Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Donna F. Davis, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Timothy B. Heath, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Anand Kumar, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Chris Janiszewski, Ph.D.


brand attachment, choice, co-creation, empowerment, prosocial behavior


One of the most profound transformations of the marketing discipline in recent history has been driven by the democratization of power relations and value creation between brands and consumers. This dissertation explores the branding implications of this fundamental shift by investigating whether and how the type and degree of control shared by brands affect consumer empowerment perceptions and, in turn, consumer–brand relationships, as well as whether and how these effects might be moderated by the size and diversity of the choice set and by the image valence of the brand that shares control with consumers.

The present research examines such questions in a prosocial context by studying an emerging form of co-created social responsibility, cause-related marketing (CM) with choice, in which the consumer, not the brand, chooses the charitable cause to which the brand will donate in response to the consumer’s purchase. By integrating research on power, choice, and brand relationships, this dissertation proposes a conceptual framework that predicts whether, when, and why giving consumers control over a brand’s meaningful decision (operationalized as CM with choice) strengthens consumer–brand relationships. Six experiments test this framework.

The dissertation shows that letting consumers choose a brand’s donation recipient strengthens consumer–brand relationships by increasing consumer empowerment and engagement. This serial mediation through empowerment and engagement is replicated across all studies. The main effect can be bolstered by providing consumers either unrestricted choice (i.e., choose any cause from memory) rather than restricted choice (i.e., select from a list of predetermined cause options; Studies 1–4) or a combination of both choice modes (Study 4), but not by expanding the size of the set of cause options (Study 2) or increasing the similarity or dissimilarity of the options (Studies 3a and 3b). Finally, Study 5 reveals that introducing a conventional CM campaign improves brand outcomes (attachment, attitudes, and purchase intentions) regardless of brand image (negative, neutral, or positive) and that adding consumer cause choice to the campaign benefits brands as much as (or more than) introducing the campaign itself does, though only when brand image is neutral or positive. When brand image is negative, adding consumer cause choice fails to improve brand outcomes and can even backfire—a boundary condition similar to the boomerang effect that arises from psychological reactance because consumers prefer to keep their distance.

A central implication of this dissertation is that when a brand allows consumers to co-create its charitable giving campaign, neither the choice set’s size or diversity nor consumers’ involvement or satisfaction with the chosen cause brings consumers closer to the brand; instead, what brings them closer to the brand is their increased sense of empowerment, which in turn enhances their engagement with the brand that shares its control. An equally important implication results from the observed boomerang effect, which should serve as a warning for any managers who risk falling into the trap of adopting a standard, one-size-fits-all view of prosocial co-creation as a tool to repair an otherwise defective brand reputation. A strategy that encourages consumers to serve as brand agents by co-creating the brand’s meaning requires caution on the brand’s part. As in interpersonal relationships, the general desire to spend time together must first be at least somewhat mutual before any shared experience—no matter how positive—can make the bond grow stronger.

Included in

Marketing Commons