ArticlePDF Available

Maximizing Business Returns to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): The Role of CSR Communication

Authors:

Abstract

By engaging in corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities, companies can not only generate favorable stakeholder attitudes and better support behaviors (e.g. purchase, seeking employment, investing in the company), but also, over the long run, build corporate image, strengthen stakeholder–company relationships, and enhance stakeholders' advocacy behaviors. However, stakeholders' low awareness of and unfavorable attributions towards companies' CSR activities remain critical impediments in companies' attempts to maximize business benefits from their CSR activities, highlighting a need for companies to communicate CSR more effectively to stakeholders. In light of these challenges, a conceptual framework of CSR communication is presented and its different aspects are analyzed, from message content and communication channels to company- and stakeholder-specific factors that influence the effectiveness of CSR communication.
Maximizing Business Returns to
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR):
The Role of CSR Communicationijmr_2768..19
Shuili Du, C.B. Bhattacharya1and Sankar Sen2
Simmons College, 300 the Fenway, Boston, MA 02115, USA, 1European School of Management and
Technology, Schlossplatz 1, Berlin 10178, Germany, and Boston University, 595 Commonwealth Avenue,
Boston, MA 02215, USA, and 2Baruch College, City University of New York, One Bernard Baruch Way, New York,
NY 10010, USA
Email: shuili.du@simmons.edu; cb@esmt.org or cb@bu.edu; sankar.sen@baruch.cuny.edu
By engaging in corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities, companies can not only
generate favorable stakeholder attitudes and better support behaviors (e.g. purchase,
seeking employment, investing in the company), but also, over the long run, build
corporate image, strengthen stakeholder–company relationships, and enhance stake-
holders’ advocacy behaviors. However, stakeholders’ low awareness of and unfavorable
attributions towards companies’ CSR activities remain critical impediments in com-
panies’ attempts to maximize business benefits from their CSR activities, highlighting
a need for companies to communicate CSR more effectively to stakeholders. In light of
these challenges, a conceptual framework of CSR communication is presented and its
different aspects are analyzed, from message content and communication channels
to company- and stakeholder-specific factors that influence the effectiveness of CSR
communication.
Introduction
Defined broadly as ‘a commitment to improve
[societal] well-being through discretionary business
practices and contributions of corporate resources’
(adapted from Kotler and Lee 2005), corporate
social responsibility (CSR) occupies a prominent
place on the global corporate agenda in today’s
socially conscious market environment. More than
ever, companies are devoting substantial resources
to various social initiatives, ranging from commu-
nity outreach and environmental protection, to
socially responsible business practices. To give but
two examples: Target contributed 5% of its income,
amounting to more than $150 million in 2007, to
programs which inspire education, increase access
to the arts, and promote community safety (Target
2008); and similarly, as part of its Healthymagina-
tion initiative, General Electric is investing billions
of dollars in healthcare technologies to reduce
medical errors and improve patients’ lives (General
Electric 2009).
These unprecedented CSR efforts are driven not
just by ideological thinking that corporations can be
a powerful and positive force for social change, but
more by the multi-faceted business returns that
corporations can potentially reap from their CSR
endeavors. Indeed, findings from both marketplace
polls and academic research suggest that key stake-
holders such as consumers, employees and investors
are increasingly likely to take actions to reward good
corporate citizens and punish bad ones. According
International Journal of Management Reviews (2010)
DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2370.2009.00276.x
© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd and British Academy of Management. Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 9600
Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA
to a Cone research study (2007), 87% of American
consumers are likely to switch from one brand to
another (price and quality being equal) if the other
brand is associated with a good cause, an increase
from 66% since 1993; conversely, 85% will consider
switching to another company’s products or services
because of a company’s negative corporate respon-
sibility practices, and 66% will boycott such a com-
pany’s products or services.
Consistent with these findings, a growing body of
academic research attests to the wide range of busi-
ness benefits that a company can reap from its
engagement in CSR (e.g. Du et al. 2007; Fombrun
et al. 2000; Lichtenstein et al. 2004; Sen and Bhat-
tacharya 2001; Sen et al. 2006; Turban and Greening
1997). For example, companies can reap substantial
business benefits of CSR from one stakeholder
group, consumers. By being a good corporate
citizen, a company can foster consumer loyalty and
turn consumers into company/brand ambassadors
and champions who engage in advocacy behaviors
(e.g. positive word-of-mouth, willingness to pay a
price premium and resilience to negative company
news; Du et al. 2007). Of course, the business
rewards of CSR are rarely confined to the consumer
domain. Taking a stakeholder-driven perspective on
the returns to CSR, Sen et al. (2006) show that
individuals react to a company’s CSR activities in
multiple ways, by not just buying more products, but
by enacting other stakeholder behaviors, such as
seeking employment with the company and investing
in the company. As we discuss later, such coveted,
multi-faceted business returns derive from the
unique ability of CSR to build and strengthen stake-
holder relationships.
Needless to say, the business returns to CSR are
contingent on stakeholders’ awareness of a compa-
ny’s CSR activities. Much of the academic research
to date, in its pursuit of insights into the psycho-
logical mechanisms and outcomes of CSR-driven
stakeholder behaviors, has largely presumed or
mandated (e.g. in laboratory studies) CSR aware-
ness on the part of the relevant test populations.
However, recent studies with real stakeholders
revealed that awareness of a company’s CSR activi-
ties among its external stakeholders (e.g. consum-
ers) or even among its internal stakeholder (e.g.
employees) is typically low, hence constituting a
key stumbling block in the company’s quest to reap
strategic benefits from its CSR activities (Bhatta-
charya et al. 2008; Du et al. 2007; Sen et al. 2006).
Consistent with these findings, of the 20 attributes
measured in the annual Harris Interactive corporate
reputation study published by the Wall Street
Journal, people are most in the dark about corpo-
rate responsibility; questions about whether compa-
nies are socially and environmentally responsible
consistently elicit the most ‘don’t know’ responses
(Alsop 2005).
Beyond awareness, the next key challenge of CSR
communication is how to minimize stakeholder
skepticism. While stakeholders claim they want to
know about the good deeds of the companies they
buy from or invest in, they also quickly become leery
of the CSR motives when companies aggressively
promote their CSR efforts. In general, stakeholders’
attribution of a company’s CSR motives may be of
two kinds: extrinsic, in which the company is seen as
attempting to increase its profits; or intrinsic, in
which it is viewed as acting out of a genuine concern
for the focal issue. While stronger attributions of
intrinsic motives lead stakeholders to make positive
inferences about the company’s underlying charac-
ter, and thus react more positively towards the
company, perceptions of predominantly extrinsic
motives lead to less favorable stakeholder attitudes
and behaviors toward the company (Forehand and
Grier 2003; Yoon et al. 2006).
Since creating stakeholder awareness of and man-
aging stakeholder attributions towards a company’s
CSR activities are key prerequisites for reaping
CSR’s strategic benefits, it is imperative for manag-
ers to have a deeper understanding of key issues
related to CSR communication. These include
questions surrounding what to communicate (i.e.
message content), where to communicate (i.e.
message channel), as well as an understanding of the
company- and stakeholder-specific factors that
impact the effectiveness of CSR communication.
Please note that our assumption in this paper is that a
company has already decided on its CSR strategy,
such as what social issues to address; we are prima-
rily concerned with the implementation aspects
of CSR communication. Our major objective is to
review and synthesize the existing literature on CSR
communication to provide insights into how compa-
nies can communicate their CSR activities more
effectively. Below, we first discuss the challenge of
overcoming stakeholder skepticism and thus gener-
ating favorable CSR attributions. Then we review
relevant literature that sheds light on the implemen-
tation of CSR communication (e.g. what and where
to communicate). We end with a discussion on future
research.
