New study explains why loyal customers get defensive when their brands are criticized

We are emotionally attached to the products we use regularly, so much so that we become defensive and tense when they are criticized, says a new study from the September issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.

Interestingly, the more committed we are to a product – and thus the more incensed we are by any critique – the more counterarguments we are able to come up with.

“Less loyal individuals more readily agree with the unfavorable information and change their attitudes to be consistent with the new information,” write Sekar Raju (University of Buffalo) and H. Rao Unnava (Ohio State University). “More loyal consumers question and argue against the information.”

Raju and Unnava explain that we are negatively aroused by criticism of products to which we feel committed. However, this negative arousal can also be induced by an external stimuli, such as an irritating noise. Thus, those who are in a state of agitation and those who are loyal to a brand come up with more counterarguments in response to criticism in an attempt to reduce cognitive discomfort. In contrast, those who are not particularly committed to the brand or who are not externally agitated are more likely to change their opinions.

“This difference in the level of tension seems to motivate the more loyal customers to take a much more defensive stand against the unfavorable information,” write the authors. “It is our contention in this research that counterarguementation is one way by which highly committed consumers reduce their arousal, and thus the aversiveness that accompanies it.”

Source: University of Chicago Press Journals