Criticism of a brand lowers the self-esteem of its adherents

In "The effects of self-brand connections on responses to brand failure: A new look at the consumer–brand relationship," a paper to be published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, researchers from Hong Kong Baptist University, U Illinois, and Villanova School of Business report on research they conducted into how loyal customers feel when bad things are said about the brands they love. They concluded that, for people who personally identify with a company and its products, negative information about the company was experienced as self-esteem-lowering personal attacks.

I think the most ferocious love is always unrequited love. The companies we love don't love us back. That probably explains the tedious "zealot" snipes I get every time I breathe even the mildest criticism of Apple — when criticism of your favorite corporation lowers your self-esteem, it's only natural to respond with aggressive ad-hominem.

The researchers performed two experiments, one on a group of 30 women and another on 170 undergraduate students, in order to see whether the subjects' self esteem was tied to the general ratings of various brands. Those who had high self-brand connections (SBC)—that is, those who follow, research, or simply like a certain brand—were the ones whose self esteem suffered the most when their brands didn't do well or were criticized. Those with low SBC remained virtually unaffected on a personal level.

The residual effect of this is that those with high SBCs tend to discount negative news about their favorite brands, and sometimes even ignore it altogether in favor of happier thoughts.

"Consumers are highly resistant to brand failure to the point that they're willing to rewrite history," business administration professor and researcher Tiffany Barnett White said in a statement. "It not only explains why so many Toyota customers ignored the negative brand information in the aftermath of the highly publicized recalls, it also accounts for why they're quick to defend the company and why they would want to re-write history in a more positive way."

Fanbois treat criticism of favorite brands as threat to self-image

The effects of self-brand connections on responses to brand failure: A new look at the consumer–brand relationship