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Ethical brand management: customer relationships and ethical duties

John Story (Cameron School of Business, The University of St Thomas, Houston, Texas, USA)
Jeff Hess (California Polytechnic State University, Coto De Caza, California, USA)

Journal of Product & Brand Management

ISSN: 1061-0421

Article publication date: 20 July 2010




This paper seeks to explore the ethical implications of creating committed customer relationships.


The paper uses an empirical study to test a series of hypotheses concerning the impact of customers' commitment to a brand on their behaviors toward that brand. It then contrasts these behavioral changes with the assumptions of ethical frameworks.


Customers' behaviors toward a brand change as they become committed to the brand. They shop less, consider fewer brands, and are willing to pay more. These changes violate assumptions of less stringent ethical frameworks. The result is that, as customer commitment increases, the ethical burden on the brand also increases.

Research limitations/implications

This research is limited by the scope of the sample, automobile finance. Future research should explore customer commitment in other product and service categories to determine the extent to which commitment varies.

Practical implications

The implications of these results are that, when a brand does a great job of satisfying customers and building trust, commitment develops, which increases the ethical burden on the brand. The very brand actions that develop commitment high quality, good service, caring about the customer, must actually increase in importance once strong customer relationships are built.


The findings in the paper are unique, in that they evaluate a marketing model in terms of ethical impact, rather than simply in terms of increased sales or market share. These findings should be valuable to any brand manager who is focusing on building or managing customer‐brand relationships.



Story, J. and Hess, J. (2010), "Ethical brand management: customer relationships and ethical duties", Journal of Product & Brand Management, Vol. 19 No. 4, pp. 240-249.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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