When Love Becomes Hate(?): The Interplay Between Consumer-Brand Relationships and Crisis Situations
Toth, Elizabeth L
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This study had three purposes. First, it aimed to re-conceptualize organization-public relationships (OPRs) in public relations and crisis communication. This OPR re-conceptualization helps find out when the OPR buffering effect or the OPR love-becomes-hate effect happens. Second, it aimed to examine how consumer emotions are influenced by OPRs and influence consumer behavioral intentions. Third, it aimed to address the current problematic operationalization of the concept of consumer. Three pilot studies and one main study were conducted. Apple and Whole Foods were the two brands examined. One crisis that undermined the self-defining attributes shared between the brand and its consumers and another crisis that did not were examined for each brand. Almost 500 Apple consumers and 400 Whole Foods consumers provided usable questionnaires. This study had several major findings. First, non-identifying relationship and identifying relationship were different constructs. Moreover, trust, satisfaction, and commitment were not conceptually separate dimensions of OPRs. Second, the non-identifying relationships offered buffering effects by increasing positive attitudes and tempering anger and disappointment. The identifying relationships primarily offered the love-becomes-hate effects by increasing anger and disappointment. Third, if the crisis was relevant to consumers’ daily lives, brand response strategies were less effective at mitigating consumer negative reactions. Moreover, apology-compensation-reminder strategy was more effective compared to no-comment strategy. However, the apology-compensation-reminder strategy was no more effective than other strategies as long as brands compensate to the victims. Identifying relationships increased the effectiveness of response strategies. If the crisis did not undermine the self-defining attributes shared between consumers and brands, the response strategies worked even better. This study contributes to crisis communication research in multiple ways. First, it advances the OPR conceptualization by demonstrating that non-identifying relationship and identifying relationship are different concepts. More importantly, it advances the theory building of OPRs’ influences on crises by finding out when the buffering effect and the love-becomes-hate effect happen. Second, it adds to emotion research by demonstrating that strong OPRs can lead to negative emotions and positive emotions can have negative behavioral consequences on organizations. Third, the precise operationalization of the concept of consumer gives more insights about consumer reactions to crises.