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Consumer Responses to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Initiatives: Examining the Role of Brand-Cause Fit in Cause-Related Marketing

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Through a controlled experiment, this study demonstrates that an ad with an embedded cause-related marketing (CRM) message, compared with a similar one without a CRM message, elicits more favorable consumer attitude toward the company. This is so regardless of the level of fit between the sponsoring brand and the social cause. Furthermore, when the embedded CRM message involves high versus low brand/cause fit, consumer attitudes toward the ad and the brand are more favorable. Such positive effect of brand/cause fit, however, only emerges for consumers who are high in brand consciousness; for those who are low in brand consciousness, brand/cause fit has no impact on ad or brand evaluations. Theoretical and practical implications of the findings are discussed.
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Corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives have become
increasingly popular among American corporations. A common
form of such activity, referred to as cause-related marketing
(CRM), involves a company’s promise to donate a certain amount
of money to a nonprofit organization or a social cause when
customers purchase its products/services. A well-known CRM
program has been General Mill’s ongoing Yoplait campaign with
the slogan “Save Lids to Save Lives,” which promises to donate
10¢ to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation for each
yogurt lid returned by customers. To date, this CRM campaign
has raised over 10 million dollars for the foundation.
Varandarajan and Menon (1988) categorize CRM among
CSR initiatives that “Do Better by Doing Good.” In other
words, CRM not only increases the company’s revenues but
also contributes to societal welfare. They define CRM as:
The process of formulating and implementing marketing
activities that are characterized by an offer from the firm to
contribute a specified amount to a designated cause when
customers engage in revenue-providing exchanges that satisfy
organizational and individual objectives. (Varandarajan and
Menon 1998, p. 60)
CRM is perhaps more prevalent nowadays than ever before.
From the classic American Express campaign launched in
1983 to the recent Yoplait “Save Lids to Save Life” program,
This research was supported by a USDA grant awarded to the first author.
thousands of companies have engaged in CRM. A survey
conducted by the PMA (Promotion Marketing Association)
and Gable Group (2000) revealed that CRM was being used
by over 85% of the organization’s corporate members. The
prevalence of CRM has drawn research attention from both
the industry and academia. Researchers are confronted with
two prominent issues. The first concerns consumers’ general
responses to CRM. That is, do consumers generally think of
and react to this form of marketing tactic favorably? The sec-
ond issue has to do with the relative effects of different types
of CRM. Although both issues could be addressed from the
perspective of either the company or the nonprofit organization
involved, research to date has primarily focused on implica-
tions for the sponsoring company (e.g., consumer attitudes,
purchase intentions, sales, etc.).
In addressing the first issue, researchers have relied on
anecdotal stories, case studies, and surveys that directly ask
consumers what they think of CRM and the parties involved,
as well as the extent to which their buying behaviors are likely
to be influenced by a company’s CRM programs. While such
research has shown that consumers’ general responses to CRM
tend to be positive (e.g., RSW 1993; Webb and Mohr 1998),
one may wonder about the utility of adopting a CRM strategy
compared to a baseline condition where no CRM tactic is used.
For instance, will an ad be more effective in terms of enhanc-
ing consumer attitudes toward the company and the brand
when it has a CRM component versus when it doesn’t have
this feature? Indeed, without a standard of comparison, it is
Journal of Advertising, vol. 36, no. 2 (Summer 2007), pp. 63–74.
© 2007 American Academy of Advertising. All rights reserved.
ISSN 0091-3367 / 2007 $9.50 + 0.00.
DOI 10.2753/JOA0091-3367360204
CONSUMER RESPONSES TO CORPORATE
SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY (CSR) INITIATIVES
Examining the Role of Brand-Cause Fit in Cause-Related Marketing
Xiaoli Nan and Kwangjun Heo
ABSTRACT: Through a controlled experiment, this study demonstrates that an ad with an embedded cause-related
marketing (CRM) message, compared with a similar one without a CRM message, elicits more favorable consumer
attitude toward the company. This is so regardless of the level of fit between the sponsoring brand and the social cause.