Maximizing Business Returns 9
© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd and British Academy of Management
A key challenge of CSR
communication: generating favorable
CSR attributions
Unlike corporate ability-related information such as
product superiority and new innovations, a compa-
ny’s CSR information reveals aspects of its corporate
identity that are not only fundamental and enduring,
but also often more distinctive by virtue of their
disparate and idiosyncratic bases (e.g. egalitarian
employment policies, sponsorship of social causes,
environmental initiatives). The identity-revealing
characteristics of CSR information imply that stake-
holders’ attributions of the motives underlying a
company’s CSR activities are crucial: stakeholders
are likely to refrain from making positive inferences
about the corporate identity when they suspect ulte-
rior, self-serving motives (Fein and Hilton 1994).
Accordingly, as mentioned in the introduction, com-
municating CSR is a very delicate matter, and a key
challenge of CSR communication is how to mini-
mize stakeholder skepticism and to convey intrinsic
motives in a company’s CSR activities.
Recent research on CSR attributions suggest that,
rather than simplistically attributing a company’s
CSR activities to either intrinsic or extrinsic
motives, stakeholders often engage in more sophis-
ticated attribution processes, and are capable of per-
ceiving and reconciling mixed CSR motives. Using
an open-ended survey to discover the range of
motives that consumers attribute to CSR activities,
Ellen et al. (2006) found that a majority of respon-
dents gave mixed attributions and, interestingly,
when CSR attributions were mixed, respondents’
reactions to CSR were actually more positive than
when attributions were purely intrinsic or extrinsic.
Ellen et al.’s (2006) finding are also consistent with
other research showing that stakeholders are often
tolerant of extrinsic motives as long as CSR initia-
tives are attributed to intrinsic motives as well (Sen
et al. 2006). This growing tolerance of extrinsic
motives indicates that, as consumers learn more
about CSR and companies’ motivations, they are
increasingly willing to adopt a ‘win–win’ perspec-
tive, believing that CSR initiatives can and should
serve both the needs of society and the bottom lines
of business.
Forehand and Grier (2003) argue that stakeholders
do not respond negatively to extrinsic CSR motives
per se, but rather respond negatively to any market-
ing strategies that seem manipulative or deceptive.
Following this explanation, any discrepancies
between stakeholders’ perceived CSR motives and a
company’s publicly stated motives will trigger stake-
holders’ skepticism and feelings of being deceived,
which in turn will drive negative reactions to its CSR
activities. Forehand and Grier (2003) show that, by
acknowledging both intrinsic and extrinsic motives
in its CSR communication, a firm can inhibit stake-
holder skepticism, enhance the credibility of its CSR
message, and generate goodwill.
In sum, a key challenge in designing effective
CSR communication strategy is how to reduce stake-
holder skepticism and to convey favorable corporate
motives in a company’s CSR activities. Next, we
draw upon prior literature to discuss different aspects
of CSR communication in light of addressing this
challenge. Figure 1 presents a conceptual framework
of CSR communication.
What to communicate:
message content
A company’s CSR message can pertain largely to a
social cause itself or to a company’s specific involve-
ment in a social cause. To give a hypothetical
example (from the realm of CSR advertising),
Johnson & Johnson can focus on the dangers of
extinction of certain wildlife species and try to per-
suade consumers to support the World Wildlife
Fund’s efforts to save those endangered species, and
merely identify the company logo as the sponsor in
an understated manner. Alternatively, the company
can feature its baby shampoo predominantly and
promise a 10-cent donation to the World Wildlife
Fund for every purchase (Menon and Kahn 2003).
When the CSR message is predominantly about
a social issue (rather than about the company or its
products), consumers are more likely to be suspi-
cious of ulterior motives, because such advertising
does not fit their ‘schemer schema’ (Friestad and
Wright 1994). Accordingly, the company should
emphasize the importance of the social issue and
communicate a lack of vested self-interest by choos-
ing issues that are not logically related to the com-
pany’s businesses, to allay consumers’ concern about
ulterior motives and to enhance the credibility of the
advertising (Menon and Kahn 2003).
However, most CSR communication typically
focuses on a company’s involvement in various social
causes, rather than on the social causes themselves.
In this context, there are several factors that the
10 S. Du et al.
© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd and British Academy of Management
company can emphasize in its CSR communication,
such as its commitment to a cause, the impact it has
on the cause, why it engages in a particular social
initiative (i.e. CSR motives), and the congruity
between the cause and the company’s business (i.e.
CSR fit). We discuss these next.
CSR commitment
A company can focus on its commitment to a social
cause in various ways, including donating funds,
in-kind contributions or providing other corporate
resources such as marketing expertise, human capital
(e.g. employee volunteering), and R&D capability
dedicated to a cause. There are several aspects of
commitment: the amount of input, the durability of
the association and the consistency of input (Dwyer
et al. 1987). A company can choose to focus on one
or several aspects of its commitment to a social
cause. For example, in its 2007 corporate responsi-
bility report (Target 2008), Target talked about its
signature Take Charge of Education (ECOE)
program: ‘Target...donates a percentage of pur-
chases made on Target credit cards to K-12 schools
that cardholders designate. Since we launched the
program in 1997, we’ve donated more than $246
million to schools.’Here the company emphasized all
three aspects of its commitment: the substantial
amount of input (i.e. $246 million) as well as the
durability (i.e. since 1997) and consistency of
support (i.e. one percentage of purchase made on
Target credit cards).
CSR impact
Instead of focusing on the input side of its involve-
ment in a social cause, a company can focus on the
output side of its CSR endeavor, that is, the societal
impact, or the actual benefits that have accrued (or
will accrue) to the target audience of a social cause.
For example, in a press release by the National Insti-
tute of Child Health and Human Development (1999)
on various corporate partners’ support for ‘Back to
Sleep’ campaign in the fight against Sudden Infant
Death Syndrome, it estimated that the lives of about
3500 American babies were saved by 2002 thanks to
corporate support. Similarly, in partnership with the
United Nations Children’s Fund (i.e. UNICEF),
Pampers has launched a social initiative, ‘1 Pack =1
Vaccine’ to give tetanus vaccines to expectant women
in developing countries, and this saves their new-
borns from a disease called newborn tetanus. The
title of this program clearly communicates the
societal impact of the program and the impact of
Message Content
Issue
Importance
Initiative
Commitment, Impact
Motives, Fit
Message Channel
Corporate
CSR Report
Corporate Website
PR
Advertising
Point of Purchase
Independent
Media Coverage
Word-of-Mouth
Internal Outcomes
Awareness
Attributions
Attitudes, Identification
Trust
External Outcomes
Consumers
Purchase, Loyalty, Advocacy
Employees
Productivity, Loyalty
Citizenship Behavior, Advocacy
Investors
Amount of Invested Capital, Loyalty
CSR COMMUNICATION CONTINGENCY FACTORS COMMUNICATION OUTCOMES
Stakeholder Characteristics
Stakeholder Types
Issue Support
Social Value Orientation
Company Characteristics
Reputation
Industry
Marketing Strategies
Figure 1. A framework of CSR communication
Maximizing Business Returns 11
© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd and British Academy of Management
consumer’s purchase of the Pampers’ products des-
ignated for the social program.
Emphasizing a company’s CSR commitment or
the social impact of its CSR endeavor is an effective
communication strategy because, as suggested by
prior research, CSR communication should be
factual and avoid the impression of ‘bragging’ (Sen
et al. 2009). Furthermore, a company’s CSR com-
mitment and its social impact also serve as diagnos-
tic cues with regard to its underlying CSR motives.
