Highly committed consumers likely to put up a fight for their favorite brand

Negative attacks against brands and retailers are sure to irk corporate officials. A new study has found that highly committed customers are also likely to become emotionally defensive and even have a physical reaction over disparaging comments against their favorite brands.

While previous studies have shown that zealously loyal consumers are likely to provide counterarguments, this is the first research to reveal that arousal sparked defense mechanisms, said H. Rao Unnava, the W. Arthur Cullman Professor in Marketing and co-author of the study published in the September issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.

Neeli BendapudiThe study’s authors found that devoted consumers resorted to counter arguments as a way to discredit the negative attacks and provide a release from the physiological arousal caused by them.

When these consumers were unable to defend their views, the emotional and physiological arousal remained high, causing them to continue to sweat and breathe rapidly, according to the study.

The arguments were the key factor in helping the committed consumers to preserve their attitudes toward a brand and lowering the arousal, said Unnava, who conducted the study along with Fisher alumnus Sekar Raju. Unnava and Raju, now an assistant professor of marketing at the University at Buffalo, said consumers use a counterattack as a therapeutic measure to help reassure them of their loyalties.

“You feel like someone is attacking you and not your brand. Because a brand is not a brand, you are expressing yourself through the brand,” Unnava said. “So by consuming the brand you’re making a statement.”

Consumers who are less committed to a product were more likely to be swayed by the negative attacks. However, while these buyers like the product just as much as their highly committed counterparts, they don’t see the value in sticking with one brand, Unnava said.

“In their minds, they see more value in enjoying all options that are out there,” he said. “The less committed people seem to take joy in the lack of commitment, which makes them try different brands and so they’re always looking for more things.”