typically has focused on the accessibility of brand information, given the presence of the brand. Recently, brand accessibility has attracted some attention, but only from the perspective that the product category is the stimulus activating brand retrieval processes. In this paper, we propose the alternative view that brand retrieval is more frequently stimulated by consumption goals or consumption occasions, and a model is developed that reflects this ecological dimension of consumer choice, using concepts of spreading activation and goal-derived categories.


Stephen J. S. Holden and Richard J. Lutz (1992) ,"Ask Not What the Brand Can Evoke; Ask What Can Evoke the Brand?", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, eds. John F. Sherry, Jr. and Brian Sternthal, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 101-107.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, 1992      Pages 101-107


Stephen J. S. Holden, University of Florida

Richard J. Lutz, University of Florida


Research on consumer memory and choice has been dominated by paradigms that implicitly assume the availability of the brand, whether it is physically present in the choice situation or symbolically present in working memory as a member of a stable evoked set of brands in a product category. Research attention, therefore, typically has focused on the accessibility of brand information, given the presence of the brand. Recently, brand accessibility has attracted some attention, but only from the perspective that the product category is the stimulus activating brand retrieval processes. In this paper, we propose the alternative view that brand retrieval is more frequently stimulated by consumption goals or consumption occasions, and a model is developed that reflects this ecological dimension of consumer choice, using concepts of spreading activation and goal-derived categories.


Prior to Lynch and Srull's (1982) influential article, the vast preponderance of research on consumer choice was conducted in a stimulus-based paradigm. Experimental subjects were presented with complete (i.e., brand-by-attribute) stimulus arrays, and the emphasis was placed on discerning the so-called decision rules used by subjects to combine the externally-available information and arrive at a brand choice. Lynch and Srull (1982) made the important point that few consumer choice processes are completely stimulus-based and introduced the notions of "pure" memory-based and hybrid mixed choice tasks; the latter referred to the situation in which some information is physically present, but other relevant information is stored in memory.

Lynch and Srull's (1982) insights both reflected and spurred increased attention to retrieval processes in consumer choice, and consumer memory became an important topic in its own right (Bettman 1986). However, most, if not all, of this research has implicitly assumed the presence of the brand in the choice situation, and interest has centered on the retrieval of brand-related information from memory (e.g., Biehal and Chakravarti 1986) with primary emphasis given to brand attributes, or benefits. Recently, inspired by Fazio's (1986) process model of attitude-behavior relationships, researchers have begun to consider the accessibility of brand attitudes in memory. Lynch, Marmorstein and Weigold (1987) have extended the analysis by introducing the diagnosticity construct to delineate the conditions under which brand attitudes or attribute information are more likely to influence decision making.

Oddly, until very recently, consumer memory researchers have not considered the ecologically important retrieval of brands themselves from memory. That is, in memory-based or mixed choice situations, it is not just attribute information, or attitudes, that must be retrieved; in many cases, the brands must be retrieved from memory as well. Hence, the notion of brand accessibility becomes an important consideration. The retrieval of brands from memory is arguably the root of the evoked set concept, which was introduced by Howard and Sheth (1969) over two decades ago. However, most construals of the evoked set picture it as a static, relatively stable set of brands that is retrieved by the consumer in response to a category cue; recent research by Nedungadi (1990) suggests that evoked sets are more fluid and context-dependent. Therefore, it seems appropriate to apply the same sorts of ideas that have proven useful in studying information accessibility to the examination of brand accessibility. Such an analysis would yield a more complete account of consumer choice processes in "real world" purchase and consumption situations. The purpose of this paper is to begin the development of such a model by focusing specifically on situational antecedents of brand accessibility.


As discussed in the previous section, researchers only recently have begun to turn their attention to brand retrieval. Before turning our attention to research focusing directly on brand retrieval issues, it is useful to contextualize the discussion by considering some of the historical antecedents to the concept of brand accessibility.

