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An attribution theory model of consumer behavior in times of marketing crisis

Timothy M Reilly, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


In the course of doing business in the modern world organizations often find themselves involved in negative situations which can only be categorized as crises. These crises have a wide variety of causes and often result in negative outcomes for the organizations involved. While crises have been studied from an organizational view, this research investigates the consumer's experience when exposed to a crisis. To do this, the current literature on marketing crises is expanded upon to create a definition of marketing crisis, and the theoretical lens of attribution theory is applied to identify why individual consumers may respond quite differently to the same marketing crisis. The three specific research questions investigated are: 1) How do consumers make causal attributions about marketing crises? 2) What factors influence how consumers make those attributions about marketing crises?, and 3) What are the consequences of causal attributions about marketing crises? These questions are tested with an experimental design manipulating exposure to a marketing crisis and measuring antecedents, causal attribution, and consequences associated with an attribution theory model of crisis perception. A major finding of this research is that the cause of the crisis matters to consumers, and that the perception of cause can vary greatly among consumers. Specifically, and counter-intuitively, this research suggests that consumers who are actually customers of organizations affected by the crisis may have a less dramatic response to a negative development than consumers who are less involved and more psychologically distant.

Subject Area

Business administration|Marketing

Recommended Citation

Reilly, Timothy M, "An attribution theory model of consumer behavior in times of marketing crisis" (2014). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3637691.