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Effect of underdog (vs topdog) brand storytelling on brand identification: exploring multiple mediation mechanisms

Elena Delgado-Ballester (Department of Marketing, University of Murcia, Murcia, Spain)

Journal of Product & Brand Management

ISSN: 1061-0421

Article publication date: 4 September 2020

Issue publication date: 11 May 2021




The purpose of this paper is to focus on the building of consumer–brand identification through the use of two themes (underdog and topdog) in the design of brand storytelling. It proposes that the underdog theme is superior because it is more effective in immersing readers in the story and generates higher emotional responses. The moderating effect of consumers’ implicit mindsets is also explored.


An experimental study with a single-factorial design is conducted with 301 consumers assigned at random to one of two brand storytelling conditions: underdog theme or topdog theme.


The results show a full mediating effect of the underdog (vs topdog) theme on brand identification through reader immersion and empathic feelings.

Research limitations/implications

The use of a fictitious brand and a specific product category may limit the generalizability of the results.

Practical implications

Placing the brand in a story with an underdog plot is more effective in catching consumers’ attention than using a topdog brand story. In particular, using an underdog theme is a good approach for targeting consumers who have a growth mindset.


This study explains the persuasiveness of brand storytelling in terms of the characteristics of the storytelling itself rather than the individual characteristics of consumers (e.g. their own underdog dispositions). The results also suggest that the implicit mindset of the individual plays a role.



Disclosure statement: No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.

This research was supported by grant ECO2017-83999-R from the Spanish Agencia Estatal de Investigación and the European Regional Development Fund.


Delgado-Ballester, E. (2021), "Effect of underdog (vs topdog) brand storytelling on brand identification: exploring multiple mediation mechanisms", Journal of Product & Brand Management, Vol. 30 No. 4, pp. 626-638.



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