Consumer research study is retracted for unexplained anomalies

A study looking at how consumers relate to “social-benefit” brands has been retracted after several of its authors notified the journal that the data, provided and analyzed by a different author, had irregularities that couldn’t be explained.

Connections to Brands that Help Others versus Help the Self: The Impact of Incidental Awe and Pride on Consumer Relationships with Social-Benefit and Luxury Brands” was published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research of The University of Chicago Press.

The abstract reads:

We propose that incidental emotions have the power to impact consumer self-brand connections. Specifically, we argue that divergent views of self, triggered by incidental awe versus pride, differentially impact consumer self-brand connections (SBC) to social-benefit versus luxury brands. Feelings of awe create a diminished self and an awareness of entities bigger than oneself. Pride, in contrast, enhances one’s sense of self. In two studies, we find that incidental feelings of awe heighten (lessen) SBC toward social-benefit (luxury) brands, while incidental feelings of pride heighten SBC toward luxury brands. We show that these effects of awe on social-benefit brands are mediated by perceived self-diminishment, while the effects of pride on luxury brands are mediated by self-superiority. Finally, we find that luxury brands that position themselves as offering social benefits can mitigate awe’s dampening effect on SBC while maintaining their enhanced appeal to consumers experiencing pride.

Here’s what a podcast from Wharton — where the first author is on faculty — had to say about the paper:

Brands have long understood that making consumers feel something about their products is a great way to sell them. But new research from Wharton marketing professor Patti Williams suggests that the types of feelings matter, especially in an era when younger consumers want to align themselves with brands that speak to their personal values. Her paper, co-authored with Nicole Verrochi Coleman of the University of Pittsburgh, Andrea C. Morales of Arizona State University and Lehigh University’s Ludovica Cesareo, shows how evoking feelings of pride and awe are two ways that companies can forge deeper connections with their audiences.

The article was originally published online March 12, 2018. The editor of the journal, Angela Lee of Northwestern University, told Retraction Watch by email that the authors requested a retraction of the paper on May 26, 2020. The June 9, 2020 retraction notice explains:

After reviewing, the first, third, and fourth authors noticed irregularities in the raw data, which were collected under the supervision of and analyzed solely by the second author. The first, third, and fourth authors state that they had no prior knowledge of these irregularities.

The notice goes on to say:

Unfortunately, the anomalies in the raw data cannot be sufficiently explained, nor corrected. As such, the results drawn from these data can no longer be considered reliable.

The three authors who, based on the retraction notice, recognized the issues with the data, declined to comment to Retraction Watch. The second author, Nicole Coleman of the University of Pittsburgh, told Retraction Watch by email that she agreed with the retraction and said:

We were unable to reproduce the findings reported in the paper.

Coleman says she learned about her co-authors’ concerns on May 12, 2020, and that they contacted the journal with their concerns on May 13. Lee said the authors submitted a formal request for retraction on May 26. It’s unclear when the authors reviewed the data and realized there were irregularities, and Coleman did not respond to a question about what kind of irregularities were found.

The retraction notice ends with:

The first, third, and fourth authors apologize for any problems that the publication of this article may have caused.

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