Positive Shock: A Consumer Ethical Judgement Perspective

Journal of Business Ethics 165 (4):735-751 (2020)
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Existing debates on business ethics under-represent consumers’ perspectives. In order to progress understanding of ethical judgement in the marketplace, we unpack the interconnections between consumer ethical judgment, consent and context. We address the question of how consumers judge the morality of threat-based experiential marketing communications. Our interpretive qualitative research shows that consumers can feel positively about being shocked, judging threat appeals as more or less ethical by the nature of the negative emotions they experience. We also determine that the intersection between ethical judgement, consent and context lies where consumers’ perceptions of fairness and consequences lend contextualised normative approval to marketing practice. Our research makes three original contributions to existing literature. First, it extends theory in the area of ethical judgement, by highlighting the importance of consent for eliciting positive moral responses. Second, it adds to embryonic research addressing the role of emotions in ethical judgement, by ascertaining that negative emotions can elicit positive consumer ethical judgement. Third, our research contributes an original concept to ethical judgement theorisation, namely consumer-experienced positive shock. We define CEPS as a consensual shock value judged as ethical due to its ephemerality, commercial resonance, brand alignment, target-audience appropriateness and contextual acceptability. We also extrapolate the dimensions of CEPS into an ethical judgement typology, elucidating how consumers judge some threat-based communications as ethical, but not others. Consequently, our work dovetails with wider business ethics debates on ethical judgement, adding value by clarifying the conditions that generate positive consumer ethical judgement.



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