Ethics and Morality


in Customer-Brand Relationships, Special issue of Journal of Business Research; Deadline 31 Dec 2017

Journal of Business Research
Call for Papers: A Special Issue on

Ethics and Morality in Customer-Brand Relationships

SI Editors:

Naresh K. Malhotra, Emeritus Regents Professor of Marketing, Scheller School of Business,
Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

James Agarwal, Professor of Marketing & CCAL Research Fellow, Haskayne School of Business,
University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, CANADA

Relationship Marketing has experienced explosive growth in the past three decades both in business practice and as a focus of academic scholarship. A basic tenet of relationship marketing is that firms create value, build competitive advantage, and successfully compete in the marketplace through developing long-term, cooperative relationships with selected key partners. However, in the past much of relationship management has been centered on value creation for firms instead of value creation for customers in their entire customer journey (Kumar and Reinartz, 2016). Lemon and Verhoef (2016) note that total customer experience relates to specific aspects of the firm offering, such as brand or technology, and it consists of individual contacts between the firm and the customer at multiple points in the experience, called touchpoints. In this special issue, our objective is to have a better understanding of customers’ experiences of ethics enacted by firms and expectations by customers during critical touchpoints in their journey as customers. Although marketing primarily draws from the utilitarian/deontological approach to ethics, Murphy et al. (2007) discuss the need for virtue-based ethics in that it focuses on the individual and the organization (i.e., relational partner) rather than just the decision-making process or the problem laden with contextual moral dilemmas (Malhotra and Miller, 1998; Singhapakdi, Vitell, and Franke, 1999; Werhane, 1998, 2008). While trust and commitment (Morgan and Hunt, 1994; Garbarino and Johnson, 1999) are essential elements for relationship marketing, several ‘moral’ norms, values, and virtues, such as, integrity, fairness and justice, respect, empathy, and transparency can help facilitate customer-brand relationships (Dunfee, Smith, and Ross, 1999; Murphy et al. 2007). Accordingly, we invite papers that discuss ethical issues and frameworks from not just what is or could be (i.e., positive ethics) but also what should be (i.e., normative ethics) in the context of customer-brand relationship marketing at various relational touchpoints.

Customer-brand relationships (Bhattacharya and Sen, 2003; Fournier, 1998) include brands of all types such as product and service brands, corporate brands, non-profit brands, etc. and span various touchpoints in the customer’s journey (Lemon and Verhoef, 2016). Strong and positive brand relationships result in brand attachment and impacts brand loyalty and brand advocacy behaviors. Likewise, strong and negative brand relationships are characterized by self-brand connections that can generate aversion to a brand in response to what it represents or what it has done. Sometimes, customers can also exhibit a mixed brand relationship characterized by strong positive and strong negative emotions (i.e., brand ambivalence). One under-researched area is how firm (un)ethical relationship marketing practices influence customers’ moral identity, self-brand overlap, (negative) positive moral emotions, moral judgments, and consequently customer–brand relationships. For instance, in reference to United Airlines’ recent episode with a passenger, how do negative emotions of fear, anxiety, anger, embarrassment, and disgust shape and change customer-brand relationships? Do customers see ethics and morality in customer-brand relationships the same way as companies see, and if not, where are these conceptual gaps? While scholars have identified morality-based constructs such as moral sensitivity (Sparks and Hunt, 1998), moral identity (Aquino and Reed, 2002; Reed, Aquino, and Levy, 2007), ethical predisposition (Reynolds and Ceranic, 2007), and moral awareness (Reynolds, 2008), which ethical concepts and theories, such as justice, fairness, justification, forgiveness, disengagement, conflict and reconciliation are of relevance (and under what conditions) to moral judgments and customer-brand relationships?

Customer-brand relationships transcend national boundaries and exchange parties may be located anywhere in the world. International markets are marked by different institutional environments and the existence of differences in cultural, social, economic, political, technological, and allied factors. In recent years, there has been a gradual shift from dark-side consumption (e.g., counterfeit consumption) to a bright-side consumption (e.g., sustainable and green products) and research shows that relationship marketing initiative is increasingly linking consumer ethics and moral identity with CSR (Vitell et al., 2016). Global companies often go to great lengths to promote their CSR in a bid to enhance their brand image and organizational reputation. A pertinent question that needs greater clarity is: How do customers in cross-cultural markets view ethics and morality, in general, and CSR activities, in particular; and how do global customers differentially respond to the case of corporate social irresponsibility (CSI)? What are the antecedents of customer ethics across cultures and how do these influence key customer-brand relationship constructs, e.g., trust, commitment, identification, conflict handling, brand attachment, brand advocacy, and customer engagement? In short, there is a critical need to examine emerging theories and frameworks that explain cross-cultural consumer ethics and the role it plays in consumer-company relationships.

