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Amid Scandal, People Defend Favorite Brands

starbucks store . / Credit: Starbucks image via Shutterstock

What happens when your beloved brand runs into public relations trouble? A public scandal or major mishap, perhaps? If you’re really in love with the brand, you’ll stand by it, researchers say.

In fact, new research finds that people are more likely to defend that brand when they have a personal connection with it.

To prove this, Angela Y. Lee, a professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management, Monika Lisjak, a doctoral candidate at the Kellogg School, and Wendi L. Gardner, an associate professor of psychology at Northwestern University, examined the relationships people have with brands in a series of experiments.

The research consisted of four experiments involving both Starbucks and Facebook, which were chosen because of past controversies. The researchers wanted to know how willing people were to stick with a favorite brand even in tough times.

"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 researchers found that people were actually more likely to defend brands even after controversy. In particular researchers found that self-conscious, low self-esteem individuals were most likely to rate companies more favorably after critiques and controversy.   

The only caveat to that research is that people rated brands less favorably after changing focus to other areas of their lives where they can affirm themselves.  

"If Starbucks is part of you, and you read something negative about Starbucks, you feel attacked," said Lee. "But I now give you another way to feel good about yourself. Then, once that need is being satisfied, you may not feel that you need to defend Starbucks anymore."

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