Webb and Mohr (1998) found that the durability of
support for a cause was used as a cue for judging a
firm’s motives: longer-term commitments were more
likely to be seen as driven by a genuine concern
for increasing societal/community welfare, while
shorter-term campaigns were more likely to be
viewed as a way of exploiting the cause for the sake
of profit. Similarly, Du et al. (2009) documented
positive associations between the perceived societal
impact of a company’s CSR initiative and consum-
ers’ intrinsic attributions, and consequently, consum-
ers’ advocacy behaviors toward the company.
CSR motives
In addition to CSR commitment and CSR impact,
CSR communication can also focus on CSR motives.
As we have stated earlier, one key challenge in CSR
communication is to reduce stakeholder skepticism.
In light of this, should companies only emphasize
altruistic, intrinsic motives, denying business-related
motives in their CSR communication? Or should
they be honest and acknowledge the business
motives underlying their CSR initiatives? A study of
businesses’ CSR communication at their websites
(Maignan and Ralston 2002) finds that companies
vary as to the types of CSR motives they communi-
cate to stakeholders. Some stress the intrinsic
motives for their CSR activities. For example, PNC
states at the company website, ‘Giving back is a
bedrock value at PNC’. Alternatively, other compa-
nies stress the business case for engagement in CSR.
For example, Carrefour explains the rationale for its
environmental initiative as follows: ‘Consumers are
increasingly attentive to everything that has to do
with safety and environmental health. Safeguarding
the environment is a criterion they will increasingly
consider.’ Research on CSR attributions shows that
consumers often perceive multiple motives, and they
understand that companies often seek to achieve
certain business goals through their CSR initiatives
(Ellen et al. 2006). According to Forehand and Grier
(2003), acknowledgement of extrinsic, firm-serving
motives in its CSR message will actually enhance the
credibility of a company’s CSR communication and
inhibit stakeholder skepticism, which underlies the
potential boomerang effect of CSR communication.
Therefore, a company should emphasize the conver-
gence of social and business interests, and frankly
acknowledge that its CSR endeavors are beneficial to
both society and itself (Porter and Kramer 2006).
CSR fit
Another important factor to communicate is CSR fit,
or the perceived congruence between a social issue
and the company’s business. Stakeholders often
expect companies to sponsor only those social issues
that have a good fit, or a logical association, with
their core corporate activities (Cone 2007; Haley
1996). Corporate social responsibility fit may result
from common associations that a brand shares with
the cause, such as product dimensions (e.g. a herbal
products brand sponsors the protection of rain
forests), affinity with specific target segments (e.g.
Avon fights breast cancer), or corporate image asso-
ciations created by the brand’s past conduct in a
specific social domain (e.g. Ben & Jerry’s and the
Body Shop’s activities in environment protection;
Menon and Kahn 2003).
Corporate social responsibility fit is important
because it affects stakeholders’ CSR attributions
(Menon and Kahn 2003; Simmons and Becker-
Olsen 2006). According to the two-stage model of
attributions (Gilbert 1989), consumers will first
attribute CSR activities to dispositional motives (i.e.
intrinsic motives), and then ‘correct’ this inference,
if they allocate sufficient processing capabilities and
engage in more effortful elaboration by considering
alternative, contextual factors (e.g. competitive
pressure, financial motivations). Low CSR fit, owing
to the lack of logical connection between a social
issue and a company’s business, is likely to increase
cognitive elaboration and make extrinsic motives
more salient, thereby reducing stakeholders’ posi-
tive reactions to a company’s CSR activities. There-
fore, a company should highlight the CSR fit of its
social initiative if there is congruence between the
social issue and its business. When a company does
not have a good natural fit with the social cause it
supports, it should elaborate on the rationale for
its social initiative to increase perceived fit. For
example, DenTek Oral Care, a sponsor of the
American Diabetes Association, includes in its
12 S. Du et al.
© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd and British Academy of Management
sponsorship communications the information that
diabetes can lead to tooth decay, bad breath, dry
mouth and gum disease (Simmons and Becker-
Olsen 2006). Because many people may not know
about diabetes-related dental problems, the sponsor-
ship might otherwise seem to be a bad fit. By
elucidating the underlying link between the sponsor-
ship and its core business, the company is able to
create a high perceived fit and hence enjoy greater
business returns to its CSR activities.
Interestingly, however, research by Bloom et al.
(2006; see also Menon and Kahn 2003) indicates
that, under certain circumstances, communication of
low fit may actually lead to more favorable stake-
holder reactions; aligning with a low-fit cause might
differentiate a company as being more sincere in its
motive and thus increase the effectiveness of its CSR
communication.
Where to communicate:
message channels
There are a variety of communication channels
through which information about a company’s CSR
activities or record can be disseminated. A company
can communicate its CSR activities through official
documents, such as an annual corporate responsibil-
ity report or press releases, and dedicate a section of
its official corporate website to CSR; it can also use
TV commercials, magazine or billboard advertise-
ments, and product packaging to communicate its
CSR initiatives. Corporate responsibility reporting
has gone mainstream: nearly 80% of the largest 250
companies worldwide issued corporate responsib-
ility reports, up from about 50% in 2005 (KPMG
International Survey of Corporate Responsibility
Reporting 2008). In addition to corporate responsi-
bility reporting and dedicating a section of corporate
websites to CSR, companies also use traditional
advertising channels to communicate their CSR
activities. For example, Diet Coke has been running
TV commercials on its CSR initiative to help
raise women’s awareness about heart disease, and
the brand has also set up a website, http://
www.dietcoke.com/reddress, to communicate the
brand’s involvement in the cause and various ways
for consumers to get involved. Companies can also
use product packaging to communicate its CSR
initiatives. For example, Stonyfield Farm prints
messages on the lids of its 6-oz cup yogurt to com-
municate the company’s involvement in a wide
variety of health and environmental initiatives to
stakeholders.
A counterpoint to such company-controlled CSR
communication channels is the large and increasing
number of external communicators of CSR (e.g.
media, customers, monitoring groups, consumer
forums/blogs) that are not entirely controlled by the
company. A company can control the content of
CSR communication through its own corporate
communication channels (e.g. Wal-Mart is a good
steward for the environment), but usually has little
control over how its CSR record is communicated
in the media (e.g. Wal-Mart provides insufficient
healthcare for its employees). Similarly, a company
can exert greater control over the content of CSR
communication by members of its value chain (e.g.
employees, channel members) than by those who
are not part of the value chain (e.g. monitoring
group, customers). In summary, there are many
communication channels of CSR which are likely to
vary in the extent to which they are controllable by
the company.
Moreover, there is likely to be a trade-off between
the controllability and credibility of CSR communi-
cation; the less controllable the communicator is, the
more credible it is, and vice versa. Stakeholders will
probably perceive the company as more self-
interested than other non-corporate sources in CSR
communication. Since individuals are often more
critical of messages from sources they perceive to be
biased or self-interested (Wiener et al. 1990), CSR
communication via corporate sources will trigger
more skepticism and have less credibility than non-
corporate sources. For example, Szykman et al.
(2004) found that consumers who viewed an anti-
drinking and driving message sponsored by a beer
company (as opposed to a non-profit organization)
inferred more self-serving motives of the sponsor.
Similarly, Yoon et al. (2006; see also Simmons and
Becker-Olsen 2006) showed that consumers reacted
more positively to a company’s CSR activities when
they learned about its CSR activities from a neutral
source (e.g. an independent organization that pro-
vides unbiased evaluations of corporate activities)
than from a corporate source.
