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Brand Loyalty Not Always a Benefit, Study Finds

Brand commitment might not always be a good thing, finds new research from authors at the Penn State Smeal College of Business. In the case of high-severity product recalls, Irving & Irene Bard Professor of Marketing Raj Grewal and his colleagues write that consumers with a high level of brand commitment may actually respond more negatively than those with less loyalty.
November 8, 2013

Rajdeep Grewal
Rajdeep Grewal

Brand commitment might not always be a good thing, finds new research from authors at the Penn State Smeal College of Business. In the case of high-severity product recalls, Irving & Irene Bard Professor of Marketing Raj Grewal and his colleagues write that consumers with a high level of brand commitment may actually respond more negatively than those with less loyalty.

Brand commitment is found in consumers who are “attached to brands, form close relationships with them, and have a general desire to maintain this close relationship,” according to the authors.

The prevailing wisdom is that brand commitment will help brands retain their standing among consumers in the case of negative attention like a product recall, but the authors found the reality to be more nuanced.

"[C]ommitted consumers might view a product recall as a ‘breach of contract,’ and hence might exhibit more negative responses following a recall announcement than their less committed counterparts.”

In cases of high-severity recalls—or, recalls of products that could cause serious injury or death—the authors found that brand commitment actually acted as a liability.

“[C]ommitted consumers may come to expect more from the brand they like and thus feel especially disappointed when the brand gets recalled,” the authors write. “Indeed, committed consumers might view a product recall as a ‘breach of contract,’ and hence might exhibit more negative responses following a recall announcement than their less committed counterparts.”

On the other hand, in cases of low-severity or ambiguous product recalls, Grewal and his colleagues confirm that brand commitment can help mitigate fallout. Previous research shows that consumers tend to resist negative information regarding brands they love, so brand loyalty can be helpful in the case of recalls that have a lower possibility of negative effects.

“Product recalls and the moderating role of brand commitment” is forthcoming in Marketing Letters: A Journal of Research in Marketing and is currently available online. Authors include Grewal, Frank Germann of the University of Notre Dame, William T. Ross, Jr., of the University of Connecticut, and Rajendra K. Srivastava of the Singapore Management University.

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