Accounts, media, and culture

Material Information

Accounts, media, and culture an international impression management experiment
Connolly-Ahern, Colleen
Publication Date:
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xiii, 125 leaves : ill. ; 29 cm.


Subjects / Keywords:
Advertising ( jstor )
Advertising research ( jstor )
Business structures ( jstor )
Corporate communications ( jstor )
Corporate culture ( jstor )
Corporations ( jstor )
Cultural values ( jstor )
Institutional advertising ( jstor )
News content ( jstor )
Public relations ( jstor )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 2004.
Includes bibliographical references.
General Note:
General Note:
Statement of Responsibility:
by Colleen Connolly-Ahern.

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University of Florida
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University of Florida
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Copyright [name of dissertation author]. Permission granted to the University of Florida to digitize, archive and distribute this item for non-profit research and educational purposes. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder.
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003103639 ( ALEPH )
710981359 ( OCLC )

Full Text






fl/1fl A

Copyright 2004


Colleen Connolly-Ahern

This dissertation is dedicated to my husband, Lee, with love and thanks.


This dissertation would not have been possible without the help, dedication and

inspiration of many wonderful people, both at the University of Florida and much further

afield. Lynda Lee Kaid, my chair, has taught me more about doing quality research than I

ever thought I would know. It has been a privilege to work with her on this and many

other projects during my time here, and I thank her for her encouragement and support.

My other committee members from the College of Journalism and

Communications, Juan Carlos Molleda, Marilyn Roberts, and Leonard Tipton, have each

contributed time, energy and great ideas to this dissertation. All are superb teachers and

scholars, and I thank them for all the information, exasperation, and camaraderie they

have shared with me during my time here at Florida.

A seminar taught by my outside member, Barry Schlenker, provided the idea for

this dissertation. His feedback and guidance have been essential to the completion of this

study, and for that I offer him my sincere thanks.

Of course, having worked on both my master's and Ph.D. degrees here at Florida, I

have had the pleasure of working with many of Florida's

fine faculty members at one

time or another. Two in particular, John Sutherland and Kathleen Kelly, deserve warm

thanks for being extremely helpful and understanding bosses.

Juan Carlos Molleda, Antoni Castells i Talens, and Julio Cesar Herrero all helped

limited budget. This dissertation truly would not have been possible without their

generous help, and I thank them with all my heart.

Because communication is an applied field, my work has benefited tremendously

from the years I spent in the publishing industry. For giving a medievalist a chance in a

very competitive field I owe three people in particular: Nick Blenkey and the late Ran

Slater at Simmons-Boardman Publications, and Melissa Snyder at USA Today. I hope the

completion of this dissertation serves to justify in part the faith they showed in me so

many years ago.

Many friends have cheered me on and cheered me up, when need be during this

mid-life career change, and for that I thank them all. Three of them, Camille Broadway,

Janet Brownstein and Sandra Friedrich, have been particular sources of encouragement

during my graduate work. I am confident they will all be relieved that we can talk about

something other than my dissertation from this time forward.

My in-laws, Patrick and Kay Ahem, provided many hours of babysitting during

their trips here to Florida, so that I could get some guilt-free work accomplished. They

even helped with translation. I appreciate all their help and support.

My parents, Michael and Maureen Connolly, have never stopped encouraging me

to pursue my dream of an academic career. They have shared their time, energy, and

resources without hesitation to help make that dream a reality. They are an inspiration to

me on every level and I appreciate them more than they will ever know.

My daughters, Abigail Catherine and Eleanor Rose, have been a source of great

joy, cheerleading and diversion throughout my graduate career. They have been patient -

instead of playing Cariboo and making minestrone like a proper parent. I thank them for

them for every hug, kiss, note and poem that helped keep my priorities straight

throughout this process.

Finally, I thank my husband, Lee, for his unwavering belief in me. His ability to

take any situation and turn it into an opportunity never ceases to amaze me. He has been,

quite simply, the most wonderful partner anyone could ever hope to have.


ACKN OW LEDGM ENTS ................................................................................................. iv

LIST OF TABLES ............................................................................. ..................... .............. x

LIST OF FIGURES ............................ ................ .............................. .................................. xi

ABSTRACT..................................................................................................................... xii


1 PURPOSE AND SIGNIGICANCE OF1 THIS STUDY ...............................................1

Purpose of the Study .......................... ............................................. ........... .............6
State ent of the Problemi ........................................ ...... ............. ....... ....................7

REVIEW OF LITERA TURE .......................................................................................8

Apologia ..............................................................................................................
M ass Communications and Impression M management ............................... ................20
Organizational Communications Studies ........................................, em............... ...... 20
M ass Communications Studies ............ ................... ......................................... 21
Corporate Identity................................................................................................. 23
Advertising and Impression M anagement....................................................................25
Problems with Advertising................................... .................................................25
Advocacy Advertising................. ............................................ .............. .............26
Advertising Versus Public Relations................................................................ ........28
Predicaments anrd Impression M management ................... .............. ....... ..................30
Corporations and Predicaments ..............................................................................31
The Triangle M odel of Responsibility ........................................ .......................31
Types of Excuses ..................................................... ....g............ ..... ....................... 34
Problems with Excuses.......................................................................................36
Culture and Im pression M anagement....................... .... ....................... ....................38
Cultural Dimensions......................................... .................................................38
Criticisms of Hofstede's Approach ........................... ............. ...... ..................41
1N I1 I FM C Aje

Hypothesis and Research Questions ........ ........... ....... ............ .... ......................... 47

3 M ETHODOLOGY .... ................. ...... .......... ..................................... ..........................50

Research Design................. .. .......... .................... c...... .......................... ..... ...... ..51
Stimulus M aterials................................. ..............................................................51
Crisis Communication Elements ................ .........................................................53
Implementation of the Triangle M odel.................. ...... .................... ................... 54
M measurement ............. ....................................................................................... 55
Sample l e.S...S ................... ...................... ............................................................... 57
Procedure .......................................................................................................... 58
Analysis s .......... ..................................................................................................58

4 FINDINGS.................... ............................ ............................................................60

Factor Analysis and Scale Creation ................... ......................... .................................. 61
Preliminary Analysis E .............................................. ............................................. .......65
Primary Analysis ..................................... .. ..................................................66
Effects of Culture .................................................................. .................................66
Effects of Excuse Type................................................................ .........................68
Effects of Delivery Format..................................................................................70
Credibility of Advertising in Different Cultures ........... ...................... ...........71
Honoring of Excuses ..........................................................................................72

5 DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS ........... ................... ...... ....................... .........74

Discussion................................................................................................................. 74
The Impact of Culture .........................................................................................75
The Impact of Excuse Type .......................... ................... ....... ... ..................77
The Lack of Impact of Delivery Format..............................................................79
Implications ...................................... ............................ ......................................79
Limitations and Future Research.......... ......................... ............................ ..............81
Limitations...................................................... ......................................................81
Future Research......... ...... .............. u......... ............... te Sc............................... .......... 85
Conclusion ..........s ...................... .............. c.. .................... ........ ........ .......................c i86


A MULTICHEM CORPORATE WEB SITE ...... ................................ ........................88

B EXPERITISE STIM ULUS M ATERIALS ............................................................90

C TRUSTWORTHINESS STIMULUS MATERIALS................... ............................ ... .92

EVENT REPORT STIMULUS MATERIALS ..........................................................94

CLARITY EXCUSE STIMULUS MATERIALS............. .................. ..... ................. 96

OBLIGATION EXCUSE STIMULUS MATERIALS ..................................... ....... 100

CONTROL EXCUSE STIMULUS MATERIALS ............... .. ............ ....................104



MCCROSKEY'S (1966) SOURCE CREDIBILITY SCALE..................................111




LIST O~F~ REEENE .....S......a....S............mS....S..S...*......S..t.St....S*.. .ttaSe.S...S...S.S.S.... ......... ..116




Hofstede's cultural values indices and ranks for Spain and the United States.........50

Control Group Means for All Scale Items ... ..... ................ .......................... ............60

Factor Analysis: Total Variance Explained ........... ............. ............................ ...... ...61

Rotated Component Matrix Scores for Corporate Credibility Scale Items..............62

Confirmatory Factor Analysis: Total Variance Explained.......................................63

Rotated Component Matrix Scores for Confirmatory Factor Analysis of Corporate

Credibility Scales .....

Factorial Analysis of Variance for Trustworthiness ............ .................... .... ...........67

Factorial Analysis of Variance for Expertise ............. ..................... .......... ......... .. .. 67

Corporate Credibility by Culture................... ........... .... ................. .... .. ........68

Types of Excuses and Corporate Credibility ...... ............. ............. ...... .....................70

Effect of Excuse and Format on Corporate Credibility..... ................... ........... ... ..7 1

Corporate Credibility of Advertising Condition Subjects by Culture ......................71



The Triangle M odel of Responsibility... .. ....................i............... ........4m.............................33

Estimated Marginal Means of Trustworthiness by Excuse Condition.....................69

Estimated marginal means of control and experimental groups on trustworthiness


by nationality.........

Estimated marginal means of control and experimental groups on expertise by




nationality .........,..,.. ...........,..,, ....

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Colleen Connolly-Ahern

August 2004


Lynda Lee Kaid

Major Department:

Mass Communication

Although multinational corporations operate in multiple cultural environments,

they currently have no way of anticipating how audiences in different cultural settings

will receive, evaluate and respond to their corporate communications in the wake of a

crisis. Using impression management as a theoretical framework, specifically the triangle

model of responsibility, this dissertation employed a quasi-experimental design in two

countries, Spain and the United States, to study the impact of culture, types of excuses

and media format on corporate credibility.

Credibility was measured on a 16-item semantic differential scale, with two

constituent factors: trustworthiness and expertise. Data were analyzed using a 2 (country-

Spain or United States) x 3 (excuse-clarity, obligation, control) x 2 (format-ad or

newspaper story) factorial ANOVA.

The results of the study reveal that nationality is the most significant predictor of

incident. Spanish subjects found excuses offered by a fictitious corporation less credible

than American subjects.

Data further reveal that some excuses offered in response to an adverse incident

may diminish credibility more than others. Judgments of expertise were more damaged

by a prescription clarity excuse (in which the corporation had no way of knowing that the

explosion would occur because no scientific literature had predicted it) than by an

organizational control excuse (in which the explosion was beyond the organization's

control because of a faulty valve).

Finally, results of the study indicate that issuing an excuse in an advertisement or

within the context of a news story makes no difference in corporate credibility. This

finding implies that organizations wishing to have complete control of their message may

wish to choose advertising as a vehicle for delivering their advocacy message.



Perhaps no one has worked harder to build and maintain a particular kind of

identity, and make a particular kind of impression, than TV personality and business

tycoon Martha Stewart. In fact, Ms. Stewart became so synonymous with that identity-

the upscale, stylish, do-it-yourselfing iiberhousewife-that the former stockbroker and

divorcee from Connecticut was able to parlay it into a vast media empire. Her three

magazines and her Emmy-award winning television show all bear her name, a testimony

to the powerful association between the woman and the lifestyle she has come to


In cultivating her image, and that of her company, Martha Stewart Living

Omnimedia (MSLO), Ms. Stewart was not so very different from the Chief Executive

Officer any other U.S. corporation. According to Barton (1993)

U.S. corporations spend millions of dollars on a daily basis to project a positive
image with the consuming public. By placing corporate spokespeople on talk
shows, mailing press kits, participating in trade shows, and making charitable
donations, organizations hope to build and maintain an image that will enhance
their overall performance. (p. 128)

In fact, the only difference between Ms. Stewart and all but a few CEOs around the world

was the almost complete identification of her with both the corporation and the brands it


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U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York indicted the celebrity on charges of

conspiracy, obstruction of justice and securities fraud emanating from a 2001 stock trade.

Ms. Stewart pleaded not guilty to all the charges. However, she did announce she was

stepping down as chairwoman and chief executive of MSLO (Hays, 2003).

Ms. Stewart did much more than simply vow to fight the charges against her,

however. On June

Ms. Stewart took out a full-page advertisement in USA Today, the

national newspaper, proclaiming her innocence and outlining her side of the story ("Open


2003). The ad,

"An Open Letter from Martha Stewart,

" was addressed to her

"friends and loyal supporters." Ms. Stewart did not apologize for her actions in the

advertisement. Instead, she sought to excuse and justify them. In the ad she reiterated her

contention that the sale of her ImClone stock on December 27

,2001, a day before the

company revealed that the Federal Drug Administration had failed to accept an

application for a new cancer drug, was based on price considerations, and not insider

information (Hays, 2003). She closed by inviting readers to visit her Web site,, to contact her and receive "current information on the case"

("Open letter,"


Why did Stewart turn to advertising at this critical time? Why not simply release a

statement to the press, or consent to an interview with a sympathetic, high profile

network reporter? While organizations and individuals use advertising for a wide variety

of reasons, the most widely used forms of advertising give the public information about

specific products and services (Belch & Belch, 1998). However, advertising can also be

used to create images for companies, to attract potential employees, to announce changes

in an organization's

structure or operations, to influence social debate and public policy,

and to offer accounts of corporate or individual actions.


decision to pay for an advertisement in the country's

best-read daily

newspaper illustrates a dramatic attempt to restore her image, which had been tarnished

by legal proceedings. In averring her innocence, Martha Stewart sought to reclaim a part

of her identity-that of an honest businesswoman--that was denied her by the allegations

of illegal activity. In so doing, Ms. Stewart was engaging in an extremely important and

strategic means of impression management.

All organizations, like all individuals, engage in impression management, which

Schlenker, Britt, and Pennington (1996) define as "the goal-directed activity of

controlling information about some person, object, idea, or event"

(p. 118). Impression

management has its roots in the work of Erving Goffinan (1959), a sociologist who

described a dramaturgical view of social interactions, in which all people are considered




and those with whom they are interacting-even the self-are considered

" Current impression management study deepens and expands the life-as-

theater analogy, suggesting that, just like actors, all people seek to influence how an

audience, either real or imagined, perceives their "personality traits, abilities, intentions,

behaviors, attitudes, values, physical characteristics, social characteristics, family,

friends, job, and possessions" (Schlenker, 1980, p. 6).

From an organizational point of view-and Martha Stewart can hardly be separated

from her eponymous corporation-the decision to use advertising as a public relations tool

is an important one from an impression management perspective. By taking out an


individual is assured that a message is transmitted exactly as desired. It is reasonable to

assume that precise message transmission is particularly important when an individual or

corporate entity is facing legal action for alleged wrongdoing.

However, such precision may come at a cost: credibility. Americans, in particular,

are savvy media users. They know there are no "scrubbing bubbles"

in their can of

bathroom cleanser. They know that their cookies are not made by "elves."


Americans enjoy advertising (De Mooij, 1998a), they may not take it too seriously.

Knowing this, however, and well aware of the benefits of public relations in building

positive images for organizations of all kinds, organizations and individuals continue to

pay for issue advertising, to ensure their complete control over a message they wish the

public to receive, often in the wake of some kind of corporate crisis.