Therefore, although getting media co-operation is
often difficult, companies should try hard to get posi-
tive media coverage from independent, unbiased
sources, such as editorial coverage on television or in
the press. It would greatly enhance a company’s CSR
associations if it were reported positively by spe-
cialty publications such as Business Ethics,orifit
Maximizing Business Returns 13
© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd and British Academy of Management
received a good CSR rating by independent organi-
zations such as Fortune magazine.
Also importantly, companies should try to encour-
age informal yet credible communication channels
such as word-of-mouth by stakeholders. For
example, Dawkins (2004) emphasized that compa-
nies should not underestimate the power and reach
of employees as CSR communicators. Dawkins’
research (2004) on employee advocacy showed that
about a third of employees have advised someone to
use their company because it had acted responsibly.
Since employees typically have a wide reach among
other stakeholder groups through their social ties,
and are often considered a source of credible infor-
mation, companies should ‘tune up’ their internal
CSR communication strategy and find ways to
engage employees and convert them into companies’
CSR advocates.
Another powerful stakeholder group, consumers,
can also serve as an informal yet highly credible CSR
communication channel. In particular, the power of
consumer word-of-mouth has been greatly magnified
given the popularity and vast reach of Internet com-
munication media such as blogs, chat rooms and
social media sites (e.g. Facebook). Companies such
as Stonyfield Farm and Ben & Jerry’s have been
benefiting from consumer ambassadors who raved, in
the virtual world, about their social responsibility
endeavors. For example, one consumer wrote enthu-
siastically about Ben & Jerry’s butter pecan ice
cream and its support for an educational foundation,
‘besides the great flavor that the Ben & Jerry’s Butter
Pecan Ice Cream offers you, a portion of the pro-
ceeds go to the Tom Joyner Foundation...[that]
provides financial support to students attending his-
torically black colleges and universities’ (Associated
Content 2008). Companies can be proactive in using
social media to engage consumers to be their CSR
advocates. Timberland, a company that is known for
its environmental stewardship, launched the Earth-
keeper campaign in 2008 to recruit one million
people to become part of an online network designed
to inspire real environmental behavior change. As
part of the Earthkeeper program, Timberland
launched an innovative global network of online
social networking tools, including a strong Facebook
presence, a YouTube Earthkeeper Brand Channel and
a richly populated Earthkeeper blog, as well as an
Earthkeeper product collection which serves as the
pinnacle expression of the company’s environmental
commitment (CSRWire 2008). Through this cam-
paign, Timberland not only effectively communi-
cates its sustainability initiative, but also engages
consumers to spread the word about this initiative
and, importantly, the company’s involvement in this
initiative.
Having discussed the challenges related to
message content and message challenge, we now
highlight a set of context-specific factors pertaining
to both the stakeholder and the company, which
either amplify or dampen the effectiveness of a com-
pany’s CSR communication efforts.
Moderators of communication
effectiveness: company-specific factors
By revealing the character of the information
sender, some company-specific factors will prob-
ably influence the effectiveness of CSR communi-
cation. We talk about two factors that have been
discussed in the CSR literature, corporate reputa-
tion and CSR positioning. We expect the influence
of these factors on the effectiveness of CSR com-
munication to be greater for company-controlled
communication than for third-party communication,
because company-controlled message channels
are more likely to trigger these company-specific
knowledge structures.
Corporate reputation
Conceptualized as ‘a collective representation of a
firm’s past actions and results that describes the
firm’s ability to deliver valued outcomes to multiple
stakeholders’ (Gardberg and Fombrun 2002), corpo-
rate reputation encompasses different dimensions,
such as product quality, innovation, investment
value, people management and CSR. Reputation will
moderate the effectiveness of CSR communication
because it often serves as a pre-existing schema upon
which stakeholders rely to interpret ambiguous infor-
mation about the company (Fombrun and Shanley
1990), including its CSR activities. Companies with
good reputations, perceived to have high source cred-
ibility, will probably find the positive effects of their
CSR communications to be amplified, whereas the
effects of CSR communication in the case of com-
panies with poor reputations will be dampened
or even backfire (Yoon et al. 2006). Interestingly,
research has also shown that, because of positive
disconfirmation, companies with a neutral ethical
reputation are likely to reap greater business benefits
from CSR communication than companies with a
positive ethical reputation (Strahilevitz 2003).
14 S. Du et al.
© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd and British Academy of Management
One aspect of corporate reputation, a company’s
existing or prior CSR record, will be perceived as a
particularly diagnostic cue in stakeholders’ evalua-
tion of its CSR communication. For example, amid a
series of negative media coverage regarding its low
pay and insufficient support for employee welfare,
Wal-Mart announced that it would invest $500
million a year in energy efficiency in an effort to
become a ‘good steward for the environment’. Not
surprisingly, stakeholders were skeptical and consid-
ered this environmental initiative a publicity stunt
(Guardian 2006).
In addition to corporate reputation, the industry
in which a company operates will also moderate
the effectiveness of CSR communication. For
instance, stakeholders are often suspicious of com-
panies in certain industries (e.g. tobacco, oil) which
can pose a significant challenge in their CSR com-
munication (Bhattacharya and Sen 2004; Yoon et al.
2006).
CSR positioning
Another company-specific factor, CSR positioning,
is also likely to influence the effectiveness of
CSR communication. Corporate social responsibility
positioning refers to ‘the extent to which a company
relies on its CSR activities to position itself, relative
to the competition, in the minds of consumers’
(adapted from Du et al. 2007). While many compa-
nies affiliate themselves with causes, some, such as
Timberland, Ben & Jerry’s and the Whole Foods
Market, go beyond just engaging in CSR to position
themselves wholly in terms of CSR, becoming
known as the socially responsible brand in a cat-
egory. In the US supermarket category, for example,
the Whole Foods Market, positioned on CSR,
espouses the core value of ‘caring about our commu-
nities and our environment’. Moreover, this value
pervades virtually every aspect of its business, from
organic and sustainable sourcing to environmentally
sensitive retailing, from devoting at least 5% of its
annual profits to a variety of causes to encourag-
ing community service among its employees on
company time. A company’s CSR positioning is
likely to amplify the effectiveness of CSR commu-
nication because, given that the company has taken
the relatively uncommon and perhaps risky stance of
positioning itself on CSR rather than superficially
engaging in such activities, stakeholders are likely
not only to pay more attention to its CSR message,
but also to believe in the authenticity of its CSR
endeavors, resulting in greater persuasion in favor of
the company (Du et al. 2007).
Moderators of communication
effectiveness: stakeholder-specific
factors
Some characteristics of stakeholders, the recipients
of CSR communication, will also moderate the
effectiveness of CSR communication. In this
section, we discuss several stakeholder-specific
factors: stakeholder type, issue support and social
value orientation.
Stakeholder type
One unique characteristic of CSR communication is
that it often has many potential audiences, ranging
from legislators, business press, investors and
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to local
communities, consumers and employees (Dawkins
2004). Furthermore, these different audiences vary
in terms of their expectations of businesses, and in
information needs, and may thus respond differently
to the various communication channels of CSR.
Accordingly, it is imperative for a company to tailor
its CSR communication to the specific needs of dif-
ferent stakeholder groups.
Dawkins (2004) classified various stakeholders
into two types – (1) opinion-leader audiences such as
business press, investors (both mainstream institu-
tional investors and the socially responsible invest-
ment (SRI) community) and NGOs; and (2) the
general public, such as consumers and local com-
munities – and discussed the implications of the
differences of these stakeholders groups for CSR
communication. Opinion-leader audiences are more
likely to proactively seek out CSR information about
a company, and to use the company’s CSR report
to get a comprehensive picture of its CSR record.
