When will a message of social responsibility backfire?

July 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: New kids on the block: Latecomers must be unique to outperform pioneer brands

Related Stories

Consumers love underdogs

July 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

Ancient genome from Africa sequenced for the first time

October 8, 2015

The first ancient human genome from Africa to be sequenced has revealed that a wave of migration back into Africa from Western Eurasia around 3,000 years ago was up to twice as significant as previously thought, and affected ...

Rare braincase provides insight into dinosaur brain

October 8, 2015

Experts have described one of the most complete sauropod dinosaur braincases ever found in Europe. The find could help scientists uncover some of the mysteries of how dinosaur brains operated, including their intellectual ...

How much for that Nobel prize in the window?

October 3, 2015

No need to make peace in the Middle East, resolve one of science's great mysteries or pen a masterpiece: the easiest way to get yourself a Nobel prize may be to buy one.

The dark side of Nobel prizewinning research

October 4, 2015

Think of the Nobel prizes and you think of groundbreaking research bettering mankind, but the awards have also honoured some quite unhumanitarian inventions such as chemical weapons, DDT and lobotomies.


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.