Consumers in Control: Unethical Brands and Compensatory Consumer Control



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The present research was designed to test the hypotheses that people feel less consumer personal agency when using a brand described as unethical than a brand described as ethical or ethically-neutral (Studies 1 and 2). Additionally, I tested whether offering a sense of control increased agency and intentions to use, even when the brand is described as acting unethically (Study 2). In both studies, I manipulated perceptions of a brand's ethicality and measured perceptions of consumer personal agency when using said brand. In Study 2, I additionally manipulated perceptions of control offered by the brand and measured intentions to use. Results from both studies showed that reading about a brand that is perceived as unethical lowers consumers’ sense of personal agency when using that brand. In Study 2, participants in the unethical brand condition also reported lower intentions to use the brand. Those in the consumer control condition reported both higher intentions to use the brand and greater feelings of consumer personal agency compared to those in the no-control condition. Contrary to predictions, these effects were not qualified by a significant interaction between brand ethicality and consumer control, and consumer personal agency did not mediate the interaction on use intention between consumer control and brand ethicality. This research provides evidence that control over cosmetic features increases intention to use, regardless of whether the brand is portrayed as unethical or ethically-neutral.



Personal Agency, Compensatory Consumption, Consumer Behavior