Looking at organizational communications during crises, Kaufmann, Kesner, and

Hazen (1994) suggest, "A careful and thoughtful program of matching the

communications method to the crisis may be the answer to surviving the thorniest of

organizational challenges"

With this in mind, the Martha Stewart advertisement

opens a number of interesting lines of study. First, what type of impression does an

individual or corporation make when it chooses to account for activities in advertising?

Second, is it different from the impression made by the same information conveyed by

another media form, such as within the body of a newspaper article? Does the type of

excuse offered change the way individuals respond to the event?

Such questions become even more complex when one considers the global nature

of today's business environment. For example, transnational corporations, which have



the wake of any crisis: knowing what is the most appropriate communications tool for

important messages in multiple cultures. The problem is compounded by the fact that

many organizations manage their transnational communications efforts from home

offices that are often far removed-geographically and culturally-from the communities

that must be reached with a corporation's message (Molleda & Quinn, 2004).

Large multinational corporations are not the only organizations that must deal

effectively with publics from a variety of cultural backgrounds. International audiences

are increasingly important even to companies that largely operate within one country, in

the form of foreign shareholders. The value of U.S. assets held by foreign entities in 2001

was $9.4 trillion (Quinlan & McCaughrin, 2002). Clearly, few public corporations

operate in a truly monocultural environment at the beginning of the 21st century.

However, the implications of the multicultural business environment on corporate

communications are only beginning to be explored.

Ware and Linkugel (1973) underscore the importance of choosing a "culturally

acceptable stance from which to speak on [one's] own behalf' (p. 283) to a successful

self-defense. This implies that some defenses are more acceptable in some cultures than

in others. However, there is little information on how self-defenses are viewed in other

cultures. In Martha Stewart's

case, for example, how would an Indonesian shareholder of

MSO stock react to her defiant stand against the authority of the government? How

would a Costa Rican housewife view her account of the stock trade? Even assuming that


advertisement could be translated perfectly into another language, which many

scholars doubt (de Mooij, 1998a), the reaction of the individual receiving the message


whether Stewart was able to give off the desired impression in a cross-cultural context

would be related not just to the message sent, but also to the worldview of the person

reading the advertisement.

This suggests more avenues of inquiry. First, do cultural values affect the

impression given off by a corporation using advertising to make an excuse? Second,

which cultural variables are related to those impressions, either positively or negatively?

Third, are cultural variables related to the kinds of excuses that are considered acceptable

in the wake of an adverse incident?

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this dissertation is to extend the body of work already completed in

the social psychology field of impression management in two areas where there has been

relatively little study thus far: mass communication, specifically corporate crisis

communication, and cross-cultural comparative study. Using a quasi-experimental

design, the researcher tested the effects of different types of excuses and different

delivery mechanisms for those excuses on the perceived credibility of a fictitious


Additionally, this dissertation begins to test a specific hypothesis related to culture

and communications, specifically that cultural values are related to the perceived

credibility of corporations in the wake of a crisis. This was accomplished by conducting

the experiment in two different cultural contexts: Spain and the United States.

Although cross-cultural communication is an emerging field in mass
communication (Molleda & Connolly-Ahern, 2002), most of the work done in the area
communication (Molleda & Connolly-Ahern, 2002), most of the work done in the area


This study employs an interdisciplinary approach, using an existing theoretical

framework from the field of social psychology impression management to test the

effects of different crisis communication strategies on audiences from different cultures.

In this way, the dissertation makes an original contribution to the body of knowledge in

the mass communication field. An extensive search of the literature in the areas of

advertising, public relations, organizational communications, and social psychology

identified no similar study.

Statement of the Problem

Although multinational corporations operate in multiple cultural environments,

they currently have no way of anticipating how audiences in different cultural settings

will receive, evaluate and respond to their corporate communications, especially in the

wake of a corporate crisis. This dissertation employs a quasi-experimental design to

determine which kinds of excuses are most credible with audiences from different

cultural backgrounds.

The sample consisted of undergraduate students from large, academically

competitive universities, one in the southeastern United States and two in central Spain.

(Every effort was made to match the samples.) The results from a 16-item semantic

differential scale were subject to factor analysis, and the variables that were derived from

that analysis were analyzed using a 2 (country-Spain or United States) x 3 (excuse-

clarity, obligation, control) x 2 (format-advertisement or newspaper article) factorial



Defending oneself verbally in the wake of an attack on one's nature or actions has

deep roots in Western society (Ware & Linkugel, 1973). Socrates, Martin Luther, Richard

M. Nixon, and John F. Kennedy are just a few of the historical figures who have made

speeches of self-defense in response to criticism of their actions or even the very nature

of their existence.

While apologia have traditionally been studied within the realm of

interpersonal and public communication, Hearit (1996) notes that in the era of big

business, it is often corporations that feel the need to "clear their name"

(p. 234). This

dissertation will serve to expand the ancient study of self-defense communications

through an empirical examination of the affects of a sub-category of such speeches-

corporate excuses-in different cultural and mediated contexts.


In rhetorical terms, the defense of one's reputation or actions is known as apologia

(Aristotle, trans. 1954; see also Benoit, 1995; Hearit, 1996, 1999; Ware & Linkugel,

1973). The goal of all apologiae is simple: to bring resolution to an existing conflict

between the speaker and society.

Many different typologies have been suggested for studying apologiae, from a

variety of academic disciplines, including speech communication, sociology and

psychology (Benoit, 1995; Benoit & Drew, 1997

Schlenker, 1980). Typologies vary

predicaments, to detailed, such as Scott and Lyman's

and Benoit'

as in Schdnbk

(1968) 10-part typology of accounts

(1995) 14-item list of image restoration strategies, to exceedingly complex,

ich's (1990) taxonomy of almost 150 reactions of actors during account

phases. This complex list provides some indication of the wide range of ways in which

people and corporations seek to explain their behavior once their reputation is threatened.

In fact, Sch6nbach'

vast taxonomy serves to underscore directly the importance of

reputation management in modem,

Western society.

Typologies create a starting point for empirical research by creating a framework

for future analysis (Coombs & Schmidt, 2000).

Working in the area of speech

communication, Ware and Linkugel (1973) used Abelson's

(1959) four basic strategies of

conflict resolution to create their typology of apologetic postures. From Abelson's

they identified the following basic apologetic factors: denial, in which the accused

completely disavows a charge or event; bolstering, in which the accused tries to link his

own identity to some positive event, object, information, or person; differentiation, in

which the accused tries to separate some event, object, information, or person from the

larger context of the discussion; and transcendence, in which the accused attempts to join

some event, information, object, or relationship to a larger context that has not previously

been part of the discussion. These strategies fall into two distinct types (Ware &

Linkugel, 1973). Denial and bolstering are reformative, because they do not attempt to

change the audience's

meaning of an incident; differentiation and transcendence are

transformative, because their goal is to change the audience's meaning of an incident.

Ware and Linkugel (1973) then combined the apologetic factors to classify four

and differentiation, with the goal of acquittal for the speaker.

Vindicative speeches

combine denial and transcendence, with the goal of illustrating the moral rectitude of the

accused with regard to his accusers. Explanative speeches combine bolstering and

differentiation, with the goal of giving the audience information about the event that will

improve their understanding and make condemnation of the speaker less likely.

Jusitificative speeches combine bolstering and transcendence, with the goal of seeking

not only understanding, but outright approval, from the audience.

While apologiae can, and often do, employ elements of each of the conflict

resolution strategies, Ware and Linkugel (1973) suggest that most apologiae derive their

persuasive power from one primary posture. However, they offer no empirical evidence

to substantiate that claim. In fact, most of the speeches included in their study include

examples of at least two postures, and there are no corroborating data on audience effects

to confirm which of the postures was most effective in gaining audience acceptance of

the apologia. However, many rhetorical critics have employed Ware and Linkugel'

typology in their analyses, especially in the area of political discourse, such as


(1985) analysis of Nixon's

Vietnam speeches. From a corporate apologia

perspective, Benoit and Lindsey (1987) used Ware and Linkugel'

the restoration of Tylenol's

typology to examine

image in the wake of a notable poisoning scare.

Working in the field of sociology, Scott and Lyman (1968) defined an account as,

"a statement made by a social actor to explain unanticipated or untoward behavior-

whether that behavior is his own or that of others, and whether the proximate cause for

the statement arises frnm the actnr himself or frnm someone else" (n. 46. Thev identify


are a number of sub-categories. Excuses, which are defined as "socially approved

vocabularies for mitigating responsibility when conduct is questioned" (Scott & Lyman,

1968, p. 47), come in four types of appeals: appeals to accidents, appeals to defeasibility,

appeals to biological drives, and scapegoating. Of these, appeals to biological drives,

which normally refer to an excuse based on an uncontrollable appetite, such as addiction

or sexual deviance, is not likely to transfer from the interpersonal to the corporate realm.

It is interesting, however, that the authors link these biological drives excuses to culture,

suggesting that some excuses may be more acceptable in some cultures than in others. As

an example, they offer an ethnography of a Mexican woman who was angry not because

her husband had lipstick on his shirt, but because he lied about it. The woman explains:

And he had me almost believing it was red paint! It was not that I am jealous. I
realize a man can never be satisfied with just one woman, but I cannot stand being
made a fool of. (Lewis, as cited in Scott & Lyman, p. 50)

Scott and Lyman note that failure to invoke the culturally appropriate account may result

in the failure of the reparation attempt.

Justifications, according to Scott and Lyman (1968), are defined as,


approved vocabularies that neutralize an act or its consequences when one or both are

called into question" (p. 51). In justification, an actor attempts to convince the audience

of the positive aspects of an event or its consequences. The authors identify six different

types of justifications: denial of injury, denial of victim, condemnation of condemners,

appeal to loyalties,

"sad tales"

and self-fulfillment. Again, the typology has limited use in

the corporate environment, since while corporations might use some of the justifications,

others clearly would not be plausible. For example,

"sad tales"

seeks to justify an event


part of an attempt to experience everything possible in the world, such as illicit drugs.

Scott and Lyman's

typology, in fact, seems very rooted to the time and place where they

collected some of their data: interviews in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco

in 1968.


(1995) theory of image restoration strategies is a 14-part typology rooted

in the field of critical analysis. The book analyzes both personal and corporate apologia,

indicating that organizations, like individuals,

"must attempt to restore their reputations

after alleged or suspected wrong-doing" (Benoit, 1995, p. 1). The author identifies five

main categories of image restoration strategies: denial, evading of responsibility,

reducing offensiveness of the event, corrective action and mortification. Sub-categories

of denial include simple denial and shifting of blame. Sub-categories of evading

responsibility include provocation, defeasibility, accident and good intentions. Sub-

categories of reducing offensiveness include bolstering, minimization, differentiation,

transcendence, attacking the accuser, and compensation.


list is extensive, but it is also somewhat confusing because the categories

are not mutually exclusive. For example, shifting blame seems to fit as easily with

"evading responsibility" as with "denial,

" despite Benoit's assertion that shifting blame

"can be considered a variant of denial, because the accused cannot have committed the

repugnant act if someone else actually did it" (p. 75). Despite this, image restoration

theory has supplied a theoretical framework for a number of corporate crisis case studies

(Benoit, 1995; Brinson & Benoit, 1996, 1999). Coombs and Schmidt (2000) used the

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different image restoration strategies, however their findings indicated no significant

differences among the strategies.

Working in the field of social psychology, Schlenker (1980) identified two general

types of responses to predicaments: accounts and apologies. Accounts are "explanations

of a predicament designed to minimize the apparent severity of the predicament" (p.

136). Accounts come in three basic forms: defenses of innocence, which absolve the

actor from responsibility for the event; excuses, which allow that a negative event took

place, but reduce the actor's

responsibility for the event; and justifications, which allow

the actor to take responsibility for a negative event, while minimizing the negative

repercussions of the event (Schlenker, 1980).

Schlenker (1980) defines an apology as a response to a predicament in which

"actors admit blameworthiness for an undesirable event, but concomitantly attempt to

obtain a pardon or reduce the negative repercussions from real or imagined audiences"

154). A complete apology includes five basic elements: an admission of guilt or remorse,

a recognition of the normally prescribed conduct in the situation, rejection of the conduct,

a vow to use the prescribed conduct, and some form or penance or offer of compensation.

Schlenker notes, however, that the categories overlap: in response to a predicament,

actors will often employ a combination of accounts and an apology in an attempt to

remedy an adverse situation. Schlenker's

typology is general, but comprehensive. As

such, it presents a useful framework for the study of the effects of accounts on various


While tvoologies vary, the literature on the subject consistently notes that in


help them mitigate the impact of the event on future relationships. On the broadest level,

this can be accomplished either by distancing oneself from the event partially or

completely, minimizing the importance of the event, or simply apologizing for the event.

For the purposes of empirical inquiry, the Schlenker (1980) typology provides a good

framework, because of its small number of broad, comprehensive categories. It is

possible to imagine a corporation invoking any one of Schlenker's

categories; it is

difficult to imagine a corporate defense that would not fit into one of Schlenker's


According to Coombs and Holladay (1996),

"What organizations say to their

various publics during a crisis should influence the extent of the reputational and

financial damage a crisis can inflict on the organizational image" (p. 292). Of course,

circumstances will to a large extent determine the appropriateness of any given self-

defense to the audience for which it is intended and its success in influencing public

opinion (Coombs & Holladay, 1996; Schlenker, 1980; Scott & Lyman, 1968; Ware &

Linkugel, 1973).

When there is physical evidence of bad environmental practices in the

form of contaminated drinking water, for example, the public is not likely to accept a


's attempt to distance itself completely from the problem.

Corporations, like individuals, must issue self-defenses appropriate to the known

facts of the case in order to have them accepted by the public (Benson, 1988; Coombs &

Holladay, 1996; Martinelli & Briggs, 1988). In a corporate context, apologiae are

normally issued in response to some kind of crisis. A corporate crisis is defined as "an

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p. 4). Crisis communications are the communications between an organization and its

relevant publics that are designed to minimize the damage to an organization's


before, during and after a negative event (Fearn-Banks, 1996). In most corporations,

crisis communications is regarded as a public relations function (Coombs, 1999; Fearn-

Banks, 1996; Lerbinger, 1997). However, with increased media scrutiny and the threat of

lawsuits in the wake of corporate crises, legal counselors have begun to play an

increasingly important role in crisis communications (Fitzpatrick, 2000; Fitzpatrick &

Rubin, 1995). Fitzpatrick and Rubin (1995) used content analysis to illustrate the

difference between public relations and legal messages in the wake of a crisis.

Many case studies have examined corporate defenses in response to crisis.

Dionisopoulos (1986) examined the nuclear power industry's

corporate account

campaign, which was designed to calm audiences in the wake of the Three Mile Island

disaster. Dionisopoulos suggests a causal link between the advertising campaign and the

relative unimportance of nuclear power as an issue to voters in the subsequent elections.

However, there is no way for a rhetorical essay to substantiate such a claim empirically.

