Purpose – The paper aims to investigate the impact of ruthless image on the attractiveness and connectedness of corporate brands. It proposes a model that trust mediates the influence of a ruthless image on these outcomes. The study aims to build upon previous theory which suggests that not all brands with negative aspects to their images are destined to receive negative consumer responses. Design/methodology/approach – A mixed method approach was adopted to examine consumer responses to ruthless brand image, including five focus groups to uncover successful brands with strong ruthless associations and 680 personal face‐to‐face surveys in which respondents were interviewed about one of four brands. Findings – The paper provides empirical support that the mediating role of trust is critical to the development of favourable outcomes where negative brand associations exist. No significant direct links between ruthlessness, attractiveness and connectedness were identified – only an indirect effect via trust. Research limitations/implications – The chosen research approach may reduce the generalisablity of the results. Further empirical testing using alternative brands and outcome measures is encouraged. Practical implications – Strategic brand implications are outlined which argue that brands with negative images can be successful, profitable and often the market leader. The importance of leader image to disguise the ruthlessness of the corporate brands is discussed. Originality/value – This paper fulfils an identified need to study favourable consumer attitudes in the context of brands with negative associations.
European Journal of Marketing – Emerald Publishing
Published: May 30, 2008
Keywords: Corporate image; Brands; Mathematical modelling