Abstract A series of experiments illustrates a learning process that enhances brand equity at the expense of quality-determining attributes. When the relationship between brand name and product quality is learned prior to the relationship between product attributes and quality, inhibition of the latter may occur. The phenomenon is shown to be robust, but its influence appears sensitive to contextual variations in the learning environment. Tests of process are inconsistent with attentional explanations and popular models of causal reasoning, but they are supportive of associative learning models that portray learners as inherently forward looking.