Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 148, Issue 4, pp 783–799 | Cite as

Organizational Sensemaking of Non-ethical Consumer Behavior: Case Study of a French Mutual Insurance Company

  • Bernard Cova
  • Gerald Gaglio
  • Juliette Weber
  • Philippe Chanial


Researchers and managers alike are becoming increasingly interested in the topic of unethical consumer behavior. Where most studies view unethical behavior as something that is identifiable per se, the authors of the present article believe that it only exists because it has been constructed by people operating within a specific context. Hence the efforts made by this paper to explore, at the level of one specific organization, how interactions between employees and consumers might lead to the construct of unethical consumers. Based on a case study of France’s AMDM—a mutual insurance company set up to serve a client base comprising motorcyclists—the paper addresses how one group of consumers ends up being categorized as unethical by revealing the existence of a sensemaking process within the target organization. This process develops in three main phases: the nurturing of a shared ethos; the protection of employees’ recognized status; and the demonization of any group of consumers threatening this status. Managers incorporating this sensemaking process can avoid or mitigate the negative effects befalling organizations when these kinds of unethical consumer behavior are constructed.


Biker Demonization Ethos Insurance Recognition Scooterist Sensemaking 


  1. Adkins, N. R., & Ozanne, J. L. (2005). The low literate consumer. Journal of Consumer Research, 32(1), 93–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alvesson, M. (1993). Organizations as rhetoric: Knowledge-intensive firms and the struggle with ambiguity. Journal of Management Studies, 30(6), 997–1015.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arnould, E. J., & Cayla, J. (2015). Consumer fetish: Commercial ethnography and the sovereign consumer. Organization Studies, 36(10), 1361–1386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Arnould, E. J., & Rose, A. S. (2015). Mutuality critique and substitute for Belk’s “sharing”. Marketing Theory,. doi: 10.1177/1470593115572669.Google Scholar
  5. Babakus, E., Cornwell, T. B., Mitchell, V., & Schlegelmilch, B. (2004). Reactions to unethical consumer behavior across six countries. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 21(4), 254–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Becker, H. S. (1963). Outsiders: Studies in the sociology of deviance. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  7. Belk, R. W. (Ed.). (2007). Handbook of qualitative research methods in marketing. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.Google Scholar
  8. Belk, R. W., Devinney, T., & Eckhardt, G. (2005). Consumer ethics across cultures. Consumption Markets & Culture, 8(3), 275–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Berry, L. L., & Seiders, K. (2008). Serving unfair customers. Business Horizons, 51(1), 29–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Boltanski, L., & Thévenot, L. (2006). On justification: Economies of worth. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Clegg, S., Kornberger, M., & Rhodes, C. (2007). Business ethics as practice. British Journal of Management, 18(2), 107–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Corsaro, D., & Snehota, I. (2011). Alignment and misalignment in business relationships. Industrial Marketing Management, 40(6), 1042–1054.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cova, B. (1997). Community of consumption: Towards a definition of the “linking value” of products or services. European Journal of Marketing, 31(3/4), 297–316.Google Scholar
  14. Cova, B., Kozinets, R. V., & Shankar, A. (Eds.) (2007). Consumer tribes. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.Google Scholar
  15. D’Astous, A., & Legendre, A. (2009). Understanding consumers’ ethical justifications: A scale for appraising consumers’ reasons for not behaving ethically. Journal of Business Ethics, 87(2), 255–268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. De Laine, M. (2000). Fieldwork, participation and practice. Ethics and dilemmas in qualitative research. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  17. Echeverri, P., Salomonson, N., & Åberg, A. (2012). Dealing with customer misbehavior Employees’ tactics, practical judgement and implicit knowledge. Marketing Theory, 12(4), 427–449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Eckhardt, G., Belk, R., & Devinney, T. (2010). Why don’t consumers behave ethically? Journal of Consumer Behavior, 9(6), 426–443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fisk, R., Grove, S., Harris, L. C., Keeffe, D. A., Daunt, K. L., Russell-Bennett, R., & Wirtz, J. (2010). Customers behaving badly: A state of the art review, research agenda and implications for practitioners. Journal of Services Marketing, 24(6), 417–429.