Although previous research has acknowledged the existence of multiple stakeholders, technology has brought about new types of relationships that exist between things (e.g. the internet of things) and between customers and digital devices (e.g., ecommerce, e.g., Amazon; mobile commerce, e.g., mobile apps, QR codes; social commerce, e.g., Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook). Innovations in technology (e.g., artificial intelligent agents, e.g. Google Glass, big data) are increasingly facilitating the development of advanced insights into every aspect of the customer journey. For example, about two-thirds of today’s new cars have sensors and communications systems that send and receive data, offering potential for carmakers to find out more about how drivers use their vehicles. Digital and social media revolution has strengthened the importance of customer engagement behavior wherein customers participate beyond purchase in a firms’ offerings or activities, thus generating a wealth of data (Van Doorn et al. 2010). Such data collection system raises serious ethical concerns about privacy, security, ownership, control, trust, fraud, misrepresentation, and the extent to which primary relationships can and should be capitalized on (Malhotra et al., 2004). Consequently, there are a number of new ethical challenges faced by marketers when it comes to technology, especially in the context of relationship marketing and customer-brand relationship.

Objectives and Scope of the Special Issue:

The objective of this special issue is to bring together high quality and high-impact scholarship on how customers expect, define, perceive, interpret, and experience ethics and morality in exchange relationships at various touchpoints in their journey as customers, identify the changing landscape of ethical issues in these relationships due to cross-cultural factors and shifts in technology, and how relationship marketers can change relationship strategies to build and sustain customer-brand relationships. This special issue would focus on papers that attempt to develop, integrate, extend, and refine ethics/morality-based theories, models, and frameworks particularly providing new insights on customer-brand relationships. We welcome papers that (a) cover both positive and normative ethical frameworks, (b) are cross-cultural in scope and (c) examine the role of emerging technology in shaping ‘consumer ethics’ and their relationships with brands and companies. Further, we particularly welcome papers that are multi-disciplinary in scope and that use diverse methodologies including, state-of-the-art reviews, theoretical/conceptual frameworks and propositions, analytical, empirical, and qualitative studies, meta-analyses, and single country/cross-cultural studies.

The following topics are meant to illustrate the range of submissions rather than limit the ideas; authors are welcome to contact the guest editors to discuss the appropriateness of other topics related to the theme of this Special Issue.

  1. New ethics/morality-based theories and frameworks explaining customer-brand relationships at various relational touchpoints.
  2. Virtue-based ethical models (justice, fairness, integrity, empathy etc.) and its expanded role in customer-brand relationships.
  3. Morality-based constructs (e.g., moral sensitivity, moral identity) and their intersection with customer-brand relationships.
  4. Self-relevant customer positive and negative moral emotions and their interplay with brand attachment, brand aversion, and brand ambivalence.
  5. Dark-side consumption (e.g., counterfeit consumption, wardrobing), bright-side consumption (e.g., sustainable and green consumption), and the impact of consumer ethics in customer-brand relationship.
  6. Consumer ethics underlying perceptions of branding, reputation, and CSR initiative and how it impacts customer-brand relationship.
  7. Cross-cultural theories and frameworks of consumer ethics and morality toward firm-initiated relationship marketing at various touchpoints of a customer’s journey.
  8. Antecedents of consumer ethics across cultures/markets and their differential impact on customer-brand relationship.
  9. Ethical issues and dilemmas posed throughout customer journey as a result of emerging technology (e-commerce, m-commerce, and s-commerce, AI agents, etc.) and their impact on customer-brand relationship.
  10. Ethics of data collection/use/sharing (e.g., online and social media, mobile phones and apps, digital piracy, virtual relationships, peer-to-peer file sharing, etc.) and how these impact customer engagement behavior and customer-brand relationship.

Submission Process

The deadline for manuscript submission is December 31, 2017 with publication of accepted papers planned during late 2018. Manuscripts must be original, and should not have been previously published or currently under consideration by other journals. Please submit your manuscript through the online EES portal. The SI editors may be contacted at: Dr. Naresh K. Malhotra ( and Dr. James Agarwal (


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