Proximity and Consumer Trust in a Brand Crisis

Zoe Gardiner, Fiona Cownie


Brand crises cause detrimental effects for consumers and organisations. Over the last 50 years, Marketing, Public Relations and Communications disciplines have attempted to identify methods that can minimise such consequences for organisations. Consumers’ attitudinal and behavioural responses play a critical role for organisations during crisis, with responses including decreased satisfaction, purchase intention and trust. A review of existing brand crisis literature revealed an important mediator between brand crisis and consumers’ responses yet to be recognised. This study introduces the concept of proximity to the literature to better understand consumers’ responses to a brand crisis. The study proposes that consumers’ connection to a brand crisis, through product ownership and violation of shared values, will have a significant effect upon consumers’ trust in the affected organisation. A sequential mixed-method exploratory research design achieved insight into proximity through the collection of 6 in-depth interviews and 55 questionnaire responses. A significant variance is highlighted in negative responses between high proximity and low proximity groups, indicating that a closer connection to a brand crisis event elicits stronger negative responses and lower levels of trust post-crisis. The research enables the refinement of the proximity concept, allowing better conceptualisation and aiding its application within future research or practice. Proximity is explored using the context of three recent, large-scale crisis events; the 2015 Volkswagen emissions fault, Samsung Note 7 product fault in 2016 and the 2015 Talk Talk cyber-attack.

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