When will a message of social responsibility backfire?

Jul 14, 2011

Consumers don't react positively to all messages of corporate social responsibility, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research. The message needs to line up with consumers' mindsets and understanding of the brands.

"Certain brand concepts may be roadblocks for firms aiming to benefit from (CSR) programs," write authors Carlos J. Torelli (University of Minnesota), Alokparna (Sonia) Basu Monga (University of South Carolina), and Andrew M. Kaikati (University of Georgia).

The authors examined how consumers react to certain brand concepts and companies' social responsibility missions. "For instance, a luxury brand such at Rolex may be primarily associated with an of self-enhancement (dominance over people and resources), whereas Aunt Jemima may be primarily associated with a conservation concept (tradition and protection of the status quo)," the authors explain. "Similarly, Apple iTunes may be characterized by an openness concept (exciting and free-spirited)." Even when consumers are not conscious of it, these brands activate related motivations in consumers.

The authors believe that messages of social responsibility that come from luxury brands associated with a "self-enhancement concept" cause to feel that something is "not right," which means their opinion of the brand declines. On the other hand, brands associated with openness or conservation do not have the same "motivational conflict" with social responsibility.

By testing participants' reactions to real and hypothetical brands, the authors also found that people who had an abstract (vs. concrete) mindset were more likely to experience "disfluency" when brand information conflicted with messages.

"Given that billions of dollars are being poured into CSR activities, knowing which brands are more or less likely to succeed is highly consequential," the authors write. "CSR activities can backfire for luxury brands associated with a self-enhancement concept, but not for brands associated with openness or conservation concepts, unless steps are taken to avoid these negative consequences."

Explore further: UC Santa Barbara receives $65M from Munger

Provided by University of Chicago Press Journals

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Consumers love underdogs

Jul 20, 2010

Consumers strongly relate to brands that they perceive as underdogs, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Recommended for you

UC Santa Barbara receives $65M from Munger

12 hours ago

A physics institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has received a $65 million donation—the largest single gift in the university's history.

Prophet's ancient seal provides insights from antiquity

18 hours ago

When a personal artifact of a religious leader is discovered nearly 1,700 years after its use, the object provides invaluable historical insights. Zsuzsanna Gulacsi, professor of Comparative Cultural Studies, ...

Billionaires' $10m gift to Yale stirs debate in China

22 hours ago

A Chinese billionaire couple's $10 million gift to Yale University sparked controversy among the country's Internet users Thursday, with some arguing that the money would be better spent on schools in China.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.