“What will ‘they’ think?”

Micael Dahlén (Center for Consumer Marketing, Stockholm School of Economics, Stockholm, Sweden)
Henrik Sjödin (Center for Consumer Marketing, Stockholm School of Economics, Stockholm, Sweden)
Helge Thorbjørnsen (Department of Strategy and Management, Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration, Bergen, Norway)
Håvard Hansen (UiS Business School, University of Stavanger, Stavanger, Norway)
Johanna Linander (Fältman & Malmen (FCB), Stockholm, Sweden)
Camilla Thunell (MasterCard Europe, Stockholm, Sweden)

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Publication date: 11 November 2013



This paper aims to investigate how marketing leakage to undesired audiences, a common phenomenon in today's globally connected world of consumers, impacts on the target audience, and how marketers can mitigate the negative effects of leaked marketing.


The authors conduct three studies in line with research on the third-person effect (TPE). The studies feature experimental designs with participants from neighbouring countries.


The first study finds that people in the intended target audience expect and overestimate a (negative) reaction in the undesired audience to marketing leakage, and this impacts negatively on their own reactions. The second study replicates and extends the findings, showing that explicit information that marketing has leaked to an undesired audience impacts negatively on both the attitudes and behaviors of the intended, target audience. The third study tests potential strategies to mitigate the negative effects of leaked marketing and finds that the most important thing is to inform the intended target audience that the undesired audience has accepted the marketer's actions.

Research limitations/implications

Extending the TPE to marketing, this is, to the authors' knowledge, a first investigation of the previously neglected phenomenon of marketing leakage and the impact of undesired audiences on marketing effectiveness. It hopes to stimulate further research on consequences of marketing leakage and enrich research on international advertising and crisis management.


This is, to the authors' knowledge, the first inquiry into how and why marketing leakage to undesired audiences impacts on the intended target audience, and how negative effects can be mitigated. The original use of a third-person approach in this setting helps explain marketing effectiveness and assess managerial strategies.



Dahlén, M., Sjödin, H., Thorbjørnsen, H., Hansen, H., Linander, J. and Thunell, C. (2013), "“What will ‘they’ think?”", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 47 No. 11/12, pp. 1825-1840. https://doi.org/10.1108/EJM-10-2011-0597

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