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Freestone, O., & Mitchell, V. (2004). Generation Y attitudes towards e-ethics and internet-related misbehavior. Journal of Business Ethics, 54(2), 121–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fullerton, R. A., & Punj, G. (1998). The unintended consequences of the culture of consumption: An historical-theoretical analysis of consumer misbehavior. Consumption, Markets and Culture, 1(4), 393–423.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fuschillo, G., & Cova, B. (2015). Subverting the market to help other consumers: The ‘la repasse’ phenomenon. Journal of Consumer Behavior, 14(4), 261–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gabriel, Y., & Lang, T. (1995). The unmanageable consumer. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  24. Giesler, M., & Veresiu, E. (2014). Creating the responsible consumer: Moralistic governance regimes and consumer subjectivity. Journal of Consumer Research, 41(3), 840–857.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gordon, R., Clegg, S., & Kornberger, M. (2009). Embedded ethics: Discourse and power in the New South Wales police service. Organization Studies, 30(1), 73–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Goulding, C., Shankar, A., & Canniford, R. (2013). Learning to be tribal: Facilitating the formation of consumer tribes. European Journal of Marketing, 47(5/6), 813–832.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Harris, L. C., & Daunt, K. L. (2011). Deviant customer behavior: A study of techniques of neutralization. Journal of Marketing Management, 27(7–8), 834–853.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Harris, L. C., & Daunt, K. (2013). Managing customer misbehavior: Challenges and strategies. Journal of Services Marketing, 27(4), 281–293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Holdaway, S. (1983). Inside the British police. A force at work. London: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  30. Honneth, A. (1996). The struggle for recognition: The moral grammar of social conflicts. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  31. Humphreys, A. (2010). Semiotic structure and the legitimation of consumption practices: The case of casino gambling. Journal of Consumer Research, 37(3), 490–510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Jougleux, M., Rouquet, A., & Suquet, J. B. (2013). Les organizations face à la déviance des clients. Économies et Sociétés, série “Économie et Gestion des Services, 14(3/4), 382–399.Google Scholar
  33. Lesch, W. C., & Brinkmann, J. (2011). Consumer insurance fraud/abuse as co-creation and co-responsibility: A new paradigm. Journal of Business Ethics, 103(1), 17–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Luthans, F., Milosevic, I., Bechky, B. A., Schein, E. H., Wright, S., Van Maanen, J., & Greenwood, D. J. (2013). “Reclaiming” anthropology: The forgotten behavioral science in management history commentaries. Journal of Organizational Ethnography, 2(1), 92–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. McCracken, G. (1988). The long interview. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Mintzberg, H. (1980). Structure in 5’s: A synthesis of the research on organization design. Management Science, 26(3), 322–341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mitchell, V. W., Balabanis, G., Schlegelmilch, B. B., & Cornwell, T. B. (2009). Measuring unethical consumer behavior across four countries. Journal of Business Ethics, 88(2), 395–412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Moschis, G. P., & Cox, D. (1989). Deviant consumer behavior. Advances in Consumer Research, 16(1), 732–737.Google Scholar
