Moral credentials versus moral credits: Two paths to consumers’ licensing of brand transgressions

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15 Scopus citations


Moral licensing theory suggests that consumers can liberate brands from their transgressions in light of the brands’ past moral deeds, and the literature discusses two possible underlying processes: moral credentials and moral credits. However, little research has examined when and why consumers use a particular process over the other when licensing brand transgressions. This paper examines two important moderators: self-brand connection (SBC) and the ambiguity of transgressions. Across five studies, this article shows that both high- and low-SBC consumers license ambiguous brand transgressions with (vs. without) information about the brand's prior good deeds but through different paths, moral credentials and moral credits, respectively. If the brand's prior moral behaviors are deemed moral credentials, high-SBC consumers excuse even blatant transgressions. However, the licensing effect is diminished if high-SBC consumers use self-affirmation as an alternative means of ensuring self-worth. The current research sheds light on different paths to moral licensing in the eyes of observers at the brand level.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-31
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Business Research
StatePublished - Jul 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier Inc.


  • Brand transgression
  • Moral credentials
  • Moral credits
  • Moral licensing
  • Self-brand connection


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