How do Consumers Reconcile Positive and Negative CSR-Related Information to Form an Ethical Brand Perception? A Mixed Method Inquiry

Journal of Business Ethics 161 (2):443-458 (2020)
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Abstract

This research investigates how consumers’ ethical brand perceptions are affected by differentially valenced information. Drawing on literature from person-perception formation and using a sequential, mixed method design comprising qualitative interviews and two experiments with a national representative population sample, our findings show that only when consumers perceive their judgment of a brand’s ethicality to be pertinent, do they process information holistically and in line with the configural model of impression formation. In this case, negative information functions as a diagnostic cue to form an unethical brand perception, irrespective of other positive information at hand. However, in the case where processing relevance of the un/ethical information provided is low, brand perception formation is algebraic, in which case positive information can counterbalance and neutralize the detrimental impact of brand misbehavior. Our findings extend existing research on consumer perceived ethicality as well as consumer reactions to corporate social responsibility and sustainability initiatives, which has so far assumed the asymmetric impact of negative information on ethical perceptions and consumer attitudes to be prevalent. We derive a range of academic and managerial implications and present a number of important avenues for future research.

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