Power imbalance issues in athlete sponsorship versus endorsement in the context of a scandal

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Journal Article
European Journal of Marketing, 2014, 48 (5-6), pp. 1070 - 1091
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Purpose: The purpose of this study is to contrast athlete endorsement vs athlete sponsorship from a power imbalance perspective when a scandal strikes the athlete. Design/methodology/approach: A first study was conducted with a probabilistic sample of 252 adult consumers where the type of brand-athlete relationship (endorsement or sponsorship) and the level of congruence between the two entities (low or high) were manipulated in a mixed experimental design. A second study with a probabilistic sample of 118 adult consumers was conducted to demonstrate that consumers perceive that the balance of power between the brand and the athlete is not the same in endorsement and sponsorship situations. Findings: The results of the first study showed that when an athlete is in the midst of a scandal, the negative impact on the associated brand is stronger in the case of an endorsement than in the case of a sponsorship. However, this occurs only when the brand-athlete relationship is congruent. The results of the second study showed that the athlete's power relative to the brand is greater in an endorsement than in a sponsorship context. Research limitations/implications: The findings suggest that a company that worries about the possibility that the athlete with whom it wants to build a relationship be eventually associated with some negative event (e.g. a scandal) should consider sponsorship rather than endorsement as a strategy. Originality/value: This study is the first to compare the athlete endorsement and sponsorship strategies in general and the first to put forward the notion of power imbalance in brand-athlete partnerships, its impact on how the two entities are represented in consumers' memory networks and the consequences on brand attitude when the athlete is associated with a negative event. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
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