Brand forgiveness

Publication Date19 Aug 2019
AuthorMarc Fetscherin,Alexandra Sampedro
Brand forgiveness
Marc Fetscherin and Alexandra Sampedro
Department of Business, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida, USA
Purpose This paper aims to explore and discuss the concept of brand forgiveness. It empirically assesses the relati onships among three types of
brand transgressions, brand forgiveness and three consumer coping strategies.
Design/methodology/approach A32 research design is used to evaluate the effects of three types of brand transgression (performance,
image and value) and two degrees of severity (high vs low) for brand forgiveness. Then, this pape r use a 2 3 research design, evaluating two
degrees of brand forgiveness (high vs low) together with their effects on three different consumer coping strategies (switching, attacking and
purchasing again). Using a representative sample of 472 US consumers, various hypotheses related to these research designs are tested.
Findings The results show that almost half (48 per cent) of the consumers are unlikely or very unlikely to forgive a brand compared to about a
third (32 per cent) who are likely or very likely to forgive. The results of ANOVA show the more severe the brand transgression, the less likely the
forgiveness. Consumers who are more likely to forgive are less likely to avoid the brand or engage in attacking behaviors; they are also more likely
to purchase the brand again. The results of regression analyses show that consumers witnessing a performance-based brand transgression are more
likely to forgive the brand than in the case of image- or value-based brand transgressions.
Originality/value This paper explores and outlines the brand forgiveness construct, both theoretically and empirically.
Keyword Brand relationships
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
The branding literature includes extensive research showing
the importance of building and maintaining positive brand
relationships (Fetscherin and Heinrich, 2015). A little over a
decade ago, the ow of research shifted to include negative
brand relationships. The most notable constructs that have
been studied include, for example, brand dislike (Dalli et al.,
2006;Romani et al.,2009), brand disgust (Alba and Lutz,
2013) or brand hate (Kucuk, 2008;Bryson et al.,2013;
Zarantonello et al.,2016;Hegner et al.,2017). Consumer
responses to negative brand relationships vary, and different
individuals often react to the same stimulus in different ways.
The literature has found that consumers have different coping
strategies such as take a ightby avoiding, ghtingby
attacking or re-engaging (Grégoire and Fisher, 2006;Zourrig
et al.,2009;Grégoire et al.,2010;Johnson et al., 2010) with
brands. Three main conclusions can be drawn from our
literature review.
First, without exception, all companies are subject to
product or service failures or to negative publicity. The
question is not if,butwhen these brand crises or brand
transgressions will happen (Ran et al.,2016). Second, negative
brand relationships can affect consumer satisfaction, trust and
loyalty (Xie and Peng, 2009). The outcomes of negativebrand
relationships can cause a brand to lose numerous existing
customers and can alienate innumerable potential customers,
which can result in millions of dollars of damage to a brand
(Kähr et al.,2016, p. 25). Third, while the outcomes of
negative brand relationships have received some attention in
the literature, it is surprisingto realize that the literature is silent
on the underlying emotional responses allowing companies to
either restore broken relationships or change negative brand
relationships to positive ones. A central mechanism in such a
process is that of forgiveness.In this line, Fernández-Capo et al.
(2017, p. 247) state that forgiveness is one of the most
important processes in restoring relationships. The study of
forgiveness was historically conned to theology and
philosophy, only later nding a place in the psychology
literature. However, its entry into the marketing literature
occurred only recently (Zourrig et al., 2009). In psychology, it
has clearly been shown that forgiveness has the potential to
cause the tension associated with negative feelings to be
reduced, neutralized or even be replaced with positive
emotions(Tsarenko and Rooslani Tojib, 2011, p. 382). This
possibility demonstrates the centrality and importance of the
study of forgivenessin the context of brand relationships.
This paper supplies the following three contributions: rst,
by conducting a detailed literature review and providing an
overview of forgiveness in the marketingcontext, it summarizes
the current state of research and highlighting the lack of
empirical study of consumer forgiveness of brands. Second,
brand forgiveness is a relatively new construct; this study
extends prior forgiveness research to brand relationships, in
contrast to traditional psychological theories of forgiveness that
assess it in the context of intra- or interpersonal relationships.
Third, this paper discusses and empirically tests two analyses.
The rst of these assesses the relationships between the level of
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on
Emerald Insight at:
Journal of Product & Brand Management
28/5 (2019) 633652
© Emerald Publishing Limited [ISSN 1061-0421]
[DOI 10.1108/JPBM-04-2018-1845]
Received 8 April 2018
Revised 31 August 2018
Accepted 31 August 2018
severity of three types of brand transgression (performance,
image and value) on brand forgiveness.The other examines the
effects of brand forgivenesson three consumer coping strategies
(switching, attacking andpurchasing again). To achieve this, it
rst reviews the current interdisciplinary literature on
forgiveness, formulates hypothesesand conducts a survey with
a representative sample in the USA. The hypotheses are then
The structure of the remainder of this paper is as follows.
