Signaling Unobservable Product Quality through a Brand Ally

Akshay R. Rao, Lu Qu, Robert W. Ruekert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


In this article, the authors examine the circumstances in which brand names convey information about unobservable quality. They argue that a brand name can convey unobservable quality credibly when false claims will result in intolerable economic losses. These losses can occur for two reasons: (1) losses of reputation or sunk investments and (2) losses of future profits that occur whether or not the brand has a reputation. The authors test this assertion in the context of the emerging practice of brand alliances. Results from several studies are supportive of the premise and suggest that, when evaluating a product that has an important unobservable attribute, consumers’ quality perceptions are enhanced when a brand is allied with a second brand that is perceived to be vulnerable to consumer sanctions. The authors discuss the theoretical and substantive implications for the area of brand management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)258-268
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Marketing Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1999
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The first author gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Marketing Science Institute in Cambridge, Mass., and the Center for Research in Marketing at the Carlson School of Management. The authors are also grateful to Mark Bergen, Deborah Roedder John, Kent Monroe, Donald Lehmann, the editor, and two anonymous JMR reviewers for their comments on previous versions of this article. To interact with colleagues on specific articles in this issue, see “Feedback” on the JMR Web site at .

Publisher Copyright:
© 1999 American Marketing Association.


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