Marketing Letters

, Volume 27, Issue 2, pp 285–294 | Cite as

Attributions of blame following a product-harm crisis depend on consumers’ attachment styles

  • Jodie Whelan
  • Niraj Dawar


This research examines consumers’ attachment styles as a predictor of attributions of blame following a product-harm crisis. Though the interpersonal attachment literature suggests that consumers with the secure attachment style should attribute the least amount of blame to the brand, we introduce a novel and seemingly contradictory hypothesis. Because of the unique nature of brand relationships, we hypothesize that consumers with the fearful attachment style will attribute the least amount of blame to the brand. In an experiment, we find support for both hypotheses. Further, we find that these effects occur via different mechanisms. Whereas the secure attachment style decreases attributions of controllability, the fearful attachment style decreases attributions of stability. Though many relationship tendencies have been transferred from the interpersonal domain to the consumer domain, our findings remind researchers that brands are a distinct type of relationship partner.


Product-harm crisis Attachment styles Blame Attributions Brand relationships 


  1. Bartholomew, K. (1990). Avoidance of intimacy: an attachment perspective. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 7, 147–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bartholomew, K., & Horowitz, L. M. (1991). Attachment styles among young adults: a test of a four-category model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61(2), 226–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bartz, J. A., & Lydon, J. E. (2004). Close relationships and the working self-concept: implicit and explicit effects of priming attachment on agency and communion. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30(11), 1389–1401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bergkvist, L., & Rossiter, J. R. (2007). The predictive validity of multiple-item versus single-item measures of the same constructs. Journal of Marketing Research, 44(2), 175–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. Attachment. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  6. Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and loss: Vol. 2. Separation: anxiety and anger. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  7. Bowlby, J. (1980). Attachment and loss: Vol. 3. Loss. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  8. Cheah, E. T., Chan, W. L., & Chieng, C. L. L. (2007). The corporate social responsibility of pharmaceutical product recalls: an empirical examination of the U.S. and U.K. markets. Journal of Business Ethics, 76, 427–449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Collins, N. L. (1996). Working models of attachment: implications for explanation, emotion, and behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71(4), 810–832.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Collins, N. L., & Read, S. J. (1990). Adult attachment, working models and relationship quality in dating couples. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58(4), 644–663.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dawar, N., & Pilluta, M. M. (2000). Impact of product-harm crises on brand equity: the moderating role of consumer expectations. Journal of Marketing Research, 37(2), 215–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dommer, S. L., & Swaminathan, V. (2013). Explaining the endowment effect through ownership: the role of identity, gender, and self-threat. Journal of Consumer Research, 39(5), 1034–1050.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dunn, L. & Hoegg, J. (2014). The impact of fear on emotional brand attachment. Journal of Consumer Research, forthcoming. Google Scholar
  14. Folkes, V. S. (1988). Recent attribution research in consumer behavior: a review and new directions. Journal of Consumer Research, 15, 548–565.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fournier, S. (1998). Consumers and their brands: developing relationship theory in consumer research. Journal of Consumer Research, 24(March), 343–373.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fournier, S., & Alvarez, C. (2012). Brands as relationship partners: warmth, competence, and in-between. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 22(2), 177–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gallo, L. C., & Smith, T. W. (2001). Attachment style in marriage: adjustment and responses to interaction. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 18(2), 263–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Germann, F., Grewal, R., Ross, W. T., & Srivastava, R. K. (2013). Product recalls and the moderating role of brand commitment. Marketing Letters, 25(2), 179–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hayes, A. F. (2013). Introduction to mediation, moderation, and conditional process analysis: a regression-based approach. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  20. Jang, S. A., Smith, S. W., & Levine, T. R. (2002). To stay or to leave? The role of attachement styles in communication patterns and potential termination of romantic relationships following discovery of deception. Communication Monographs, 69(3), 236–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Johnson, A. R., Whelan, J., & Thomson, M. (2012). Why brands should fear fearful consumers: how attachment style predicts retaliation. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 22(2), 289–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kachadourian, L. K., Fincham, F., & Davila, J. (2004). The tendency to forgive in dating and married couples: the role of attachment and relationship satisfaction. Personal Relationships, 11(3), 373–393.