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Should a Weak Brand Partner with a Stronger Brand?

Retailers often offer joint promotions between strong (also called carrier) and weak (rider) brands to benefit the weaker brand through the positive associations of the stronger brand. However, this move can backfire as low alliance integration between the two brands (the brands are not committed to working together and do not match in form/function) highlights the contrast in brand strength. To avoid this negative impact, retailers can pair weak brands with weak brands, separate the weak brand from the strong and promote it independently, or provide separate positive information about the weak brand before offering the joint promotion.

“Buy a 2 kg pack of Surf Excel and get a Vim Bar free” “100 grams Baggry’s Oats free with 200 grams Baggry’s Muesli”. Offers like these are seen quite often in retail stores. Either the

brands themselves or the retailer can present a combination to shoppers. Such brand alliances can be between two strong brands (e.g., Microsoft and Intel) or between a stronger and a weaker brand (e.g., Scotch Brite and Klia). When the two brands are equally strong, there is no carrier or rider. The brands are attempting to leverage each other’s brand equity or reach a larger target market. Such alliances are difficult to form for weaker brands as stronger brands have very little to gain from the alliance. The weak brand may appear as a freebie to shoppers of the strong brand. This might seem tempting to the brand manager of the strong brand but may not be beneficial.

However, when retailers create combination offers including a strong brand and a weak one, especially to push the weaker brand ahead, the strong brand has no say in it despite

concerns that its equity might be hurt. A study investigates the impact of such asymmetric brand alliances on consumer evaluation and tries to answer the question: How do asymmetric brand alliances affect the participating brands, and should retailers offer such combinations?

The study found that, contrary to expectations, asymmetrical alliances end up hurting the

weaker brand rather than helping it. Retailers tend to pair weaker brands with stronger ones in hopes that the associations customers have towards the stronger brand will get transferred to the weaker one. However, according to the study, this transference occurs only when the perceived alliance integration is high. Alliance integration is the level to which the partnering brands are intertwined in form and function. For example, the alliance between Siemens dishwashers and Finish dishwasher consumables has high integration, whereas the alliance between Pril and Mr White Detergent has low integration as the two can be consumed separately.

When the alliance integration is high, it triggers a mental matching of associations. Customers assume that the stronger brand has vetted the weaker brand (or is endorsing it), and therefore, the same associations apply to the weaker brand as well. In cases of low

alliance integration, the difference between the two brands becomes more prominent for buyers. The gap in associations between the two brands is too high for the strong brand to benefit the weaker one. In asymmetrical alliances, the integration is generally low as the two brands have no agreement to work together, and the retailer has thrown the two brands together, sometimes even pairing the stronger brand with multiple weaker brands. Thus, the asymmetrical alliance actually hurts the weaker brand rather than helping it.

This study has important insights for retailers and brand managers seeking to create joint

promotions. Bundling a weak brand with a strong brand hurts it because of a contrast effect, whereas bundling two weak brands has a more positive impact. Therefore, marketers should offer joint promotions on two weak brands instead of on a combination of a strong and a weak brand. If such promotions are being used for other strategic considerations, a way to remedy the negative effects is by separating the two brands and promoting the weaker brand independently. Since people’s memory of prior impressions reduces over time, the contrast effect may not last long if the weaker brand is promoted independently.

Another way retailers can deal with the possibility of the contrast effect hurting the weaker

brand is by presenting buyers with more positive information about the weaker brand on its own before presenting the joint sales promotion. Keeping in mind the possibility of a negative impact of bundling a weaker brand with a stronger brand, retailers can undertake these steps to minimise that impact.

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