Meaning transfer in celebrity endorsement and co-branding: meaning valence, association type, and brand awareness

Shiyun Tian, Weiting Tao, Cheng Hong, Wanhsiu Tsai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Building upon the theory of meaning transfer, this study examines how non-evaluative associations, negative (e.g. crazy) and positive (e.g. brave), are transferred from celebrities to brands to influence brand attitudes, when celebrities and brands are associated in different ways (co-branding vs. endorsement) and when brand awareness varies (lesser-known vs. well-known brand). Additionally, to reveal the underlying mechanism of the meaning transfer effect on brand attitudes, this study tests a moderated mediation model, highlighting transferred brand belief and original brand belief as two serial mediators. Results of an online experiment confirmed the transfer of celebrity traits to brands: Changes in brand beliefvand attitude were consistent with the valence of the celebrity’s traits. More importantly, such a meaning transfer effect became stronger when lesser-known brands were associated with celebrities via co-branding. This effect pattern, however, did not hold for well-known brands. Lastly, regarding the meaning transfer mechanism, the results showed that celebrity meaning transfer first promoted the formation of brand meanings that correspond to celebrity traits, which then impacted original brand beliefs held by consumers, resulting in a change in brand attitudes. This study presents one of the earliest empirical investigations that compare the effects of celebrity endorsement and co-branding based on the meaning transfer theory. It not only provides much-needed causal evidence that directly supports the theory but also illustrates the strategic advantages of celebrity co-branding to capitalize on celebrities’ influence. Supplemental data for this article is available online at

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalInternational Journal of Advertising
StateAccepted/In press - 2021


  • brand awareness
  • brand belief
  • celebrity endorsement
  • co-branding
  • consumer inference
  • meaning transfer
  • secondary associations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Marketing


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