Cultural drivers and trust outcomes of consumer perceptions of organizational unethical marketing behavior

Leonidou, Leonidas C., Leonidou, Constantinos N. and Kvasova, Olga (2012) Cultural drivers and trust outcomes of consumer perceptions of organizational unethical marketing behavior. European Journal of Marketing, 47 (3/4). pp. 525-556. ISSN 0309-0566

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Purpose - The article develops and tests a model that focuses on the cultural drivers and trust outcomes of consumer perceptions on issues pertaining to the unethical marketing behavior of firms. It specifically investigates: the role of cultural orientation in forming consumer ethical ideology; the link between the consumer’s ethical ideology and his/her perceptions regarding the unethical marketing behavior of firms; the effect of perceived unethical marketing behavior on trust in firms; and the moderating role of gender, age, and education of the consumer.

Design/methodology/approach - The article is based on a quantitative survey conducted among 387 Cypriot consumers aged 18 and above, using stratified random sampling procedures. The items comprising the constructs used were derived from multiple literature sources and these were measured on a seven-point Likert scale. Data were gathered through personal, face-to-face interviews conducted at central locations in all major towns of Cyprus. To test the hypothesized relationships among the constructs of the model, structural equation modeling was employed.

Findings - The study confirmed that both power distance and uncertainty avoidance are important in forming idealistic attitudes, while both individualism and masculinity lead to an egoistic attitude. Idealism was observed to have a positive association with perceived marketing unethicality, while egoism was found to negatively affect consumer perceptions of unethical marketing behavior by firms. It was also revealed that perceived unethical marketing behavior decreases consumer trust. The study also revealed that the link between idealism and perceived marketing unethicality is stronger among male and older individuals, while consumer’s level of education had no moderating impact on this link. Finally, none of the consumer demographics examined (i.e., gender, age, and education) moderated the association between egoism and perceived unethical marketing behavior.

Research limitations/implications - The findings of the study offer useful implications for business managers (e.g., adopting an ethical marketing spirit), public policymakers (e.g., establishing a broader set of ethical guidelines for marketers), and consumer pressure groups (e.g., making consumers act as ‘watchdogs’ of potential unethical marketing practices). The findings of the study should be seen within the context of limitations pertaining mainly to the fieldwork country, the cross-sectional design, and the sampling unit used.

Originality/value - The originality of the study lies in the fact that: it puts together in a single model both antecedents and outcomes of the marketing unethicality of firms, as this is perceived by the individual consumer; concurrently examines the role of cultural orientation and ethical ideology of the consumer in forming ethical attitudes and responses; focuses on the instrumental role of cultural characteristics on consumer ethical perceptions from the perspective of the individual, rather than the society as a whole; places emphasis on unethical issues taking place across all elements of the marketing mix; and provides useful examination of the effects of unethical marketing practices on consumer trust.

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