Consumer Investment in University Brands

26 Pages Posted: 10 May 2017

See all articles by Deborah R. Gerhardt

Deborah R. Gerhardt

University of North Carolina School of Law

Date Written: October 1, 2016


Universities, like other trademark owners, often claim that their brands are supported by meaningful core values. With less expensive products, consumers may test the quality of goods or services without sacrificing high opportunity costs. Thanks to this common purchasing game of trial and error, trademarks are thought by economic theorists to incentivize investment in quality. This incentive mechanism may explain much about the consumer-producer relationship for products like diapers that are bought repeatedly if the consumer has a positive experience with the product’s style, price point, design and ability to prevent leaking. For more expensive, one-time purchases, like a college education, consumers do not have the same opportunity to experiment. Because schools sell themselves with seemingly interchangeable values, consumers must search for new ways to discern authenticity and quality before the point of purchase. This article proposes that one window into a brand’s authenticity is the extent to which its consumer community demands adherence to specific core values in moments of crisis. A pair of case studies examines how two communities responded when their law schools deans were accused of sexual harassment. The demands of the consumer communities compelled very different results. These stories demonstrate the pivotal role a consumer community may play in identifying an educational brand's core values and compelling institutional commitment to them.

Keywords: Trademark; Education; University; Brands; Consumer; Community; Core Values; Sexual Harassment

Suggested Citation

Gerhardt, Deborah R., Consumer Investment in University Brands (October 1, 2016). Loyola Consumer Law Review, Vol. 29, 2016, UNC Legal Studies Research Paper, Available at SSRN:

Deborah R. Gerhardt (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States
919-962-7219 (Phone)
919-962-3375 (Fax)


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