Furthermore, when the embedded CRM message involves high versus low brand/cause fit, consumer attitudes toward the
ad and the brand are more favorable. Such positive effect of brand/cause fit, however, only emerges for consumers who are
high in brand consciousness; for those who are low in brand consciousness, brand/cause fit has no impact on ad or brand
evaluations. Theoretical and practical implications of the findings are discussed.
Xiaoli Nan (Ph.D., University of Minnesota–Twin Cities) is an as-
sistant professor in the Department of Life Sciences Communication,
University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Kwangjun Heo (M.A., University of North Carolina) is a Ph.D.
student in the Department of Life Sciences Communication, Uni-
versity of Wisconsin–Madison.
64 The Journal of Advertising
difficult to gauge the impact of CRM on consumer responses.
Thus, more research that takes a relative approach comparing
CRM and a baseline condition is needed to examine consumer
responses to CRM.
The relative effects of different types of CRM, on the other
hand, have been more commonly investigated through con-
trolled experiments. This research stream has typically focused
on a typology of CRM defined by features of the sponsoring
brand/product/company (e.g., a utilitarian versus hedonic
product; Strahilevitz and Myers 1998) or characteristics of
the involved social cause (e.g., cause familiarity; Lafferty and
Goldsmith 2005). However, a unique CRM campaign can
also be defined by relationships between the sponsoring brand
and the social cause. One such relationship is the level of “fit”
between the brand and the cause, which could potentially
influence consumer responses to the campaign.
The importance of brand/cause fit in CRM has been sug-
gested by marketing scholars (e.g., Drumwright 1996; Stra-
hilevitz and Myers 1998). The communication effects of “fit”
have also been a focal research topic in other related areas such
as event sponsorship (e.g., Rifon et al. 2004), brand extension
(e.g., Aaker and Keller 1990), and celebrity endorsement (e.g.,
Kamins and Gupta 1994). Yet there has been surprisingly scant
research addressing the role of brand/cause fit in determining
the effects of CRM. Such research is important, however, on
both theoretical and practical accounts. On a theoretical level, it
could better our understanding of the communication effects of
“fit” in new contexts. Practically speaking, such research could
provide potential guidance for practitioners in selecting appro-
priate nonprofit partners or social causes in CRM programs.
This study, therefore, has two goals. First, it examines the
relative effects of CRM versus a baseline condition where
no such strategy is used. It is proposed here that regardless
of brand/cause fit, exposure to an advertising message with
a CRM component will lead to more favorable consumer
responses than exposure to a similar ad without a CRM com-
ponent. A second purpose of this study is to investigate the
relative effects of a CRM program involving high brand/cause
fit versus one that has low brand/cause fit. While it is expected
that higher brand/cause fit will elicit more favorable consumer
responses, this study further suggests that consumers with high
brand consciousness are more sensitive to brand/cause fit, and
are thus more influenced by this cue than their counterparts
with relatively low brand consciousness. These propositions
were tested through a controlled experiment.
THEORETICAL BACKGROUND
Consumer Responses to CRM
Since its debut in 1983, CRM has generated extensive dis-
cussion in the trade literature (e.g., Braedon 1985; Freeman
and Walley 1998; Smith and Stodghill 1994). Led by a few
conceptual pieces (e.g., Drumwright 1996; Varandarajan and
Menon 1988), scholarly work began to emerge in the 1990s
(e.g., Ross, Patterson, and Stutts 1992; Smith and Alcorn
1991; Strahilevitz and Myers 1998; Webb and Mohr 1998).
Recently, there has been a growing research interest in CRM
(e.g., Barone, Miyazaki, and Taylor 2000; Dean 2004; Hamlin
and Wilson 2004; Lafferty and Goldsmith 2005; Polonsky and
Wood 2001; Pracejus, Olsen, and Brown 2003; Pracejus and
Olsen 2004; Yechiam et al. 2002).
Consumers’ General Responses to CRM
Earlier research has focused on consumers’ general responses
to CRM (e.g., Ross, Patterson, and Stutts 1992; Smith and
Alcorn 1991; Webb and Mohr 1998). A variety of consumer
responses, including perceptions of and attitudes toward the
company/brand/product, as well as the nonprofit organization
(NPO) involved in a CRM campaign, have been examined.
