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EMAC 2022 Annual

Grateful and elevated or angry and contemptuous? The role of moral emotions in consumer responses to brand activism

Published: May 24, 2022


Eliana Esposito, Technische Hochschule Mittelhessen; Stefanie Wannow, Technische Hochschule Mittelhessen; Martin Haupt, Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen


Consumers increasingly call brands to drive policy changes by taking an ‘activist’ stance on socio-political issues. Although brand activism mainly uses moral emotions to prompt discussions and change, research has largely neglected to analyze the role of moral emotions. Building on Haidt’s moral emotion framework, this research analyzes how consumers’ elicited moral emotions and their personal involvement with a societal cause affect consumer responses towards activist brands. In an experiment with two current controversial issues, we measured people’s agreement with the brand’s stand and its impact on moral emotions and subsequent attitudinal reactions. Respondents’ (dis-) agreement with the brand’s stance led to more (negative) positive responses, mediated by negative vs. positive moral emotions, respectively. A higher personal involvement with the issue increased this effect. Implications for theory and brand managers are derived.