Punishing Politeness: The Role of Language in Promoting Brand Trust

  • Aparna SundarEmail author
  • Edita S. Cao
Original Paper


Morality is an abstract consideration, and language is an important regulator of abstract thought. In instances of moral ambiguity (e.g., ethically ambiguous business practices), individuals may pay particular attention to matters of interactional justice (i.e., how consumers are treated with politeness and dignity by the brand in question). Politeness in language has been linked to greater perceptions of social distance, which we contend is instrumental in regulating attitudes toward a brand. We posit that politeness in a brand’s advertising will impact consumers who are attuned to violations of interactional justice [i.e., those with low belief in a just world (BJW)]. In three studies, we demonstrate that the politeness used in advertising as well as consumers’ individual differences in BJW affect judgments and attitudes toward brands. Specifically, individuals with a low just world belief are more likely to harbor negative attitudes towards a brand with ethically ambiguous business practices if the language used in advertising is impersonal (politer) than when the language used in advertising is personal (less polite). Importantly, for individuals with a low BJW, lowered trust due to the advertisement’s language mediated the relationship between politeness and attitudes toward the brand. Theoretical and managerial implications of this research are discussed.


Politeness theory Interactional justice Belief in a just world 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declared that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Lundquist College of BusinessUniversity of OregonEugeneUSA
  2. 2.University of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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