This study integrates Bhattacharjee, Berman, and Reed’s (2013) moral decoupling model with research on processing-evoked affect to test a novel explanation why consumers buy non-deceptive counterfeits. Employing mixed methods and consumer samples, two studies show that decoupling – by evoking positive emotion – increases the intention to purchase counterfeits. Study 1, a quasi-experiment (N = 356 consumers), uses counterfeit running shoes, sun glasses, fragrances, and headsets to provide evidence that positive emotions mediate the effect from decoupling (a measured variable) on purchase intention, controlling for moral rationalizing. Study 2 (N = 299 consumers) manipulates moral decoupling and price advantage of a counterfeit smartphone to provide further evidence for the mediating role of positive emotion and to show that this effect occurs regardless of moral rationalization. Price advantage, brand attachment, and category involvement attenuate decoupling effects across studies. The findings aid managers and policy makers to better protect original brands against counterfeits.
Buying counterfeits2 can get consumers into a substantial moral problem. Not only may buyers of the original brands experience compromised exclusivity (Commuri, 2009), but buyers of counterfeits may experience lower self-esteem by acquiring labels as “hoods” (Shoham, Ruvio, & Davidow, 2008), “accomplices,” or “sly shoppers” (Tom, Garibaldi, Zeng, & Pilcher, 1998). In order to avoid such labels and maintain a positive view of their selves, consumers push the boundaries of acceptable dishonesty (Mazar, Amir, & Ariely, 2008). They weigh moral aspects against status gains and monetary savings (Bian & Moutinho, 2011; Randhawa, Calantone, & Voorhees, 2015), the “thrill of the hunt,” and the experience of being part of a “secret society” (Bian, Wang, Smith, & Yannopoulou, 2016). The moral issues involved in buying counterfeits are also salient in moral profiteering (Poddar, Foreman, Banerjee, & Ellen, 2012) when consumers seek revenge (by buying counterfeits) on firms, which they perceive to act in a socially irresponsible way (e.g., charging an unreasonably high price or taking financial advantage of their market position). In such cases of retaliatory behavior, “Schadenfreude” – the pleasure felt in response to another’s misfortune – is a significant driver of counterfeit purchases (Marticotte & Arcand, 2017).