Among the opinion-leader audiences, corporate
responsibility ‘experts’ such as think-tanks, com-
mentators and SRI analysts are predominantly
looking for hard evidence of the social impact of a
company’s CSR programs, and want to see detailed
indicators, benchmarks, targets and trends in its CSR
report. Therefore, to increase the credibility of its
CSR report, a company should adhere to leading
reporting standards such as the Global Reporting
Initiative and AccountAbility’s reporting standard,
AA1000.
Maximizing Business Returns 15
© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd and British Academy of Management
In contrast, however, another type of opinion-
leader audience, mainstream investors, are more con-
cerned with shareholder value maximization and
hence the business case of CSR. Accordingly, when
communicating CSR to this stakeholder group, com-
panies should explicitly discuss the business impact
of their CSR activities, and how their social initia-
tives are linked to key business metrics such as
customer equity, employee retention, corporate gov-
ernance and risk management.
The general public such as consumers or the local
communities often do not proactively seek CSR
information about a company, even with regard to
issues they consider to be particularly important
(Dawkins 2004). The general public often become
aware of a company’s CSR activities through inde-
pendent channels, such as editorial coverage on TV
and in the press, stakeholder word-of-mouth or cor-
porate communication channels, such as high-profile
cause marketing campaigns, advertising or point of
purchase communication (e.g. printing CSR infor-
mation on the product/label itself). To reach the
general public effectively, companies should use a
variety of communication channels or, alternatively,
focus on one or two highly relevant channels.
Issue support
In general, stakeholders’ motivation to process CSR
information impacts communication effectiveness
(MacInnis et al. 1991). Referring to the extent to
which stakeholders support the focal issue of a com-
pany’s CSR initiative, issue support will affect the
effectiveness of CSR communication because it is
related to stakeholders’ motivation to process CSR
information. Research has shown that information
perceived as self-relevant (vs non-relevant) elicits
voluntary attention (Petty et al. 1981). Since issue
support reflects stakeholders’ personal needs and
values, all else equal, CSR information on initiatives
that stakeholders deem important or personally rel-
evant (i.e. strong support) is more likely to break the
media clutter and be more effective. Individuals’
awareness and knowledge of a social issue will often
lead to greater support for that particular issue (Bhat-
tacharya and Sen 2004). Therefore, companies need
to explain and communicate the importance of the
focal issues of their social initiatives so as to increase
stakeholders’ issue support.
Another way to increase issue support is to
actively engage stakeholders in the social initiative,
soliciting stakeholders’ input in selecting which
social issue or which non-profit organization to
support. For example, in a recent cause promotion by
Gap, an American clothing company, for a limited
time, the company not only offered 30% off each
individual consumer’s purchase, but also donated
5% of each consumer’s spending to one of six non-
profit organizations that the consumer picked from a
list. The six non-profit organizations support a wide
range of social issues, from domestic issues such as
education (Teach for America) and child hunger
(FeedingAmerica) in the US, to global issues such as
the environment (World Wildlife Fund) and diseases,
including AIDS, TB and malaria in Africa (the
Global Fund). By allowing stakeholders to choose
which issue and which non-profit organization to
donate to, Gap is able to enjoy greater issue support
from its consumers and thereby enhance the effec-
tiveness of its CSR communication.
Also importantly, before launching its social ini-
tiatives, a company should engage in some marketing
research to gauge stakeholders’ support for various
social issues, and undertake social initiatives that
matter to its key stakeholders. Stakeholders’ views of
which social issues are the most important for com-
panies to address have been shifting. For example, in
the early 1990s, Americans ranked crime/violence
prevention, the environment and homelessness as
priority issues; in 2004, education, health and
disease, and the environment were considered para-
mount (Cone 2007, 2008). Furthermore, regarding
health and disease, the top priority issues are, to list
a few, fighting heart disease, breast cancer, children’s
diseases, and obesity and nutrition (Cone 2007).
Companies should always monitor what are consid-
ered the priority issues by its key stakeholders.
However, a cautionary note is that companies should
always balance selecting a ‘hot’ issue with consider-
ation of CSR fit, as stakeholders expect companies to
address issues that are relevant to their core business
and where they can have the most impact.
Social value orientation
Defined as an individual’s ‘stable preferences for
certain patterns of outcomes for oneself and others’
(Van Lange et al. 1997), social value orientation will
also affect the effectiveness of CSR communication
because it is related to stakeholders’ motivation to
process CSR information. There is a three-category
typology of social value orientation: prosocial, indi-
vidualistic and competitive. Prosocials tend to maxi-
mize outcomes for both themselves and others,
16 S. Du et al.
© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd and British Academy of Management
and minimize differences between outcomes for
themselves and others (i.e. equality). Individualists
tend to maximize their own outcomes with little or
no regard for others’ outcomes; and competitors
tend to maximize their own outcomes relative to
others’ outcomes, seeking relative advantage over
others. These three social value orientation types
have been shown to predict a range of social behav-
iors. For example, relative to individualists and com-
petitors, prosocials are more likely to help others
(McClintock and Allison 1989) and to use public
transport rather than driving their own cars (Van
Vugt et al. 1995). We expect prosocials to have
greater support for companies’ social initiatives in
general, owing to their social value orientation, and
therefore to be more motivated to process compa-
nies’ CSR communication.
Relatedly, CSR research has identified a segment
of individuals named ‘CSR activists’, who are more
likely to purchase on ethical criteria, be more aware
of companies’ CSR activities, and more likely to
investigate companies’ CSR behavior (Dawkins
2004). Specifically, research by Cone Inc. has shown
that there is a spectrum of consumers who vary in
their support of and receptivity to companies’
engagement in CSR, with disbelievers who believe
businesses’ sole purpose is to maximize shareholder
returns, and advocates and activists who believe
businesses should support and advocate changes in
larger social and environmental issues (Cone 2008).
We expect that, all else equal, companies’ CSR com-
munication will be more effective among segments
of stakeholders who are prosocials or CSR advocates
or activists, and less effective among stakeholders
who are individualists, competitors or disbelievers.
Conclusion
The business case of CSR has been amply docu-
mented by a large body of multidisciplinary aca-
demic research. Owing to the identity-revealing
nature of CSR activities, by investing in social ini-
tiatives, a company will be able not only to generate
favorable stakeholder attitudes and behaviors (e.g.
purchase, seeking employment, investing in the
company), but also, over the long run, to build
corporate/brand image, strengthen stakeholder–
company relationships, and enhance stakeholders’
advocacy behaviors for the company (e.g. word-of-
mouth, employee organizational commitment and
citizenship behavior). However, stakeholders’ low
awareness of and skepticism towards companies’
CSR activities are critical impediments in compa-
nies’ attempts to maximize business benefits from
their CSR investment, pointing to an urgent need for
both academicians and practitioners to get a deeper
understanding of how to communicate CSR more
effectively to stakeholders.
Corporate social responsibility communication is
a very delicate matter. While stakeholders claim they
want to know about the good deeds of the companies
they interact with, they can easily become leery of
extrinsic motives when companies promote their
CSR efforts. Corporate social responsibility commu-
nication can have a backlash effect if stakeholders
become suspicious and perceive predominantly
extrinsic motives in companies’ social initiatives.
Hence a key challenge of CSR communication is to
overcome stakeholder skepticism and to generate
favorable CSR attributions. This paper has reviewed
and synthesized relevant literatures on CSR and
communication in general to present a conceptual
framework of CSR communication. Different
aspects of CSR communication have been analyzed,
from message content and communication channels
to company- and stakeholder-specific factors that
influence the effectiveness of CSR communication.