Surveys and interviews were the most common methods for
these studies. Research indicates that consumer attitudes to-
ward companies sponsoring CRM are largely positive (Webb
and Mohr 1998). Consumers tend to believe that companies
sponsoring CRM are socially responsible (Ross, Patterson, and
Stutts 1992). In addition, willingness to purchase a company’s
product is also positively influenced by the company’s CRM
activities (Smith and Alcorn 1991).
While these research findings are encouraging to compa-
nies using CRM strategies, the absolute nature of the measures
makes it difficult to quantify the amount of positive effects
that CRM has on consumer responses. In other words, it is
hard to draw any conclusions with regard to the effects of CRM
on consumer responses without a standard of comparison. For
instance, it is not readily clear whether an ad with a CRM
component could elicit significantly more positive consumer
reactions relative to a similar ad without the CRM message.
This issue has not become a research focus until recently (e.g.,
Hamlin and Wilson 2004; Lafferty and Goldsmith 2005). In
Hamlin and Wilson’s (2004) study, research participants were
exposed to a milk ad either with or without a CRM component.
Comparing consumer responses to the regular ad and the ad
with a CRM component, the researchers found that the CRM
cue had no effects on consumer evaluations of the product and
purchase intention. In another study, Lafferty and Goldsmith
(2005) adopted a pre- and posttest approach, comparing con-
sumer evaluations of a brand before and after exposure to an ad
for this brand with a CRM component. The researchers found
that postexposure attitudes toward the brand were significantly
more positive than pre-exposure evaluations. While this study
in essence used a relative approach to examining the effects
of CRM, its design allowed an alternative explanation for the
findings. Specifically, because research participants were not
Summer 2007 65
shown any stimuli during the pre-exposure time, the difference
between pre-exposure and postexposure attitudes could be at-
tributed to the mere effect of having been shown an ad during
the postexposure time (e.g., the mere exposure effect; Zajonc
1968), rather than to the impact of the CRM message.
Clearly, more research is needed to examine the effects of
CRM on consumer responses relative to a baseline condition
to permit a more quantifiable depiction of the utility of this
marketing tactic. Regardless of what baseline condition is
chosen for the purpose of comparison, care should be taken
to maximize the comparability between the CRM condition
and the baseline condition such that any differential effects
resulting from exposure to the two different stimuli can be
reliably attributed to the CRM message.
Consumer Responses to Different Types of CRM
Research on CRM is also marked by a particular interest in
the effects of different types of CRM on consumer responses
(e.g., Barone, Miyazaki, and Taylor 2000; Dean 2004; Laf-
ferty and Goldsmith 2005; Ross, Patterson, and Stutts 1992;
Strahilevitz and Myers 1998; Yechiam et al. 2002). In general,
two categories of independent variables have received the most
attention: features associated with the brand and character-
istics related to the social cause. Research has shown that a
CRM program involving a hedonic product (e.g., ice cream,
concert tickets, etc.) is more effective in eliciting willingness
to purchase and stimulating actual purchases than one that is
associated with a utilitarian product (e.g., laundry detergent,
toothpaste, etc.) (Strahilevitz and Myers 1998, Experiment 2
and 3). Barone, Miyazaki, and Taylor (2000) demonstrate that
consumers prefer a brand that shows an altruistic motivation
to support a social cause to a comparable brand that forms al-
liance with a social cause for the purpose of generating sales.
On the other hand, consumer evaluations of the company or
the brand appear to be less susceptible to the influence of the
characteristics associated with the social cause (Lafferty and
Goldsmith 2005, p. 425). Ross, Patterson, and Stutts (1992)
suggest that consumer attitudes toward a firm engaging in
CRM would be more favorable when the CRM program
involves a local social cause than when it involves one that
is national. This hypothesis was not confirmed by empirical
data, however. Additional research on the potential effects of a
variety of other characteristics associated with the social cause
may generate alternative findings.
