Companies often extend brands to higher or lower quality tiers to access different market segments. However, the impact of such extensions on the brand and its subsequent offerings is not yet conclusive. While some studies found an “averaging” pattern (all models contribute equally to the overall perception of the brand: a symmetric effect), others found a “best-of-brand” pattern (the positive impact of an upstream extension is much greater than the negative impact of a downstream extension: an asymmetric effect). This paper aims to reconcile these seemingly conflicting findings by assessing the conditions under which each pattern is likely to emerge.
Three experimental studies are presented to test the conditions under which a symmetric or asymmetric pattern of brand evaluation would merge. Study 1 examined the impact of judgment focus (quality vs expertise) on the pattern of brand evaluations. Study 2 tested the impact of having a comparative set on the assessment of specific brand dimensions. Study 3 examined the impact of the informativeness of price positioning on product quality expectations.
Brand evaluations and attitudes are determined by the presence of a comparative brand and judgment focus. When brands are evaluated without a comparison, a symmetric pattern emerges, as a low-tier extension hurts a brand as much as a high-tier extension helps it. In contrast, when brands are evaluated with a comparison, focusing the assessment on quality leads to a symmetric pattern, while focusing it on expertise leads to an asymmetric one.
The present research specifies conditions under which a low-tier model may hurt brand perceptions. We used hypothetical brands to avoid the impact of preexisting attitudes. While we expect our results to generalize to real brands, this may be considered a limitation of the present research.
The current research delineates the circumstances under which vertical line extensions have positive, neutral or negative impact on brand perceptions and future product expectations. We introduce the presence of a comparison set as a key variable and show how it interacts with assessment focus to affect brand evaluations. When thinking about the impact of extensions on brand perceptions, marketers need to consider which assessment focus is likely to be triggered by environmental cues and whether comparisons are salient.
Brand extension is an important area of investigation as evidenced by the vast literature dedicated to the subject. The present paper advances knowledge in this area by identifying key factors affecting the impact of vertical extensions on brand perceptions.
Palmeira, M., Lei, J. and Valenzuela, A. (2019), "Impact of vertical line extensions on brand attitudes and new extensions: The roles of judgment focus, comparative set and positioning", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 53 No. 2, pp. 299-319. https://doi.org/10.1108/EJM-07-2017-0431
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