The effectiveness of underdog brand positioning: how inspiration drives low-control consumers' preference for underdog brands

  • Yangyi Tang

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Many marketers choose to position their brands as underdogs instead of top dogs in the marketplace. Research shows that underdog positioning may help marketers to create competitive advantages, although when and why consumers respond favorability to such positioning strategy is not fully understood. While a handful of studies found that underdog positioning is more effective than top-dog positioning for certain types of brands or consumers, little is known about how consumers'psychological state may influence their responses to underdog positioning. Existing literature on underdog positioning mainly attributes consumers' favorable responses to its ability to elicit empathy for the brand, neglecting the potential benefit that consumers can gain from their underdog support. To address these gaps, this thesis examines how personal control influences consumers' responses to underdog (vs. top dog) positioning. It was proposed that brands positioned as underdogs are preferred over those positioned as top dogs by consumers whose personal control is low because underdog positioning can inspire those consumers to restore their threatened control. Five experiments were conducted to test the hypotheses. Experiment 1 demonstrates that when consumers' personal control is low, consumers prefer brands positioned as underdogs over those positioned as top dogs. Experiment 2 uncovers the underlying mechanism of the observed effect: The relative preference for underdog positioning among low-control consumers occurs because the passion and determination exemplified in such positioning can inspire those consumers to cope with their loss or lack of control. In line with this mechanism, Experiment 3 provides supportive evidence that the acquisition of the brand positioned as an underdog, but not the acquisition of the brand positioned as a top dog, increases low-control consumers'feelings of control. The last two experiments show that low-control consumers' relative preference for underdog positioning is further moderated by both their shopping orientation and the causal attribution for their loss of control. The findings of this thesis contribute to the growing research on underdog positioning and customer inspiration, and the results have practical implications for marketers in terms of effectiveness of marketing communications.

    Date of Award6 Aug 2020
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorAlex S L TSANG (Supervisor)

    User-Defined Keywords

    • Branding (Marketing)
    • Consumers' preferences
    • Consumers
    • Marketing

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