  39. Muncy, J. A., & Vitell, S. J. (1992). Consumer ethics: An investigation of the ethical beliefs of the final consumer. Journal of Business Research, 24(4), 297–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Muñiz, A. M, Jr, & O’Guinn, T. C. (2001). Brand community. Journal of Consumer Research, 27(4), 412–432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Neuendorf, K. (2002). The content analysis guidebook. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  42. Nyberg, D. (2008). The morality of everyday activities: Not the right, but the good thing to do. Journal of Business Ethics, 81(3), 587–598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. O’Guinn, T. C., & Muñiz, A. M, Jr. (2005). Communal consumption and the brand. In D. G. Mick & S. Ratneshwar (Eds.), Inside consumption: Frontiers of research on consumer motives (pp. 252–272). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  44. Papaoikonomou, E., Valverde, M., & Ryan, G. (2012). Articulating the meanings of collective experiences of ethical consumption. Journal of Business Ethics, 110(1), 15–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Pecoraro, M. G., & Uusitalo, O. (2014). Conflicting values of ethical consumption in diverse worlds—A cultural approach. Journal of Consumer Culture, 14(1), 45–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Price, L. L., & Arnould, E. J. (1999). Commercial friendships: Service provider-client relationships in context. Journal of Marketing, 63(4), 38–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Reynolds, K. L., & Harris, L. C. (2009). Dysfunctional customer behavior severity: An empirical examination. Journal of Retailing, 85(3), 321–335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Rood, V. & Bruckman, A. (2009). Member behavior in company online communities. In Proceedings of the ACM 2009 international conference on supporting group work (pp. 209–218). Sanibel Island, Florida.Google Scholar
  49. Rosenbaum, M. S., & Walsh, G. (2012). Service nepotism in the marketplace. British Journal of Management, 23(2), 241–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Scaraboto, D., & Fischer, E. (2013). Frustrated fatshionistas: An institutional theory perspective on consumer quests for greater choice in mainstream markets. Journal of Consumer Research, 39(6), 1234–1257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Schouten, J. W., & McAlexander, J. H. (1995). Subcultures of consumption: An ethnography of the new bikers. Journal of Consumer Research, 22(June), 43–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Schutz, A. (1967). The phenomenology of the social world. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Sebastiani, R., Montagnini, F., & Dalli, D. (2013). Ethical consumption and new business models in the food industry. Evidence from the Eataly case. Journal of Business Ethics, 114(3), 473–488.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Sezer, O., Gino, F., & Bazerman, M. H. (2015). Ethical blind spots: Explaining unintentional unethical behavior. Current Opinion in Psychology, 6(December), 77–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Silverman, D. (2013). Doing qualitative research (4th ed.). London: Sage.Google Scholar
  56. Spiggle, S. (1994). Analysis and interpretation of qualitative data in consumer research. Journal of Consumer Research, 21(3), 491–503.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Suquet, J. B. (2010). Drawing the line: How inspectors enact deviant behavior. Journal of Services Marketing, 24(6), 468–475.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Suquet, J. B. (2011). Quand l’organisation constitue les comportements déviants de ses clients: Les transformations de la fraude à la RATP. Annales des Mines-Gérer et Comprendre, 105(3), 38–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Van Maanen, J. (2011). Ethnography as work: Some rules of engagement. Journal of Management Studies, 48(1), 218–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Vitell, S. J. (2014). A case for Consumer social responsibility (CnSR): Including a selected review of consumer ethics/social responsibility research. Journal of Business Ethics, published online.Google Scholar
  61. Weber, J. (2011). Au-delà du contrat: La mobilisation du concept de valeur de lien dans la relation sociétaire-mutuelle d’assurance. Le cas Macif. Revue internationale de l’économie sociale: Recma, 321, 62–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Wirtz, J., & McColl-Kennedy, J. R. (2010). Opportunistic customer claiming during service recovery. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 38(5), 654–675.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Wright, S. (2004). The anthropology of organizations. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  64. Yin, R. K. (2003). Case study research: Design and methods (3rd ed.). Los Angeles: Sage Publications.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bernard Cova
    • 1
  • Gerald Gaglio
    • 2
  • Juliette Weber
    • 3
  • Philippe Chanial
    • 4
  1. 1.KEDGE Business School MarseilleMarseilleFrance
  2. 2.Université de Technologie de TroyesTroyesFrance
  3. 3.MacifParisFrance
  4. 4.Université Paris DauphineParisFrance

Personalised recommendations