Article | Journal of Consumer Research | February 2011

The Underdog Effect: The Marketing of Disadvantage and Determination Through Brand Biography

by Neeru Paharia, Anat Keinan, Jill Avery and Juliet B. Schor


We introduce the concept of an underdog brand biography (UBB) to describe an emerging trend in branding in which firms author an historical account of their humble origins, lack of resources, and determined struggle against the odds. We identify two essential dimensions of an underdog biography: external disadvantage, and passion and determination. We demonstrate that a UBB can increase purchase intentions, real choice, and brand loyalty. We argue that UBBs are effective because consumers react positively when they see the underdog aspects of their own lives being reflected in branded products. Four studies demonstrate that the UBB effect is driven by identity mechanisms: we show that the effect is 1) mediated by consumers' identification with the brand, 2) greater for consumers who strongly self-identify as underdogs, 3) stronger when consumers are purchasing for themselves vs. others, and 4) stronger in cultures in which underdog narratives are part of the national identity.

Keywords: marketing; brand management; Brands; brand building; brand positioning; competitive positioning; advertising; marketing communication; Biography; Brands and Branding; Product Marketing; Emerging Markets; Network Effects; Demand and Consumers; Marketing Communications; Cost vs Benefits; Perspective; Advertising Campaigns; Marketing Strategy; Apparel and Accessories Industry; Advertising Industry; Beauty and Cosmetics Industry; Consumer Products Industry; Fashion Industry; Food and Beverage Industry;


Paharia, Neeru, Anat Keinan, Jill Avery, and Juliet B. Schor. "The Underdog Effect: The Marketing of Disadvantage and Determination Through Brand Biography." Journal of Consumer Research 37, no. 5 (February 2011): 775–790. (Finalist, 2014 Best Article Award for a paper published in JCR in 2011.)