The discussion of the key aspects of CSR communi-
cation also open up several avenues for future
research.
One important avenue for future research would
be to explore the mediating mechanisms that account
for the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of CSR
communication. Research on traditional advertising
shows that a variety of cognitive and affective
responses underlie consumers’ acceptance of, and
hence the effectiveness of, advertising (Batra and
Ray 1986). For example, cognitive responses such as
support arguments and source bolstering, and affec-
tive responses such as happy and warm feelings con-
tribute to the effectiveness of advertising. Building
on this, future research can explore cognitive (e.g.
trustworthiness, CSR attributions) and affective (e.g.
pride, empathy) responses that are unique to CSR
communication. Such research can deepen under-
standing of the psychological mechanisms underly-
ing the effectiveness of CSR communication and
therefore have rich implications for CSR communi-
cation strategy.
Finally, individuals sometimes have multiple
stakeholder relationships with a particular company
(e.g. being an employee, consumer and investor).
Since different stakeholder groups have different
Maximizing Business Returns 17
© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd and British Academy of Management
expectations of businesses and different information
needs, future research could investigate how a
company can best communicate its CSR initiatives to
respective target audiences.
References
Alsop, R.J. (2005). Communicating corporate citizenship.
Leading Perspectives, Summer, pp. 4–5.
Associated Content (2008). Ben & Jerry’s butter pecan ice
cream. Available at: http://www.associatedcontent.com/
article/1227799/ben_and_jerrys_butter_pecan_ice_
cream.html?cat=22 (accessed March 2009).
Batra, R. and Ray, M.L. (1986). Affective responses medi-
ating acceptance of advertising. Journal of Consumer
Research,13, pp. 234–249.
Bhattacharya, C.B. and Sen, S. (2004). Doing better at doing
good: when, why, and how consumers respond to corpo-
rate social initiatives. California Management Review,47,
pp. 9–24.
Bhattacharya, C.B., Sen, S. and Korschun, D. (2008). Using
corporate social responsibility to win the war for talent.
Sloan Management Review,49, pp. 37–44.
Bloom, P.N., Hoeffler, S., Keller, K.L. and Meza, C. (2006).
How social-cause marketing affects consumer percep-
tions. MIT Sloan Management Review,47, pp. 49–55.
Cone (2007). Cause evolution survey. Available from:
http://www.coneinc.com/content1091, (accessed 19 May
2008).
Cone (2008). Past. Present. Future. 25th anniversary of
cause marketing. Available at: http://www.coneinc.com/
content1187 (accessed 10 April 2009).
CSRWire (2008). Call all Earthkeepers: Timberland
Earthkeeper network inspires consumers to take real
eco-action. Available at: http://www.csrwire.com/News/
12339.html (accessed March 2009).
Dawkins, J. (2004). Corporate responsibility: the communi-
cation challenge. Journal of Communication Challenge,
9, pp. 108–119.
Du, S., Bhattacharya, C.B. and Sen, S. (2009). Strengthen-
ing consumer relationships through corporate social
responsibility. Working paper, Simmons College School
of Management.
Du, S., Bhattacharya, C.B. and Sen, S. (2007). Reaping
relationship rewards from corporate social responsibility:
the role of competitive positioning. International Journal
of Research in Marketing,24, pp. 224–241.
Dwyer, F.R., Schurr, P.H. and Oh, S. (1987). Developing
buyer–seller relationships. Journal of Marketing,51,
pp. 11–27.
Ellen, P.S., Webb, D.J. and Mohr, L.A. (2006). Building
corporate associations: consumer attributions for corpo-
rate socially responsible program. Journal of theAcademy
of Marketing Science,34, pp. 147–157.
Fein, S. and Hilton, J.L. (1994). Judging others in the
shadow of suspicion. Motivation and Emotion,18,
pp. 167–198.
Fombrun, C., Gardberg, N.A. and Barnett, M.L. (2000).
Opportunity platforms and safety nets: corporate citizen-
ship and reputational risk. Business and Society Review,
105, pp. 85–106.
Fombrun, C. and Shanley, M. (1990). What’s in a name?
Reputation building and corporate strategy. Academy of
Management Journal,33, pp. 233–258.
Forehand, M.R. and Grier, S. (2003). When is honesty the
best policy? The effect of stated company intent on con-
sumer skepticism. Journal of Consumer Psychology,13,
pp. 349–356.
Friestad, M. and Wright, P. (1994). The persuasion knowl-
edge model: how people cope with persuasion attempts.
Journal of Consumer Research,21, p. 1031.
Gardberg, N.A. and Fombrun, C.J. (2002). The global repu-
tation quotient project, first steps towards a cross-
nationally valid measure of corporate reputation.
Corporate Reputation Review,4, pp. 303–308.
General Electric (2009). GE launches ‘Healthymagination’;
will commit $6 billion to enable better health focusing
on cost, access and quality. Available at: http://www.
genewscenter.com/content/detail.aspx?releaseid=6760&
newsareaid=2&menusearchcategoryid (accessed 7 May
2009).
Gilbert, D.T. (1989). Thinking lightly about others, auto-
matic components of the social inference process. In
Uleman, J.S. and Bargh, J.A. (eds), Unintended Thought.
New York: Guilford Press, pp. 189–211.
Guardian (2006). Is Wal-Mart really going green? Available
at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2006/nov/06/
energy.supermarkets (accessed June 2008).
Haley, E. (1996). Exploring the construct of organization as
source: consumers’ understanding of organizational spon-
sorship of advocacy advertising. Journal of Advertising,
25, pp. 19–36.
Kotler, P. and Lee, N. (2005). Corporate Social Responsi-
bility: Doing the Most Good for Your Company and Your
Cause. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley.
KPMG International Survey of Corporate Responsibility
Reporting (2008). Available at: http://www.kpmg.com/
SiteCollectionDocuments/International-corporate-
responsibility-survey-2008_v2.pdf (accessed 8 May
2009).
Lichtenstein, D.R., Drumwright, M.E. and Braig, B.M.
(2004). The effects of corporate social responsibility on
customer donations to corporate-supported nonprofits.
Journal of Marketing,68, pp. 16–32.
MacInnis, D.J., Moorman, C. and Jaworski, B.J. (1991).
Enhancing and measuring consumers’ motivation, oppor-
tunity, and ability to process brand information from ads.
Journal of Marketing,55, pp. 32–53.
Maignan, I. and Ralston, D.A. (2002). Corporate social
responsibility in Europe and the U.S.: insights from busi-
18 S. Du et al.
© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd and British Academy of Management
nesses’ self-presentation. Journal of International Busi-
ness Studies,33, pp. 497–514.
McClintock, C.G. and Allison, S. (1989). Social value ori-
entation and helping behavior. Journal of Applied Social
Psychology,19, pp. 353–362.
Menon, S. and Kahn, B.E. (2003). Corporate sponsorships
of philanthropic activities: when do they impact percep-
tion of sponsor brand? Journal of Consumer Psychology,
13, pp. 316–327.
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
(1999). Pampers will print the back to sleep logo across
the diaper fastening strips of its newborn diapers.
Available at: http://www.nichd.nih.gov/sids/pampers.cfm
(accessed 11 March 2009).
Petty, R.E., Cacioppo, J.T. and Goldman, R. (1981). Per-
sonal involvement as a determinant of argument based
persuasion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,
41, pp. 847–855.
Porter, M.E. and Kramer, M.R. (2006). Strategy & society:
the link between competitive advantage and corporate
social responsibility. Harvard Business Review,84,
pp. 78–92.
Sen, S. and Bhattacharya, C.B. (2001). Does doing good
always lead to doing better? Consumer reactions to
corporate social responsibility. Journal of Marketing
Research,38, pp. 43–62.