It is surprising that the notion of memory for brands has been a relatively neglected topic given that the concept of the evoked set, and its centrality to consumer decision making have been recognized for some time in both behavioral (e.g., Howard and Sheth 1969) and analytic models of consumer choice behavior (e.g., Silk and Urban 1978). A number of researchers have demonstrated that brand awareness is a particularly important concept relative to brand evaluation in predicting and explaining consumer choice behavior. For instance, Axelrod (1968), Haley and Case (1979) and Nedungadi and Hutchinson (1985) all demonstrated that top of mind awareness (i.e., brand recall) is strongly correlated with brand choice. Haley and Case postulated that brand awareness is more important than attitude. This notion was supported by Hauser (1978) who, using an information theoretic approach, reported that the probability of inclusion of the brand in the evoked set accounts for more variation in brand choice than does brand attitude.

Many researchers have highlighted the importance of distinguishing between brand awareness based on recognition versus recall (e.g., Alba and Hutchinson 1987; Baker et al. 1986; Rossiter and Percy 1987). More broadly, these measures are relevant to stimulus-based versus memory-based evocation respectively. The notion of stimulus-based versus memory-based judgment (Lynch and Srull 1982) was a distinction originally offered, as a means of distinguishing between brand evaluations made where all relevant brand information was externally present versus evaluations based on recalled brand information. Recently, a number of researchers (Alba, Hutchinson and Lynch 1991; Nedungadi 1987, 1990) have recognized that the stimulus-based versus memory-based distinction also may be applied to brand evocation occasions where the brands are either present (stimulus-based evocation) or absent (memory-based evocation).

As pointed out by Alba et al., (1991), very few decisions in the real world are purely "stimulus-based." In effect, many consumer decisions include some memory component. For instance, seeing some brands may remind a consumer of some other alternative brands for which s/he may then physically search. With regard to evaluation, even though the package may contain all the relevant information, consumers appear to rarely examine information on the package (e.g., Hoyer 1984), suggesting that memory plays an important role in both the evocation and evaluation stages of most consumer decisions. The most important implication of this fact is that recall from memory will not always be accurate and, more specifically, will be systematically biased by accessibility.

Memory factors undoubtedly play a role in stimulus-based brand evocation (Alba et al. 1991) in terms of brand recognition (Rossiter and Percy 1987) and, perhaps more importantly, the ease of recognition (Alba and Hutchinson 1987). Nevertheless, the focus of the following discussion is on memory-based brand evocation, as the key aspects of brand retrieval are perhaps better understood in the simpler case of memory-based evocation. In stimulus-based evocation, both memory and physical salience factors can affect evocation and subsequent choice.

Memory-based evocation appears to correspond to what is typically referred to as "top-of-mind" awareness which has been reported to be a good predictor of brand choice and usage (Axelrod 1968; Nedungadi and Hutchinson 1985). However, Alba and Chattopadhyay (1985) point out a useful distinction between absolute and situational awareness, absolute awareness referring to brands that are known (i.e., recognizable) and situational awareness referring to brands that are recalled at any particular time. The concept of situational awareness highlights the fact that the brands recalled at one point in time may be different from the brands recalled at another point in time; therefore, the evoked set is more accurately construed as fluid and context-dependent rather than transsituationally stable.

Context Dependence of Evoked Sets

Recently, a number of researchers have criticized the fact that the evoked set has typically been thought of as relatively static (Alba et al. 1991; Nedungadi 1987, 1990). In general, evoked sets are conceived of as sets of brands that are generated or retrieved in response to a product category cue (e.g., Alba and Chattopadhyay 1985). Although a number of researchers have noted that cues other than product category (most notably, attributes and benefits) may guide brand recall (e.g., Baker et al. 1986; Nedungadi 1987), most researchers and practitioners think in terms of top of mind awareness, which assumes that: (1) evoked sets are common taxonomic categories; and (2) evoked sets are relatively static and do not change in response to changes in context. We propose that these assumptions should be replaced by the notion that evoked sets are better described as goal-derived categories and vary by context. Considering evoked sets as goal-derived categories highlights the notion that brand evocation may be in response to some cue other than the product category. In terms of the influence of context, even if the product category is a salient cue, other cues salient in a situation may lead to evocation of a different set of brands.

