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Does seeing bad make you do good? How witnessing retail transgressions influence responses to cause marketing offers

Journal of Business Research. November 6, 2020

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Can witnessing another individual commit a marketplace transgression (e.g., shoplifting) influence a consumer’s responsiveness to cause marketing (CM) offers? Four experiments demonstrate that consumers respond more favorably to CM offers as a means of atoning for another’s transgression. This vicarious moral compensation effect is observed only among high moral identifiers who feel psychologically close to (vs. distant from) the transgressor (studies 1 and 3), and arises in response to the identity threat they experience after witnessing the transgression (study 2). Additional findings show that this increased responsiveness to CM offers for moral compensation purposes is attenuated when consumers have an opportunity to address this threat by affirming their sense of morality (study 4). The theoretical and managerial implications of these findings are discussed, as are suggestions for future research.