Sen, S., Bhattacharya, C.B. and Korschun, D. (2006). The
role of corporate social responsibility in strengthening
multiple stakeholder relationships: a field experiment.
Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science,34,
pp. 158–166.
Sen, S., Du, S. and Bhattacharya, C.B. (2009). Building
relationships through corporate social responsibility. In
MacInnis, D.J., Park, C.W. and Priester, J.R. (eds), Hand-
book of Brand Relationships. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe,
pp. 195–211.
Simmons, C.J. and Becker-Olsen, K.L. (2006). Achieving
marketing objectives through social sponsorships.
Journal of Marketing,70, pp. 154–169.
Strahilevitz, M. (2003). The effects of prior impressions of a
firm’s ethics on the success of a cause-related marketing
campaign: do the good look better while the bad look
worse? Journal of Nonprofit & Public Sector Marketing,
11, pp. 77–92.
Szykman, L.R., Bloom, P.N. and Blazing, J. (2004). Does
corporate sponsorship of a socially-oriented message
make a difference? An investigation of the effects of spon-
sorship identity on responses to an anti-drinking and
driving message. Journal of Consumer Psychology,14,
pp. 13–20.
Target (2008). 2007 Corporate responsibility report. Avail-
able at: http://sites.target.com/site/en/company/page.jsp?
contentId=WCMP04-031084 (accessed 7 May 2009).
Turban, D.B. and Greening, D.W. (1997). Corporate social
performance and organizational attractiveness to prospec-
tive employees. Academy of Management Journal,40,
pp. 658–672.
Van Lange, P.A.M., Otten, W., De Bruin, E.M.N. and Joire-
man, J.A. (1997). Development of prosocial, individual-
istic, and competitive orientations: theory and preliminary
evidence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,
73, pp. 733–746.
Van Vugt, M., Meertens, R. and Van Lange, P.A.M. (1995).
Cars versus public transportation? The role of social value
orientations in a real-life social dilemma. Journal of
Applied Social Psychology,25, pp. 258–278.
Webb, D.J. and Mohr, L.A. (1998). A typology of consumer
responses to cause-related marketing: from skeptics to
socially concerned. Journal of Public Policy and Market-
ing,17, pp. 226–238.
Wiener, J.L., LaForge, R.W. and Goolsby, J.R. (1990). Per-
sonal communication in marketing: an examination of
self-interest contingency relationships. Journal of Mar-
keting Research,27, pp. 227–231.
Yoon, Y., Gurhan-Canli, Z. and Schwarz, N. (2006). The
effect of corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities
on companies with bad reputations. Journal of Consumer
Psychology,16, pp. 377–390.
Maximizing Business Returns 19
© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd and British Academy of Management
Article
Purpose The purpose of this study is two-fold: (1) identify shifts in prioritization of corporate social responsibility (CSR) issues and (2) identify the CSR issues in which companies are currently involved, as indicated in their website communications. Corporate communications are also examined for possible variations of CSR focus between manufacturers, retailers and service firms. Design/methodology/approach In order to identify the CSR issues in which companies are currently involved and detect any shifts, a content analysis was conducted of the 2021 Fortune 100 company websites, specifically cataloging CSR communications. This data was compared with CSR communications on Fortune 100 company websites in 2015. CSR issues are also examined within each industry categorization: manufacturing, retail and service. Findings Findings indicate that companies have reduced the number of CSR issues prioritized in their website communications. In 2015, companies gave prominence to an average of seven CSR issues on their websites, today the average is three CSR issues. Today, the CSR issues prioritized most commonly are diversity and sustainability. However, these issues are prioritized by only half of the companies. Previously, the vast majority of Fortune 100 companies prioritized the same top issues. That is not the case today. This shift may suggest that companies are narrowing their focus to fewer CSR issues, perhaps those that align with company goals. Originality/value This study provides information to keep company executives and academicians abreast of prominent CSR issues and terminology found in the marketplace. As executives make choices about committing resources to social issues, knowledge of what the Fortune 100 is doing can help in that decision-making process.
Chapter
Through an ethnographic survey of Italian ethical jewelers and representative customers, this study focuses on how the topic of traceability in the Canadian diamond industry is communicated and negotiated within two representative Italian ethical jewelry stores in Milan and Bologna. To better understand communication strategies deployed by jewelers to convey the concepts of ethical jewelry, the authors explore themes related to traceability in the context of Canadian ethical diamonds. A specific dominant narrative built around CEDs is identified that leverages customer concerns about the violation of the safety and human rights of workers on the diamond supply chain. To more deeply analyze how information about the traceability of CEDs successfully mitigates consumer concerns about the ethics of jewelry supply chains, the authors explore the role of identity obsession in ethical jewelry purchase decisions by Italian consumers. They further discuss rationales for the general resistance of many Italian jewelers to offering ethical jewelry in local stores, to better understand why, to date, ethical jewelry remains a niche market segment in Italy, with most Italian consumers unaware of the degrading environmental and sociological impact of such products as blood diamonds.
Article
Full-text available
Purpose The purpose of this study is to conduct a systematic literature review that illuminates the current state of knowledge regarding the specific approaches by which multinational corporations (MNCs) implement corporate social responsibility (CSR) on the subsidiary level in developing countries. Design/methodology/approach Even though substantial scholarly work has been made to outline MNCs' activities in developing countries, this literature remains fragmented. To support the field in its theoretical as well as empirical advancements, this study conducts a systematic review of this body of literature and content analysis of relevant articles using insights from strategic marketing literature (market driving/proactive and market-driven/reactive approaches). Findings The authors synthesize our findings by presenting a taxonomy of proactive/reactive CSR approaches in developing markets along with propositions that can guide future research in this area. Originality/value Among the key contributions of this study's literature review is the development of a taxonomy of proactive/reactive CSR, bringing together different and fragmented streams of research and viewing them from strategic marketing (“proactive/reactive”) perspective. The taxonomy and the two ensuing propositions can advance future CSR-related studies with MNCs in focus by providing both theoretical and empirical guidance.
Article
Currently, companies work to improve their performance at the economic, environmental and social levels, make large contributions to sustainable development, and use strategic assessment tools to evaluate their sustainability performance. In addition, the Taiwan government has gradually paid attention to the use of liquefied natural gas (LNG), but the sustainable development of the LNG industry is in its early stage, and the associated companies lack the relevant knowledge and skills to manage and measure their performance in achieving these sustainability goals. Therefore, this study intends to propose an assessment framework, the green sustainability balanced scorecard (GSBSC), for the LNG industry as a reference for creating sustainable strategies and adds a green operational object to extend the SBSC for theory development. Through the fuzzy Delphi questionnaire of experts, this study found the following. 1. Green operational and environmental objects are relatively important constructs of the GSBSC in the LNG industry. 2. ‘Operating risk and cost management’, ‘customer satisfaction’, ‘product management and recycling mechanism’ and ‘greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions’ are relatively important indicators in their associated objects. This research preliminarily aims to provide relevant and refined advice for the Taiwanese LNG industry and extend the SBSC to the GSBSC.
Article
CSR originated in western developed countries and is deeply rooted in their corporate culture. It was only in recent years that companies in developing countries realized the important role of CSR in business practice. Now, CSR has become an integral part of corporate development. Through a comparative case study of the CSR activities in Walmart and JD.com, this paper explores the similarities and differences between CSR in developed and developing countries and the reasons for the differences by analyzing the companies’ official websites, annual CSR reports, and sustainability reports. In addition, there is a SWOT analysis of the CSR activities of the two companies, the deficiencies and challenges of CSR activities at the current stage are discussed. The result shows that the similarities and differences of CSR are influenced by the political, economic, social and cultural factors. Developed countries should focus more on specific CSR activities in response to internal and external environment changes to save CSR expenses and improve efficiency for future CSR activities. As for developing countries, governments should play a role in improving the regulatory environment and raising awareness and participation in CSR. The functions of community and media are also significant.
