- Consumer Psychology
- Consumers' Relationships with Brands
- Consumer Well-Being
- Social Identity and Attachment Theories
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Professor Allison Johnson's most recent research has been focused on consumer well-being (and conversely, consumer retaliation) as it relates to relationships with brands and service providers, by applying theories of attachment and social identity in the consumer domain. She and her coauthors have been honoured by publication of these works in the field's top journals. On-going research is exploring further contributions to theory and practice by extending these investigations.
The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council is funding her current works-in-progress investigating the effects of consumerism and hyperchoice situations: specifically, on what effects being chronically immersed in such situations may have on decision-making in moral dilemmas and altruistic choices.
Her other research interests center on consumer inferences and how those inferences are: i) related to consumers' relationships with companies and brands, ii) affected by perceived morality and corporate social responsibility (CSR), and iii) based on the competitive landscape and other corporate associations.
Professor Johnson's research has been published in the Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Consumer Psychology, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Psychology and Marketing, and the Review of Marketing Research. As well, her research has been discussed in Time Magazine Online, Los Angeles Times (Business Online), The Independent, and the Toronto Star.
Recent Refereed Articles
Johnson, A. R.; Folkes, V.; Wang, J.,
(Forthcoming), "When One Bad Apple Spoils Consumers' Judgment of the Brand: Exposure to an Employee's Non-Workplace Transgression and Potential Remedies", Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science.
Abstract: Four experiments investigate consumers' moral judgments of a firm's brand reputation when given information about an employee's non-workplace transgression. To the extent that the employee is perceived to have power in the firm (i.e., control over resources and decisions), the employee's offensive action damages the firm's reputation and decreases consumers' purchase intentions. These effects occur even though the action occurs in the employee's private life and is unrelated to product quality. The results replicate for three types of products and three types of offenses. The employee's perceived power in the firm provides the most consistent explanation of customers' negative responses and is a better predictor than the alternative explanations tested (e.g., perceived status). Results also show that after an offense comes to light, firm reactions that decrease or eliminate the employee's power in the organization—such as reducing decision-making responsibilities or firing the employee—can help restore the firm's reputation.
Link(s) to publication:
Whelan, J.; Johnson, A. R.; Marshall, T.; Thomson, M.,
2016, "Relational Domain Switching: Interpersonal Insecurity Predicts the Strength and Number of Marketplace Relationships", Psychology & Marketing, June 33(6): 465 - 479.
Abstract: In this paper, the authors test a compensation model of interpersonal and marketplace relationships. Guided by an attachment theory perspective, the authors argue that reflecting on or experiencing insecure interpersonal relationships can induce consumers to seek surrogate relationship partners in the marketplace. This general prediction is supported by results from an experiment and two surveys. Specifically, results show that interpersonally anxious consumers report more and stronger brand relationships. Furthermore, interpersonally avoidant consumers report more and stronger brand relationships, as well as more numerous but weaker service relationships. These studies support the prediction that people employ marketplace solutions to offset deficiencies in their personal relationships. The paper concludes by contextualizing the results within research on loneliness and materialism.
Link(s) to publication:
Pirouz, D. M.; Johnson, A. R.; Thomson, M.; Pirouz, R.,
2015, "Creating Online Videos That Engage Viewers", Sloan Management Review (MIT), June 56(4): 83 - 88.
Abstract: Most people think that cute babies and sexy bodies are what make online videos go viral. But new research shows that the key driver of engagement for online video content has less to do with what you show than how you show it. By juxtaposing content elements in incongruous combinations or by creating original or exaggerated content, an emotional connection is forged with the viewer, which in turn leads to a more engaged viewer response.
Sen, S.; Johnson, A. R.; Bhattacharya, C. B.; Wang, J.,
2015, "Identification and Attachment in Consumer-Brand Relationships", Review of Marketing Research, June 12: 151 - 174.
Abstract: Purpose - We examine two conceptualizations of consumer-brand relationships: identification, as identity-based relationships between a consumer and a brand, and the related construct of attachment as a bond based on security and personal history with the brand. Methodology - Predictions emanating from the two constructs’ disparate theoretical traditions regarding the relative antecedents and outcomes of these brand relationship constructs are tested in a survey of real consumer-brand relationships, where the two are likely to co-occur. Findings - Identification is more socially motivated, wherein the brand is used for identity building and impression management, such as through public endorsement. In contrast, attachment is more personally motivated it is more likely to be founded on an intimate history with the brand and feelings of security inspired by the brand. Implications - This is the first work in marketing to explicitly compare identification with attachment in contexts where they co-occur. In doing so, it underscores the validity and usefulness of these two related but distinct relationship constructs.
Link(s) to publication:
Johnson, A. R.; Thomson, M.; Jeffrey, J.,
2015, "What Does Brand Authenticity Mean? Causes and Consequences of Consumer Scrutiny", Review of Marketing Research, June 12: 1 - 28.