In making a distinction between common taxonomic categories and goal-derived categories, Barsalou (1985, p. 633) points out that common taxonomic categories are often used for classification, whereas goal-derived categories are often used for instantiation. Thus, evoked sets, in which people generate (instantiate) alternatives in order to achieve some consumption goal, bear an important resemblance to goal-derived categories. When people shop in a supermarket for a meal for that evening, they may not think in terms of product categories, but rather in terms of different meals that satisfy their needs such as variety, economy, preparation and "fit" with things already at home.

The composition of an evoked set depends critically on the cues that are salient at the time of evocation. The idea that an evoked set is generated in response to a product category cue implies a static, context-free, common taxonomic category. Instead, evoked sets are generated in response to the far richer set of cues that are present ecologically. Even if the category is provided as a cue, other cues present within the situation affect the brands that are included in the evoked set relative to a retrieval situation where the category is provided as the only cue, or the category is provided within a different context incorporating different cues. For example, Roth and Shoben (1983) showed that the "graded structure" of the category of birds was changed if a context was added (e.g., "The hunter shot at the 'bird' flying overhead."). In the same way that categories vary by context (e.g., Barsalou 1985; Roth and Shoben 1983), so do evoked sets vary by situation (Nedungadi 1987). Ratneshwar and Shocker (1991) demonstrated that snack products recalled vary depending on (1) whether or not a usage situation cue is given and (2) the nature of the usage situation. They also showed that the graded structure (typicality) of the products varied across the two situational cues and the overall category.

Retrieval Cues

Before discussing the various cues that might serve to cue brands in choice situations, it is important to note that cues differ on at least two dimensions. First, retrieval cues may be either self-generated or externally generated (Lynch and Srull 1982). Internal cues are likely to be more characteristic of consumption situations rather than purchase situations, but internal cues will be present in the purchase situation to the extent that the consumer uses the anticipated consumption situation as a cue at purchase.

Second, some cues may work directly to evoke the brand while others may work indirectly. For instance, thinking of the attribute, caffeine, may directly evoke Coke. A situation such as going to an early morning meeting may indirectly evoke Coke via a chain of associations: early morning meeting ¦ need to stay awake ¦ caffeine ¦ Coke. Frequent instantiations of this indirect link may make the brand, Coke, more accessible in the cuing situation, i.e., early morning meeting.

Product Category and Other Brands. Two cues that are present in many retrieval situations and which have received consideration in consumer research are product category and other brands. First, evocation in response to a category label, or the "category production task," has sometimes been considered "the most relevant experimental paradigm in memory research for understanding product recall" (Alba et al. 1991, pp. 5-6). However, the value of this paradigm in exploring notions of evocation is limited, because product category represents only one of the constellation of cues present in retrieval situations. A broader view is needed which recognizes choice situations where the product category is not a cue at all (leading to goal-derived evoked sets) and/or situations where the composition of the evoked set is a function of product category and other cues present within the context.

The second cue that has received some consideration is the brand itself as a cue for other brands (e.g., Alba and Chattopadhyay 1985; Nedungadi 1987, 1990); however, the brand is probably an indirect cue which operates through the category. That is, the brand provided is likely to cue the category, which in turn cues other brands. In one sense, this cue does not move our thinking beyond the category production paradigm. Nevertheless, research examining the brand as cue has led to some new insights on possible retrieval interference effects. Alba and Chattopadhyay (1985) show that the provision of brands as cues can facilitate brand recall if the brand cues an unretrieved (sub)category, but inhibits brand recall in accessible categories (i.e., part-list cuing effect).

Nedungadi (1987, 1990) found that provision of a brand as a cue facilitates brand retrieval through both a "direct" and an "indirect" effect, but no part-list cuing inhibition effect was observed. Unobtrusive priming of a brand was found to increase the probability of evocation of the primed brand (direct effect). More subtly, priming a minor brand in a minor category increased the probability of retrieval of the major brand in that minor category (indirect effect); it appears that the minor brand cued the category, which in turn cued the major brand. This result did not obtain in the major category, presumably because the category itself was already highly accessible. For instance, priming with Dos Equis might be expected to increase evocation of both Corona and Dos Equis in recall of beer brands, both representing the minor subcategory, Mexican beers. On the other hand, priming with Coors would not be anticipated to increase evocation of Budweiser. It is noteworthy that while priming had both a direct and indirect effect on brand evocation, it had only an indirect effect at the brand choice level, i.e., only major brands in minor (sub)categories were chosen more frequently as a result of priming.

