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Can negative buzz increase awareness and purchase intent?


Consumers are regularly exposed to negative information about brands through word-of-mouth, news, reviews, and social media. Prior literature on consumers’ response to negative brand information has shown that when more negative information is available about a brand, sales are depressed. In contrast, we find that an increase in negative information about a brand may lead to an increase in brand awareness and purchase intent for the brand. Using four years of weekly survey data tracking customers’ attitudes towards computer and automobile brands, we estimate VARX models that relate a survey measure of exposure to negative information about a brand (negative buzz) with brand awareness, positive feeling toward the brand, and purchase intent for the brand. As expected, for automotive brands, we find that a shock in negative buzz leads to higher brand awareness and negative effects on positive feeling and purchase intent. However, for computers, we find that an increase in negative buzz is followed by increases in awareness, positive feeling, and purchase intent. This suggests there are circumstances when negative buzz should not be suppressed.

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  1. 1.

    Other papers which use YouGov data, e.g., Hewett et al. (2016), summarize response to this question with a “net positive” metric, rather than breaking out positive and negative responses separately, as we do here.

  2. 2.

    YouGov fields the survey continuously and reports metrics based on repeated cross sections on a daily basis. However, the daily sample sizes are often small, so to reduce variance due to sampling error, we aggregated the data to the weekly level. This allows us to merge with Kantar Ad$pender data, which is reported weekly.

  3. 3.

    To test whether the complexity of the VARX model is necessary, we also estimated a linear regression (OLS) to predict purchase intent as a function of all the other variables. This regression does not pick up the positive effect of negative buzz on purchase intent in the computer category. The positive effects of negative buzz we find with the VARX model involve intermediate effects on awareness and purchase intent, which develop over time. The systems approach in the VARX model better captures these dynamic effects (Pauwels et al. 2004). Other papers which employ intermediate mindset metrics use VARX models for similar reasons (Colicev et al. 2018; Srinivasan et al. 2010).

  4. 4.

    To investigate the interaction between initial awareness and the effect of negative buzz on awareness, we re-estimated the VARX model with the lower awareness brands (Infinity, Mini, Accura, and Fiat for automobiles and Acer and Lenovo for computers). While the point estimates for the effect of negative buzz on awareness are positive for the low-awareness brands for both categories, none is statistically significant, due to large standard errors arising from insufficient data.


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We thank YouGov, especially Ted Marzelli and Lance Fraenkel, who generously provided data from the YouGov BrandIndex syndicated brand tracking study and Kathy Berger at Boston University for her assistance with preparing the Kantar Ad$pender data. We also thank participants at the 2018 Marketing Science Conference at Temple University and the 2018 Marketing Dynamics Conference at Southern Methodist University for helpful suggestions.

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Correspondence to Jung Ah Han.

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Han, J.A., Feit, E.M. & Srinivasan, S. Can negative buzz increase awareness and purchase intent?. Mark Lett (2019).

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  • Negative earned media
  • Negative buzz
  • Brand attitudes
  • Purchase intent
  • VARX model