Dangerous Transgressions in Co-Creative Brand Relationships

Becoming a loved brand is the desire of many marketers. Previous research suggests there are two ways to achieve this: either become an uncompromising brand icon in the vein of Apple, Virgin Airlines, Ben and Jerry’s or Patagonia, or include your consumer-fans into the marketing process through value co-creation. In the latter view, as consumers get an increasing say-so on the direction of the brand, they will fall in love with the brand as they have poured so much of themselves into it.

Most of the co-creation literature is filled with positivity and hype, with little concern over the potential pitfalls and dangers of mismanaging the co-creative process. It thus begs the question: what happens if a marketers reneges on the agreement with consumers to co-create the brand? 

Along with my co-authors Jonathan Bean and Jukka Rintamäki, we explore this question through an ethnographic account of the Mass Effect 3 ending debacle. In our research, we understood the last installment of the Mass Effect video game trilogy as a marketer transgression of the co-creative agreement and investigated consumers’ responses to the crisis.

Building on coping theory, we found evidence of the brand community coping through which it sought to come to terms with the transgression. Our research has been published in Journal of Business Research, with the title “Brand Community Coping.”

Here is the abstract:

The successful alignment of co-creative practices between brand communities and marketers promises many benefits, including stronger consumer brand relationships. Yet recent research has identified the inherent difficulty of creating or maintaining such an alignment. This study builds on these cautionary tales to show how marketer-initiated brand transgressions impact communal brand relationships built on extensive histories of successful co-creation. Building theory through netnographic inquiry of the drama surrounding a poorly managed brand transgression in a video game brand community and a counterexample of positive marketer action, this study introduces a theoretical model of brand community coping and its four stages of instigation, distillation, mobilization, and remembrance. Overall, the study provides new insights on brand transgressions, consumer coping, brand relationships, and co-creation.