While previous research has provided insight into the im-
pact of brand-related and cause-related features on consumer
responses to CRM, much less is known about the potential
effects of brand–cause relationships. In particular, it is not
clear how the level of “fit” between the brand and the cause
might influence the effects of a CRM program. Although the
importance of brand/cause fit in CRM has been suggested by
academic researchers (e.g., Drumwright 1996; Strahilevitz
and Myers 1998) and in the trade literature (e.g., Bainbridge
2001; Gray 2000), with only a few recent attempts (Hamlin
and Wilson 2004; Pracejus and Olsen 2004), little empirical
evidence exists that either supports or negates this common
assertion. Pracejus and Olsen (2004) focus on the effects of
brand/cause fit on consumer choice behaviors and demonstrate
that consumers are more likely to choose a product featured in
a CRM program with high versus low brand/cause fit. Hamlin
and Wilson’s (2004) study was inconclusive with regard to the
effects of brand/cause fit on consumers’ brand evaluations.
The Role of Brand/Cause Fit
A common marketing strategy has been to associate a product
with an object possessing positive attributes. For instance, in
event sponsorship, a product is often associated with an event
that is well liked by the public. Celebrity endorsement, on
the other hand, typically pairs a product with a well-regarded
public figure. The increasingly popular brand-extension strat-
egy ties a new product with an existing reputable brand. In
a similar vein, in CRM, a product is paired with a nonprofit
organization or a social cause, toward which people generally
hold positive attitudes. For all these marketing strategies, the
matching, or “fit,” between the product and the object it is
associated with has been regarded as a critical issue (Aaker and
Keller 1990; Drumwright 1996; Kamins and Gupta 1994;
Rifon et al. 2004).
Despite the amount of discussion about “fit,” there has been
little consensus as to what the nature of “fit” is. The discussion
often proceeds separately in different application areas rather
than forming a broad research dialogue across fields. One com-
monality among the various perspectives regarding fit, how-
ever, is that perceived fit has multiple cognitive bases. In the
brand-extension literature, perceived fit between a new product
and the parent brand has been conceptualized as originating
from multiple sources such as feature similarities and image
consistency (Park, Milberg, and Lawson 1991). Perceived fit
can also be influenced by an individual’s idiosyncratic theories
(Dawar 1992). In event sponsorship, researchers suggest that
perceptions of fit could result from either “functional based
similarity” (Gwinner 1997), which occurs when the sponsor’s
product is used during the event, or “image based similarity”
(Benezra 1996), which represents the matching of core values
between the sponsor and the event.
In CRM, brand/cause fit can also originate from multiple
sources. A brand could fit with a social cause if both serve a
similar consumer base (e.g., the General Mills campaign that
ties Yoplait yogurt and the fight against breast cancer). Fit could
be high if a brand and a social cause share a similar value (e.g.,
Johnson & Johnson first aid products and the American Red
Cross). This paper adopts the multidimensional view of fit and
66 The Journal of Advertising
defines brand/cause fit in CRM as the overall perceived related-
ness of the brand and the cause with multiple cognitive bases.
HYPOTHESES
When a product is associated with a positively evaluated
object, affect transfer will occur. Affect transfer is the process
wherein people’s preexisting affect associated with one object
is transferred to a closely related object, toward which people
may not hold prior affect (Shimp 1981). Affect transfer has
been commonly observed in various marketing contexts.
Research in brand extension indicates that consumers often
respond favorably to a new product that is introduced by an
existing reputable brand (Aaker and Keller 1990). Similarly,
in event sponsorship, consumers’ positive affect toward the
event often results in favorable evaluations of the sponsoring
product (Crimmins and Horn 1996). Keller (2003, p. 595)
named the affect transfer as the brand-leveraging process,
wherein marketers attempt to increase the equity of their
brands by borrowing equity from others.
In CRM, the association between a brand and a social cause
could lead to a similar affect transfer process: consumers’ general
positive attitudes toward the nonprofit organization could be
transferred to the sponsoring brand. In addition, as the brand
promises to donate money to the social cause, consumers may
perceive the brand to be altruistic, which could result in more
favorable brand evaluations. Furthermore, for consumers who
themselves are altruistic, perceived altruism of the brand can re-
sult in a sense of connectedness or social identification, which is
the inference that the sponsoring brand or company has certain
desirable traits that resonate with one’s sense of self (Lichten-
stein, Drumwright, and Braig 2004; Mael and Ashforth 1992).
