Better Safe than Sorry: Effects of Brand Hatred on Preferences for Competing Brands

Consumers frequently experience negative feelings toward brands. This work focuses on one of the most extreme of these feelings, hatred. Many managers seem to believe that consumers’ hatred for a close competitor would not be harmful or might even be beneficial for their brand. This research tests whether such beliefs reflect reality. Seven studies using qualitative, experimental, correlational, and field data show that in contrast to managers’ beliefs, hatred for a brand leads consumers to eschew close competitors from the same subcategory. Importantly, these preference shifts are unique to hatred and do not emerge when consumers are indifferent or dissatisfied. As feeling mistreated and exploited is central to hatred, it triggers concerns about self-protection, which results in the shift away from close competitors. Several moderators that provide support for the self-protection based account are identified, such as the variance in consumer ratings and the usage of safety-inducing marketing tools. Taken together, this research emphasizes that consumer relationships with brands do not operate in a vacuum. Documenting predictable shifts in preferences for competitors as a consequence of hatred for a brand underscores the importance of extending frameworks of how consumers bond with brands to incorporate negative consumer-brand connections and account for effects beyond the focal brand.