Introduction

In a previous post, we reported findings from a study in which we had adapted Haidt’s Moral Foundation theory to measure the moral and ethical values of a brand. Using Jonathan Haidt’s framework for measuring what he calls people’s “Moral Foundations” we created a methodology that successfully was able to do the same for brands; our findings, about the relevance of different moral values of brands to political conservatives and liberals, closely converge on Haidt’s measurement of people’s values. In this post, we show that moral values are related to many conventional brand attitudes and attributes. This means that moral values can impact the value of a brand and its branded business. Specifically, we show the progressive and hierarchical nature of Moral Foundations’ influence on brand development. 

Brands’ Moral Foundations

In a previous post, we reported findings from a study in which we had adapted Haidt’s Moral Foundation theory to measure the Moral Foundations of brands.

It is important to reprise the description of Haidt’s moral foundations in order to appreciate their depth:

• Care/Harm

o Makes us sensitive to signs of suffering and need; It underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance and makes us despise cruelty

• Fairness/Cheating

o Makes us sensitive to indications that another person is likely to be a good/bad partner for collaboration. It is based on justice, rights, equality and reciprocal altruism

• Loyalty/Betrayal

o Makes us sensitive to signs that another person is/not a team player. Makes us want to trust and reward or alternatively ostracize such people. It is the foundation that underlies patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group

• Authority/Subversion

o Makes us sensitive to signs of rank or status and to signs that others are/not behaving properly, given their position. It underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions and stability.

• Sanctity/Degradation

o Makes it possible to invest objects with irrational and extreme values – positive and negative – which are important for binding groups together. It relates to what is judged pure and what is contaminated and is highly influential to opinions of abortion, same sex marriage, and casual sex.

We found in the previous post that:

  • Politically liberal people are more likely than conservatives to share values with brands they identify with the Caring foundation – compassionate and against cruelty – and the Fairness foundation – being a good partner to work with.
  • Conservatives are more likely than liberals to share values with brands they identify with the Loyalty foundation – seen as team players – and the Authority foundation – signifying rank or status.
  • In this same study, we also measured – for the same set of brands – an array of more conventional brand attributes and brands’ attitudes, in order to investigate the relationships – if any – between the two. We found that each Moral Foundation coincides with a constellation of familiar brand values:
  • Brands that are strong on the Caring Foundation are the brands that are most loved and cared for
  • Fairness coincides with perceptions of good value
  • Brands that score highly on the Authority Foundation are the ones that
  • consumers believe will most enhance their own personal status and self- image

• High Loyalty is accredited to brands that are seen to offer their users the widest and strongest array of rewards and benefits

This means that the Moral Foundations of a brand are not just about its “political” alignment but also can impact the development of a brand, and the value of a branded business. The chart below illustrates the progressive and hierarchical nature of Moral Foundations’ influence on brand development.

  • For potential users of a brand, Caring is the most basic requirement; association with other Foundations each adds substantial interest in purchase, with Authority having the strongest pull.
  • For brand users, both Caring and Fairness are basic; securing stronger brand preference requires the brand to have either Loyalty or Authority as well – ideally both.

This then is where brands’ moral foundations and people’s diverge somewhat. Whereas political liberals are more likely to share values with brands they identify with just the Caring and Fairness foundations, they – like conservatives – are more likely to purchase and prefer brands that are also associated with either the Loyalty or Authority Foundations. This means that, as brands increasingly take on the role of political actors, they should at the very minimum understand and be aware of the values that will, in fact affect their commercial success or lack thereof.