NokiaSoft and Android KitKat’s Exercise in Incongruous Spillover

Just before I fell asleep last night, the headlines started coming across my Twitter feed announcing Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia. Nokia, which had been one of the global leaders of mobile phone manufacturing, had been performing poorly almost since it made the Symbian operating system open source back in 2009, in a bid to displace Google’s open source Android OS. Clearly, the numbers weren’t what Nokia hoped for (link figures are 2.5 years stale), and in 2011, Nokia abandoned Symbian in favor of a collaborative effort with Microsoft to create a Windows Phone. At the time, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop (former head of Microsoft’s Business Division) infamously tried used a “burning platform” metaphor to describe the strategy shift of Windows Phone to pivot Nokia’s fortunes in the global smartphone share vs. Apple and Google.

For outgoing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, the acquisition of Nokia seems to be anything but lame duck–instead, reinforcing the role of patents in the current tech era (see: Google’s 2011 acquisition of Motorola) and intimately tying Nokia’s fate to Microsoft’s future. If nothing else, the deal also underscores the importance of digital ecosystems in the current tech era. After all, Google is the reigning OS, Apple has brand loyalists flocking to iPhones, and BlackBerry seems mostly confined to Canadians and the odd corporate policy (the latter, now that a lot of companies are looking to BYOD). Tying the Windows OS that runs alongside laptops, desktops, and Microsoft Surface tablet into a dedicated handset division ensures a complete, robust ecosystem akin to that of Google and Apple and essentially putting a nail in BlackBerry’s coffin.

However, also moving ahead today was Google, announcing the release of Android 4.4: KitKat. In an odd twist from generic dessert names, Google not only tossed out the expected Key Lime Pie, but also moved into the co-branding space with Nestle.

To top it off, Google co-branded with Hershey, not only in a trademark aspect, but also in a full-on promotional aspect as well. Worldwide, Kit Kat is offering a chance to win a Google Nexus 7 and Google Play credits.

Now, Google claims Kit Kat is its employees’ “go-to snack” and Kit Kat claims that Google is vibrant and young. While Android may be pushing the other smartphone OS developers to do more in the way of innovation (read: Apple and Microsoft), it’s never really been a “vibrant” brand and, in fact, may not have as much mainstream brand cache as do the OEMs. So let’s discuss the implications of the Android KitKat brand alliance from a little deeper perspective.

Simonin and Ruth (1998, p.40; Baumgarth 2007) researched brand spillover effects, finding evidence of the following that are germane to this discussion:

  • When two highly familiar brands ally, they experience equal spillover effects
  • Both product fit and brand fit significantly affect attitudes toward the alliance
  • The impact of product and brand fit on the core brands is mediated fully by the alliance
  • When two highly familiar brands ally, both contribute equally to the alliance
  • Product fit and brand fit moderate neither the contribution of the brands to the alliance nor the spillover effects of the alliance on the core brands

Indeed, Walchli (2007) indicates brands in an alliance must be “moderately congruent on some dimension” and that in instances of lower congruity, reference to the “special capabilities and contributions of the brands” should be made. And James, Lyman, and Foreman (2006) suggest that higher levels of congruity lead to higher purchase likelihood of a co-branded product. Finally, Gammoh, Voss, and Chakraborty (2006) find an interaction between cognitive evaluation and message strength, moderated by a reputable brand ally. In instances of low cognition and high message strength, the brand ally matters simply as endorser; in instances of high cognition and low message strength, the brand ally becomes an information cue instead.

So what is the Android KitKat experience? Do people understand the Android brand? How does  Google come into play? I suspect that, although there is significant fit in the fact that Google has traditionally named Android releases after desserts, there is a larger effect on the Google Nexus 7 device that Kit Kat will be promoting on its candy bar packaging. By the time the contest ends, consumers should expect (but likely won’t care) that the next generation of the Nexus 7 is running Android KitKat. Most confusing is the limited congruity between Android and KitKat–primarily in the candy bar promotion. The android has little fit with Kit Kat to improve purchase likelihood. It has  low cognitive evaluation and low message strength to play an endorsement, and there’s limited contribution of the android to Kit Kat, as opposed to the other way around.

A quick search fails to find market research on consumer awareness of Android OS names, however informal research (aka, asking around) seems to indicate that early adopters and tech enthusiasts are more aware of version naming (and conventions), while the majority of consumers couldn’t answer if they’re running Gingerbread or Jelly Bean. If that’s true, Android KitKat may help Kit Kat sell more candy bars, but it’s highly doubtful that Kit Kat will help sell more Androids.