All these mechanisms suggest that consumers will respond
more favorably to a company/brand engaging in CRM versus a
similar one that does not engage in this philanthropic activity,
and this should be so regardless of the level of brand/cause fit.
Hence, the following hypotheses are proposed:
H1: Exposure to an advertising message with a CRM component
involving high brand/cause fit will lead to more favorable (a)
attitude toward the ad, (b) attitude toward the brand, and
(c) attitude toward the company than exposure to a similar
advertising message without a CRM component.
H2: Exposure to an advertising message with a CRM component
involving low brand/cause fit will lead to more favorable (a)
attitude toward the ad, (b) attitude toward the brand, and
(c) attitude toward the company than exposure to a similar
advertising message without a CRM component.
Research has also shown that the affect transfer process can
be facilitated when the level of fit between the product and
the positively evaluated object with which it is associated is
relatively high. In brand-extension research, it has been well
documented that the transfer of a parent brand’s evaluations
to a new extension becomes greater as the parent brand and
the extension are perceived more similarly (Aaker and Keller
1990; Boush and Loken 1991). The same facilitating effect
of fit has been noted for event sponsorship (Gwinner 1997).
A direct consequence of the facilitating effect of fit is that
attitudes toward a well-fitted product will be more favorable
than attitudes toward an ill-fitted product in strategic pairing.
Based on the above reasoning, when two brands both engage in
CRM, the one that has a high level of fit with the social cause
should be viewed more favorably than the one that has a low
level of fit. Thus, the following hypothesis is posited:
H3: Exposure to an advertising message with a CRM component
involving high (versus low) brand/cause fit will lead to more
favorable (a) attitude toward the ad, (b) attitude toward the
brand, and (c) attitude toward the company.
Hoeffler and Keller (2002) suggest that CRM is a promising
tool for building brand equity. According to Keller (1998),
brand equity is the differential effect that brand knowledge has
on customer response to marketing activity. Brand knowledge
is represented in memory as a brand node to which a variety
of associations are linked (e.g., product functions, user image).
Hoeffler and Keller (2002) pointed out that CRM could build
brand equity by enhancing user image, since users of brands
engaging in CRM are generally perceived as being generous
and altruistic.
Compared to a CRM program that has low brand/cause
fit, a CRM initiative exhibiting high brand/cause fit defines
user image in a more consistent way. For example, a brand
of orange juice, which is closely associated with the idea of a
healthy diet, could engage in CRM that involves a social cause
in the area of either healthy diet or traffic safety. When the
social cause is related to a healthy diet (i.e., brand/cause fit is
high), brand-user image is likely to be unambiguous and well
defined (e.g., generous people who care about a healthy diet).
In contrast, when the social cause is related to traffic safety,
brand-user image will be relatively ambiguous (e.g., generous
people who care about a healthy diet and traffic safety).
Ambiguity in brand-user image could be more important
for some people than for others. In particular, it is likely to be
more relevant for consumers with high brand consciousness
than for those with low brand consciousness. Brand conscious-
ness has been commonly defined as an individual trait charac-
terized by the degree to which a consumer is oriented toward
buying well-known branded products (Shim and Gehrt 1996;
Sproles and Kendall 1986). Core to being brand conscious is
the idea that the brands one uses are a reflection of one’s own
personalities. This tendency has been well documented in the
broader literature of product symbolism, which suggests that
consumers perceive purchase and consumption of products
Summer 2007 67
to be vehicles for self-expression (Belk 1988; Sirgy 1985).
Consumers with high brand consciousness should be highly
sensitive to the user image a brand conveys. To the extent
that the image is positive and unambiguous, these consum-
ers will hold a positive attitude toward the brand. If the user
image conveyed by a brand is ambiguous, however, highly
brand-conscious consumers may perceive risks in adopting
the brand, which arise from the uncertainties with regard to
how they would be perceived by others when using the brand.
