To read this content please select one of the options below:

Who can afford to blame? Sender effects in blame-shifting crisis communications

Paolo Antonetti (Department of Marketing, NEOMA Business School, Mont-Saint-Aignan, France)
Ilaria Baghi (Department of Communication and Economics, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Modena, Italy)

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Article publication date: 29 April 2024

Issue publication date: 27 June 2024




When companies face a crisis, they sometimes deliver blame-shifting communications, trying to shift blame onto another actor to protect their reputation. While previous research has considered how different features of the message affect its persuasiveness, little is known about whether specific senders can blame more effectively. This paper aims to contribute to research in this domain through an investigation of the sender’s social perception as a critical moderator to the persuasiveness of blame shifting.


The authors conduct four between-subjects scenario experiments to test the research hypotheses. In each experiment, participants are presented with a realistic crisis scenario and the crisis communications delivered by the company. The authors assess the extent to which perceptions of the sender influence the message’s ability to reduce negative word-of-mouth intentions and to increase purchase intentions.


The authors show that blame shifting is more likely to be effective when deployed by senders that are small (Study 1) or have a positive CSR track record (Study 2). Furthermore, The authors find that even large senders can successfully deploy blame shifting if they can benefit from being known for their CSR programs (Study 3). Finally, the authors show that the effect of blame shifting depends on the receiver’s level of concern about the crisis: stakeholders significantly concerned by the crisis reject blame-shifting communications (Study 4).

Research limitations/implications

Further research should examine the impact of information about brand competence on blame-shifting effectiveness. Further research is also needed to explore sender effects for other defensive crisis communication strategies such as denial or the use of excuses or justifications.

Practical implications

The study offers critical information for marketers considering the use of defensive crisis communications strategies such as blame shifting.


The study extends the understanding of how sender effects influence blame-shifting communications. The analysis allows us to clarify why this strategy is effective for certain senders and certain receivers while, for others, it tends to backfire. Blame shifting backfires for large senders unless they can boast a strong CSR record.



The authors gratefully acknowledge financial support for data collection from the Area of Excellence The World We Want at NEOMA Business School.


Antonetti, P. and Baghi, I. (2024), "Who can afford to blame? Sender effects in blame-shifting crisis communications", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 58 No. 5, pp. 1410-1435.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2024, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles