Brand Mind Perception and Moral Judgments of Brand Behavior: How Perceived Leadership Influences Consumer Attitudinal Responses to a Brand's Wrongdoing
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How we communicate about brands and companies has changed. CEOs have come into the spotlight of brand communications but little marketing research offers holistic knowledge about CEOs as brand endorsers. This research investigates how CEO endorsers influence consumer attitudes toward a brand differently from conventional endorsers (e.g., celebrities and athletes). Further, this research examines underlying mechanisms that determine consumer responses to CEOs as brand endorsers and especially consumer moral judgments of a brand’s wrongdoing. Building on research on brand endorsers and brand equity, as well as drawing theoretical support from research on leadership, anthropomorphism and mind perception, this dissertation proposes a moderated mediation model of CEO endorser effects on consumer moral judgments. Brand endorsers for decades have been viewed as essentially communicating via three characteristics: attractiveness, expertise and trustworthiness. This dissertation identifies perceived leadership as an additional endorser dimension elicited from a CEO-brand endorser. Further, this dissertation introduces brand mind perception into marketing research and finds that perceived leadership positively influences consumers’ perception of brand mind, which in turn determines consumers’ moral judgments. Boundary conditions are explored and include endorser-brand relationship and crisis controllability. Two sets of studies provide empirical support. The first set defines and develops the scale of perceived leadership including item generation (Study 1), item purification (Study 2), and scale confirmation (Study 3). The second set tests the hypotheses in the conceptual model. Two exploratory studies first find preliminary evidence of that perceived leadership differs from existing endorser dimensions by its effects on moral judgments (Study 4), and that mind perception is possible for a brand and can be enhanced by CEO association (Study 5). Study 6 shows positive effects of CEO endorsers on consumer attitudes by communicating perceived brand leadership. Study 7 investigates a brand-wrongdoing scenario and shows that perceived brand leadership yields negative results for a brand by increasing blame and reducing forgiveness; Study 8 demonstrates these relationships are mediated by brand mind perception. Study 9 shows that the inspiring aspects of perceived leadership can enhance perceptions of brand mind (to feel and experience), thus reducing consumers’ blame. Theoretical and managerial implications are discussed.
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