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Surviving a Crisis: How Crisis Type and Psychological Distance Can Inform Corporate Crisis Responses

Abstract

This research examines how one’s construal level of a crisis differs by crisis type, and how the interplay of crisis type (self-threatening vs. society-threatening) and apology appeal type (emotional vs. informational) impacts the effectiveness of apology messages in a corporate crisis context. Findings indicate that one’s mental construal toward a crisis varies by crisis type, with a self-threatening crisis leading to a lower level of construal than a society-threatening one. Findings further suggest that in a society-threatening crisis condition, an informational apology was more effective than an emotional one. However, in a self-threatening crisis condition, there was no significant difference between two different message types. These findings offer valuable guidelines for developing effective crisis response strategy.

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Correspondence to Yoon Hi Sung.

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Appendix

Appendix

Appendix 1: Crisis Descriptions

Crisis Description in Study 1

Self-threatening crisis description “You purchased a barrel-shaped charcoal grill at SM Mart for a BBQ party with your friends. The first time you used the charcoal grill, the barrel portion caught on fire, sending flames at least five feet into the air.
Due to SM Mart’s defective charcoal grill product, you nearly suffered burns to your arms and hands, and the hamburger meat you purchased had to be discarded. In addition, your BBQ party with your friends was ruined. It is obvious that it is SM Mart’s fault for selling a defective product with potential severe risks.”
Society-threatening crisis description “You discovered a news article on the Internet stating that employees and activists in several states held demonstrations to protest low wages being paid to workers at SM Mart.
According to the news article, part-time workers were earning $7.50 per hour, and being given minimal healthcare benefits and other labor welfare services because they are not full-time workers. The article also said that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would investigate thoroughly and could impose fines for violations of the Civil Rights Act.”

Crisis Description in Study 2

Self-threatening crisis description “You had renewed your credit card online a month ago because your credit card was about to expire. After three weeks, however, your credit card had still not been delivered. Your old card finally expired while you were waiting for the new card to arrive.
Due to the SM Bank’s delay in sending you a new credit card, you could not pay bills with your credit card and several creditors charged you late fees. It is obviously the bank’s fault for not sending you the credit card on time.”
Society-threatening crisis description “You discovered a magazine article stating that SM Bank was accused of fraud on shareholders that occurred during its acquisition of SM bank.
According to the article, the CEO of the bank hid $16.2 billion from shareholders and then lied to Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury Department to get a $20 billion bailout. The article also said that the government would increase taxes next year to compensate for this bailout debt.”

Appendix 2: Measurements for Construal Level

Measurement for Construal Level in Study 1

figure a

Measurement for Construal Level in Study 2

figure b

Appendix 3: Apology Message in Study 2

Emotional Apology for Self-Threatening Crisis

figure c

Informational Apology for Society-Threatening Crisis

figure d

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Lee, S.Y., Sung, Y.H., Choi, D. et al. Surviving a Crisis: How Crisis Type and Psychological Distance Can Inform Corporate Crisis Responses. J Bus Ethics 168, 795–811 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-019-04233-5

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Keywords

  • Construal level theory
  • Crisis type
  • Apology message appeal
  • Crisis management communication