Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 137, Issue 1, pp 101–113 | Cite as

Consumers’ Responses to Public Figures’ Transgression: Moral Reasoning Strategies and Implications for Endorsed Brands

  • Joon Sung Lee
  • Dae Hee KwakEmail author


Public figures’ transgressions attract considerable media attention and public interest. However, little is understood about the impact of celebrity endorsers’ transgressions on associated brands. Drawing on research on moral reasoning, we posit that consumers are not always motivated to separate judgments of performance from judgments of morality (moral decoupling) or simply excuse a wrongdoer (moral rationalization). We propose that consumers also engage in moral coupling, a distinct moral reasoning process which allows consumers to integrate judgments of performance and judgments of morality. In three studies, we demonstrate that moral coupling is prevalent and has unique predictive utilities in explaining consumers’ evaluation of the transgressor (Studies 1 and 2). We also show that transgression type (performance related vs. performance unrelated) has a significant impact on consumers’ choice of moral reasoning strategy (Study 2). Finally, we demonstrate that consumers’ support for (or opposition toward) a brand endorsed by a transgressor is a direct function of moral reasoning choice (Study 3). Findings suggest that public figure’s immoral behavior and its spillover to an extended brand is contingent on consumers’ moral reasoning choices.


Endorsement marketing Moral judgments Moral reasoning Transgression Sports marketing 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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