Hearit (1996) discussed the effectiveness of a particular form of apologia, the

"kategoria" or countercharge, in a business-to-business exchange, between General

Motors and Dateline NBC. Hearit suggests that the use of countercharges are an

important means of challenging inaccurate or unfair media coverage, since other media

outlets are likely to cover charges leveled against their competition. However, he warned

that because of the "heavy-handedness"

of the strategy, it is best used only when the

accuser is of the same or greater size as the accused that chooses to countercharge; the


use of kategoria by corporations against smaller accusers, such as individuals or non-

profit organizations, might be construed as bullying by the public.

Hearit (1999) looked at the impact of new media-and the culture of new media

users-on acceptance apologia, in a study of Intel's

online apologia in the wake of the

discovery that its Pentium 586 chip made errors on high-level calculations. The study

documents problems corporations have in cyberspace that are not present in traditional

media. In particular, the "culture" of the Internet can become difficult to navigate for

corporate executives who attempt to make apologia in a new media forum if they are not

completely "fluent"

in the language and customs of the online environment. In the case of

Intel, newsgroup users refused to believe an apology actually came from Intel'


because the return e-mail address on the posting was not his. For the newsgroup users,

the lack of personalization of the posting translated into a lack of authenticity and,

therefore, a lack of legitimacy and credibility for both the CEO and his corporation.

Ironically, the computer company ultimately turned to more a traditional media venue-

an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal-to make a successful apologia.

Researchers have begun to examine crisis communication using empirical

methodologies. Marcus and Goodman (1991) investigated changes in stock price in

response to different types of corporate communications (defensive and accommodative)

during and after different kinds of crises (accidents, scandals and product safety and

health incidents). The field experiment found differences in the shareholder response, as

measured by price of stocks, after defensive or accommodative statements by

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strategies, including "denials of intention, volition, and agency" (p. 291), served

shareholders better after accidents. The authors found no significant difference in

shareholder response (as measured by stock prices) between the two strategies after

product safety or health incidents.

Coombs (1999) tested the effect of different components of crisis management

strategies on corporate reputation among a group of crisis managers. The results indicated

a positive result of compassionate methods, as opposed to informative methods, on

corporate reputation. Unfortunately, the subjects used, namely veteran crisis management

professionals, drastically reduce the generalizeability of the study. The 114 managers

who participated in the study had worked in the crisis management area for an average of

about 10 years; the reactions of such a highly trained group of professionals in response

to a crisis simulation can hardly be generalizeable to the reactions of the general

population. They do serve to gauge the importance placed on compassionate

communication by the professionals who are likely to respond to a corporate crisis

situation, however, and underscore the likelihood of them employing such a strategy in

the wake of a crisis.

Coombs and Holladay (1996) examined the fit between crisis type and crisis

communication strategy, based on Benson's

(1988) symbolic approach. The symbolic

approach posits that a corporation experiencing a one-time accident should attempt to

distance itself from the accident (i.e. make an excuse), while a corporation experiencing

repeated accidents or corporate transgressions should attempt to rebuild its image through

remedial measures, such as victims being offered compensation for their injuries. Using


corporate image of a fictional corporation as the dependent variable, the results indicate

that matching response type to crisis type improves reputational image among audiences.

Siomkos and Shrivastava (1993) used an experimental design to test the effect on

reputation of two fictitious corporations of four types of crisis responses: denial,

involuntary product recall, voluntary product recall and "super-effort," in which a

corporation goes well above the legal requirements of a product recall to protect

customers. The study found that existing company reputation influenced post-crisis

attitudes, with high reputation companies viewed more positively after a crisis than low

reputation companies. The results of the study indicate that subjects viewed crisis

responses negatively (denial and involuntary product recall) or positively (voluntarily

product recall and super-effort). However, there was only a minimal difference within the

positive and negative categories: an involuntary product recall was almost as negative as

a denial, while a voluntary product recall was almost as positive as a super-effort. The

study underscores the importance of honestly assessing-and improving-corporate

reputation in advance of a crisis, since low reputation companies need to use a very costly

super-effort response in order to improve consumer attitudes toward the company after a

crisis, while high reputation companies can use the less costly voluntary product recall


Arpan and Pompper (2003) examined the effect of a particular crisis

communication strategy-"stealing thunder"--on a specific group of individuals, namely

reporters and journalists. Stealing thunder is a proactive form of crisis communication, in

which a corporation makes "an admission of a weakness (usually a mistake or a failure)


media" (Arpan & Pompper, 2003, p. 294). The researchers created a fictitious corporation

and asked professional journalists and journalism students to respond to different

corporate crisis scenarios in which public relations professionals communicated

differently with journalists. Their findings indicated that while stealing thunder showed

promise as a tool for building credibility for public relations professionals among an

important target audience-the media-by increasing journalist'

perceptions of public

relations practitioners as credible sources of information, it also had the effect of imbuing

the story with greater newsworthiness, thus assuring prominent coverage. This study is of

particular interest because it looked at the impact of crisis communication strategies on a

particular group, or culture. However, like the Coombs (1999) study, the subjects of the

experiment limit the generalizeability of the results. That is not a fault of the research,

since such generalizeability was not the authors' intention. The researchers were

interested in the relationship between public relations practitioners and journalists, not in

the reactions of the public to the media produced by those journalists. The fact remains,

however, that the empirical literature on public reaction to corporate apologia remains

quite limited.

Although there is a growing body of literature on corporate apologia, mainly in the

form of case studies of corporate crises, only a small portion of that research has been

empirical in nature. The few empirical studies have confirmed some important aspects of

crisis management theories, including the importance of appropriate self-defenses in

rebuilding corporate image in the wake of a crisis. However, while theoreticians and

researchers have nosited a link between culture and acceptance of excuses (Hearit. 1999:


area. This dissertation begins to fill a significant gap in the literature by examining the

impact of culture on acceptance of corporate excuses.

Mass Communications and Impression Management

While initial work in the area of impression management, like that of apologia,

came from the area of interpersonal relations, it has proven an effective framework for

the study of organizational communications as well (Giacalone & Rosenfeld, 1989; see

also Arndt & Bigelow, 2000; Bromley, 1993; Hooghiemstra, 2000). Studies in the area of

impression management and organizational communications are varied, and have

described both external and internal corporate communications,

as well as target reaction

to such communications.

Organizational Communications Studies

Researchers have employed a broad range of methodologies in the field of

organizational communication and impression management, including case studies,

content analyses, surveys, and experiments. Most of these have focused on self-

presentation within the context of an organizational setting. Greenberg (1990) conceived

of organizational justice as a function of self-presentation, suggesting that fairness is a

"desired social identity" in the context of an organization. In addition to the intrapsychic

benefits of creating a good self-image, Greenberg notes that the perception of fairness has

the important benefit of enhancing a manager's power base within an organization.

Additionally, an overall image of corporate fairness may serve to attract and retain

qualified employees. Haas-Wilson (1990) used survey research to examine the

association between well-informed recommendations and fees paid to psychotherapists.


the effects of different self-presentational strategies, gender, and position in an

organizational context.

A few studies have looked at entities as impression managers. For example, Amdt

and Bigelow (2000) used qualitative content analysis to examine the way hospitals

present accounts of corporate restructuring in their annual reports. Hooghiemstra (2000)

used a case study method to examine the rationale behind one corporation's

use of

corporate social reporting to minimize the negative effects of environmentally suspect

business practices.

Mass Communications Studies

Although there is a great deal of work in the field of mass communications based

on the dramaturgical work of Goffinan, particularly Kaid's


studies in the

field of political communication (Kaid & Johnston, 2001; see also Kaid, 2002; Kaid &

Davidson, 1986), only a small body of literature exists in the field of mass

communications that is directly informed by the theoretical framework of impression

management (Sallot, 2002). Dominick (1999) studied self-presentational styles on

personal Web pages using quantitative content analysis. Coding for Jones' (1990) self-

presentation strategies-ingratiation, competence, intimidation, supplication and

exemplification-he found that most personal Web pages could be categorized by the

dominant self-presentation strategy utilized by the author. Ingratiation and competence

were the self-presentation strategies employed most often by Web authors; supplication

and intimidation were almost never used. Dominick concluded that self-presentation

explained many of the cyber-behaviors in the study, including the use of feedback


Web pages, the study is still closely linked to the interpersonal roots of impression

management, studying self-presentational tactics of individuals in a mass mediated


Papacharissi (2002) used content analysis to examine the design tools people use to

achieve impression management goals on personal Web pages. For example, she viewed

feedback mechanisms such as e-mail and guestbooks as a gauge of desire for social

approval and hyperlinks as a gauge for need for affiliation and belonging. She noted

differences in creativity and use of hyperlinks among different Web communities, and

suggested that portals such as Geocities or Earthlink, may actually serve to mediate

impressions by making templates available to community members. By utilizing all the

"bells and whistles"


of a high-end template, a person projects a competent, high-tech

This study touches on the impression management of an entity in a mass mediated

context, to the extent that the portals are responsible for the impressions made by a

particular Web page. However, the focus of the study remained primarily individuals.

Sallot (2002) used an experimental design to test the effects of perceived motives

(none, selfish, prosocial, altruistic), communications styles (one-way and two-way), and

professionalism (licensed and unlicensed public relations professionals) on the reputation

of public relations professionals. She found that perceived motives made a difference in

how public relations professionals were regarded, with significantly better evaluations for

those engaging in activities for altruistic reasons than for selfish ones.

However, even

when participating in projects for altruistic reasons, public relations professionals were

still viewed a as advnoctes fnr their r.rnorate snnnsnrs Sallnt mlrroefts that this is related


advocacy" (p. 163). In other words, the general public already views public relations

professionals as self-serving and strategic in their actions on behalf of their companies, so

it is difficult to convince subjects that they are capable of working for purely altruistic

reasons. Again, this study is more interpersonal than corporate in nature, albeit focusing

on the impressions made by members of a mass media profession.

Corporate Identity

From an organizational standpoint, impression management is closely related to

corporate identity. Hooghiemstra (2000) describes corporate identity as "the way the

organisation presents itself to an audience" (p. 57). This is analogous to the concept of

self-presentation in interpersonal communications, which is an attempt to control

impressions of the self to an audience (Schlenker, 2002). An organization presents itself

to an audience every time that someone uses the company's

products or services, talks

with one of its employees, or encounters any consequences from its corporate actions.

Each of these interactions, therefore, involves some form of impression management.

Corporate communications are one tool organizations use to build corporate

identity (Hooghiemstra, 2000). According to Van Riel (as cited in Hooghiemstra),

corporate communications are "an instrument of management by means of which all

consciously used forms of internal and external communication are harmonised as

effectively and efficiently as possible, so as to create a favourable basis for relationships

with groups upon which the company is dependent" (p. 57). Goodman (1998) suggests

corporate communications includes such diverse communications functions as public

relations. investor relations. emolovee relations, media relations, labor relations,


Esrock and Leichty (1998) did look at the impressions made by entities-

specifically members of the Fortune 500-on their corporate Web pages. Their content

analysis found that corporate Web sites were used more for highlighting corporate good

deeds than for promoting specific policy decisions. This indicates that the desired

corporate identity is a socially responsible one. Their findings also suggest that few

corporations used their Web sites to actively communicate with relevant publics.

Apparently, the Web sites were not used to gather the feedback that is critically needed

for successful impression management (Schlenker, 1980). The authors note, however,

that their findings are likely "time-bound,

"evolutionary" stage in the late 90s. With

" since Web use by corporations was still at an

improved Web site design, such feedback may

now be easier to collect.

Most organizational and mass communications studies in the area of impression

management continue to look at individuals within organizations, rather than the

impressions managed by the organization as a whole. However, it is usually the corporate

entity, and not the individuals within that corporation, that makes the most direct

impression on the consumers. This dissertation fills a gap in the organizational

impression management literature, using an empirical design to study the effects of

excuses offered by a corporate entity in the wake of an adverse incident.

One thing that is clear from the literature is that most of the studies in the area of

organizational and media impression management have examined corporate

communications, usually as the subject of content analysis. In essence, corporate

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studies of corporate impression management were found in the literature, this, along with

the growing empirical literature in the field of crisis communications, suggests the

appropriateness of using corporate communications materials as the stimulus material for

investigating impression management in the corporate context.

Advertising and Impression Management

Advertising is a unique and very specific form of corporate communications.

Advertising is defined as "any paid form of non-personal communication about an

organization, product, service, or idea by an identified sponsor" (Belch & Belch, 1998, p.

14). To use the life-as-theatre analogy, an advertisement functions as a prop for an

organization, which helps an audience understand who (or what) the organization is, what

it stands for, and why it behaves in a particular way. Organizations choose to present

themselves to an audience with advertising because (1) it gives them complete control

over the message that they wish to communicate to an audience, and (2) it allows them to

decide into which media vehicle, or setting, they put that message.

When organizations use advertising, they pay money to describe themselves in the

exact way they wish to be described to a particular audience. Schlenker (1980) describes

written self-descriptions as a direct way of claiming specific images that an actor wishes

to claim. Advertising, therefore, must be seen as a very direct and not very subtle form of

corporate identification. As such, it represents an important tool for the study of corporate

identification and organizational impression management.

Problems with Advertising

From an organizational standpoint, advertising is an imperfect impression


numbers), a corporation gets no immediate audience feedback from its advertising

messages. Martinko (1991) states,

"Successful IM attempts require constant assessment

of audience reactions and feedback" (p. 269).

While the organization's

goals for the

advertising interaction are set in advance, advertising does not allow the organization to

modify its message to ameliorate an unsuccessful interaction-a bad or offensive ad

remains bad or offensive.

This potential problem is accentuated by the "permanent" nature of the advertising

interaction, since a record of the interaction, usually in print or video form, can remain

long after the interaction occurs.

We can therefore presume that organizations go to great

lengths to manage impressions right the first time when it comes to advertising. That is,

we can assume that organizations are highly motivated to achieve desired corporate

identifications through their advertising messages.

Second, advertising may suffer from the same problem that Sallot (2002) noted for

public relations namely, a lack of credibility. U.S. citizens comprise a sophisticated

media market they are highly aware that advertising is a paid form of communications,

and they are increasingly wary of advertising claims (Belch & Belch, 1998). Therefore, a

paid advertisement from a sponsor may seem less credible to the desired audience than a

newspaper article containing similar information about the organization


Advocacy Advertising

There is perhaps no time when it is more important for an organization to manage

impressions right in an advertisement than when an organization is running advocacy

rlxriorr Arrfrarlrtrna Arnr ctn vAmthec rnalled icnp a dvprhtiinO iS. "conrnCmed


such, it is a subcategory of corporate advertising, which is any form of advertising

designed "to establish, alter or maintain a corporation's

identity" (Schumann, Hathcote,

& West, 1991).

Sethi (1979) originally used the term "advocacy advertising" to describe


concerned with the propagation of ideas and the elucidation of controversial social
issues of public importance. It does so in a manner such that supports the position
and interests of the sponsor while expressly or implicitly downgrading the
sponsor's opponents and denying the accuracy of their facts. (p. 70)

However, Fox (1986) disagreed with Sethi's adversarial approach to the subject, and

suggested that advocacy advertising be defined as "advertising which addresses an issue

that can affect and can be influenced by actors beyond the advertising's

sponsor" (p. 62).


definition of "advocacy advertising,"

which encompasses a wide range of corporate

advertising designed to express corporate opinions on a broad array of subjects with

many relevant publics, will be used throughout this dissertation.