Such perceived risks or uncertainties could lead to a less favor-
able attitude toward the brand. In contrast, consumers who
are low in brand consciousness are not concerned about the
user image conveyed by a brand, and thus are less sensitive to
ambiguity in brand-user image. The above discussion leads
to the following hypothesis:
H4: The impact of the level of brand/cause fit (high versus low)
on (a) attitude toward the ad, (b) attitude toward the brand,
and (c) attitude toward the company will be more pronounced
for individuals high (versus low) in brand consciousness.
METHOD
Participants and Procedure
An experiment was conducted to test the hypotheses. One
hundred undergraduate students recruited from introduc-
tory communication classes in a large Midwestern university
participated in exchange for extra credits. The experiment
was conducted in a research lab. Participants were randomly
assigned to three experimental conditions: a high brand/cause
fit condition, a low brand/cause fit condition, and a control
group (i.e., a regular ad condition).
On arrival at the research lab, each participant was given
a booklet, which contained the experimental stimuli and a
questionnaire. Participants were told that the purpose of the
study was to find out how college students respond to a new
brand of orange juice that had recently been introduced to the
market and that they were going to see an advertisement for
this new product and answer a few questions afterward. The
experimental stimulus was in the form of a ¾-page black-
and-white print ad. It featured an image of the product (i.e.,
Sunshine Orange Juice) on a sky blue background. A headline
(i.e., “Naturally rich in vitamin C”) and a product description
in a smaller font (i.e., “Sunshine Orange Juice is naturally
rich in the antioxidant vitamin C, an ingredient known for
preventing some heart diseases.”) appeared in the middle of
the ad. Company Web site information was placed at the bot-
tom of the ad. All these features of the ad were the same across
the three experimental conditions. The only difference was in
the space between the product description and the Web site
information: For the regular ad condition, no information was
shown, whereas in the other two conditions, a CRM message
was inserted (see the Appendix for the three ads used in the
experiment). After viewing the ad, participants filled out a
questionnaire that included measures of advertising effects,
confounding variables, manipulation check, brand conscious-
ness, and simple demographics.
Manipulation of Brand/Cause Fit
Brand/cause fit was manipulated by varying the nonprofit
organization involved in the CRM (e.g., Hamlin and Wilson
2004; Lafferty and Goldsmith 2005). Since orange juice is
often perceived as a healthy drink, it would be appropriate
to choose a health-related nonprofit organization as a match-
ing partner. Thus, in the high brand/cause fit condition, the
involved nonprofit organization was the Healthy Diet Re-
search Association. As a way of augmenting brand/cause fit,
the product description emphasized Sunshine Orange Juice’s
healthy ingredients that are beneficial for one’s heart health.
The exact wording of the CRM message was as follows: “Sun-
shine Orange Juice is a sponsor of the Healthy Diet Research
Association. For every bottle of juice sold, we donate 5 cents
to this worthy cause.”
In the low brand/cause fit condition, the involved nonprofit
organization was the Traffic Safety Research Association. The
wording of the CRM message was a replication of that ap-
pearing in the high-fit condition, except for the name of the
nonprofit organization.
Both nonprofit organizations were fictitious and were ex-
pected to be unfamiliar to the participants. The hypothetical
nature of the organizations could reduce variations in partici-
pants’ previous experiences with the organizations, and thus,
the confounding of brand/cause fit and experience-related
variables. A pretest with a small body of students not part
of the group involved in the experiment indicated similar
perceptions of and attitudes toward the two organizations
and social causes.
Measures
Consumer Responses
Three evaluative consumer responses were taken: attitude to-
ward the ad, attitude toward the brand, and attitude toward the
company. Attitude toward the ad was measured by three items
on a 1 to 7 scale anchored by the adjectives dislike/like, unfa-
vorable/favorable, and negative/positive (Cronbach’s α = .93).
Attitude toward the brand was measured similarly by three
items on a 1 to 7 scale: dislike/like, unfavorable/favorable, and
negative/positive (Cronbach’s α = .93). Attitude toward the
company was measured by four items on a 1 to 7 scale anchored
by the adjectives dislike/like, unfavorable/favorable, nega-
68 The Journal of Advertising
tive/positive, and socially irresponsible/socially responsible
(Cronbach’s α = .91). Since each measure showed a relatively
high internal consistency, items measuring the same construct
were averaged to form an index for that construct.
