With Daniel Villanova.
Individuals with high self-brand connection respond to negative information about their brand, such as unfavorable brand extensions or poor reviews, by defending it, because their connection between the brand and their self-concept leads them to view this information as a threat to themselves. However, when the source of this negative information is not outside information, but the conspicuous behavior of other brand users, it is unclear how these highly connected individuals respond. While prior work has shown that these consumers maintain positive evaluations of the brand, we argue that they nonetheless experience vicarious shame when observing others using their brand conspicuously. This occurs because they perceive these behaviors as reflecting poorly on themselves, which leads them to experience an identity threat, but that this occurs only when the observers are not able to justify the conspicuous users’ behavior. We demonstrate these predictions in three studies, showing that these negative emotions also motivate highly connected observers to distance themselves from the brand. Our results provide insight on the process by which highly connected brand users process the conspicuous behavior of other brand users, while also suggesting that the insulating effects of their connection are potentially limited, as the behavior of other brand users can potentially drive these valuable consumers away.