Because it is not product-oriented, Belch and Belch (1998) view advocacy

advertising as an extension of an organization's public relations activities, rather than as

an advertising function. Public relations is defined as "the management function which

evaluates public attitudes, identifies the policies and procedures of an organization with

the public interest, and executes a program of action (and communication) to earn public

understanding and acceptance" (p. 514). Advocacy advertising is a very direct attempt to

earn public acceptance of an organization's views. Therefore, previous public relations

research, more than advertising research, provides an appropriate framework for the


According to Dardenne (1981), corporations employ advocacy advertising most

often to correct public misconceptions in the wake of negative coverage by the press, and

to give the public information that may help alter public policy decisions. Corporate

advocacy advertising may be run proactively, in an attempt influence the opinions of

important audiences in advance of some action or event. This type of advertising might

be employed when a corporation wants to make its opinions known to legislators in

advance of some vote that may impact its operations. Corporate advocacy advertising

may also be run reactively, in response to some negative publicity or event. This type of

advertising is often run in the wake of corporate actions that have impacted its publics in

some negative way. For example, Connolly-Ahern and Kaid (2002) documented the use

of this form of advertising by a number of corporations in the wake of the tragic events of

September 11, 2001, and by the U.S. Postal Service after the 2001 anthrax attacks.


advertising is run in response to some negative corporate event or predicament, it can be

called "corporate account advertising." It is this type of advertising that is the subject of

this dissertation.

Advertising Versus Public Relations

From a professional standpoint, one of the key benefits of public relations as a

marketing communications tool is said to be increased credibility. Beckwith (2003), a

well-known publicist writes,

advertising. That'

"...publicity is more powerful and more influential than

because publicity is usually linked to newsworthy events or

information that make it useful or interesting" (p. 3).

College-level textbooks offer similar oninions.

Wilcox. Cameron. Ault and Agee.


magazines, radio, and television through news releases about a company's products or

services, community involvement, inventions and new plans" (2003, p. 16).

These third-party endorsements come in the form of media gatekeepers, such as

reporters, editors and producers, who transfer some of the credibility of the news vehicle

to a news release once it has been vetted and included in a newspaper, magazine or news

broadcast. Speaking about the relative credibility of new and traditional media, Hearit

(1999) concludes the traditional media gatekeepers are an important element of

credibility, suggesting that "when defending their reputations, companies are wise to

couple their use of the new media with the use of traditional media because its

employment of media gatekeepers confers to their message a legitimacy and credibility

not yet available in cyberspace" (p. 303).

Scholarly work has made the same assumption: "An advocacy message, appearing

in a print medium as purchased space, is likely to appear less credible than the same

message appearing in the news columns as news" (Salmon, Reid, Pokrywckzynski, &

Willet, 1985, p. 553).

However, the small body of work has examined the credibility and effectiveness of

public relations tactics as opposed to advertising for advocacy messages is inconclusive.

In an experimental study of the relative effectiveness of advertising and public relations

tactics, Salmon et al (1985) reported that while news stories were judged less biased than

advertisements for advocacy messages, in one case-that of the American Cancer

Society-advertising was actually judged more trustworthy, interesting, informative,

aorrPPhl1e and mnrp. in keeninp with behavior intentions than the same information


Working in the area of political communication, Zhao and Chaffee (1995) used

survey data to study the relative effects of television news and campaign advertising on

U.S. voter knowledge. Again, results were mixed.

While the effects of advertising were

generally less than the effects of news on issue knowledge, in one race--a high-profile

race fought on either side of a deep ideological divide--the effect on issue knowledge

attributable to advertising was greater than that attributable to television news.

Although organizations increasingly use advocacy advertising to take their

messages directly to relevant publics, there is only a small body of work comparing

advocacy advertising with more traditional public relations tactics.

While public relations

is generally believed to be more credible with audiences than advertising, there is no

definitive empirical study stating that news stories are superior to advertising in

delivering advocacy messages. Additionally, a search of the literature uncovered no study

that looked at the topic of advocacy advertising from an international standpoint. This

dissertation seeks to expand the small body of literature in this area of advocacy

advertising and public relations effects, while expanding the discussion of the topic to the

international arena.

Predicaments and Impression Management

In the wake of a negative event, an organization is faced with a predicament. From

the impression management perspective, organizations are faced with predicaments

anytime in which "events have undesirable implications for the identity-relevant images

[they] have claimed or desire to claim in front of real or imagined audiences"


1 oQA n 1 9o\ A nradionnamnt an effect enmnrtte identity tn the extent that the


responsible a corporation is seen by itself and audiences for the negative event in

question, the greater the threat to its corporate identity. Schlenker et al. (1994) suggest

"responsibility is a necessary component of the process of holding people accountable for

their conduct" (p. 634). In the organizational context, it is the conduct of the corporation

itself that is in question.

Corporations and Predicaments

When faced with an identity-threatening predicament, organizations, like

individuals, are likely to attempt to avoid the negative consequences of their actions by

employing impression management tactics such as accounts and apologies (Schlenker,

1980). In response to predicaments, a corporation has five communications choices in the

wake of an adverse incident. The first, of course, is not to communicate with any of its

relevant publics. This is the classic legal approach of "no comment" (Fitzpatrick &

Rubin, 1995). Once the organization decides to communicate, however, it can either issue

some form of account (a defense of innocence, an excuse, or a justifications) or an


From a communications perspective "corporate accounting"

can be accomplished

through a variety of communications channels, depending on the audience that the

organization is targeting with its account: internal communications, annual reports, press

releases, advertising, or any combination of these.

The Triangle Model of Responsibility

Deciding whether or not a corporation is responsible or accountable for some

negative action involves "evaluative reckoning" in which the corporation is judged by its


specific domains to assess responsibility for an event (Weiner, Perry, Magnusson, 1988).

The triangle model of responsibility offers one model for the information needed to judge

an individual's

or organization's

responsibility for a negative event, based on information

about three main components and the linkages or connections between them (Schlenker,

Pontari, & Christopher, 2001; Schlenker et al., 1994).

According to Schlenker et al. (1994), the three main components of the triangle

model are

(a) the prescriptions that should be guiding the actor's conduct on the occasion, (b)
the event that occurred (or is anticipated) that is relevant to the prescriptions, and
(c) a set of identity images that are relevant to the event and prescriptions and that

describe the actor's

roles, qualities, convictions, and aspirations. (p. 634)

The relevant linkages of the triangle model, according to Schlenker et al. (2001),

(a) prescription clarity, the clarity of the prescriptions (goals, rules, and scripts)
that are applicable in the situation, linking the prescriptions and the event; (b)
personal obligation, the extent to which the actor appears to be bound by the
prescriptions because of duty or other requirements, linking the prescriptions and
the actor; and (c) personal control, the extent to which the actor seems to have
control over the outcomes in the situation, linking the actor and the event. (p. 18)

The three components and the links between them form a triangle (Figure 1). The

stronger the links between the three components of the model are, the greater the


's responsibility for the event in question will be judged by its audiences.

Excuses are an impression management tactic employed by corporations in an attempt to

weaken the links between the components, thereby lessening corporate responsibility for

the events in question in the minds of the relevant audiences (Schlenker et al., 2001).

A number of studies have incorporated the triangle model to assess responsibility


related to the perceived strength of the links of the triangle model, with a combination of

strong prescription-identity and strong prescription-event links producing the highest

perceived responsibility ratings.

One study related a common American cultural characteristic, Protestant Work

Ethic (PWE), to attributions of responsibility using the triangle model (Christopher &

Schlenker, in press). The researchers found that high PWE is related to holding people

personally responsible for their actions, regardless of the excuses offered, as well as

negative reactions after failure. Although this was not an intercultural study, per

suggests the triangle model is appropriate for measuring differences in reactions to

excuses among different cultural groups.

Prescription Clarity





Note. From "Excuses and Character: Personal and Social Implications of Excuses," by
B.R. Schlenker, B.A. Pontari, and A.N. Christopher, 2001, Personality and Social

Psychology Review, 5

p. 18. Copyright 2001 by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.


Types of Excuses

Each of the linkages in the triangle model can be weakened by specific kinds of

excuses. Prescription clarity excuses claim that the goals, rules and standards pertaining

to the event in question were unclear to the organization (Schlenker et al., 2001).

Microsoft employed this kind of excuse in the aftermath of the Justice Department's


trust lawsuit against it. Microsoft claimed that there were no laws governing the creation

of proprietary software, and that it therefore had no way of knowing that it might be

considered illegal to create software that automatically disabled competitor's


upon installation.

Organizational obligation excuses claim that because of some attribute of the

corporation, the normally expected prescriptions for the event do not apply to the

corporation, regardless of how they may apply to others in a similar situation (Schlenker

et al., 2001).

While the basic values of fairness and equality might seem to weaken the

effectiveness of this kind of excuse with audiences, it is possible to imagine a scenario

where a corporation might employ such an excuse.

For example, a pharmaceutical corporation that produces mass quantities of vaccine

for children might employ such an excuse.

While it would generally be contemptible to

create a product that might harm a child, vaccine producers are aware that there is a small

risk that a child will become ill, or even die, as a result of being vaccinated with one of

their products. However, because the vaccinations are required by the state, vaccinations

are generally credited with saving far more lives than they harm, and the risk is widely

understood by health professionals, pharmaceutical companies continue to make vaccine.


company could not be judged by conventional standards of product liability, since it was

obligated to produce vaccines that save countless lives.

Organizational control excuses claim that the corporation had no way to manage or

direct the event in question (Schlenker et al., 2001). Usually, the event in question is

attributed to external forces. United Airlines famously employed a series of control

excuses in the aftermath of the September 11,

2001, terrorist attacks. Having lost two of

its planes, along with crew and passengers, during the event, United Airlines responded

to the negative publicity surrounding the event, and the subsequent fear of flying by the

American people, with a series of advertisements that blamed the tragic events on an

unnamed "they,

" who had attempted to take the joy of flying away from the highly

committed company.

In rhetorical terms, excuses fall under the differentiation strategy of conflict

resolution, because they seek to separate some piece of information-information on

prescription clarity, personal obligation or personal control-from the larger context of

the adverse incident (Ware & Linkugel, 1973). The goal of separating this information

for the audience is to create audience understanding, which will decrease the likelihood

of audience condemnation of the person or entity offering the excuse. If the person or

entity offers the excuse along with positive information about itself or its connections

with other entities, it is taking an explanative excuse posture. If the excuse is offered in

combination with some kind of denial, the person or entity is taking an absolutive excuse


WhilP mmranrntinn mav pmnlnv any nf the tvnes nf Yr1.n1es mentionedn some mav


literature contains a number of studies measuring the effectiveness of various accounting

strategies (e.g., Benoit & Drew, 1977; Kane, Joseph, & Tedeschi, 1977; Riordan, Marlin,

& Kellogg, 1983), the results have been mixed. According to Benoit (1995), only

apology has been found to be generally effective as an image restoration strategy.

Furthermore, without a uniform typology of self-defense mechanisms, the results of

these studies are difficult to compare (Benoit, 1995). The proposed experiment seeks to

extend the literature in the area of credibility of accounts, by testing the relative

credibility of narrow sub-category of self-defense strategies, excuses, which are likely to

be employed by corporations in the wake of crises. This study further extends the

literature through its examination of the acceptability of an account by a corporate entity,

rather than an individual.

Problems with Excuses

People employ excuses when confronted with predicaments because excuses can be

helpful in minimizing the negative repercussions of their mistakes (Schlenker et al.,

2001). Snyder and Higgins (1988) suggest a number of intrapersonal benefits to using

excuses, including helping those who employ them protect self-esteem and improve task

effectiveness, while reducing anxiety and depression. Studies have also noted

interpersonal benefits of excuses, including minimizing damage to the personal identity

of the person making the excuse, as well as the reduction of sanctioning after an event,

including reduced punishment in the wake of a crime (Critchlow, 1985). Relating the

practice of public relations to excuse making, Schlenker et al. (2001) suggest, "The recent
feature of the 'sPin doctor' position in most laree comPanies illustrates the importance of
feature of the 'sum doctors position in most large companies illustrates the importance of


However, while excuses may serve to protect identity in the event of a predicament,

there are also risks associated with using them (Schlenker et al., 2001). In particular,

Schlenker et al. suggest that excuses can undermine reliability of the actor using the

excuse, which may lead to impressions of deceit, ineffectualness or self-absorption.

However Keller (1998), who defines corporate credibility as "the extent to which

consumers believe that a firm can design and deliver products and services that satisfy

customer needs and wants" (p.426), claims that corporate credibility depends on three

factors: trustworthiness, expertise, and likeability. Yet these are precisely the factors

which may be undermined by excuses, as noted by Schlenker et al (2001).

Both Ohanian (1990) and Newell and Goldsmith (2001) suggest that of those three,

expertise and trustworthiness are the most salient dimensions of corporate credibility.

Excuses of any kind may therefore be related directly to diminished corporate credibility,

with those that undermine expertise and trustworthiness the most damaging to corporate

credibility. Coombs and Holladay (1996) suggest that expertise may be especially

significant, noting,

"Organizations that might be perceived as being able to prevent a

crisis should have a more negative image [in the wake of a crisis] than an organization

perceived to have little or no control over a crisis" (p. 293).

When making an excuse, especially in the advertising medium, it appears that

corporations walk a thin line between wishing to minimize their responsibility for a

particular incident or event, while protecting their corporate credibility and, ultimately,

their corporate identity. United Airline's

post 9-11 advertisements, for example, were

very careful to leave the other two linkages extremely strong, however, emphasizing both


the airline industry (obligation). The ads featured actual employees of the airline giving

personal testimonials about their love of flying and their commitment to the corporation,

making United-and its employees-seem as trustworthy and likable as possible. This

served to underscore United's


corporate credibility, and to salvage as much as possible of

corporate identity, in spite of facing a predicament that was in direct conflict

with its desired corporate identity as an extremely safe and efficient airline.

Culture and Impression Management

Appropriate self-presentation is related to an individual'


cultural mores. Leary

"Confusion and misunderstanding can arise when people from one culture engage

in self-presentations that do not conform to the norm of another culture" (p.1996, p80).

He says the subject has been inadequately explored in the impression management field,

but suggests,

"as our global society expands, we have increasing reason to understand

cultural differences in self-presentation" (p. 80). Bond (1991) suggested,

"One practical

approach to examining cross-cultural variation in self-presentation is to examine

differences in values around the world" (p. 197). However, while the need for

intercultural research in the cross-cultural area is clear, a review of the literature could

find no cross-cultural studies using the impression management theoretical perspective.

This dissertation begins to fill an existing gap in the literature, improving knowledge of

cultural differences in effects of impression management used by corporations in the

wake of adverse incidents.