The failure to find any inhibition effect was expected by Nedungadi (1987), as inhibition effects are typically in evidence in categories where there are large numbers of items in the category and where numerous exemplars are listed as cues. Subjects in Nedungadi's studies were asked to generate evoked sets, which tend to be constrained in size (see Hauser and Wernerfelt 1990). Subsequently, they were asked to recall as many more brands as possible. If an inhibition effect were to arise, it would be at this point. That is, the evoked set (which would be the same constrained size on average across cuing conditions) would provide a substantial part-list cue resulting in inhibition of subsequent recall; however, the priming of one brand would not be expected to lead to inhibition in generation of the evoked set.

Attributes, Benefits and Attitudes. Attributes, benefits and attitudes are typically considered in terms of their influence on evaluation (Keller 1991). For instance, attributes of the brand have been considered as a means of discriminating among alternatives (e.g., Alpert 1971). These so-called "determinant" attributes are defined as "those attributes projected by the product's image which lead to the choice of that product...they determine preference and purchase behavior" (Alpert 1971, p. 184).

Independent of the role of attributes in evaluating alternatives, Nedungadi (1987) argued that "certain attributes or properties of brands are activated by each usage [consumption] situation and are believed to underlie the process of retrieval set formation" (p. 35). Nedungadi (1987) distinguished between cues used in evocation versus cues used in evaluation by labeling the former "cuing attributes." He notes that cuing attributes may be independent of determinant attributes; that is, the attributes used to cue brands may be different from the attributes used to evaluate brands. Despite some difficulties finding cuing attributes via direct questioning, Nedungadi (1987, Experiment 2) set up some artificial stimuli (restaurants) in which the cuing attributes were uncorrelated with the determinant attributes and found support for his contention that cuing attributes influence brand evocation.

Benefits may be defined as the personal value that consumers attach to the product or service attributes (Keller 1991, p.7). In effect, to the extent that a product is perceived by a consumer to fulfill some particular purpose or function, it may be said to have the attribute of providing that specific benefit. Benefits may have a role in both evocation and evaluation.

Like attributes and benefits, attitudes are typically thought to be used to discriminate between brands. However, it should be apparent from the research in goal-derived categories that an evaluative criterion can be used as a cue. Barsalou (1985) demonstrated that evaluatively valenced goal-derived categories can be constructed such as "personality characteristics in others that prevent you from being friends with them" and "foods not to eat on a diet" (Barsalou 1985, p. 651). Ecologically, it is likely to be exceedingly rare that a consumer would endeavor to recall brands that are associated with negative evaluations; consumers will automatically endeavor to recall favorable brands. This may offer at least a partial explanation why more preferred brands tend to be recalled earlier (e.g., Nedungadi and Hutchinson 1986; Ward and Loken 1986). At evocation, it appears that attitude plays a role as a coarse cue, virtually a filter, that ensures that no disliked brands are included in the evoked set. It is anticipated that attitudes will not offer a particularly useful cue for evocation because recalling brands associated with positive affect is likely to be virtually automatic; in effect, a positive attitude is a cue that is likely to be automatically salient in evocation of brands prior to choice.

Purchase and Consumption Situations. Consumers make brand choices in both purchase and consumption situations. Both situations represent a complex of cues that may serve to guide retrieval of brands for inclusion in the evoked set. There is little dispute that brand choice varies by situation (e.g., Belk 1975), but the nature of the influence has not undergone thorough investigation. Most attribute the variation in brand choice by situation to be a result of changes in attribute importance by situation (e.g., Miller and Ginter 1979). However, some research has shown that brand recall varies by situation (Ratneshwar and Shocker 1991), confirming Belk's (1975) suspicion of situational influence through "subtle cueing effects" (p.161). Still, the particular cues need to be identified.

