Corporate Social ‘Irresponsibility’: Are Consumers’ Biases in Attribution of Blame Helping Companies in Product–Harm Crises Involving Hybrid Products?

Abstract

In recent years, there have been several high-profile recalls of hybrid products (those where organizations in multiple countries take part in the design, component sourcing, manufacturing, and marketing of a product). If consumers perceive a global firm to be responsible for the recall, then it will reduce their brand equity. Therefore, global firms may respond in ethically questionable ways to justify themselves to important stakeholders and avoid blame. Understanding how stakeholders attribute blame for crises involving hybrid products is important to shed light on the unethical manner in which global firms might avoid blame in such situations. The research reported here shows that in a hybrid product crisis, consumers show a bias in favor of the brand company and against the manufacturing company. This bias is more pronounced when the country of manufacture has an unfavorable image or when consumers lack familiarity with the recalled brand. Ambiguous recall announcements by companies that fail to provide a specific and clear reason for the product defect prompt consumers to assume that a manufacturing flaw caused the product defect. As a result, consumers reduce their attribution of blame for the brand company, and thus its brand equity is maintained.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

References

  1. Arpan, L. M., & Sun, S. (2006). The effect of country of origin on judgments of multinational organizations involved in a crisis. Journal of Promotion Management, 12(2/3), 189–214.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Bapuji, H., & Beamish, P. (2007). Toy recalls: Is China really the problem? Canada-Asia Commentary, 45, 1–9.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Barney, J. B., & Zhang, S. (2008). Collective goods, free riding and counting brands: The Chinese experience. Management and Organization Review, 4(2), 211–223.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Beamish, P., & Bapuji, H. (2008). Toy recalls and China: Emotion vs. evidence. Management and Organization Review, 4(2), 197–209.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Bilkey, W. J., & Nes, E. (1982). Country-of-origin effects on product evaluations. Journal of International Business Studies, 13(1), 89–99.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Bodenhausen, G. V., & Lichtenstein, M. (1987). Social stereotypes and information processing strategies: The impact of task complexity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(5), 871–880.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Bodenhausen, G. V., & Macrae, C. N. (1998). Stereotype activation and inhibition. In R. S. Wyer Jr (Ed.), Stereotype activation and inhibition: Advances in social cognition (Vol. 11, pp. 1–52). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Chao, P. (1993). Partitioning country of origin effects: Consumer evaluations of a hybrid product. Journal of International Business Studies, 24(2), 291–306.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Cheah, E. T., Chan, W. L., & Chieng, C. L. L. (2007). The corporate social responsibility of pharmaceutical product recalls: An empirical examination of US and UK markets. Journal of Business Ethics, 76(4), 427–449.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Christensen, S. L., & Kohls, J. (2003). Ethical decision making in times of organizational crisis: A framework for analysis. Business and Society, 42(3), 328–358.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Dardis, F., & Haigh, M. M. (2009). Prescribing versus describing: Testing image restoration strategies in a crisis situation. Corporate Communications, 14(1), 101–118.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Darley, J. M., & Gross, P. H. (1983). A hypothesis-confirming bias in labeling effects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44(1), 20–33.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Dawar, N., & Lei, J. (2009). Brand crises: The roles of brand familiarity and crisis relevance in determining the impact on brand evaluations. Journal of Business Research, 62(4), 509–516.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Dawar, N., & Pillutla, M. M. (2000). Impact of product–harm crises on brand equity: The moderating role of consumer expectations. Journal of Marketing Research, 37, 215–226.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. de Matos, C. A., & Rossi, C. A. V. (2007). Consumer reaction to product recalls: Factors influencing product judgement and behavioural intentions. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 31(1), 109–116.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Ettenson, R., & Gaeth, G. (1991). Consumer perceptions of hybrid (bi-national) products. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 8(4), 13–18.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. European Commission. (2005, October). The European consumers’ attitudes regarding product labelling -qualitative study in 28 European countries. Retrieved from http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/topics/labelling_report_en.pdf.

