Consumer responses to Mattel product recalls posted on online bulletin boards: Exploring two types of emotion

Choi, Yoonhyeung, & Lin, Ying-Hsuan (2009). Consumer responses to Mattel product recalls posted on online bulletin boards: Exploring two types of emotion. Journal of Public Relations Research, 21(2), 198-207.


Drawn from attribution theory, this article introduces two types of emotion (i.e., attribution independent and attribution dependent emotion) and explores their role in the situational crisis communication theory (SCCT) model. A content analysis of consumer responses to the Mattel product recalls posted on online bulletin boards revealed that consumers experience a range of emotions from a crisis. By using attribution theory to explore how people try to identify the causes of the crisis, this study found that crisis responsibility was a significant predictor of anger, fear, surprise, worry, contempt, and relief, and indicates that these are attribution-dependent emotions. Alert and confusion were the most frequently expressed attribution independent emotions identified in this study. A significant negative relationship was also found between alert, anger, and organizational reputation. Practical and theoretical implications are discussed.


A content analysis of the bulletin boards for two parent online communities with the highest number of Mattel postings and the most active posting records was conducted from 1 August 2007 (i.e., the first recall) to 8 November 2007 (i.e., 2 weeks after the fourth recall).

Key Findings

1)      The most frequently manifested emotion associated with the Mattel product recall across time was anger (49%), followed by alertness (11.3%), surprise (9.7%), worry (9.4%), fear (7.1%), confusion (6.5%), relief (2.3%), contempt (2.1%), disgust (1.2%), shame (0.9%), and sympathy (0.5%) 

2)      Anger, surprise, worry, fear, contempt, and relief were associated with attribution. In particular, anger was the most strongly related to crisis responsibility. 

3)      Among the 11 emotions identified, alert, confusion, disgust, shame, and sympathy were not found to be associated with crisis responsibility.

4)      Anger significantly predicted the perceived reputation of Mattel as well as boycotting of Mattel’s products; Alert was found to be a significant predictor of the perceived reputation. The negative relationship between the perceived reputation of Mattel and boycotting of Mattel’s products was also found.

Implications for Practice

This study shows that publics’ emotional responses to a crisis event have significant implications in crisis communication. Specifically, alert at the early stage of a crisis can significantly influence organizational reputation. Public relations managers are encouraged to develop a communication strategy to reduce the level of alert at the beginning of a crisis.

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