Cultural Dimensions

The nature of culture is a matter of great debate, even within the field of


most comprehensive definitions in the field of anthropology comes from Kluckhohn


Culture consists in patterned ways of thinking, feeling and reacting, acquired and
transmitted mainly by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievements of human
groups, including their embodiments in artifacts; the essential core of culture
consists of traditional (i.e. historically derived and selected) ideas and especially
their attached values. (p. 86)

A few frameworks exist for the comparative study of culture (De Mooij, 2001).

One of the most widely used is that of Dutch organizational anthropologist Geert

Hofstede. Hofstede (2001), who based his cultural theories on a worldwide survey

administered by IBM to its employees, describes culture as the "collective programming

of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from

another" (p. 9). Culture includes language, attitudes toward elders, the physical distance

preferred between individuals, and perceptions of basic human activities such as eating,

sexual relations, and even defecation (p. 2). According to Hofstede,

"culture manifests

itself in visual elements,"

such as symbols, heroes, rituals and other practices.


these elements may be visible to people outside of the group, only people inside the

group fully comprehend the cultural meanings of these elements, which remain invisible

to a casual observer (p.10).

Advertising and journalism are visible elements of culture. Like any form of

expression, they are the end product of a long process of message encoding and decoding

that reflects the attitudes and values of the source that creates it-and is viewed through

the attitudes and values of those who encounter it. Advertising and journalism can never

be totally separated from the culture that produces them. They are social artifacts, and it


Hofstede (2001) identified five independent dimensions of culture:

"Power distance (PDI), which is related to the different solutions to the basic
problem of human inequality" (Hofstede, 2001, p.29). Hofstede says that within
organizations, "Power distance is a measure of the interpersonal power or influence
between [an employer and an employee] as perceived by the less powerful of the
two" (p. 83). He suggests that each culture has a norm for this level of interpersonal
power, which is measured by PDI.
"Uncertainty avoidance (UAI), which is related to the level of stress in a society in
the face of an unknown future" (Hofstede, 2001, p.29). Since uncertainty leads to
anxiety, each society or culture must find a means for effectively dealing with
uncertainty. According to Hofstede, "Ways of coping with uncertainty belong to
the cultural heritages of societies, and they are transferred and reinforced through
basic institutions such as the family, the school, and the state" (p. 146). Essentially,
UAI is a societal measure of discomfort with ambiguity.
"Individualism versus collectivism (IDV), which is related to the integration of
individuals into primary groups" (Hofstede, 2001, p.29). Basically, this refers to the
relative importance of individual or group achievement in society. According to
Hofstede notes, "The relationship between the individual and the collectivity of
human society is not only a matter of ways of living together, it is intimately linked
with societal norms" (p. 210). It is the balance of this relationship that is measured

by IDV.
"Masculinity versus femininity (MAS), which is related to
emotional roles between men and women within a society'
The author explains that masculinity and femininity "refer
role patterns in the vast majority of both traditional and me
patterns of male assertiveness and female nurturance" (p.
level to which gender role patterns differ within countries,

the division of
'(Hofstede, 2001, p.29).
to the dominant gender
)dern societies...the
!84). MAS measures the
with high MAS meaning

great differentiation, and low MAS (or femininity) meaning little differentiation.
"Long-term versus short-term orientation (LTO), which is related to the choice of
focus for people's efforts: the future or the present" (Hofstede, 2001, p.29). Long
term orientation includes values such as persistence, observing status in
relationships, thrift and having a sense of shame; short-term orientations includes
values such as personal stability, protecting "face," respect for tradition and
reciprocation of greetings, favors and gifts. This dimension is based on Bond's
Confucian Values Survey, and has only been measured for a few non-Eastern
cultures. Because information on LTO is available for only a few countries, it was
not considered in this dissertation.

Each of the 53 countries in Hofstede's sample were positioned on a scale for each

dimension, with the dimensions occurring "in all possible combinations, although some

significant correlations between Hofstede's

cultural dimension scores and other external

variables, including consumer attitudes and attitudes toward advertising.

Criticisms of Hofstede's Approach

A number of interpersonal and mass communications studies, as well as a wide

range of studies in other areas, have employed Hofstede's

cultural value system module

as a framework for cross-cultural research (e.g., DeMooij, 1998b; Gudykunst et al., 1996;

Tak, Kaid, & Lee, 1997

validity of Hofstede's fi

Taylor, 2000). However, some scholars have questioned the


Spector, Cooper and Sparks (2001) were unable to reproduce Hofstede's


consistency statistics in their 23-country sample on either the individual or

country/province level. Furthermore, their ANOVA results indicated only one of


variables, IDV

accounted for more than 10% of the variance in the replication

of the values survey. Schimmack, Oishi, and Diener (2002) found that cultural values of

individualism-collectivism were moderated on the individual level by gender, but gender

differences are not considered within the structure of the Hofstede values.

The Hofstede Values System Module cannot be considered a perfect measurement

tool of culture. First, because the Values Systems Module reports country-level means, it

does not take into account the wide range of individual variation that exists within any

country (Hofstede, 2002). Any convenience sample taken from a country is likely to

differentiate extensively from the reported country means. This differentiation may be

exacerbated when samples cannot be secured from different geographic areas within a

given country.


of criteria, including but not limited to age, gender, education level, occupation, and

socio-economic status, can prove daunting in a cross-cultural context, especially when

international researchers are likely to have limited access to local populations, and

samples are based on convenience rather than chosen in a systematic, random fashion.

Despite the problems of using the Hofstede measurements in cross-cultural

research, hundreds of scholars from around the world have documented strong,

significant correlations between the cultural values measurements and a diverse range of

outside criteria, from purchases of mineral water to average waiting times for doctors and

even the Nobel Prize index (Hofstede, 2001). The measurement is not perfect, but it the

best one currently available, and its use is justified in the present study, especially in light

of the growing body of communications and marketing literature utilizing the scale.

Culture and Communications

Noted U.S. American anthropologist Edward Hall said,

and communication is culture,

"Culture is communication

" (1959, p. 169). It is clear that communication, both

interpersonal and mediated, is inseparable from culture-both of the sender and of the

receiver. According to Gannon,

"perhaps the most interesting feature of culture is that is

triggers unconscious values leading to action" (2001, p.18). He indicates that culture is an

important variable in the communication process, particularly in the realm of persuasive

communication, such as business negotiations, where one party desires a specific

outcome as a result of the reception of a communicated message.

Working in the field of interpersonal communication, Ting-Toomey and Kurogi

(1998) introduced a model ofintercultural conflict management based on the culture-

authors note,

"The dimension of individualism-collectivism serves as a conceptual

framework in explaining why the meaning of "self' and hence,


varies across


(p. 189). The essay includes suggestions for creating "intercultural facework

competence" to enhance human dignity in the increasingly global environment.

Gudykunst (1997) notes that while most anthropological research takes an "emic"

or specific approach, and most psychological research uses an "etic" or universal

approach, communications research is derived from both the emic and etic viewpoints. In

his introduction to a special issue of Communication Research, Gudykunst (1997) stated

that Hofstede's

cultural values provided a means for comparing similarities and

differences in national communication styles. However, he cautioned that researchers

should also attempt to take into account individual-level factors that might impact the

influence of culture on communication style. Some individual-level measures that might

account for differences in communications style include personal values, personality

orientation, egalitarianism, and sex role orientation.

Culture and Advertising

According to Tak, Kaid, and Lee (1997)

Many researchers agree that culture does affect the reception and acceptance of an
advertising message; the advertising message therefore reflects the culture in which

it appears. In communication...a send
message form, whereas the receiver's

her's cultural background affects the overall
cultural background determines message

perception. ( 2)

Their content analysis research found that, among other things, UAI was a good

determinant of Korean and U.S. American political advertising styles.

De Mooij (2001) also used a content analysis of international advertisements to


significant correlations between consumer attitudes toward advertising and IDV and

MAS (Hofstede, 2001). This indicates that these two values may be useful tools for

developing advocacy advertising research.

According to De Mooij (2001), highly individualistic cultures, such as the one in

the United States, tend to be universalistic, whereas collective cultures, like most of those

in Latin America, tend to accept cultural differences of other groups, because they are

comfortable with the idea that their group is different from all others. In terms of

communications, De Mooij says this can be reflected in "assuming certain truths as self-

evident and commenting on events in other parts of the world from [a] universalistic and

ethnocentric point of view"

(p. 79). She notes that this is often manifested in international

advertising and marketing campaigns.

High MAS societies are ones in which performance and achievements are prized.

These are the classic "bigger is better countries," including Japan, Germany, and the

United States.

While the United States is often thought to be a very masculine society, in

actuality fourteen countries, including four Latin American countries-Venezuela,

Mexico, Colombia and Ecuador-score higher than the United States on the MAS scale.

Low MAS societies are service- and people-oriented (De Mooij, 2001). All the

Nordic countries fall into this category. In the Americas, Costa Rica, and Chile are found

on the extreme low end of the MAS scale, and seven of the 13 Latin American countries

score below the mean.

De Mooij (1998b) suggests that culture is not merely reflected in advertising.

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In particular, De Mooij found strong positive correlation between confidence in the

advertising industry, Masculinity and Uncertainty Avoidance in a survey of European

nations. In particular, she found that feminine countries weak in uncertainty avoidance

reflect a deep skepticism of the exaggerations in advertising.

Content analysis reveals different advertising executions are correlated with the

MAS dimension (De Mooij, 2001):

The masculine/feminine dimension discriminates between cultures particularly with
respect to values related to winning, success and status, which are much used in
advertising appeals. It is therefore an important dimension for marketing and
selling. It reflects the division between countries in which hype and the hard sell
prevail and countries with a soft-sell, more modest approach. (p. 82)

Not all scholars have considered MAS critical to the understanding of advertising,

however. Zandpour et al. (1994) and Zanpour and Harich (1996), for example, offered a

model to assess cultural fit for advertising using Hofstede's

cultural values, omitting the

MAS dimension. However, Hofstede (1998) called the model incomplete because of the

omission, which Hofstede considered a critical error in the area of advertising. He

suggested the dimension was omitted from the model because of an American cultural

bias against discussing gender, and noted,

"It seems paradoxical that academics operating

within a culture accustomed to focusing on facts, data, and truth can be so biased in their

research approach" (p. 72).

Culture and Public Relations

According to Sriramesh and VerciC (2003),

"Logically, culture should affect public

relations and public relations helps alter culture" (p. 7). However, the authors note that

researchers have only recently begun to explore the subject of culture and public


Because public relations in general, and international public relations specifically,

is a relatively new area of communications study, much of the work that has been done in

the area of culture and public relations has focused on case studies and ethnographies

(e.g. Sriramesh, 1996). In fact, The Global Public Relations Handbook (Sriramesh and

VerCiC, 2003) is written with one chapter about each country, with very little comparative

work attempted. Some comparative work has been done (e.g. Sriramesh, Kim, &

Takasaki, 1999; Taylor, 2000), but an extensive review of the literature revealed no

cross-cultural public relations research that is experimental in nature.

Culture and Excuses

The MAS dimension may be important in a culture's

relative willingness to accept

excuses. According to Hofstede (1998), feminine cultures are more permissive than

masculine ones. In particular, Hofstede found a strong negative correlation between an

index for permissiveness, based on the European Value Systems study, and masculinity.

That is, people in feminine countries were found to be more accepting of a list of vices

that included joyriding, soft drugs, accepting bribes and prostitution than their

counterparts in more masculine countries. It seems reasonable, therefore, that individuals

from feminine countries might accept excuses more willingly than their counterparts in

masculine countries.

Additionally, masculine countries are known to hold success and winning in high


While feminine countries show sympathy for the weak, masculine countries show

sympathy for the strong (Hofstede, 2001). Due to their success orientation, masculine

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Of course, it is logical to assume that other cultural values are also related to the

acceptance of excuses. For example, Hofstede (2001) notes that one characteristic of high

uncertainty avoidance cultures is pessimism about organizations' motives. Taylor (2000)

linked uncertainty avoidance, power distance and organization-public relationships in a

cross-cultural case study about the aftermath of a Coca-Cola tainting scare in Western

Europe. High uncertainty avoidance/high power distance countries, including Belgium,

France, and Spain, were distrustful of the corporation after the scare, and quickly pulled

Coca-Cola from the shelves, while weak uncertainty avoidance, low power distance

countries such as Sweden, Norway, and Denmark waited for conclusive evidence of

tainting before recalling Coca-Cola'

products. Taylor's observations have implications

for this dissertation, suggesting that Spanish audiences may be particularly distrustful of

large corporations. It should be noted that while Spain does rank very high in uncertainty

avoidance, its power distance ranking (31) is considerably lower than that of either

France (15/16) or Belgium (20).

A review of the literature indicates that there is reason to believe that cultural

values will influence acceptance of excuses. Additionally, culture has already been

shown to influence the reception of corporate communications messages emanating from

the advertising and public relations tradition. However, an extensive review of the

literature uncovered no studies testing either of these propositions empirically.

Hypothesis and Research Questions

Given the research reviewed in the areas of impression management, dimensions of

culture and mass communications, two hypotheses and a number of research questions


Hofstede (2001) suggests that people who live within a group are "programmed" to

react to events or actions in similar ways. Scott and Lyman (1968) specifically suggest

that acceptance of excuses may be related to culture. However, to date no empirical

studies have analyzed the relationship between cultural values and corporate credibility.

RQ1: What is the relationship between Hofstede's cultural values and the
credibility of corporate excuses?

Schlenker et al. (2001) offer a typology that includes three kinds of excuses.

However, there is no evidence in the impression management literature indicating which

kinds of excuses are most likely to be credible with audiences.

RQ2: Which types of corporate excuses-prescription clarity, personal obligation
or personal control-are most credible with audiences?

Authors such as Belch and Belch (1998) and Beckwith (2003) indicate that

advertising may suffer from a general lack of credibility. However, a search of the

literature revealed mixed results that fail to validate this claim.

RQ3: Are corporate excuses offered in advertising less credible than the same
excuses offered within the context of a news article?

RQ4: What is the relationship between Hofstede's cultural values and the relative
credibility of excuses offered in advertising and within the context of a newspaper

De Mooij's

(1998a) research indicates that high MAS cultures view advertising

more positively than low MAS cultures. Hofstede (2001) indicates that masculine

cultures have more confidence in advertising than feminine cultures.

HI: Overall, members of higher MAS cultures will find excuses offered in
advertising more credible than members of lower MAS cultures.

Conversely, Hofstede (2001) indicates that feminine cultures are more permissive


H2: Overall, there will be less difference in credibility scores after an adverse
incident in low MAS cultures than in high MAS cultures.


This posttest only with control group (Babbie, 1998) experiment was designed to

determine which kinds of excuses are most credible with audiences from different

cultural backgrounds. This was done by exposing subjects to three corporate accounts of

an adverse incident that were manipulated to give a different kind of excuse for the same

event-one of clarity, one of obligation, and one of control. Audiences received the

corporate account in one of two print media forms: an advertisement or in the body of a

newspaper article. To begin the exploration of the relationship between Hofstede's

dimensions of culture and corporate credibility, the experiment was run in two different

countries, the United States and Spain. As illustrated by the cultural dimensions of these

countries, which are outlined in Table 1, the two countries offer wide contrast, in terms of

rank-order, on three of the four variables under study; the country ranks differ by at least

twenty places in all categories except for power distance, where the difference in rank is

only 7 places.