  18. Folkes, V. S. (1988). Recent attribution research in consumer behaviour: A review and new directions. Journal of Consumer Research, 14(4), 548–565.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Folkes, V. S., & Kostos, B. (1986). Buyers and sellers’ explanation for product failure: Who done it? Journal of Marketing, 50(April), 74–80.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Gibson, D. (1995). Public relations considerations of consumer product recall. Public Relations Review, 21(3), 225–240.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Gilbert, D. T., & Malone, P. S. (1995). The correspondence bias. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 21–38.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Grewal, D., Roggeveen, A. L., & Tsiros, M. (2008). The effect of compensation on repurchase intentions in service recovery. Journal of Retailing, 84, 424–434.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Ha, Y.-W., & Hoch, S. J. (1989). Ambiguity processing strategy, and advertising-evidence interactions. Journal of Consumer Research, 16(3), 354–360.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Heslop, L. A., & Papadopoulos, N. (1993). But who knows where or when? Reflections on the images of countries and their products. In N. Papadopoulos & L. A. Heslop (Eds.), Product-country images: Impact and role in international marketing (pp. 39–75). New York: International Business Press.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Hoch, S. J., & Deighton, J. (1989). ‘Managing what consumers learn from experience. Journal of Marketing’, 53(2), 1–20.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Hong, S.-T., & Wyer, R. S, Jr. (1989). Effects of country-of-origin and product attribute information on product evaluation: An information processing perspective. Journal of Consumer Research, 16(2), 175–187.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Ichheiser, G. (1943). Misinterpretations of personality in everyday life and psychologist’s frame of reference. Character and Personality, 12(2), 145–160.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Ichheiser, G. (1949). Misunderstandings in human relations: A study in false social perception. American Journal of Sociology, 55(2), 1–69.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Insch, G. S., & McBride, J. B. (2004). The impact of country-of-origin cues on consumer perceptions of product quality: A binational test of the decomposed country-of-origin construct. Journal of Business Research, 57(3), 256–265.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Jaffe, E. D., & Nebenzahl, I. D. (2001). National image and competitive advantage: The theory and practice of country-of-origin effect. Copenhagen: Copenhagen Business School Press.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Jones, E. E., & Harris, V. A. (1967). The attribution of attitudes. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 3(1), 1–24.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Kelley, H. H. (1972). Attribution in social interaction. In E. E. Jones, D. E. Kanouse, H. H. Kelley, R. E. Nisbett, S. Valins, & B. Weiner (Eds.), Attribution: Perceiving the causes of behaviour (pp. 1–26). Morristown, NJ: General Learning Press.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Kelley, H. H., & Michela, J. L. (1980). Attribution theory and research. Annual Review of Psychology, 31, 457–501.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Laufer, D. (2012). How should a global brand manager respond to an ambiguous product harm crisis? Advances in International Marketing, 23, 91–107.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Laufer, D., & Coombs, W. T. (2006). How should a company respond to a product harm crisis? The role of corporate reputation and consumer-based cues. Business Horizons, 49, 379–385.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Laufer, D., & Gillespie, K. (2004). Differences in consumer attributions of blame between men and women: The role of perceived vulnerability and empathic concern. Psychology & Marketing, 21(2), 141–157.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Laufer, D., Gillespie, K., McBride, B., & Gonzalez, S. (2005a). The role of severity in consumer attributions of blame: Defensive attributions in product–harm crises in Mexico. Journal of International Consumer Marketing, 17(3), 33–48.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Laufer, D., Gillespie, K., & Silvera, D. H. (2009). The role of country of manufacture in consumer’s attributions of blame in an ambiguous product–harm crisis. Journal of International Consumer Marketing, 21(3), 189–201.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Laufer, D., & Jung, J. M. (2010). Incorporating regulatory focus theory in product recall communications to increase compliance with a product recall. Public Relations Review, 36, 147–151.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Laufer, D., Silvera, D. H., & Meyer, T. (2005b). Exploring differences between older and younger consumers in attributions of blame for product harm crises. Academy of Marketing Science Review, 7, 1–21.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Li, Z. G., Murray, L. W., & Scott, D. (2000). Global sourcing, multiple country-of-origin facets, and consumer reactions. Journal of Business Research, 47(2), 121–133.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Lieberman, M. D., Gaunt, R., Gilbert, D. T., & Trope, Y. (2002). Reflection and reflexion: A social cognitive neuroscience approach to attributional inferences. In M. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 34, pp. 199–249). New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Lu, X. (2009). A Chinese perspective: Business ethics in China now and in the future. Journal of Business Ethics, 86(4), 451–461.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Marcus, A. A., & Goodman, R. S. (1991). Victims and Shareholders: The dilemmas of presenting corporate policy during a crisis. Academy of Management Journal, 34(2), 281–305.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Martin, A. (2011). BP mostly, but not entirely, to blame for Gulf oil spill. The Wire. Sep 14. Retrieved April 19, 2014, from, http://www.thewire.com/national/2011/09/bp-mostly-not-entirely-blame-gulf-spill/42470/.

