Marketing managers often face dilemmas when their athlete endorsers are accused of immoral behavior. However, research findings have been equivocal as to whether athletes’ transgressions damage endorsed brand evaluations. Using two experiments, we empirically demonstrate that consumers’ moral reasoning (i.e., moral rationalization, moral coupling, and moral decoupling) has differential effects on evaluations of a transgressor (Study 1). In Study 2, we examine the causal effect of moral reasoning choice on evaluations of the transgressor and the associated brand. Findings show that moral coupling has negative effects on the athlete and brand evaluations, whereas moral decoupling and moral rationalization positively affect brand attitude and purchase intent through positive evaluation of the athlete. Findings from this study provide empirical evidence to explain how and why some consumers continue or discontinue their support for a troubled athlete and associated brand.
Joon Sung Lee, Dae Hee Kwak, and David Moore are with the Department of Sport Management, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan.