The article examines the
under-researched phenomenon of consumer brand sabotage where consumers have
turned hostile and are determined to cause damage to the brand; it develops an
improved theoretical understanding of the phenomenon and derives important
implications for academics and managers.
"Consumers empowered by new technologies
and driven by negative experiences with brands become hostile and agressively
attack with the dominant motive of causing harm to the brands."
similar to saboteurs in warfare, consumers can have a dramatic negative impact
on a brand relatively easily."
The chief objectives of our article are
to improve our understanding of consumer brand sabotage (CBS) and to stimulate further research on this phenomenon. Research has examined forms of
instrumental aggression (e.g., customer retaliation) where consumers exert
aggressive actions against a brand or company, not necessarily to harm the
brand but rather as a means to achieve other objectives (e.g., restoring
equity). In contrast, CBS is a hostile form of aggressive behavior with the
dominant objective of harming a brand via the impairment of brand-related
associations of other consumers.
Guided by conceptual considerations from
aggression and appraisal theories in social psychology (person-to-person
context) as well as in-depth interviews with actual consumer brand saboteurs, we
develop a conceptual framework that provides a novel theoretical perspective
for understanding this type of behavior in a brand relationship context. Furthermore,
we conducted two quantitative studies among consumers regarding CBS and its
Brand saboteurs respond to brand-related performance failures or value conflicts. They go through a mental escalation process and develop the dominant objective of causing harm to a brand. Brand saboteurs have burned all bridges with the brand and have stronger negative emotions (e.g., hatred, anger) and different cognitions (e.g., hostile thoughts) than consumers who engage in other negative behavior (e.g., customer retaliation). They carefully plan and invest a high level of effort to impair the brand-related associations of other consumers, resulting in an extremely high damage potential.
New technologies have empowered consumers to dramatically harm brands in response to performance failures or value conflicts. In a networked, digital world, even one single brand saboteur can cause the loss of numerous existing customers and the alienation of innumerable potential customers resulting in millions of dollars of damage to the brand. Research is needed to understand this new phenomenon and to examine what drives consumers to engage in such hostile behavior. Managers need to learn how to detect CBS prior to its occurrence and how they should deal with (potential) brand saboteurs.
Figure: Performance failures of the brand and brand-related value conflicts can initiate a consumer's mental escalation process toward consumer brand sabotage. This escalation process is typically characterized by repeated failed interactions with the brand and rumination loops.
Questions for the Classroom
- What is the phenomenon of consumer brand sabotage?
- What do we know about the initial brand stimuli, the motives, and the
mental escalation process that drive a consumer to become a brand saboteur?
- What are the implications of the phenomenon of consumer brand sabotage for
future brand management research and practice?
Andrea Kähr, Bettina Nyffenegger, Harley Krohmer, and Wayne D.
Hoyer (2016) When Hostile Consumers Wreak Havoc on Your Brand: The Phenomenon
of Consumer Brand Sabotage. Journal of Marketing: May 2016, Vol. 80, No. 3, pp.
Andrea Kähr is a doctoral student of marketing, Institute of
Marketing and Management, University of Bern (e-mail: Kaehr@imu.unibe.ch).
Bettina Nyffenegger is Assistant Professor of Marketing,
Institute of Marketing and Management, University of Bern (e-mail:
Harley Krohmer is Professor of Marketing and Chairman of the
Marketing Department, Institute of Marketing and Management, University of Bern
Wayne D. Hoyer is James L. Bayless/William S. Farish Fund
Chair for Free Enterprise and Chairman of the Department of Marketing, McCombs
School of Business, University of Texas at Austin (e-mail: