Purpose: When communicating with consumers, firms frequently highlight their underdog status to evoke a favorable attitude. Previous research has confirmed consumer preference for underdogs over top dogs in various domains. However, very little research has been conducted on the business types and decision contexts in which underdog effects produce the most impact. This paper aims to investigate some of the unexplored boundary conditions of underdog effects and addresses two issues: consumption domain and retail crowding. Design/methodology/approach: Two experiments with a 2 (biography: underdog or top dog) × 2 (consumption domain: hedonic or utilitarian) × 2 (retail crowding: adequately crowded or uncrowded) factorial between-subjects design were conducted to test hypotheses. The two experiments differ in the consumption domains and the approaches used to depict crowding conditions. Furthermore, the first experiment targeted college students and the second experiment targeted online consumer panels across various age groups. Findings: Underdog effects were more easily evoked when the consumption domain was more hedonic than utilitarian. In addition, retail crowding was an informational cue for judging acceptance of underdog businesses and enhanced the evaluation when the retail environment was adequately crowded rather than uncrowded. This role of crowding was also evident for top-dog businesses when consumers perceived high risk in the businesses. Originality/value: This is the first study to distinguish between hedonic and utilitarian consumption domains with underdog effects and to demonstrate a positive effect of crowding as an informational cue, indicating acceptance by other consumers.
ASJC Scopus subject areas