  46. Miller, D. T., & Turnbull, W. (1986). Expectancies and interpersonal processes. Annual Review of Psychology, 37, 233–256.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Noggle, R., & Palmer, D. E. (2005). Radials, rollovers and responsibility: An examination of the ford-firestone case. Journal of Business Ethics, 56(2), 185–203.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. O’Malley, J. (1996). Consumer attribution of product failures to channel members. Advances of Consumer Research, 23, 342–345.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Papadapoulos, N., & Heslop, L. A. (1993). Product and country images-research and strategy. New York: The Haworth Press.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Pappu, R., Quester, P. G., & Cooksey, R. W. (2006). Consumer-based brand equity and country of origin relationships. European Journal of Marketing, 40(5/6), 696–716.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Pyszczynski, T. A., & Greenberg, J. (1981). Role of disconfirmed expectancies in the instigation of attributional processing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40(July), 31–38.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Rao, A. R., & Monroe, K. B. (1989). The effect of price, brand name, and store name on buyers’ perceptions of product quality: An integrative review. Journal of Marketing Research, 26(3), 351–357.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Rhee, M., & Haunschild, P. R. (2006). The liability of a good reputation: A study of product recalls in the US automotive industry. Organization Science, 17(1), 101–117.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Richins, M. L. (1983). Negative word of mouth by dissatisfied consumers: A pilot study. Journal of Marketing, 47, 68–78.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Ross, L. D. (1977). The intuitive psychologist and his shortcomings: Distortions in the attribution process. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 10). New York: McGraw-Hill.

    Google Scholar 

  56. Roth, K. P., & Diamantopoulos, A. (2009). Advancing the country image construct. Journal of Business Research, 62(7), 726–740.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Roth, M. S., & Romeo, J. B. (1992). Matching product category and country image perceptions: A framework for managing country-of-origin effects. Journal of International Business Studies, 23(3), 477–497.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Siomkos, G. J., & Kurzbard, G. (1994). The hidden crisis in product–harm crisis management. European Journal of Marketing, 28(2), 30–41.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Somasundaram, T. N. (1993). Consumers reaction to product failure: Impact of product involvement and knowledge. Advances in Consumer Research, 20, 215–218.

    Google Scholar 

  60. Stokes, R. C. (1985). The effects of price, package design, and brand familiarity on perceived quality. In J. Jacoby & J. C. Olson (Eds.), Perceived quality: How consumers view stores and merchandise (pp. 233–246). Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

    Google Scholar 

  61. Teas, R. K., & Agrawal, S. (2000). The effects of extrinsic product cues on consumers’ perceptions of quality, sacrifice, and value. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 28(2), 278–290.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Todd, B. (2010). U.S. official: Toyota pressured into recall. CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/02/02/lahood.toyota.recall/. Accessed 15 April 2014.

  63. Woellert, L. (2007). Made in China. Sued here. Business Week, 16, 9.

    Google Scholar 

  64. Yoon, S. (2013). Do negative consumption experiences hurt manufacturers or retailers? The influence of reasoning style on consumer blame attributions and purchase intentions. Psychology and Marketing, 30(7), 555–565.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgment

This research was supported in part by a grant to Sergio W. Carvalho and Hari Bapuji from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sergio W. Carvalho.

Appendix

Appendix

Dell Inc. Batteries Recall Affects Some Canadian Students

The division of laptop batteries of Dell Computer Corporation (Dell Inc.) has recently announced a recall of a wide variety of batteries used in different brands of laptop computers such as Acer, Compaq, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Sony. Dell Inc, an American brand, outsources part of its batteries’ production to different companies in Asia, including Lextronics of Japan. The recalled batteries, although designed by the American company Dell Inc., were manufactured by Lextronics Limited of Japan.

What is it about?

Dell Inc. has discovered a problem with a variety of laptop batteries that were sold as part of many different brands of laptop computers and announced a recall yesterday. The batch of batteries been recalled were originally manufactured by Lextronics in Japan. The recalled batteries may have come installed in a new laptop from the following brands Acer, Compaq, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Sony, or may have been provided as part of a service call that required a battery to be replaced.

According to the Dell Inc. announcement:

A problem in the batteries might cause them to overheat and explode, posing health risks to consumers.

What Should I Do?

Anyone having a laptop computer is urged to visit the following website www.japanbatteriesproblem.com and follow the directions it contains. The instructions are clear, but must be followed precisely.

If your battery is subject to the recall, Dell Inc. states the following:

“Batteries subject to recall should not be used while awaiting a replacement battery pack from Dell Inc. You may continue to use your laptop computer using the AC adapter power cord originally provided with your notebook.”

Please note that the recall applies only for the batch of batteries manufactured in Japan.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Carvalho, S.W., Muralidharan, E. & Bapuji, H. Corporate Social ‘Irresponsibility’: Are Consumers’ Biases in Attribution of Blame Helping Companies in Product–Harm Crises Involving Hybrid Products?. J Bus Ethics 130, 651–663 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-014-2258-9

Download citation

Keywords

  • Product recall
  • Attribution of blame
  • Brand familiarity
  • Hybrid products