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  92/ Journal of Marketing,July 2004 Journal of Marketing  Vol.68 (July 2004),92–109 Jill Gabrielle Klein, N. Craig Smith, & Andrew John Why We Boycott:ConsumerMotivations for Boycott Participation Although boycotts are increasingly relevant for management decision making, there has been little research of anindividual consumer’s motivation to boycott. Drawing on the helping behavior and boycott literature, the authorstake a cost–benefit approach to the decision to boycott and present a conceptualization of motivations for boycottparticipation. The authors tested their framework during an actual boycott of a multinational firm that was promptedby factory closings. Consumers who viewed the closures as egregious were more likely to boycott the firm, thoughonly a minority did so. Four factors are found to predict boycott participation: the desire to make a difference, thescope for self-enhancement, counterarguments that inhibit boycotting, and the cost to the boycotter of constrainedconsumption. Furthermore, self-enhancement and constrained consumption are significant moderators of the rela-tionship between the perceived egregiousness of the firm’s actions and boycott participation. The authors alsoexplore the role of perceptions of others’participation and discuss implications for marketers, nongovernmentalorganizations, policymakers, and researchers. Jill Gabrielle Klein is Associate Professor of Marketing, INSEAD (e-mail: Smith is Associate Professor of Marketingand Ethics, London Business School ( John is Chief Executive Officer, AJK Executive Consulting ( authors thank Richard P.Bagozzi, Paula Bone, Pierre Chandon, Pam Scholder Ellen, Minette E.Drumwright, Randall Heeb, John G.Lynch Jr., Naufel Vilcassim, and theBehavioral Reading Group at London Business School for helpful com-ments on previous drafts of this article.They also gratefully acknowledgethe collaboration of their anonymous corporate sponsor and its researchagency as well as financial and other assistance provided by LondonBusiness School, INSEAD, and University of New South Wales. The boycott is the way we take our cause to the public.For surely if we cannot find justice in the courts of ruralCalifornia, we will find support with our brothers and sis-ters throughout the nation.—Cesar Chavez (qtd. in Why We Boycott  [United Farm Workers of America 1973])We’ve taken significant actions to improve the lives,opportunities, and working conditions of the people whomake our product around the world, and [we] regularlyinvest in the communities where we do business. And wedo this so that consumers can buy Nike products with theknowledge that these products have been manufacturedunder safe and fair working conditions.—Nike’s response to criticism in Naomi Klein’s  No Logo (Nike 2000) B oycotts are an intriguing form of consumer behavior.They are unwelcome to marketers yet consistentwith the marketing concept, because firms targetedby a well-supported consumer boycott have apparentlyfailed to sustain a sufficient customer focus. As a result of greater public attention to corporate social responsibility(CSR) and the increased vulnerability of brands and corpo-rate reputations, boycotts have become ever more relevantfor management decision making. Furthermore, given thatthey represent a source of consumer power and a mecha-nism for the social control of business, boycotts also havepublic policy implications. Boycotters deliberately use their“purchase votes” to favor firms with preferred societalimpacts, consistent with the idea of consumer choice as arationale for capitalism (Dickinson and Hollander 1991;Smith 1990). Yet there has been little research into the fac-tors that influence a consumer’s motivation to boycott,despite the need for marketers, boycott organizers, and pol-icymakers to better understand these factors.Friedman (1985, p. 97) defines a consumer boycott as“an attempt by one or more parties to achieve certain objec-tives by urging individual consumers to refrain from mak-ing selected purchases in the marketplace.” The “urging” of a boycott typically comes from a nongovernmental organi-zation (NGO) that is protesting corporate practices. Thus,boycotts are an extreme case of a broader category of con-sumer behavior in which social and ethical issues, such asenvironmentalism, influence purchase decisions. Therefore,a better understanding of boycott participation not only isuseful in its own right but also is likely to inform the under-standing of ethical influences on buyer behavior in general.Consumer boycotts date back at least as far as the four-teenth century and have contributed to some spectacularsuccesses for relatively powerless groups. In the UnitedStates, boycotts were the key to unionization (Wolman1916), and the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott marks thebeginning of the modern civil rights movement (Friedman1999). Elsewhere, examples include Gandhi’s boycotts of British salt and cloth before Indian independence and theBritish boycott of Barclays Bank before its withdrawal fromapartheid South Africa (Smith 1990). In the 1990s, the busi-ness press agreed that boycotts were often successful andwere occurring more frequently (e.g., The Economist  1990). 1 Recent prominent consumer boycotts include the 1 The incidence of boycotts and their success are inherently hardto quantify because of difficulties in identifying calls for boycottsby NGOs and the understandable reluctance of firms to reportsales declines due to boycotts or to publicize concessions to boy-cott organizers.  