Section 2 discusses the origins and conceptualization of the
forgiveness constructand current research on forgiveness in the
marketing context. Section 3 outlines the various hypotheses
proposed. Section4 describesthe instruments of measurement,
sample and methodology. Section 5 presents the results, while
Section 6 provides a discussion of the theoretical and
managerial implicationsand the limitations of the study, as well
as presenting avenuesfor future research.
2. Forgiveness
2.1 Origins and domain
Forgiveness has long been consideredto fall within the domain
of theology and philosophy. The New Testament discusses
forgiveness in Matthew 6:12: And forgive us our debts, as we
forgive our debtors.Itisawell-developed concept with a long
history drawn principally from Judeo-Christian Theology,
where it is used as a metaphor for the removal by a deity of
retribution for wrongdoing(Tsarenko and Rooslani Tojib,
2011, p. 381). However, it is only in the last few decades that
research in other disciplines,mostly psychology, has focused on
forgiveness. To understand the current state of forgiveness
research, a bibliometric analysis is conductedof articles on the
Web of Science (WoS) having the string forgivin their title.
This string also called up variations of the word forgiveness,
such as forgiveness, forgiving or forgive(Fernández-Capo et al.,
2017). The results show that the topic of forgiveness began to
attract interest around 1990. From that time, according to the
WoS, a total of 1,228 articles by 2,004 authors have been
published in 607 journals as of April 2018. Figure 1 illustrates
the increasing numbers of articles related to forgiveness
published per year.
This analysis conrms that forgiveness is predominantly
discussed in psychology. Table AI provides an overview of the
15 most productive and impactful journals publishing on
forgiveness, and Table AII provides an overview of the
most-cited articles within the WoS. In psychology, the
psychological antecedents, properties, and consequences of
forgiveness now have been studied in a variety of settings, e.g.
counseling, social, justice, organizational and cultural, with
adolescents and adults, couples, families,and groups(Strelan
and Covic, 2006, p. 1059). In studies of interpersonal
forgiveness, McCullough et al. (1998, p. 1586) nd that
peoples willingness to forgive an offender can be explained by
variables of a socialcognitive nature, such as the offenders
perceived responsibility, intentionality, and motives and the
severity of the offense, which is in line with the ndings of
Boon and Sulsky (1997) and Darby and Schlenker (1982).In
other words, the psychology literature nds different severities
and determinants of forgiveness. Moreover, ample evidence
exists that there are at least two types of outcomes or
motivationalsystems underlying forgiveness:
feelings of hurt-perceived attack correspond to a motivation
to avoid personal and psychological contact with the
offender (i.e. avoidance); and
feelings of righteousindignation correspondto a motivation
to seek revenge or see harm come to the offender (i.e.
revenge) (McCullough et al.,1998,p.1587).
In line with prior psychological research, this paper also
conceptualizes and tests different determinants and outcomes
for forgiveness,but in the brand relationships context.
Turning back to the brief bibliometric analysis, one notices
that only a few business journals have discussedthe forgiveness
construct. For example, the Journal of Business Ethics
has published a few articles, but they eitherfocus on forgiveness
as a leadership trait (Caldwell and Dixon, 2010)or forgiveness
in the workplace (Palanski,2012;Barclay and Saldanha, 2016).
Only a handful of articles have focused on forgiveness in the
marketing contextas the following Section 2.3 shows.
2.2 Conceptualization and denition
Like love and hate, the concept of forgiveness is complex and
vague, for the following four reasons. First, forgiveness is a
complex notion; it is hard to determine why someone chooses
to forgive and the mechanisms are tied to a persons thoughts
and feelings, which differ amongst individuals. Second,
forgiveness should not be confused with other concepts such
as pardoning, excusing, condoning, forgetting, denying, and
reconciliation[1](Zourrig et al.,2009, p. 407). Following this
argument, Sternberg(2003, p. 203) states that:
Forgiveness is being granted and required only one person (the offended)
whereas reconciliation must be earned through trustworthy behavior and
always needs two parties, in that it depends on the offenders response to the
More precisely, Joireman et al. (2013, p. 319) argue that
forgiveness is an intrapersonal act of letting go of negative
emotions, whereas reconciliation is an interpersonal act of
goodwill that hopes to restore a relationship. The literature
identies at least three types of forgiveness: forgiveness of self,
forgiveness of others and forgiveness of situations. This paper
focuses on the last of these, where the word othersrefers to a
company or a brand. Fourth, thereis no universal denition of
forgiveness(Younger et al., 2004, p. 838). The literature
suggests numerous denitions and suggests various aspects,
including behavioral, affective, cognitive and motivational
Figure 1 Number of articles per year
51 51 54
85 87 85
Brand forgiveness
Marc Fetscherin and Alexandra Sampedro
Journal of Product & Brand Management
Volume 28 · Number 5 · 2019 · 633652

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