Table 1. Hofstede's

cultural values indices and ranks for Spain and the United States

Power Uncertainty Individual/ Masculinity/
Country Distance Avoidance Collectivism Femininity
Spain 57/31 86/10-15 51/42 42/37-38
United States 40/38 46/43 91/1 62/15
From Culture's Consequences, by Geert Hofstede, pp. 500-501. Copyright 2001 by Sage
Publications, Inc.


Research Design

The cover story for this experiment was based on a corporate crisis-an

explosion-at the Winnipeg, Canada (for U.S. participants) or Cordoba, Argentina (for

Spanish participants) production facility of a fictitious multi-national chemical

corporation called "MultiChem Corporation." The two cities were chosen because they

were deemed to be secondary, industrially oriented cities in countries with which

participants would be familiar but were not so large as to have many participants have

personal acquaintances in either of them, as might have been the case in Toronto or

Buenos Aires. The experimental materials consisted of a "scrapbook" of media related to

MultiChem. The first three pieces in each scrapbook included materials designed to

create a credible image for the fictitious corporation; the fourth item informed

participants about an adverse incident at a MultiChem facility in a foreign country; and

the fifth item offered a corporate excuse for the incident. Recruited participants from each

country were randomly assigned to one of six experimental conditions. Each scrapbook

was followed by a one-page questionnaire consisting of 16 semantic differential scale

items designed to assess the credibility of the fictitious corporation.

Stimulus Materials

Materials were first created in English, translated into Spanish by a native Spanish

speaker fluent in both English and Spanish, and then back-translated by another fluent,

tri-lingual speaker to ensure the translations were sound and that the original meaning

was not lost.

All participants received corporate communications and news materials that


to be a printout of the company's Internet homepage. This homepage was designed by a

commercial designer who modified the elements from the Web sites of major chemical

corporations, including BASF, Dow Chemical, DuPont and Hoechst, to increase the

authenticity of the stimulus. The text and graphics were designed to create an image of a

highly credible corporation, highlighting the traits of trustworthiness and expertise. To

highlight trustworthiness, the site contained links for "Environmental Policies,"

a link for "Philanthropy."

as well as

The mission statement highlighted the fact that the company

was "dedicated to discovering and implementing the most environmentally friendly

processes possible.

" To highlight expertise, the site referred to the corporation as an

"innovator" operating on six continents. The Latest News link included headline about

new marketing initiatives in New Zealand, and a new research facility in India.

(Appendix A).

The next two pieces were mock articles from fictitious newspapers: the Winnipeg

Times or Cordoba Hoy. The first article, entitled "CAS honors MultiChem Scientists,"

("ACA honra a cientificos de MultiChem,

" in Spanish), focused on the expertise of the

corporation, listing the numerous awards received by MultiChem scientists, including a

"Nobel Prize for their identification of an enzyme that aides in composting of agri-

industrial waste," (Appendix B). The second article, entitled "City greets new MultiChem

Research Center,

" ("Se inaugura nuevo centro de investigaci6n de MultiChem," in

Spanish), focused on the company's trustworthiness, detailing its 30-year commitment to

the Winnipeg or Cordoba community, through charitable donations totaling more than

1 ( million fnr "htident dlisahled ritizen.ns inle mothers. need children." among


A control group went directly from the corporate communications materials to the

corporate credibility scales to determine the baseline credibility of the fictitious


All participants aside from those in the control group next read what appeared to be

a copy of a newspaper article from the same fictional newspaper entitled "Explosion

injures 3, evacuates 100s,

" ("Explosi6n deja a 3 heridos, cientos de personas evacuadas"

in Spanish). (Appendix D). The article described the "late night" explosion in neutral

terms, giving factual data about injuries and evacuations. No sources are cited directly; a

statement from MultiChem was anticipated at a morning news conference. An accident

was chosen because it was deemed to be relevant to testing issues of responsibility and

credibility arising from excuses (Appendix D). The scenario was similar to the one used

by Coombs (1999) to test the effectiveness of instructing information and compassionate

messages in crisis communications.

Next, each participant received a corporate account of the incident. These were

either in the form of advertisement from the MultiChem (the advertising condition) or

contained within a newspaper article in which a corporate spokesperson was quoted (the

news story condition), offering an identical excuse.

Crisis Communication Elements

The elements included in the crisis communications were derived from Barton's

(1993) list for using communication as a management tool. The audience for the

communication was local citizens and opinion leaders in the affected communities of

Winnipeg or Cordoba. The goal of the communication was to restore MultiChem's


community, as well as assurances that the incident would not be repeated. The messages

assumed that the receivers would have had knowledge of both the corporation and the

incident. The source for the communication was a corporate "vice president." No

additional credentials were given, aside from those of the company in the earlier

corporate communications materials.

The materials were designed to minimize the influence of external factors on the

honoring of the excuses. Therefore, no comments were offered by either community

leaders or governmental agencies either against or in support of the corporation.

Implementation of the Triangle Model

To ensure that the excuse treatments did not differ in tone, the same introductory

paragraphs and closing paragraphs were included in each excuse. Using Ware and


(1973) typology, the company's

posture was explanative. That is, it sought

both to bolster its image, reminding the audience that the corporation has been a good

corporate citizen, improving quality of life for citizens, and to put distance between the

corporation and the event. The excuses were the distancing mechanism.

Newspaper stories included introductory paragraphs noting that company officials

had "identified the cause" of the explosion, along with a statement that the company had

assured a local governmental agency that there was "no health risk to the community"

and no chance that the incident would be repeated. The excuse appeared as a statement

from a company official made to "reporters."

A concluding paragraph gave the reader

some general information about MultiChem, including the global scope of its operations

and its long history in either Winnines or Cordoba.


obligation. The prescription clarity excuse stated that the explosion was the result of an

unanticipated interaction between two chemicals that were previously thought to be safe

when used together, but which the company has now determined are only safe when used

below a certain temperature (the clarity excuse condition). The personal obligation

excuse stated that the company uses volatile chemicals because of important work they

do under contract for the government following strictly prescribed procedures, and that

the government had assured them of the safety of the chemicals before they undertook the

work (the obligation excuse condition). The personal control excuse stated that the

company has determined that the cause of the explosion was a faulty valve in a holding

tank, which caused a chemical reaction between two chemicals that never should have

been allowed to interact (the control excuse condition) (Appendices E-G).


After reading the corporate excuse, each participant was asked to answer a 16-item

semantic differential scale constructed for this dissertation (Appendix H). The items

chosen were derived from previously used credibility scales. The items included in the

current measurement instrument were those that were deemed to best represented the

trustworthiness and expertise measures in the various scales. Duplicate measures were

eliminated and wording was modified to create a scale of bi-polar items, rated on a 7

point scale.

The first was scale used was Berlo, Lemert, and Mertz's

(1970) Source Credibility

Scale (Appendix I). The scale employs a 15-item randomly ordered and reversed bi-polar

adjective scale. renresenting three distinct factors: safety. qualification. and dynamism


scholars in both the interpersonal and mass communication fields since the 1970s, and

has also served as a starting point in the creation of other scales (Rubin, 1994a).

The second scale used was McCroskey's (1966) 12-Item Semantic Differential

Scale (Appendix J), which was derived from both rhetorical and social psychological

frameworks (Rubin, 1994c). This scale was chosen because it has been used in numerous

communication studies, including some that examined the impact of culture-related

variables on source credibility, including rate of speech and gender (Wheeless, 1971),

nonverbal cues (Arnold, 1973) and social status and dialect (Bochner & Bochner, 1973).

Coombs and Holiday (1996) adapted this scale to measure corporate image for an

experiment assessing the fit of crisis type and crisis communication strategy.

The third scale used was Gaziano and McGrath'

(1986) News Credibility Scale

(Appendix K). Unlike the Berlo and McCroskey scales, which were developed for the

study of interpersonal communication, Gaziano and McGrath developed this instrument

for the study of mass communication messages, specifically news articles. The scale was

originally created for the American Society of Newspaper Editors, who sponsored a study

of local print and television journalism (Rubin, 1994b). A modified version of this scale

was recently used by Ferguson (2003), to gauge the relative credibility of alignment

advertisements of for-profit and not-for-profit organizations (Appendix L).

The fourth scale used was Newell and Goldsmith'

(2001) Corporate Credibility

Scale. This is an eight-statement, 7-point Likert-like scale, specifically designed for the

study of corporate image. Newell and Goldsmith describe corporate credibility as "the
^,,r*n.J 4a w,1.Lt nnn. tan1r +lnn+ itta Cwn' knn +lnn ljrnn'e rrlaArlr a a,. 0kiltr fn nfhlfl11 1


researchers sought to remove elements from previous credibility scales that made little

sense in a corporate context, such as "sexiness"

and "handsomeness." Therefore, this

scale focuses on two components of source credibility: expertise and trustworthiness

(Appendix M).


The time frame for recruiting and data collection was between March and April of

2004. The Spanish data was collected on March 9 and 10, 2004. The dates of this

collection are particularly important in light of the March 11, 2004, terrorist bombings at

the Atocha train station in Madrid, Spain. Since all of the data were collected before the

bombings occurred, it does not serve as an intervening variable in this study (Agresti &

Finlay, 1997). However, as will be discussed in the Limitations section of this

dissertation, the events of"l11-marzo," as it is known in Spain, may have significantly

affected the attitudes of Spaniards toward the rest of the world in general, and foreign

corporations specifically, in the short time since the data were collected.

The sample consisted of undergraduate students from large, academically

competitive universities, one in the southeastern United States (n

= 214) and two in

central Spain (n=223). Although every effort was made to ensure the equivalency of the

two groups, it must be acknowledged that this research, like most cross-cultural research,

suffers because it is almost impossible to ensure group equivalence across cultures.

Under these circumstances, this dissertation methodology is appropriately termed a quasi-

experiment (Stacks & Hocking, 1992).

Students were recruited from communications classes in both locations and offered


the sample, Babbie (1998) indicates that this is an acceptable form of recruiting for

exploratory research like that undertaken in this study.


Students were randomly assigned to one of the six excuse conditions upon arrival at

the testing site. Cells were not conducted individually. Instead, scrapbooks were

randomly ordered using a random number table (Table of Random Numbers, n.d.) prior

to conducting the experiments, and distributed to students at the test site. The full

experiment took approximately 15 minutes to complete; the control group took only

about ten minutes.

Because the control group was to fill out the credibility scales directly after the

corporate communication and mock news articles underscoring MultiChem's


and trustworthiness, the control groups were conducted separately from the other cells.

While this may introduce the possibility of selection bias into the results (Babbie, 1998),

there is no reason to believe that the group of students selected to complete the control

questionnaire in either country was materially different from the other students recruited

to fill out the other conditions.


First scale items were subjected to factor analysis. The resulting credibility scores

were analyzed using a 2 (country-Spain or United States) x 2 (format-ad or

newspaper) x 3 (excuse-clarity, obligation, control) factorial ANOVA.

To assess the impact of the cultural variables on credibility scores, Hofstede's

cultural values scores from the country of origin of the participants



States. All Spanish participants, therefore, were considered low masculinity, low

individuality, high uncertainty avoidance, and high power distance condition, by virtue of

their country of origin, without any individual-level testing for those variables.


The reliability coefficient for the sixteen-item corporate credibility scale was .9540


a). Control group (n=57) means for scale items ranged between 4.77

(SD=1.36) ("doesn't/does make truthful claims") and

(SD=1.21) ("amateur/expert")

on a 7-point scale, indicating that the stimulus materials succeeded in creating a

moderately credible image for the fictitious corporation. Table

2 summarizes the control

group means and standard deviations for all scale items.


Control Group Means for All Scale Items

Mean Std. Deviation
Amateur/Expert 5.72 1.21
Inexperienced/Experienced 5.70 1.18
Unqualified/Qualified 5.68 1.02
Passive/Active 5.65 0.88
Poorly Trained/Well Trained 5.58 1.08
Unconcerned/Concerned About Community 5.58 1.13
Bad/Good 5.40 1.05
Unjust/Just 5.11 1.06
Don't Like/Like 5.05 1.19
Dangerous/Safe 5.04 1.19
Poor/High Quality Goods 5.02 1.13
Unbelievable/Believable 5.02 1.40
Dishonest/Honest 4.98 1.17
Not Trustworthy/Trustworthy 4.93 1.21
Chief Concerns Profit/Well-being 4.89 1.40
Doesn't/Does Make Truthful Claims 4.77 1.36


Factor Analysis and Scale Creation

All scale items were subjected to principal components factor analysis, employing

a VARIMAX rotation with Kaiser normalization. Factor analysis of the sixteen items

yielded two distinct factors. Eigenvalues for the factor analysis appear in Table 3a; the

rotated component matrix scores are contained in Table 3b. The Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin

measure of sampling adequacy was .957

, indicating a high degree of intercorrelations

among the data. This was expected, since the instrument created for this study was

derived from a number of other scales that had already exhibited high reliability in

measuring credibility. According to Hair, Anderson, Tatham, and Black,

"The [measure

of sampling adequacy] measure can be interpreted with the following guidelines: .80 or

above, meritorious; .70 or above, middling; .60 or above, mediocre; .50 or above,

miserable; and below .50, unacceptable" (p. 99). The results indicate that factor analysis

is appropriate for the data set.

Table 3a. Factor Analysis: Total Variance Explained
Initial Eigenvalues
Component Total % of Variance
1 9.569 59.804
2 1.119 6.995
3 .768 4.799
4 .640 4.000
5 .554 3.464
6 .489 3.058
7 .453 2.829
8 .397 2.478
9 .333 2.081
10 .330 2.065
11 .309 1.933
12 .250 1.562
13 .231 1.444
14 .199 1.245


Table 3b. Rotated Component Matrix Scores for Corporate Credibility Scale Items
Factor 1 Factor 2
Not Trustworthy/Trustworthy .804 .376
Bad/Good .773 .365
Dishonest/Honest .768 .339
Don't Like/Like .766 .348
Doesn't/Does Make Truthful Claims .745 .358
Unjust/Just .717 .486
Chief Concerns Profit/Well-being .708 .201
Unbelievable/Believable .696 .459
Dangerous/Safe .649 .297
Unconcerned/Concerned .637 .465
Amateur/Expert .316 .812
Unqualified/Qualified .411 .766
Inexperienced/Experienced .295 .764
Poorly Trained/Well Trained .297 .731
Poor/High Quality Goods .377 .647
Passive/Active .346 .640

The two factors that emerged from the dataset were anticipated by the theoretical

framework of the study (Newell & Goldsmith, 2001; Ohanian, 1990). Factor 1 was

characterized as "trustworthiness." Bi-polar scales items that loaded high in

trustworthiness included "not trustworthy/trustworthy" (.804),

"bad/good" (.773),

"dishonest/honest" (.768),

"don't like/like"


"doesn't make truthful claims/makes

truthful claims"


"unjust/just" (.717), and "is concerned about making profits/is

concerned about the public interest"



was characterized as "expertise.