Consumer Boycott Participation / 93 European boycott of Shell because of its plan to sink theBrent Spar oil platform at sea and the multicountry boycottof Nike over alleged sweatshop conditions at Asian suppli-ers. As these examples suggest, boycotts today are moretypically focused on corporate practices rather than onbroader sociopolitical goals such as civil rights. This shift inboycott focus reflects both the increased power of the mod-ern transnational corporation and, paradoxically, the height-ened vulnerability of corporate reputation and brand image,and it is consistent with recent findings that a firm’s CSRrecord affects consumer perceptions of the firm’s brandsand products (Brown and Dacin 1997; Sen and Bhat-tacharya 2001). It is with such a context in mind that wedevelop and test a conceptualization of motivations for boy-cott participation. Motivations for BoycottParticipation Table 1summarizes prior research on consumer boycotts.Most boycott studies have been conceptual or descriptive(case studies), with a focus on boycott organizers and tar-gets rather than on the consumer. Only two studies havereported empirical research that focuses directly on vari-ables that influence an individual consumer’s boycott deci-sion. Kozinets and Handelman’s (1998) netnographic studysuggests that boycott participation represents a complexemotional expression of individuality and a vehicle formoral self-realization. Sen, Gürhan-Canli, and Morwitz(2001) test a theoretical framework that proposes that a fun-damental question underlies a consumer’s decision to boy-cott: Will the boycott be successful? They find that con-sumers’participation decisions are influenced by theirperception of the likelihood of the boycott’s success, theirsusceptibility to normative social influences (social pres-sure), and the costs associated with boycotting.Sen, Gürhan-Canli, and Morwitz (2001) conceptualizeboycotts as social dilemmas, wherein a consumer choosesbetween the individual benefit of consumption and the wishof a collective to refrain from consumption so that allreceive the shared benefits of a successful boycott. Simi-larly, a theoretical economic model of boycotting by Johnand Klein (2003) treats boycott participation as a collectiveaction problem, in which individual consumers’incentivesto participate are limited by the knowledge that they aresmall relative to the market and by their opportunity to freeride on the boycotting of others.Consistent with the articles by Sen, Gürhan-Canli, andMorwitz (2001) and John and Klein (2003), we view boy-cotting as a form of prosocial behavior by which “actions[are] intended to benefit one or more people other than one-self—behaviors such as helping, comforting, sharing, andcooperation” (Batson 1998, p. 282). This is broadly referredto as “helping behavior.” Over the years, a substantial bodyof literature in social psychology has grown from initialanalyses of emergency helping to a broad set of studies of helping in many different contexts, including nonemer-gency helping (Piliavin et al. 1981, 1982); voting, volun-teering, and charitable donations (e.g., Chambre 1987; Pili-avin and Charng 1990); blood donations (Piliavin and 2 As a technical matter, the case of a single helper can often bereformulated as a collective action problem in which there is a setof  potential helpers who decide to help with some probability(Lynch and Cohen 1978). In the language of game theory, poten-tial helpers might employ a “mixed strategy.” Callero 1999); and corporate philanthropy (Piliavin andCharng 1990). At its core, this research aims to understandwhen and why people apparently act against selfish inter-ests for the good of others.Boycotting is a collective act similar to voting, which isa prosocial behavior in which the individual benefit appearsto be limited; nonetheless, people go to the polls in largenumbers (for a discussion of the collective action problemin voting, see, e.g., Blais 2001; Downs 1957). In the earlyhelping literature, helping typically was not viewed as acollective action problem, but as the literature has broad-ened in scope, it has incorporated cases (e.g., voting) thatinvolve collective action. Likewise, some charitable contri-butions (e.g., to local public goods, such as National PublicRadio in the United States) are examples of collectiveaction. 2 Boycotting is also related to customer complainingbehavior, though complaining typically is neither prosocialin intent nor collective. In most cases, a complaint is apurely individual act that is completely independent of thebehavior of others (Blodgett and Granbois 1992; Boote1998). Nonetheless, the literature identifies one form of complaint as simply exit (i.e., the consumer decides to shunthe firm’s product offerings in the future), which is akin toan individual act of boycott (Boote 1998; Hirschmann1970). In addition, as with boycotting, there is a triggerevent that prompts a dissatisfied customer to evaluate therelative costs and benefits of lodging a complaint (Blodgettand Granbois 1991; Singh and Wilkes 1991).An explanation of helping that has received extensiveempirical support over the past three decades is the arousal:cost–reward model (see Dovidio et al. 1991). According tothis approach, when a potential helper encounters anotherperson in distress, the helper interprets the seriousness of the situation and experiences arousal based on this interpre-tation. In response, the helper assesses the potential costsand benefits of helping. The higher the net benefit of help-ing (rewards minus costs), the more likely it is that help willbe given. Our approach to boycotting is similar: Consumersencounter an initial trigger event (which we refer to as afirm’s “egregious act”) that engenders negative arousal. Inresponse, each consumer evaluates the expected costs andbenefits of boycotting.Table 1 indicates that several costs and benefits of boy-cotting have previously been identified, but most have notbeen tested empirically. Thus, drawing on the helping liter-ature and the prior boycott literature, we conceptualize thedecision to participate in a boycott as akin to the decision tohelp others in distress, to contribute to a charity, or todonate blood. More specifically, we take a cost–benefitapproach to our investigation of boycott participation. Fig-ure 1depicts our model. 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