With Daniel Villanova. In preparation for submission to the Journal of Marketing Research.
Individuals with high self-brand connection respond defensively to negative information, such as unfavorable brand extensions or poor product reviews, because the connection between the brand and their self-concept leads them to view this information as a threat. However, when the source of this negative information is not outside criticism but the transgressive behavior of other brand users, it is unclear how these individuals might respond. While consumers may maintain positive evaluations of the brand, they experience vicarious shame when observing transgressive brand behavior because they perceive these behaviors as reflecting poorly on brand users as a whole, which leads them to experience a social identity threat. Four studies are reported which show that vicarious shame also motivates highly-connected observers to distance themselves from the brand and leads to actual distancing behavior, as observed in real-world data collected from Twitter. These results provide insight into the process by which highly-connected brand users process the transgressive behavior of other brand users and also suggest that the insulating effects of strong self-brand connections may be limited, as the behavior of other brand users can potentially drive these valuable consumers away.