The important characteristics of choice situations are the motives underlying the consumer's choice. Thinking in terms of motives leads readily to consideration of goal-derived categories (Barsalou 1983, 1985). It is suggested that research aimed at identifying the situational goals that act as cues in the evocation process will provide more insight into the cues that guide consumer evocation. In particular, one element that represents an important cue and which has not been included in the associative model of brand memory is the consumer's underlying motives; that is, his/her needs and wants. Clearly, this should be a fundamental aspect given "marketing's first law: 'Don't sell what you happen to make; make what the consumer wants to buy'" (Fennell 1978, p. 38).


Two interrelated models are necessary to fully understand the role of memory in brand choice. The first model is one of brand choice. Brand choice, as suggested by Nedungadi (1990), is composed of two separate stages--evocation and evaluation. The first stage, brand evocation, is necessary, and in the case of low involvement choice, may be sufficient, for choice. The second stage, brand evaluation, is contingent on brand evocation in the sense that only evoked brands will be evaluated.

The second model is one of consumer memory structured as an associative network (see Anderson 1973; Collins and Loftus 1975). The brand is conceptualized as being the central node linked with a bundle of associates. Meyers-Levy (1989) uses the useful concept of an "association set" to refer to "the concepts that are meaningfully related to a target word or brand name" (p.197). Many researchers have cataloged a variety of associates that may be linked to the brand in memory (e.g., Aaker and Keller 1990; Brucks 1986; Keller 1991). Summarizing various conceptualizations, we propose that brand memory be considered an associative network with links to attributes (both unique to the brand and common to all or most brands in the category of which it is a member), benefits, attitudes, product category and choice situation (i.e., purchase and consumption situations). This categorization of associates is intended to be thought provoking rather than comprehensive. The associates included represent those that are considered to be most likely to have a role in brand choice.

Now we can put together the two models of staged brand choice and brand memory. First, considering the notion of memory in evaluation which has been the focus of most consumer memory research, choice is understood to be a function of the associates that are retrieved to support the evaluation stage of the consumer choice process (e.g., Alba et al. 1991; Lynch and Srull 1982; Meyers-Levy 1989). In this respect, the perspective taken by those investigating brand memory and evaluations is a brand-to associate view (see Figure 1a). In this perspective, the attention is generally on the associates evoked rather than the cues doing the evoking; this is because the brand can be considered the central cue. However, Keller (1987) has demonstrated that memory for brand associates is facilitated by the provision of cues in addition to the brand; Keller provided advertising-related cues. The associates retrieved that receive most attention in the consumer behavior literature are attitudes and brand attributes (e.g., Biehal and Chakravarti 1986; Lynch et al. 1988).

We propose that a focus on brand evocation requires a reverse perspective on brand memory. That is, in examining the role of memory in brand evocation, it is necessary to examine those associates that lead to retrieval of the brand (see Figure 1b). Additionally, whereas brand evaluation focuses on what is evoked (namely associates such as attitudes and attributes) rather than the cues, research on brand evocation needs to focus on the cues, with the brand being the evoked object (i.e., the associate-to-brand links).

In terms of the different perspectives on brand memory, the brand evaluation perspective tends to dominate consideration of the influence of memory on choice. However, we argue that brand choice is more fully described as a function of the "brand-to-associates" links and by "associates-to-brand" links. Most prior research considers only the brand-to-associate links that underlie evaluations; modeling brand choice as a function of associates evoked by the brand examines only half the issue--or less, given that many brands available are not included within the evoked set. In effect, it is proposed that the associate-to-brand links underlie evocation, while the brand-to-associate links underlie brand evaluation and, ultimately, associates of a brand will be retrieved and examined only if the brand itself has been evoked.




An important notion in the memory literature is that the process of retrieval does not necessarily reflect what is "stored" in memory. Specifically, an item may be stored in memory, but may be retrievable only if a person is provided with the appropriate cues. That is, a brand may be "available," but is only "accessible" under certain conditions (Tulving and Pearlstone 1966). The notion of accessibility can be thought of as the strength of the cue-object link; a strong link facilitates retrieval of the object upon presentation of the cue.

Given studies that have shown differences in evocation as a function of different usage situations (e.g., Ratneshwar and Shocker 1991), and given the proposition that selective evocation is a function of the cues present in the situation, it is now proposed that the reason for variation in brand evocation is that different associates may have stronger links to some brands than others. The result is that any given associate evokes some brands with greater probability than others.

