Brand Extension Research

Brand Extension Authenticity

Brand Extension Authenticity

Although some studies consider the impact of extensions on the parent brand (John, Loken, and Joiner 1998; Loken and John 1993), brand extension research primarily has focused on identifying the factors that define successful brand extensions. Beginning with Aaker and Keller’s (1990) work, researchers have viewed the fit between a parent brand and the extension category as a determinant of the success of the extension. Two perspectives on fit—similarity and relevance— coexist in brand extension literature. Both rest on cognitive categorization theory, which assumes that brands are cognitive categories formed by a network of associations organized in people’s memory. The associations may be based on shared features, attributes, benefits, or other common linkages, such as user imagery and usage situations (Aaker and Keller 1990; Chakravarti, MacInnis, and Nakamoto 1990); they may be specific to the brand (Broniarczyk and Alba 1994) or shared by other product category members (Herr, Farquhar, and Fazio 1996).

Fit as Similarity
Many researchers argue that consumers positively evaluate brand extensions when they perceive similarity between the parent brand category and the extension category (Aaker and Keller 1990; Boush and Loken 1991; Dawar 1996; Herr, Farquhar, and Fazio 1996). The basis for such similarity stems from the applicability of the parent brand’s category associations to the extension’s category associations (Herr, Farquhar, and Fazio 1996), due to their common features (e.g., kitchen appliance maker extending to home laundry appliances), substitutability (e.g., an ice cream brand extending to c akes), or complementarity (e.g., a harness maker extending to driving whips). Perceptions of similarity enhance perceptions of fit. Broad parent brands (Boush and Loken 1991; Dawar 1996) and dominant parent brands (i.e., the product category automatically activates the parent brand node in memory; Herr, Farquhar, and Fazio 1996) may offer an advantage to their brand extensions if the extension category is typical of or similar to the parent brand category. For highly evaluated brands, when the parent category and the extension category exhibit similar associations, consumers likely transfer their positive associations from the parent to the extension. Experimental and survey designs used to demonstrate these effects manipulate or study parent and extension category associations, but they ignore brand-specific associations. The similarity perspective thus guides brand managers to extend into similar product categories and avoid distant ones because similarity promotes an affect transfer process, such that perceived fit drives positive evaluations of brand extensions.

Fit as Relevance
Countering the importance of category similarity as the primary determinant of fit, the relevance perspective argues that brand-specific associations—those not shared with
other members of the product category—drive perceptions of fit. These associations may be benefits, such that the sweet flavor of Froot Loops is significant for lollipops but not for the more similar category of hot cereal (Broniarczyk and Alba 1994), or they could be brand concepts, such that the prestige association of Rolex is significant for cufflinks but not the more similar category of stopwatches (Park, Milberg, and Lawson 1991). Relevance researchers argue that connections between the parent brand and the extension category enhance perceptions of fit in the absence of category similarity, if consumers infer that parent brand associations are relevant to the extension category. Consumers view parent brand associations as relevant for an extension when the associations signal benefits that are pertinent to the extension category. Broniarczyk and Alba (1994) demonstrate the importance of relevance by showing that the process of inference can dominate affect transfer in preferences for brand extensions. The relevance perspective thus suggests that brand managers should extend in product categories in which consumers can infer that specific brand associations predict appropriate benefits.

Both the similarity and the relevance perspectives thus embrace a cognitive categorization perspective, in which associations between the parent category and the extension
category (similarity) or between the parent brand and the extension category (relevance) determine fit. Fit intervenes in the link of similarity or relevance with brand extension evaluations. Perceptions of similarity permit the transfer of affect from the parent brand to the extension. Perceptions of relevance foster consumers’ inferences that brand-specific associations, and particularly their benefits, transfer to the extension.

From “More Than Fit: Brand Extension Authenticity” by SUSAN SPIGGLE, HANG T. NGUYEN, and MARY CARAVELLA

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