The Curse of the Original: How and When Heritage Branding Limits Demand for Product Enhancements


Heritage branding is a common marketing strategy that has been shown to increase product appeal. Here, we find that heritage branding can also have potentially negative consequences by leading consumers to resist product changes—even changes that objectively improve a product. Across four studies, we show that when firms engage in heritage branding, product enhancements can decrease perceptions of brand authenticity, leading consumers to evaluate enhanced products less favorably than the original versions of those same products. We demonstrate this effect across a variety of product domains (e.g., cosmetics, cookware, and food products), using online experiments as well as in-person product trials. Moreover, we provide a framework that distinguishes between elements of heritage branding that lead to negative evaluations of product enhancements versus those that do not. Finally, beyond identifying an important boundary condition based on specific aspects of heritage branding, we further show how the negative effects of product enhancements can be ameliorated if brands reframe product enhancements as continuous with the brand’s origins. Together, these studies contribute to existing theory regarding heritage branding and authenticity, while also providing a number of practical recommendations for heritage brands.

Note: This research seminar has been cancelled without further notice.