The model of brand memory as an associative network may suggest that brand-to-associate links are essentially the same as the associate-to-brand links. It has been pointed out that, in understanding memory in brand choice, a conceptual distinction must be made between the brand-to-associate and the associate-to-brand links (see Figure 1). However, even some of the earliest work on the notion of spreading activation (see Collins and Loftus 1975) through associative networks recognized that "criterialities" or strengths of association may be asymmetric. Specifically, it may be highly likely that thinking about a particular situation will evoke a particular brand (e.g., something to drink while watching the Superbowl, Budweiser comes to mind), but thanking of the brand will not necessarily evoke that situation.

Similarly, categorization research has long recognized that the strength of the link from an instance to a category is not necessarily related to the strength of the category to instance link (e.g., Barsalou 1983). Barsalou and Sewell (1985) note that "a standard assumption in the memory literature [is] that relations can be asymmetrical in strength and that the direction processed more frequently develops stronger relations" (p. 650).

Already, some research in marketing may be interpreted as providing evidence of asymmetries in the strength of associate-to-brand links versus brand-to-associate links. Nedungadi (1987, 1990) showed that minor brands in a category are likely to lead to evocation of a major brand, but major brands are not likely to lead to evocation of the minor brand. Similarly, Herr, Farquhar and Fazio (1990) report preliminary evidence showing that the category-to-brand link is not necessarily equal to the brand-to-category link. However, their conceptualization and empirical work (see also Farquhar et al. 1990) consider only category-brand links. In line with our earlier suggestion of considering a wider set of retrieval cues, it is useful to extend this conceptualization (and empirical work) to consider the various associate-to-brand links that are likely to be activated in purchase or consumption situations.

Furthermore, due to the asymmetry that has been discussed, the link direction has different implications for the two components of the choice process, namely evocation and evaluation. While the empirical work of Herr et al. (1990) highlights the importance of the strength of the category (associate) to brand links on brand choice, the focus is on the implications of the strength of the category-to-brand link for transfer of liking for that brand to brand extensions. An opportunity exists for extending this investigation to consider the influence of brand accessibility on brand choice independent of the influence of associate accessibility on evaluation.


Recognizing the different roles of memory in brand evaluation and brand evocation has implications for a number of diverse areas in marketing. For instance, in measuring advertising effectiveness, the model highlights the need to assess effects on both evaluation (i.e., new, positively evaluated associates now evoked by the brand) and effects on evocation (i.e., new cues that are likely to evoke the brand). In particular, measures of brand awareness where the advertisement is provided as a cue are only appropriate if the advertisement is a salient cue at choice. In terms of segmentation, the substitution-in-use approach (e.g., Srivastrava, Alpert and Shocker 1984) may be extended to distinguish segments based on brand preference versus segments based on systematically biased brand evocation. Finally, brand equity research, which frequently focuses on the associations evoked by the brand (e.g., Aaker and Keller 1990), could be extended by considering brand awareness, and more specifically, the role of associates as cues to brand evocation.

However, before the implications of brand accessibility can be explored in detail, it is necessary to establish the way in which brand awareness is a function of cues present at the choice situation. There is a critical need to identify empirically the associates that serve as cues to brand evocation. In addition, research is needed that extends Herr et al's (1990) findings by investigating the asymmetrical links between brands and associates, and determining the consequences of asymmetry on brand evaluation and brand evocation.

In summary, attention needs to be directed to the associate-to-brand links, because the associates act as "cues" for retrieval of the brand in the purchase or consumption situation. That is, brand choice is modeled as a function of the brand(s) evoked by specific associates. Evoked sets are likely to be a function of the complex of cues that make up the goal at the time of evocation. Consequently, an important priority is to investigate what are the cue constellations that instigate purchase and/or use of a specific brand. In effect, attention needs to be directed at the important issue of what evokes the brand in a choice situation rather than simply what the brand evokes.


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Stephen J. S. Holden, University of Florida
Richard J. Lutz, University of Florida


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19 | 1992

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