Research by Gabriel Biehal
When corporations allocate their advertising dollars, most
if not all go to traditional product brand messages. However,
companies are increasingly allocating a portion of their advertising
budgets to corporate-brand messages. This allocation is often
hotly contested because managers generally don’t understand
either the added value of corporate messages, or the differing
effects of corporate and product messages. Gabriel Biehal, associate
professor of marketing, separated out the effects of corporate
messages from product messages in a recent paper, “The Influence
of Corporate Messages on the Product Portfolio,” co-authored
with Daniel A. Sheinin, University of Rhode Island. This is
the first study to show the impact of corporate messages on
multiple products in a company’s portfolio.
Participants viewed one of three ads, then completed company
attitude measures and belief and attitude measures for each
of the three products in the company’s portfolio. Biehal and
Sheinin found that the two corporate messages each had an influence
on participants’ beliefs and attitudes about multiple products
in the company’s portfolio, but a product message did not: it
influenced only the product being advertised. Also, messages
about a corporation’s ability to deliver high-quality products
generated higher product beliefs and more positive product attitude
than messages focusing on the corporation’s socially responsible
The second study looked at the ways competitive market messages
interfered with the effect of corporate messages on the product
portfolio. The study used a corporate message describing the
ethical conduct, environmental responsibility, and product quality
of a hypothetical company in the lodging and restaurant industry,
as well as messages for a hotel and a restaurant owned by the
hypothetical company, and one competitive hotel. Relative to
the company’s hotel message, the competitive hotel’s message
was positioned either similarly or differently, and shown either
before or after, to test how it affected corporate-message influence
on the company’s products.
The authors always found corporate-message influences on
the company’s hotel except when, relative to the company’s hotel,
the competitor hotel’s message was positioned similarly and
appeared before. This resulted in less positive beliefs and
attitudes toward the company-owned hotel. Also, participants’
attitude toward the company-owned restaurant was unaffected
by the competitor’s hotel message, and still received the positive
effects of the corporate message.
What does this mean for managers?
Messages about corporate ability may be more effective than
messages about a corporation’s social responsibility when products
in a portfolio are similarly positioned. Levi’s, for example,
hopes to capitalize on its corporate ability message, “A Style
for Every Story,” across its entire product line. It can do
so effectively because its products are so similar.
This kind of corporate message may be less effective for
chemical giant DuPont, with its many, very different and well-differentiated
products. Its message, “The Miracles of Science,” may drive
consumers to think about all of DuPont’s products in the context
of science, with potentially negative effects on its fashion-oriented
Lycra product. In this case, a message about corporate social
responsibility could be more effective, providing a boost to
consumers’ beliefs and attitudes about the company without altering
their understanding of DuPont’s products.
Product managers should consider how to capitalize on corporate
message influences as well. Biehal and Sheinin suggest that
product managers place product messages as close to the airing
of corporate messages as possible. This will make it less likely
that a competitor’s message could “get between” a company’s
corporate and product messages, which, as this study found,
decreases corporate message influences.
“It might be more efficient to have corporate messages levering
up the entire system, rather than worrying about many smaller
product-positioning messages,” said Biehal. “Brand managers
say ‘if you give me the money, I can do a better job positioning
my product—why waste the money on corporate messages?’ That’s
a good point of view, but if, for example, the company is introducing
a lot of products, it may be more efficient to advertise the
corporation rather than launching each product’s ad campaign
This conclusion is unlikely to make brand managers very happy.
Corporate and product managers are often at odds over the allocation
of limited marketing resources, and most product managers would
rather have the money for product messages, rather than spending
money on corporate messages.
For this reason, Biehal and Sheinin recommend that corporate
and brand managers work together closely to understand how corporate
messages can influence various products.
“The Influence of Corporate Messages on the Product Portfolio”
was published in the April 2007 issue of Journal of Marketing.
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