Predicting Consumers’ Attribution and Behavior toward a Brand’s Sweatshop Practices: The Effects of Brand Power, Sweatshop Practice Repetitiveness, and Response Strategy
Type of DegreePhD Dissertation
Consumer and Design Sciences
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Given the rise of anti-sweatshop campaigns against a few leading brands including Wal-Mart, the Gap, Zara, Nike and Disney, it is crucial to understand why consumers resonate with the allegations of leading brands’ sweatshop practices and reprimand them while other brands are spared. A brand’s previous history of practicing sweatshops presented in media also may insinuate that sweatshop practices are more stable to the firm, affecting consumers’ attribution of brand responsibility. As a sweatshop allegation hurts a brand’s sale and stock price (Bartley & Child, 2011), how the brand responds to its allegation also is a central issue to understand consumers’ attribution of responsibility. Based on Weiner’s (1980) attribution theory, Schlenker’s (1980) impression management theory, and Coomb’s (1997) repertoire of crisis management strategy, this study examines how brand power (strong vs weak), repetitiveness in sweatshop practices (high vs low), and response strategy (no response vs denial vs justification) affect consumers’ attribution of brand responsibility, which in turn influences their attitude and behavioral intentions toward the alleged brand. A scenario-based online experiment using a 2 (brand power) x 2 (practice repetitiveness) x 3 (response strategy) between-subjects design was conducted with a national sample of 438 U.S. consumers. The findings reveal that brand power increases consumers’ perceived controllability of the brand for its sweatshop practice, which in turn heightens the consumers’ attribution of the brand’s responsibility for the sweatshop practice. Further, this study revealed that a brand’s repetitive sweatshop practices increase consumers’ perception of the stability of the sweatshop practice, which in turn is translated into their attribution of brand responsibility. The findings also suggest that the denial (i.e., claiming that no wrongdoing has been practiced as far as they know) or excuse (i.e., claiming that the alleged manufacturing facility was not authorized and may have received the order from their contractors which is beyond the brand’s knowledge) response strategy yields more favorable outcomes for brands (i.e., lower brand responsibility perception) as compared to the control condition (i.e., when consumers do not know about the brand’s response strategy). However, the brand power × sweatshop practice repetitiveness interaction also affected the results in that consumers perceived lower brand responsibility when the brand presented a denial response (vs. excuse and no response information) when the allegation is low in repetitiveness and the brand is either strong or weak; whereas excuse (vs. denial and no response information) produced lower brand responsibility attribution for a weak brand’s repetitive allegations. However, none of the response strategy including no response information were found to have any significant differences in perceived brand responsibility when the brand is strong and repetitiveness is high. Finally, perceived brand responsibility negatively influenced brand attitude and purchase intention, and positively influenced boycott intention and negative word-of-mouth intention (NWOM). Overall, the findings assert the importance of interpreting consumer reactions to a brand’s sweatshop practice portrayed in the media depending on the brand’s power and sweatshop practice repetitiveness and shed light on the corresponding post-crisis response strategy. This study provides both theoretical and managerial implications through the development of adequate understandings of consumers’ causal attributions.