" Bi-polar scale items that loaded high in

expertise included "amateur/expert" (.812),

"unqualified/qualified" (.766),

"inexperienced/experienced" (.764), and "poorly trained staff well trained staff (.731).

To validate the results of the factor analysis, a second factor analysis of a random

sample of 50% of the original sample was performed (H-air et al 1 998R This confirmed

Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin measure of sampling adequacy of .947

. Eignenvalues for the

confirmatory analysis appear in Table 4a; the rotated component matrix scores for the

confirmatory factor analysis are contained in Table 4b.

Table 4a. Confirmatory Factor Analysis: Total Variance Explained
Initial Eigenvalues
Component Total % of Variance
1 9.753 60.957
2 1.291 8.071
3 .799 4.993
4 .587 3.669
5 .524 3.277
6 .456 2.849
7 .409 2.557
8 .350 2.188
9 .346 2.164
10 .275 1.720
11 .248 1.548
12 .230 1.435
13 .221 1.384
14 .207 1.294
15 .159 .995
16 .144 .899
Table 4b. Rotated Component Matrix Scores for Confirmatory Factor Analysis of
Corporate Credibility Scales
Factor 1 Factor 2
Not Trustworthy/Trustworthy .824 .324
Doesn't/Does Make Truthful Claims .807 .224
Dishonest/Honest .799 .309
Chief Concerns Profit/Well-being .760 .183
Good/Bad .756 .398
Don't Like/Like .749 .397
Unjust/Just .732 .476
Unbelievable/Believable .714 .407
Unconcerned/Concerned .682 .439
Dangerous/Safe .660 .428
Amateur/Expert .254 .838
Inexperienced/Experienced .217 .821
Unqualified/Qualified .428 .776
Poorly Trained/Well Trained Personnel .334 .763


The results of the factor analysis were used to create two summated scales. Benefits

of summated scales include their ability to represent multiple dimensions of a construct

with one measure and their generalizeability (Hair et al., 1998).

While many different

methods of creating summated scales have been suggested, the most straightforward

method is to add the responses of variables that loaded highest on a factor and using the

total as a replacement variable with which to measure the desired construct; this was the

method employed in this dissertation. Scale items with loadings greater than

.7 on each

factor were therefore included in the scales; no scale items had loadings greater than

both factors. Each subject's

.7 on

responses to each of the scores included in either factor were

added together to create two variables: trustworthiness and expertise. A preliminary

analysis of the Trustworthiness scale indicated that reliability would increase with one


"is concerned about making profits/is concerned about the public interest,"

removed. The item was removed from the summated scale.

The reliability coefficient for the 6-item Trustworthiness scale was .9314


a). A split-half reliability test yielded an alpha of .8661 for the 3 items in

part one, and an alpha of .8821 for the 3 items in part two.

The reliability coefficient for the 4-item Expertise scale was .8836 (Cronbach'

A split-half reliability test yielded an alpha of .7378 for the 2 items in part one, and an

alpha of .8487 for the 2 items in part two.

Reliability of both summated scales was deemed good. The summated scales

derived for the factor analyses were deemed to have both content and construct validity,

rP'nlilw mPi^aciurina turn actahfliaA~o/l aolnnntoi nf rnrnnrot nrawk/lh'.t, vni+x1rTlhfO OrrintyklAl r


" and "expertise." Constituent measures of the two summated scales are

listed in Table


Constituent Measures of Summated Scales

Summated Scale
Trustworthiness Expertise
Constituent items Bad/Good Inexperienced/Experienced
Don't Like/Like Poorly Trained/Well
Dishonest/Honest Trained Personnel
Doesn't/Does Make Unqualified/Qualified
Truthful Claims

Not trustworthy/
ANOVA Results
F 28.1313 12.0918
Prob. .0000 .0000
Cronbach's a .9314 .8836
Scale mean 26.5423 19.7757

To test for discriminant validity, the trust and expert sums were subject to bivariate

correlation. The discriminant validity test was inconclusive, indicating that the measures

were positively, but not perfectly, correlated, r (N=437)=.728, p=.01 (two-tailed). This

correlation was expected, since trustworthiness and expertise are known to be correlated

aspects of corporate credibility (Newell & Goldsmith, 2001).

Preliminary Analysis

Because the experiment was meant to test differences between Spanish and

American subjects, all subjects who listed their nationality as "other" were eliminated

from the subsequent analysis (N=420). The remaining subjects consisted of 220

Spaniards (42% males and 58% females) and 200 Americans (37% males and 53%


One-way ANOVA between the control group and all experimental subjects

indicated that experimental subjects judged MultiChem both less trustworthy, F (1,


= 15.881, p

.000, and less expert, F (1,


= 27.144, p

.000, than the members of

the control group.


indicates an effect of the experimental treatments.

Another preliminary one-way ANOVA indicated no main effect of gender on both

trustworthiness, F (1,


.423, p=.516,

and expertise, F (1

419)=.000, p=.989.

Overall, males rated MultiChem as no more trustworthy (n=220, M=26.16, SD= 7.74) or

more expert (n=220, M=19.77

, SD= 4.63) than females (n=200,


SD= 7.33

n=200, M=19.77

, SD= 4.68, respectively).

Therefore, gender was not included as a factor

in the primary analysis for either dependent variable1.

Primary Analysis

Both trustworthiness and expertise were analyzed using a 2 (country-Spain or

United States) x 3 (excuse--clarity, obligation, control) factorial ANOVA x 2 (format-

advertisement or newspaper article).

Table 6 illustrates the results of the factorial

ANOVA on trustworthiness, including significant interactions. Table 7 illustrates the

results of the factorial ANOVA on expertise.

Effects of Culture

Research question 1 asked about the relationship between Hofstede's

values and the credibility of corporate excuses.


With regard to trustworthiness, Tables 6

and 8 show a main effect on nationality, with Spanish subjects reporting lower

trustworthiness (M

= 21.882) for MultiChem than American subjects (M

= 30.626),

I Suhsenuent analysis nf variance on hath the trnstwnrthinep. and exnertise variahlen. incr.ldin gPender

F (1,365)

= 182.896, p=.001. Nationality had no significant interactions with any other


It appears that culture does impact the perceived trustworthiness of a corporation in

the wake of an adverse incident. In Hofstede's

terms, it appears that members of a low

masculinity, low individuality, high uncertainty avoidance, high power distance culture,

such as Spain's, perceive a corporation as less trustworthy in the wake of an adverse

incident than members of a culture that is high in masculinity, high in individuality, low

in uncertainty avoidance, and high power distance, such as the United States.

Table 6. Factorial Analysis of Variance for Trustworthiness

Mean Square

Main Effects









R Squared

.360 (Adjusted R Squared



. Factorial Analysis of Variance for Expertise

Mean Square

Main Effects









R Snlnared =

214 (Adiiiqted R Snmiaretd =


With regard to expertise, the ANOVA analysis (Tables

effect of nationality (F (1, 365)

and 8) indicates a main

= 84.831, p = 000), without any significant interactions.

Thus it appears that, regardless of excuse or delivery format, culture impacts the

perceived expertise of a corporation in the wake of an adverse incident. Table 8 indicates

that the respondents in Spain (a low masculinity, low individuality, high uncertainty

avoidance, high power distance culture) perceive a corporation as less expert (M =

17.452) than do respondents in the United States (M

= 21.481), which is rated as a high

masculinity, high individuality, low uncertainty avoidance, high power distance society.

Table 8. Corporate Credibility by Culture
Spain U.S.
(n = 220) (n = 200)
Trustworthiness* 21.882 30.626
Expertise* 17.452 21.481

* Analysis of variance indicates that the difference between Spain and U.S.

is significant

at p<.001

Effects of Excuse Type

The second research question asked which kinds of corporate excuses were most

credible with audiences. As illustrated in Table 6, there is no main effect of excuse type

on trustworthiness (F (2, 365)

= 1.421,p =

.243). However one interaction, between

excuse and format, approached significance (F (2, 365)

= 2.867


Controlling for nationality, subjects in the control excuse condition who read the

excuse in an advertising format found MultiChem more trustworthy (M= 27.570, SD =

.814) than those who saw the same excuse in a news format (M

= 24.617


ihhi;P tc in tth 1nlt d hvnincs rnrmretinn ,l-in rHrl th'a puvrmnc in an *rlT aicmc frrat

who saw the same excuse in a news format (M

= 27.307

.718). There was also little

difference between the advertising and news conditions for subjects in the obligation

excuse condition (M= 25.721, SD =

, and (M= 25.636, SD

.761, respectively). The

interaction is illustrated in Figure

--- Clarity

- -

- -Obligation
- Control

News Story


Figure 2. Estimated Marginal Means of Trustworthiness by Excuse Condition

In a scaled-down model, controlling only for nationality, ANOVA indicates a main

effect of excuse on trustworthiness (F (2, 365)

= 3.115, p = .046). However, ANOVA

indicates no main effect of medium, controlling for nationality only (F (2, 365)

p = .985). Nationality achieves significance at the p

= .000,

< .001 level in both of the smaller


Table 7 indicates a main effect of excuse type on expertise (F (2, 365)

p = .048). Controlling for nation, gender and medium, subjects' judgments of

= 3.054,


more expert than those exposed to prescription clarity or personal obligation excuses.

Table 9 illustrates the means for excuse type on trustworthiness and expertise.

Further one-way ANOVA of the 16 original scale items by excuse type showed

only two significant differences in overall means: "inexperienced/experienced" (F (2,


= 3.127, p = .045) and "amateur/expert" (F (2, 364)

= 3.450,p = .033). Subsequent

t-tests revealed that subjects exposed to the personal control excuse judged MultiChem

more experienced, t (240)

= 2.371,p=.019 (two-tailed), and less amateur, t (240)


p=.009 (two-tailed), than subjects exposed to the prescription clarity excuse.

Table 9. Types of Excuses and Corporate Credibility



Prescription Clarity 26.990 19.043a
Organizational Obligation 25.679 19.128b
Organizational Control 26.094 20.229a,b
a, b items with same subscript are significantly different from other items in that column,
according to Tukey's HSD test

Effects of Delivery Format

The third research question asked if corporate excuses offered in advertising are

less credible than the same excuses offered within the context of a news article. One-way

ANOVA indicated no main effect of delivery format on either trustworthiness (F (1, 364)

= 1.666, p =

.198) or expertise (F (1, 364) = .039,p =

.843). The results of the ANOVA

analysis fail to indicate that overall advertising is less credible than a news story for

delivering a corporate advocacy message.

The fourth research question asked about the relationship between Hofstede's

cultural values and the relative credibility of excuses offered in advertisinQ and within the


excuse type, there is no evidence of a main effect of delivery format on either

trustworthiness (F (1, 365)


.216) or expertise (F (1, 365)

.000, p = .990) of

corporations based on advocacy messages in the wake of an adverse incident. The data

indicate no relationship between Hofstede's

cultural variables and the relative credibility

of excuses offered in advertising or within the context of a newspaper article.

Table 10. Effect of Excuse and Format on Corporate Credibility
News Story Advertisement
Prescription Clarity 27.307 26.673
Organizational Obligation 25.636 25.721
Organizational Control 24.617 27.570
Prescription Clarity 19.883 18.703
Organizational Obligation 18.825 19.431
Organizational Control 20.200 20.527

Subsequent t-tests on the 16 original scale items by delivery medium reveal only

two significant differences in format means: subjects in the advertising condition judged

MultiChem more likeable, t (378) = 2.322, p=.021 (two-tailed), and more active,

t (378) = 2.699, p=.007 (two-tailed), than subjects exposed to the news story condition.

Table 11. Corporate Credibility of Advertising Condition Subjects by Culture
Spain U.S.
(n = 90) (n = 81)
Trustworthiness* 22.73 30.57
Expertise* 17.67 21.27
* Analysis of variance indicates that the difference between Spain and U.S. is significant
at p<.001

Credibility of Advertising in Different Cultures


MAS cultures, such as Spain. This hypothesis was supported. One-way ANOVA of those

subjects in the advertising condition (n=171) indicates that, as expected, U.S. subjects

found excuses offered in advertising both more trustworthy (F (1, 171)

= 63.745, p =

.000) and more expert (F (1, 171)

= 32.197,p

= .000) than Spanish subjects.

Honoring of Excuses

Hypothesis two suggested there would be less difference in credibility scores after

an adverse incident in low MAS cultures, such as Spain, than in high MAS cultures, such

as the United States. To test this hypothesis, subjects were recorded as either "control

group" or "experimental group.

A 2 (condition-control or excuse) x 2 (nation-Spain

or U.S.) ANOVA was used to determine whether or not there was a significant

interaction between the two national groups before the adverse incident (the control

group) and after the excuse was offered (the experimental group), indicating a difference

in excuse honoring.

Control Group

Experimental Group

---- Spain


- -. .-


Hypothesis two was not supported. Although the data indicate a main effect of both

nation (F (1,


= 82.988, p

= .000) and condition (F (1,


= 17.201,p = .000) on

trustworthiness, there is no indication of an interaction between condition and nation on

trustworthiness (F (1,

420) = .819,p =


Likewise, while the data indicate a main effect of both nation (F (1,

420) = 46,385,

p = .000) and condition (F (1,


.000) on expertise, there is no indication

of an interaction between condition and nation on expertise (F (1,




As Figures 3 and 4 indicate, the lines between the two nations are close to parallel,

signifying that members of the low MAS Spanish culture did not honor excuses better

than members of the high MAS American culture.

Control Group

Experimental Group

Figure 4. Estimated marginal means of control and experimental groups on expertise by

27.490, p



The MultiChem scenario used in this dissertation was designed to mirror the

corporate events that are routinely covered in local, national and even international

media. MultiChem, a large but unassuming multinational chemical corporation, used

corporate communications-a Web site, press releases, and local events-to create a

moderately positive image for itself. It was regarded as both trustworthy and expert in its

field of endeavor, due to its environmentally conscious policies, its philanthropic efforts,

and its many awards for scientific accomplishment.

However, despite the company's

best efforts, there was an explosion in an

industrial facility. Some employees were injured, and many people were inconvenienced.

The media immediately reported the events. In impression management terms,

MultiChem faced a difficult predicament.

In the wake of the disaster, the company investigated the explosion, found out why

it happened, made sure it would never happen again, and then responded to the

predicament by offering an account to the public, in an attempt to recover a portion of its

corporate identity-that of a trustworthy, expert member of the community-that was

denied it by the adverse incident.

The most important question for MultiChem is, what is the likely response of


incident, the extent to which its credibility is diminished hinges both on the cultural

values of the individuals being asked to accept the excuse, the type of excuse the

corporation offers, and to a lesser extent, the media format in which the excuse is


The Impact of Culture

Findings indicate that the fictitious company began with lower credibility in Spain

than in the United States. This finding was not surprising. Taylor's (2000) study of

European governments'

reactions to The Coca-Cola Corporation after a tainting scare

indicated that the combination of high PDI and high UAI translated to a distrust of

authority figures in the wake of a potentially harmful incident.