Abstract: Purpose - Brand narratives are created to differentiate brands, and consumers base their assessments of a brand’s authenticity on this narrative. We propose that the default consumer position is to accept a brand’s narrative, and we find that consumers maintain belief in this narrative even when explicitly reminded that it is manufactured by firms with an underlying profit motive. Because belief seems to be the default position adopted by consumers, we investigate what factors act as disruptors to this default position, thereby reducing assessments of authenticity. Methodology - This research uses a series of studies to investigate when and why consumers view some brand stories as authentic and others less so. In addition, we examine the impact of changes to authenticity assessments on managerially important brand outcomes. Findings - Only when one or more authenticity disruptors are present do consumers begin to question the authenticity of the brand narrative. Disruption occurs when the focal brand is perceived to be nakedly copying a competitor, or when there is a gross mismatch between the brand narrative and reality. In the presence of one or both of these disruptors, consumers judge brands to be less authentic, report lower identification, lower assessments of brand quality and social responsibility, and are less likely to join the brand’s community. Implications - Creating compelling brand stories is an important aspect of any marketing manager’s job after all, these narratives help drive sales. Care must be taken when crafting narratives however, since consumers use these as the basis of their authenticity assessments, and brands deemed inauthentic are penalized.
Link(s) to publication:
Thomson, M.; Whelan, J.; Johnson, A. R.,
2012, "Why Brands Should Fear Fearful Consumers: How Attachment Style Predicts Retaliation", Journal of Consumer Psychology, June 22(2): 289 - 298.
Abstract: In two surveys of adult consumers, we find that attachment styles predict consumers’ reactions after brand relationships end. Specifically, fearful’ consumers those high in both attachment anxiety and avoidance are most likely to complain to third parties, to obsess about harming the brand, and to report seeking payback against brands. Two factors mediate the effect of attachment on reactions: threats to consumers’ self-image and the loss of benefits from their relationship. This is consistent with the explanation we propose: specifically, fearful individuals invest in and depend more on consumption relationships and, therefore, lose more when such relationships end.
Link(s) to publication:
Johnson, A. R.; Matear, M.; Thomson, M.,
2011, "A Coal in the Heart: Self-Relevance as a Post-Exit Predictor of Consumer Anti-Brand Actions", Journal of Consumer Research, June 38(1): 108 - 125.
Abstract: This article extends theory around consumer-brand relationship quality by exploring conditions under which such relationships may be transformed into exceptionally negative dispositions toward once-coveted brands. Survey and experimental results indicate that the more self-relevant a consumer-brand relationship, the more likely are anti-brand retaliatory behaviors after the relationship ends. These anti-brand behaviors are diverse: from complaining to third parties, to negative word of mouth, to illegal actions such as theft, threats, and vandalism. In contrast, post-exit consumer-brand relationships that were low in self-relevance but were high in trust, commitment, and satisfaction are less likely to result in anti-brand actions. The role of a discrete product or service failure is also explored, and results suggest that self-relevance may motivate retaliation even in the absence of a so-called critical incident. Ultimately, this research illuminates previously unexplored mechanismsincluding self-conscious emotional reactionsthat motivate consumer hostility and retaliation.
Link(s) to publication:
Johnson, A. R.; Folkes, V. S.,
2007, "How Consumers' Assessments of the Difficulty of Manufacturing a Product Influence Quality Perceptions", Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, September 35(3): 317 - 328.
Abstract: This research shows that the perceived difficulty of manufacturing a product influences consumers' perceptions of the firm's other products. In three experiments (with 152 participants in Study 1, 86 in Study 2, and 91 in Study 3), participants received information about the quality of a firm's product and then inferred the quality of another product from the firm. When participants believed that the initial product was relatively more difficult to manufacture than the second product, they inferred that the second product would be high in quality. However, when participants believed that the initial product was relatively easy to manufacture, they inferred that the second product would be low in quality. These effects occurred when perceived difficulty of manufacture was manipulated (Study 2) and occurred regardless of whether both products had dissimilar product benefits (Study 1) or whether brand names were present (Study 3).
Thomson, M.; Johnson, A. R.,
2006, "Marketplace and Personal Space: Investigating the Differential Effects of Attachment Style Across Relationship Contexts", Psychology & Marketing, August 23(8): 711 - 726.
Abstract: An individual's tendencies in purely personal relationships seem to lead to related tendencies in consumer relationships. The following article presents a study that illustrates how individual differences in personal relationship attachment style can be used to predict the likely success of consumer relationships. In addition, it illustrates how the success of consumption versus nonconsumption relationships can be explained by the effect of attachment style on the individual's perception of qualities of the relationship.
Einwiller, S. A.; Fedorikhin, A.; Johnson, A. R.; Kamins, M. A.,
2006, "Enough is Enough When Identification no Longer Prevents Negative Corporate Associations", Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, March 34(2): 185 - 194.
Abstract: Negative publicity has the potential to create negative corporate associations. However, consumers' identification with a company might moderate the extent of this effect. This article examines the impact of consumer-company identification on reactions to variable levels of negative publicity about a company. Exposing consumers who had strong identification with a company to moderately negative publicity was found to result in less negative corporate associations than for consumers who had relatively weak identification. In contrast, consumers'levels of identification did not affect reactions to extremely negative information, resulting in equally negative corporate associations for those with strong versus weak consumer-company identification. Thus, strong identification mitigates the effects of moderately negative publicity but does not attenuate the effects of extremely negative publicity. Consumers' perceptions of and thoughts regarding negative information about a company partially mediated the effect of identification on attitudes and behavioral intentions.
- Faculty Director, Ivey Behavioural Research Lab, 2014 – present.
- Co-author (with Natalie Mauro) of Ivey’s #1 (of ~4,400) Best Selling Case (“The Pillsbury Cookie Challenge”) which also won Bestselling Case Awards in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.
- Editorial Review Board Member, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 2007-2013.
- Co-Chair Consumer Behaviour Track, 2010 and 2007 Academy of Marketing Science Conferences.
- Sustainability in Business Award, SAP Canada 2010.