Consumer scapegoating during a systemic product-harm crisis

Hongzhi Gao*, John G. Knight, Hongxia Zhang, Damien Mather, Lay Peng Tan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

24 Citations (Scopus)


To determine how consumers respond to betrayal of their trust in brands, we surveyed 2156 consumers in nine metropolitan centres in China following the 2008 melamine contamination crisis. Drawing on psychological drivers of scapegoating and attribution theory, we investigate how early information and the perceived involvement in a multi-brand crisis and attribution factors influence scapegoat effects. The survey results reveal that the first accused brand, Sanlu, took disproportionate blame and was made a scapegoat for an industry-wide crisis. The observer/tension-discharging perspective, the 'early information' effect, and the contrasting roles of manufacturers and non-manufacturer parties in the supply chain in causal attributions have the most significant effect in consumer scapegoating. Study of a highly unfortunate 'real-life experiment' shows how a food safety scandal spills over and negatively affects attitudes and beliefs about the whole supply chain and about competing brands.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1270-1290
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Marketing Management
Issue number11-12
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2012

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