New research finds that people with a personal relationship to a particular brand are more likely to defend it when scandal or public relations trouble happens. The research, conducted through Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, examined the relationships people have with brands in a series of four experiments.
Starbucks and Facebook were chosen for the studies because of their past controversies. Angela Y. Lee, a professor of marketing, and Monika Lisjak, a doctoral candidate, along with Wendi L. Gardner, an associate professor of Psychology at Northwestern, wanted to know how loyal people were to their favorite brand.
“If you believe that a brand is part of you, and you read something negative about it, how are you going to react?” asked Lee. “Are you going to stop using it? Or do you use it even more? A brand is very intangible — in a way, the brand goes even beyond the product itself or the actual object. So from a psychological perspective, it’s interesting to consider the dynamic relationship between a consumer and the brands that they consume.”
The studies found that people were more likely to defend their favorite brands even after controversy. The research also showed that self-conscious individuals or those with low self-esteem were particularly likely to rate companies more favorably after controversy. “If Starbucks is part of you, and you read something negative about Starbucks, you feel attacked,” said Lee.
On the other side, however, people rated brands less favorably after changing focus to other areas of their lives to affirm themselves. Lee suggested that once the need that individuals have for feeling good about themselves is satisfied, their sense of urgency to defend their chosen brand is gone.