Brand Attachment and Consumer Emotional Response to Unethical Firm Behavior


Correspondence regarding this article should be sent to: Ulrich R. Orth, A&F Marketing—Consumer Psychology, Christian-Albrechts-Universität Kiel, Wilhelm-Seelig-Platz 6/7, 24098 Kiel, Germany (


Attaching consumers to a brand is a cornerstone of relationship marketing as attachment increases loyalty. This research investigates another possible benefit of attachment, its potential and limits for shielding brands from firms’ ethical missteps. Merging motivated reasoning and attachment theories, two studies focus on how brand attachment influences consumer judgments of firm ethics and the emotional and behavioral consequences developing from those. A field study indicates that attachment attenuates judgments of unethical behavior, contributes to emotional ambivalence, and affects purchase intentions. A subsequent experiment corroborates these findings and shows that the buffering role of attachment is limited to conditions when the information about firm ethics is moderately rather than extremely negative. Implications focus on advancing research on ethics and emotional ambivalence in consumer brand relationships and on managerial implications.