Article
While the benefits of CSR may offer suppliers a competitive advantage in their customer market, CSR remains a paradox as firms struggle to strike a balance between the financial, social, and environmental interests of stakeholders. Such confliction is greatly intensified for firms whose core business and/or marketing communications contradict the general social and environmental interests of the society. Considering theories and concepts borrowed from consumer behavior that appear to have been influential in explaining pertinent B2B buyer purchasing decisions, this paper empirically investigates the contingency conditions underpinning CSR and its communication effect on organizational customer outcomes. Our results, based on panel data from Kinder, Lydenberg, and Domini (KLD) and Compustat database, suggest that on average B2B firms' CSR communications significantly enhance their firm value; however, this value enhancing effect is attenuated when controversies weigh in on firms' industry and/or corporate reputations. Specifically, CSR communications have significantly positive impact on firms in regular settings, but the impact becomes negligible or even negative for firms operating in controversial industries or firms face controversial advertising problems. Theoretical and managerial implications of the research are provided.
Article
Purpose This study aims to investigate the relationship between corporate social responsibility (CSR) disclosure and financial performance (FP) of Islamic banking sector from a developing country perspective. It also explores the present status of CSR activities performing by the listed Islamic banks (IBs) of Bangladesh. Design/methodology/approach The secondary data from seven IBs’ annual reports for the years 2009–2018 are taken to obtain substantial measures of CSR activities. A corporate social responsibility disclosure index is constructed based on disclosure status on nine dimensions and 75 items as per the Accounting and Auditing Organization for Islamic Financial Institutions standards. To find the association between CSR disclosures and profitability, panel regression analysis has been performed. Findings The result indicates that CSR disclosures have a significant and negative relation with FP (return on assets) of IBs. It also suggests the expansion of CSR practices and the communicative CSR reporting of IBs, as an ethical identity, toward the stakeholders and society. Research limitations/implications First, the samples used in this study are limited to IBs as ethical identities in Bangladesh. Second, the length of a time frame as the practice of CSR activities and its reporting is still ineffective following the enforcement of the central bank directive in 2008. Another limitation is that the study used a subjective measure, content analysis, of CSR activities that was self-reported disclosures, which may creep some biasness. Practical implications The practical involvement of this research includes the assistance for policy development regarding better understanding of expansion of CSR practices and trustworthiness of CSR reporting by the Islamic banking segments in developing country context. Future researchers can get a glimpse of what reputational impact CSR initiatives really have on consumers and investors, considering CSR activities as an indicator of greater transparency and honesty in operations and financial reporting. Originality/value This study makes an important contribution to the academic literature on CSR communication from developing country context where CSR activities are supported under Islamic banking system. In addition, its examination of the legitimacy of CSR disclosures elaborates the social obligations of corporate entities to their stakeholders and society.
Article
Full-text available
The Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts of brands impact consumers’ willingness to support them, yet consumers are generally skeptical about CSR communication. This empirical work uses three experimental studies to show that framing CSR messages in values-based terms (“It is our duty to engage in this CSR initiative”) enhances consumers’ brand attitudes by increasing perceived moralization and perceived commitment to the initiative. More interestingly, we show that this effect is reversed for highly formalistic consumers (those motivated by the duty to follow values, principles, and rules) who are opposed to the CSR initiative. We also show that in the long term, values-based frames can lead to higher perceived hypocrisy in the eyes of highly formalistic people if the firm does not live up to its lofty principles. This is the first paper to establish the link between values-based CSR communication, perceived moralization, perceived commitment, and brand attitudes. It also brings together the research streams on CSR communication and consumer ethical systems to show that though values-based framing of CSR is a high-return strategy for brands in terms of improved brand attitudes, it is also a high-risk strategy for firms targeting highly formalistic consumers.
Purpose Focusing on the corporate social responsibility (CSR) communication context, the present research aims to understand when and why featuring pride versus empathy in a hospitality brand’s social media post can effectively boost consumers’ loyalty intention. Design/methodology/approach Two experimental studies examined the congruence effects between emotional appeal and sense of power, where power was made situationally salient within the social media post (Study 1) or measured as a personality trait (Study 2). Findings Emotional appeals featuring pride (vs empathy) will lead to higher loyalty intention for individuals with a situational or chronic sense of high (vs low) power. A further examination into the psychological mechanism reveals that such congruence effects are serially mediated through consumers’ perceived brand authenticity and brand trustworthiness. Practical implications Understanding how the sense of power may influence consumer response to social media posts using different emotional appeals can provide useful guidance for marketers about how to creatively segment customers and curate appropriate targeting messages for effective CSR communication and relationship building on social media. Originality/value Extending the message framing research on schema congruity, this research is the first to reveal the congruence effects of emotional appeal and sense of power in CSR communications and uncover the serial mediating roles of perceived brand authenticity and brand trustworthiness in relationship marketing on social media.
Article
Full-text available
This paper investigates the relationship between corporate social responsibility (hereafter referred to as CSR) fulfilment and the innovation behaviour of firms. Despite past studies investigating the link between CSR and various organizational outcomes, its nexus with firm innovation performance is hardly explored. This paper further examined the moderating effect of organizational strategy in the hypothesized relationship. Using a positivistic research approach, a sample of 600 service industry personnel were surveyed. The 491 retrieved usable responses were analysed using regression, exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis. It emerged that CSR fulfilment has a significant effect on firm innovation. Also, the positive relationship between CSR fulfilment and firm innovation was not significantly moderated by organizational strategy. The results imply that CSR fulfilment affects the innovative behaviour of firms to produce services that differentiate them from their competitors. Consequently, focus should be placed on designing workable CSR implementation plans backed by appropriate human resource capacity to make the firm successful.
Article
Full-text available
Drawing on propositions from social identity theory and signaling theory, we hypothesized that firms' corporate social performance (CSP) is related positively to their reputations and to their attractiveness as employers. Results indicate that independent ratings of CSP are related to firms' reputations and attractiveness as employers, suggesting that a firm's CSP may provide a competitive advantage in attracting applicants. Such results add to the growing literature suggesting that CSP map provide firms with competitive advantages.
Article
Marketing theory and practice have focused persistently on exchange between buyers and sellers. Unfortunately, most of the research and too many of the marketing strategies treat buyer-seller exchanges as discrete events, not as ongoing relationships. The authors describe a framework for developing buyer-seller relationships that affords a vantage point for formulating marketing strategy and for stimulating new research directions.
Article
An experiment was conducted to examine the effect of self-interest in a personal communication situation. Self-interest was investigated as a moderator of the effects of argument strength and expertise on personal communication effectiveness. The results suggest that self-interest is an important contingency variable that can alter significantly the effectiveness of personal communication variables.
Article
Although cause-related marketing has become increasingly popular, academic researchers have only begun to examine how consumers respond ro it. In this study, the authors explore in depth how consumers think and feel about cause-related marketing. They develop a framework of consumer responses that includes a typology of consumers. The authors also discuss implications for research, business find nonprofit marketing, and public policy.
Article
An experiment was conducted to examine the effect of self-interest in a personal communication situation. Self-interest was investigated as a moderator of the effects of argument strength and expertise on personal communication effectiveness. The results suggest that self-interest is an important contingency variable that can alter significantly the effectiveness of personal communication variables.