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Klein, J., & Dawar, N. (2004). Corporate social responsibility and consumers’ attributions and brand evaluations in a product-harm crisis. International Journal of Research in Marketing, 21, 203–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Konrath, S. H., Chopik, W. J., Hsing, C. K., & O’Brien, E. (2014). Changes in adult attachment styles in American college students over time: a meta-analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 18(4), 326–348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Laufer, D., Gillespie, K., & Silvera, D. H. (2009). The role of country of manufacture in consumers’ attributions of blame in an ambiguous product-harm crisis. Journal of International Consumer Marketing, 21, 189–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lei, J., Dawar, N., & Lemmink, J. (2008). Negative spillover in brand portfolios: exploring the antecedents of asymmetric effects. Journal of Marketing, 72(3), 111–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lei, J., Dawar, N., & Gürhan-Canli, Z. (2012). Base-rate information in consumer attributions of product-harm crises. Journal of Marketing Research, 49(June), 336–348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Luke, M. A., Sedikides, C., & Carnelley, K. (2012). Your love lifts me higher! the energizing quality of secure relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38(6), 721–733.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Mende, M., & Bolton, R. N. (2011). Why attachment security matters: how customers’ attachment styles influence their relationships with service firms and service employees. Journal of Service Research, 14(3), 285–301.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mende, M., Bolton, R. N., & Bitner, M. J. (2013). Decoding customer-firm relationships: how attachment styles help explain customers’ preferences for closeness, repurchase intentions, and changes in relationship breadth. Journal of Marketing Research, 50(1), 125–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Mickelson, K. D., Kessler, R. C., & Shaver, P. R. (1997). Adult attachment in a nationally representative sample. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(5), 1092–1106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Mikulincer, M. (1998). Adult attachment style and individual differences in functional versus dysfunctional experiences of anger. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(2), 513–524.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2007). Attachment in adulthood: structure, dynamics, and change. New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  34. Mikulincer, M., Gillath, O., Halevy, V., Avihou, N., Avidan, S., & Eshkoli, N. (2001). Attachment theory and reactions to others’ needs: evidence that activation of the sense of attachment security promotes empathic responses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81(6), 1205–1224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Monga, A. B., & John, D. R. (2008). When does negative brand publicity hurt? the moderating influence of analytic versus holistic thinking. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 18, 320–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Paulssen, M. (2009). Attachment orientations in business-to-business relationships. Psychology and Marketing, 26(June), 507–533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Puzakova, M., Kwak, H., & Rocereto, J. F. (2013). When humanizing brands goes wrong: the detrimental effect of brand anthropomorphization amid product wrongdoings. Journal of Marketing, 77(May), 81–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Richins, M. L. (1983). Negative word-of-mouth by dissatisfied consumers: a pilot study. The Journal of Marketing, 47, 68–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Rossiter, J. R. (2002). The C-OAR-SE procedure for scale development in marketing. International Journal of Research in Marketing, 19(4), 305–335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Siomkos, G. J., & Kurzbard, G. (1994). The hidden crisis in product-harm crisis management. European Journal of Marketing, 28(2), 30–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Su, W., & Tippins, M. J. (1998). Consumer attributions of product failure to channel members and self: the impacts of situational cues. In J. W. Alba, & J. W. Hutchinson (Eds.), Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25 (pp. 139-145). Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research.Google Scholar
  42. Sümer, N., & Cozzarelli, C. (2004). The impact of adult attachment on partner and self-attributions and relationship quality. Personal Relationships, 11, 355–371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Swaminathan, V., Stilley, K. M., & Ahluwalia, R. (2009). When brand personality matters: the moderating role of attachment styles. Journal of Consumer Research, 35(April), 985–1002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Thomson, M., & Johnson, A. R. (2006). Marketplace and personal space: investigating the differential effects of attachment style across relationship contexts. Psychology and Marketing, 23(August), 711–726.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Tsiros, M., Mittal, V., & Ross, W. T. (2004). The role of attributions in customer satisfaction: a reexamination. Journal of Consumer Research, 31(2), 476–483.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Wei, M., Russell, D. W., Mallinckrodt, B., & Vogel, D. L. (2007). The Experiences in Close Relationship scale (ECR)-short form: reliability, validity, and factor structure. Journal of Personality Assessment, 88(2), 187–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Weiner, B. (2000). Attributional thoughts about consumer research. Journal of Consumer Research, 27(3), 382–387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Whisman, M. A., & Allan, L. E. (1996). Attachment and social cognition theories of romantic relationships: convergent or complementary perspectives? Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 13(2), 263–278.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Administrative StudiesYork UniversityTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Richard Ivey School of BusinessWestern UniversityLondonCanada

Personalised recommendations