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Impact of symbolic product design on brand evaluations

Christian Boris Brunner (Agri-Food Economics and Social Sciences Division, University of Reading, Reading, UK)
Sebastian Ullrich (Schmalkalden University of Applied Sciences, Schmalkalden, Germany)
Patrik Jungen (Polaris Media, Offenbach, Germany)
Franz-Rudolf Esch (EBS Business School, EBS University for Business and Law, Oestrich-Winkel, Germany)

Journal of Product & Brand Management

ISSN: 1061-0421

Article publication date: 16 May 2016



The purpose of this paper is to investigate the impact of symbolic product information (symbolic product design) on consumers’ perceived brand evaluations. In an experimental setting, the authors consider as key factors the congruence between symbolic product design and product category, the level of product involvement as well as brand strength.


In an experiment of 490 participants, consumers are confronted to different symbolic product designs connotations. Based on the cognitive process model “SARA” (selective activation, reconstruction and anchoring), the authors examined how symbolic product design associations are used as heuristics in the working memory when making brand judgement.


The results show that product design associations are used in consumers’ information processing as anchor for brand evaluations. This effect is stronger if symbolic design associations are incongruent to the product category because of consumers’ deeper elaboration process. Furthermore, the impact of symbolic product design is higher for weak compared to strong brands.

Research limitations/implications

This research supports the cognitive process model “SARA” being an appropriate foundation explaining the effects of symbolic product design. Further research should extend this experiment, using a field study in a more realistic setting and/or a choice situation between different alternative product designs at the point of sale. Furthermore, the consumers’ elaboration process should be manipulated differently, e.g. in a mental load condition.

Practical implications

Symbolic product design is important to enhance brand association networks in the consumers’ mind, particularly if the brand is weak. Marketers should use incongruent symbolic product information to differentiate from competitors who use “stereotype” product designs.


Research about product design in the marketing discipline is still limited. The authors analyse the impact of symbolic product design on brand evaluations in an experimental setting of 490 respondents in four product categories. The findings support that consumers use product design as heuristics to evaluate brands.



Brunner, C.B., Ullrich, S., Jungen, P. and Esch, F.-R. (2016), "Impact of symbolic product design on brand evaluations", Journal of Product & Brand Management, Vol. 25 No. 3, pp. 307-320.



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