With Daniel Villanova. In preparation for submission to Journal of Marketing.
Individuals with higher self-brand connection respond defensively to negative external information about the brand, because the connection between the brand and their self-concept leads them to view this as a threat. But when this negative information comes from the transgressive behavior of other brand users rather than outside criticism, while consumers may maintain positive evaluations of the brand, they experience vicarious shame. This occurs because these consumers feel the transgressive behavior reflects poorly on brand users as a whole, which leads them to experience a social identity threat. Six studies show that more highly-connected brand users experience vicarious shame when observing others using the brand transgressively, and that this motivates them to distance themselves from the brand. These motivations lead to actual disengaging behavior, as observed in data collected from Twitter. These results provide insight into the process by which more highly-connected brand users process transgressive brand usage, and suggest that the insulating effects of strong self-brand connections may be limited, as the behavior of other brand users can potentially drive these consumers away.