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.

The first article from this research project is already out at Research in Consumer Behavior. Building on coping theory, we found evidence of the brand community coping through which it sought to come to terms with the transgression. The next step for this research project is to further develop these findings towards a more general theory on the marketer-consumer co-creative agreement. The targeted journal for the future manuscript is Journal of Business Research.