NEW YORK: Heritage brands face a constant question about whether to put their legacy at the heart of advertising messages, and new research in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR) offers useful tips on this subject.

Mei Rose, University of Alaska/Anchorage, and Gregory M. Rose and Altaf Merchant, both from the University of Washington/Tacoma, examined this topic through a filter that is highly familiar to their professional lives.

And their paper, Is Old Gold? How Heritage “Sells” The University to Prospective Students: The Impact of a Measure of Brand Heritage on Attitudes toward the University, discovered that even the most forward-looking product and service could do well to celebrate its past.

“University brands,” they propose, “provide a tool for simplifying the decision-making process. Selecting an established, well-known university alleviates perceptions of risk in an environment that involves complex, multiple alternatives, where experience and credence qualities take precedence.”

Indeed, the high cost of higher education – often in the $250,000 range for a four-year course – puts the marketing of such institutions in a competitive class with luxury cars, classic collectible watches, and premier real estate.

In defining the concept of university heritage, the three academics outlined three core dimensions: stature (respect for the university emanating from its history, sustained success and traditions); symbols (logos and colors that embody the university); and sports legacy (the history and success of a school’s athletic programs over time).

More specifically, their study “explores the components of university brand heritage; developing measures for these components; assessing the impact of university brand heritage on important outcomes; and beginning to identify the boundary conditions of when invoking university brand heritage most influences intentions”.

Among the series of studies informing their research were two experiments focused on “consequences of university brand heritage for attitude toward advertising and intention to apply”.

The main conclusion: “The first [study] demonstrated that students responded more favorably to an advertisement in which the university invoked its heritage than when it did not.”

“The second experiment found that invoking a university’s heritage was most effective when it linked that heritage to the present – at least among parents,” the authors added. “This finding might have been due to the increased experience and past associations of parents.”

Sourced from Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by WARC staff