It is easy to imagine that a powerful, multinational corporation, especially in the

chemical industry, where there is large opportunity for harm, could be an object of

distrust after a damaging incident. However, this experiment, unlike Taylor's

case study

approach, extends this information. It appears that corporations may not need to have an

adverse incident to warrant distrust in certain cultural contexts-they actually come into

any given situation with a presumed lack of credibility, relative to other cultural contexts,

such as that of the United States.

The findings reveal that there was an overall significant effect of knowledge of the

adverse incident on credibility, even after an excuse was made, in both Spanish and U.S.

samples. Both trustworthiness scores and expertise scores were diminished among

members of the experimental conditions, relative to those in the control group. Any

knnwledce of an adverse incident seems to lessen credibility, no matter what excuse is


achievement" (p. 21). This study indicates the types of excuses may have a large impact

on organizational reputation and achievement as well.

This study found that nationality was the most significant predictor of evaluations

of trustworthiness and expertise. The Spanish subjects found MultiChem less credible

than their American counterparts, controlling for both the type of excuse given for the

explosion and the media format in which the excuses were delivered. Although some

scholars, such as Schimmack et al. (2002), have indicated gender effects mediating

culture, this study offered no evidence of any main effect of gender on corporate

credibility in the wake of an adverse incident.

In its support of hypothesis one, the study indicated that excuses made in

advertising would lead to greater credibility in high MAS cultures than in low MAS

cultures. This substantiates DeMooij's (1998b) claims. However, it must be noted that

this finding is tempered by the fact that Americans found MultiChem more credible than

Spaniards in every condition.

While it is confirmatory, it is certainly not conclusive.

The second hypothesis, that excuses would be better honored in low MAS Spain

than in the high MAS United States, was not supported. There was no interaction

between the control or experimental conditions and nationality on either trustworthiness

or expertise, indicating that MultiChem did not experience a better recovery in either

cultural setting after it offered its excuse. In fact, these findings indicate a remarkably

similar pattern of declining credibility in the wake of an adverse incident and excuse that

appears more dependent on a corporations' baseline credibility going into a corporate

a.. nt a, +r1 4*n +la r, l rm 14 ,.. 1 rnt rwn n2f l+ AZa *t f nt +IZ A AnW4 n .. ..A ,4 j


The Impact of Excuse Type

The findings indicate that excuse type affected the two dimensions of corporate

credibility-trustworthiness and expertise-differently. There was no main effect of

excuse type on trustworthiness, controlling for nationality and medium. However, there

was a near-significant interaction of excuse and medium, controlling for nationality. In

the control condition, in which subjects were told that the explosion was beyond the


control because of a faulty valve, those subjects who received the excuse

in the form of an advertisement found the corporation more trustworthy than those who

received the excuse in the form of a newspaper article.

Since the findings indicate that subjects exposed to the advertising condition judged

MultiChem more "active"

than those exposed to the news story condition, it may be that

the proactive move of taking out an advertisement had the effect of making the

corporation less "helpless,"

and therefore more solid and stable, despite its lack of control

over a very dangerous situation. Conversely, passively waiting for news coverage of the

event may have exacerbated the perception that the corporation was not in control of the

situation, and should not be viewed as trustworthy.

The interaction also indicates that subjects exposed to the clarity excuse (in which

the corporation had no way of knowing that the explosion would occur because no

scientific literature had predicted it) in a news story format found the company more

trustworthy than those exposed to the control excuse in the news story format, although

this difference only approached significance. This may be an indication of the media

gatekeener effect nosited by Hearit (1999). Because the clarity excuse was dependent on


which the corporation blamed a faulty valve made by another company, may not have

benefited as much from the traditional media gatekeepers, appearing as a case of"he-

said-she-said" reminiscent of the Ford/Firestone tire public relations disaster, in which

the companies used the press to blame each other for malfunctioning tires on some car


The study did find a main effect of excuse on expertise. Those in the organizational

control condition found MultiChem more expert than those in the prescription clarity and

organizational obligation conditions, controlling for nationality and delivery format.

It seems logical that having built an expert corporate identity, there was more

damage to MultiChem's perceived expertise from an excuse claiming a lack of

knowledge about a scientific concept than from an excuse claiming that the explosion

was beyond the control of the corporation. Schlenker et al. (2001) suggest that "excuse

makers run the risk of appearing ineffectual when their excuses deny personal control

over events or they claim to be unknowledgeable about or indifferent to relevant goals,

rules, and scripts, especially under circumstances where such control, knowledge, and

commitment are normally expected" (p. 23). In MultiChem's case, it appears that the

result of the corporation's

excuse claiming lack of knowledge was reduced credibility, in

the form of diminished expertise by those exposed to that excuse, relative to those

exposed to the other two excuse types.

What remains unclear, however, is why scapegoating another corporation (the

organizational control excuse) was more effective than scapegoating the government (the

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a belief that the government's scientists shouldn't make mistakes. However, it may be

that there is simply a lack of credibility in doing government work.

The Lack of Impact of Delivery Format

Perhaps the most surprising finding of this study was a lack of superiority of the

news story condition for creating a credible corporate image in the wake of an adverse

event. Controlling for country and excuse type, there was no main effect of delivery

format on either trustworthiness or expertise. Of the two items in the original scale that

evidenced a significant difference between delivery formats, the study found that

advertising created a more credible corporate image than the context of a news story.

Especially interesting was that subjects exposed to the advertising condition found

MultiChem significantly more likeable than those in the news condition. This may be due

to a number of external criteria, such as the pleasant layout of the advertisements, which

contained both graphics and an easy-to-read type size and font. However, given the

sample-college aged students of "the most mediated generation"-the subjects may

have felt more positive attitudes toward a corporation spending the time and money to put

together an advertisement to speak directly to an audience. Conversely, the advertising

may have "associative" credibility, since it has already been included in a newspaper-

that is, students may have assumed that the advertisement was "true,"

simply because a

newspaper had chosen to run it.


The main implications of the study are threefold. First, culture affects the perceived

credibility of an organization. Multinational corporations-or more specifically the


different cultural settings. Appropriate assessment of baseline credibility in each cultural

setting in which the corporation has a significant presence appears to be a crucial public

relations function. Any adverse event is likely to diminish hard-won credibility.

This study indicates that the level of corporate credibility at the end of a corporate

crisis is directly related to its level going into the crisis. Therefore, proactive public

relations aimed at improving corporate credibility before an adverse incident, especially

in cultural settings where corporate credibility is known to be low, may serve as a form of

"damage control" in the wake of a corporate crisis. Hofstede's cultural values may

ultimately serve as one indication of likely baseline corporate credibility, but far more

research is necessary. At present, improving environmental monitoring capabilities in

countries with significant, relevant publics appears to be the only recourse of

multinational corporations wishing to better understand their position in host countries.

Second, some excuses offered in response to an adverse incident may benefit

credibility more than others. Judgments of expertise were lower when a corporation

offered a prescription clarity or organizational obligation excuse than when it offered

organizational control excuse. For corporations'

whose profitability rests on their

perceived expertise, such as those in the pharmaceutical, high-tech, or medical industries,

the effects of an excuse based on a lack of prescription clarity may prove especially

costly. Although it remains to be tested, there may be times when offering an apology

may serve a corporation better than trying to excuse the incident. At the very least,

corporations that have built their reputations upon being "expert"

in their fields should

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Third, advertising may be a more effective delivery format for advocacy messages

than generally believed.

While public relations professionals may shy away from using

advertisements because of they believe they lack credibility, this study did not find that to

be the case. In fact, there may even be some advantages to using advertising, since the

study showed that subjects exposed to excuses in advertising judged MultiChem more

likeable and more active than those exposed to the news story condition. In particular,

corporations facing charges of "inactivity" or a "lack of community involvement" might

consider using advertising to give them a more active and likeable image.

While it may be suggested that the results in the advertising condition benefit from

the overall credibility of the news medium in which the ad was supposedly placed, the

implication for corporations is the same. At the very least, with no measurable difference

between the two formats, it may be advantageous to use advertising in situations where

having complete control of the message is essential to advancing a corporation's


Limitations and Future Research

As in all studies, this one has a number of limitations, some of them quite important

to note. Additionally, it serves as a starting point for a number of other inquiries.


The first and most important limitation of the study stems from the methodology of

the study itself: experimentation.

While testing conditions may consistently produce

specific results, the external validity of the results is not proven. This experiment was

specifically designed to test the impact of only a few variables on corporate credibility,


hand, hundreds of additional external factors would impact perceived credibility in the

wake of an adverse incident.

Some external agents have been shown to impact corporate credibility. As Siomkos

and Shrivastava (1993) note

Consumers place much value on how observers and agencies external to the firm
react to a company's handling of a crisis. External agents, such as the media,
regulatory agencies, local and state officials, and civic leaders, provide information
and neutral comment to the public. Consumers are more likely to view a troubled
company favourably, if these social agents respond positively. (p. 72)

Although information about external agents was minimized by design in this study, it is

difficult to state with certainty a measure of generalizeability for this study.

As Arpan and Pompper (2003) point out, a major problem with experimental

research in the crisis communication area is that in a real world scenario, previous history

with the corporation would impact credibility. For example, a lifetime Craftsman tool and

Kenmore appliance user who has been happy for years with Sears'

service and guarantees

is likely to react differently to a job dispute in a local store than someone who has had a

bad experience with an employee at the same store. For one customer, the negative event

is an aberration; for the other, it may be confirmatory.

While the use of a fictitious

corporation afforded an opportunity to minimize extraneous variables, it also reduces the

generalizeability of the current study.

In the case of this study, history may prove a threat to generalizeability as well.

Tragically, the Atocha bombings occurred the day after the data collection for this

dissertation was completed in Madrid, Spain. The September 11, 2001 attacks on the

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world in general, and foreign organizations specifically, since the data were collected.

However, how that change would impact the current findings is unknown.

The MultiChem scenario itself is a limitation of the study. First, because it involves

a corporation from only one industry-wholesale chemicals-the results may not be

generalizeable to other industries, such as foods and household products. In fact,

knowledge of past incidents in the chemical industry may have reduced the credibility of

the corporation, especially in Spain, where baseline credibility was much lower than in

the U.S.

Additionally, the number of students to which the researcher had access in Spain

limited the scope of the research. The number of students did not allow for a cell testing

the effects of information about the incident alone, without an excuse. Although much

research in the area of social psychology has indicated that excuses minimize the impact

of a predicament, the current project does not indicate how much they help, only the

relative credibility of the corporation in their wake.

The small amount of time that the students were available to meet with the

researcher also limited the scope of the research. Although a number of professors both in

Spain and the United States generously allowed the researcher access to their classes, the

relatively short time that could be spared by the professors precluded a more extensive

demographic questionnaire, including information about pre-existing attitudes toward

corporations in general, and the chemical industry specifically.

The stimulus materials may also have impacted results. Subjects saw
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Advertisements appeared alone on a page, while in a normal print environment they

would have been surrounded by editorial copy. This may have impacted credibility

scores. Additionally, without the direct contrast of surrounding editorial, the

advertisement may have had greater prominence than it would have in the context of an

actual newspaper. Conversely, subjects could not explore the Web site as they normally

would; they simply saw an image of the homepage, and had to guess at the content they

would encounter if they followed the links. Its impact may have been decreased by the

nature of the stimulus materials.

Another limitation of the scenario is that it tested only one rhetorical posture:

explanative. According to Ware and Linkugel (1963), apologiae derive their persuasive

power from one primary posture. However, it is possible a different posture, combining

differentiation with denial instead of bolstering for example, may have changed the

results. In addition to excuses, the impact of apologies and justifications, the two other

major responses to predicaments (Schlenker, 1980), remain untested. It is possible that

the same information presented in combination with one of these strategies, as is often

the case in real world "accounting," would have had a different effect on the subjects.

As with any cross-cultural research, the inability to perfectly match samples must

be seen as a limitation of the study. Hofstede (2002) notes that matching of samples is

critical to successful cross-cultural research. However, perfectly matching a long set of

criteria, including but not limited to age, gender, education level, occupation, and socio-

economic status, can prove daunting in a cross-cultural context, especially when

international researchers are likely to have limited access to local nonulations. and


is hoped that by using students of similar age, educational level and socio-economic

status, such limitations are minimized in this study. However, the question of student

generalizeability to their cultural populations at large remains.

Finally, in its current form it is impossible to see whether Hofstede's


variables are impacting results, and if they are affecting results, which are most

important. For example, while prior research has shown a link between MAS and

advertising and tolerance of wrongdoing, a two-culture sample cannot by itself prove a

proposition. Hofstede's variables, while correlated, are thought to work independently.

To adequately test the four variables in Hofstede's

Value Survey Module, assigning their

mean scores to members of each culture, at least four culture groups are required for

"quadrangulation." At best, this study begins to document the impact of culture on

corporate credibility after an adverse incident. However, the root causes of observed

differences cannot be explained with certainty.

Future Research

Future research should expand the cultural groups measured with the scale created

for this dissertation, to better evaluate the instrument itself, as well as the impact of

Hofstede's cultural variables on corporate credibility in the wake of an adverse event.

A research design including more than one type of organization or excuse posture

would increase the generalizeability of future studies.

While including additional

treatments involves recruiting additional subjects, which can be a difficult task in the

international arena, the increased information drawn from such studies would be of great

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collected from subjects, including information about pre-existing attitudes toward

particular industries.

Another avenue of research might test the relative effectiveness of various

corporate voices offering excuses on trustworthiness and expertise in different cultural

settings: local versus national or international spokespeople, high-level vs. low-level

corporate executives. This research would be useful to transnationals attempting to

choose the most appropriate spokesperson in a given country in the wake of an adverse


The experimental design could also be used to test the "country of origin"

effect, to

determine whether and to what extent some countries are judged more harshly than others

in the wake of an adverse incident. Different levels of variables such as physical and

cultural proximity, past positive or negative history and extent of trade relations could be

tested, providing important information for transnational corporations.

Finally, future research should allow subjects to encounter stimulus materials in a

more natural way. Allowing subjects to use a computer to navigate a Web site for

information about a corporation, and then use the information they gathered to answer

questions about corporate credibility would better simulate the real world decision

processes that go into assessing responsibility for an adverse incident.


This dissertation used the theoretical framework of impression management,

specifically the triangle model of responsibility (Schlenker et al., 1994), to study the

impact of culture, excuses and media format on corporate credibility. In order to


created, translated and backtranslated. The experiment was conducted in two different

cultural settings. Finally, the subject data were analyzed.

The stated purpose of this dissertation was to extend the body of work already

completed in the social psychology field of impression management in two areas where

there has been relatively little study thus far: mass communication, specifically corporate

crisis communication, and cross-cultural comparative study. The data indicate that the

MultiChem scenario has accomplished that goal. First, the study further extends

impression management study into the mass communication field, indicating that

contrary to popular belief, impressions of corporate credibility are not substantially

reduced by presenting advocacy messages in advertising. Second, the study contributes to

the body of literature in the cross-cultural impression management field, confirming

empirically what has often been posited: that impressions of the same event vary based

the cultural values of the individuals interpreting the event.

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