Sorry seems to be the hardest word : consumer reactions to self-attributions by firms apologizing for a brand crisis

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Journal article

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Journal of Consumer Marketing

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited


Apology, Brand attitude, Brand crisis, Moral crisis, Product failure, Self-attribution


Purpose: When apologizing for a brand crisis, self-attribution by a business inevitably affects consumer attitude and behavior. The purpose of this study is to draw from the dissonance-attribution model and investigate the effect of self-attribution in apologies on consumers’ brand attitude. Design/methodology/approach: This study includes two scenario-based experiments of 2 × 2 design. Findings: In the first experiment on product failure, the results show that internal attribution generates significant change in brand attitude in a positive direction, while external attribution leads to negative change in brand attitude. Dispositional attribution leads to significantly more positive brand attitude than situational attribution. Internal/dispositional attribution produces significantly more positive effect on consumer attitude than the other three types of attribution. Moreover, perceived risk is found to mediate the relationship between attributions and brand attitude, and such mediating effect is moderated by consumers’ corporate associations. However, in the second experiment on moral crisis, the mediating and moderating effects are not significant. Practical implications: Clearly, how a company apologizes for a product crisis makes a big difference in the effectiveness of recovery strategies to restore consumer confidence. Sincere apologies based on internal/dispositional attribution are more effective to re-gain the respect of consumers and win them back. Originality/value: This study is the first to examine consumer reactions to self-attributions by marketers apologizing for a brand crisis and the combined effect of self-attributions along the horizontal dimension (internal versus external attribution) and the vertical dimension (dispositional versus situational attribution).



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Yuan, D., Cui, G., & Lai, L. (2016). Sorry seems to be the hardest word: Consumer reactions to self-attributions by firms apologizing for a brand crisis. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 33(4), 281-291. doi: 10.1108/JCM-02-2015-1306