Brand Consciousness
Brand consciousness was measured by three items adapted
from DDB Needham Lifestyle Surveys (see Nelson and McLeod
2005 for similar measure). Participants were asked to indicate
their agreement with each of the following statements on a
1 to 7 scale (1 being strongly disagree and 7 being strongly
agree): (1) “I pay attention to the brand names of the prod-
ucts I buy,” (2) “sometimes I am willing to pay more money
for a product because of its brand name,” and (3) “I believe
the brands I buy are a reflection of who I am” (Cronbach’s
α = .74). The three items were averaged to form an index for
brand consciousness.
Manipulation Check
To check if brand/cause fit was successfully manipulated, partici-
pants were asked to indicate their agreement with each of the
following statements: (1) “I think that Sunshine Orange Juice
donating to [the name of the nonprofit organization depending
on the experimental condition] represents a good match between
the product and the cause,” and (2) “I think that donations to
[the name of the nonprofit organization depending on the experi-
mental condition] are appropriate for Sunshine Orange Juice.”
As stated previously, this study adopts a multidimensional view
of brand/cause fit. Thus, rather than focusing on a specific aspect
of brand/cause fit, the statements were framed broadly to capture
a wide range of cognitive bases for perceived fit.
Potential Confounding Variables
The way brand/cause fit was manipulated in this study (i.e.,
varying the nonprofit organization) potentially introduced a
number of confounding variables. These were primarily partici-
pants’ perceptions of and attitudes toward the social cause and
the organization. Thus, items were included in the question-
naire that provided measures for participants’ general attitude
toward the organization and perceived personal relevance of the
social cause. The former was measured by three items on a 1 to 7
scale anchored by the adjectives dislike/like, unfavorable/favor-
able, and negative/positive (Cronbach’s α = .92). The latter was
measured by a single question that asked participants the extent
to which they personally care about the social cause. Although
the organizations were fictitious, a measure of familiarity with
the organization was also included to guard against participants
possible confusion involving the organization featured in the ad
and other organizations they knew or had heard about.
RESULTS
Manipulation Check
For the manipulation check, a MANOVA (multivariate
analysis of variance) was conducted, where the independent
variable was brand/cause fit and the dependent variables
were perceived match between the brand and the cause
and perceived appropriateness of the alliance. The analysis
revealed a significant effect of brand/cause fit on the depen-
dent variables: Wilks’s λ = .42, F(2, 64) = 44.22, p < .001.
Univariate test results indicated that perceived match
between the brand and the cause was significantly higher
when brand/cause fit was high (i.e., when the organization
was the Healthy Diet Research Association) than when it
was low (i.e., when the organization was the Traffic Safety
Research Association): Mhealthy diet = 5.39, Mtraffic safety = 2.35,
F(1, 65) = 88.58, p < .001. In addition, perceived appropri-
ateness of the alliance was significantly higher when the or-
ganization was health oriented than when it was unrelated to
health: Mhealthy diet = 5.27, Mtraffic safety = 3.03, F(1, 65) = 34.34,
p < .001. These findings suggested that brand/cause fit was
successfully manipulated.
Confounding Checks
To see whether the manipulation of brand/cause fit resulted in
different perceptions of or attitudes toward the organization
and the cause involved, a MANOVA was performed, where the
independent variable was brand/cause fit and the dependent
variables were the three potential confounding variables (i.e.,
general attitude, perceived relevance, and familiarity). The
multivariate test result was nonsignificant (p > .70). Univariate
test results indicated no significant effects of the brand/cause
fit manipulation on general attitude toward the organization,
perceived personal relevance of the social cause, and familiarity
with the organization. Both groups held a relatively positive
attitude toward the organization (Mhealthy diet = 4.67, Mtraffic
= 4.56, p > .60), indicated a relatively high personal relevance
of the social cause (Mhealthy diet = 5.58, Mtraffic safety = 5.26, p > .30),
and were unfamiliar with the organization (Mhealthy diet = 1.48,
Mtraffic safety = 1.58, p > .60).
Hypothesis Testing
H1 and H2
H1 predicted that exposure to an advertising message with a
CRM component involving high brand/cause fit would lead to
more favorable (a) attitude toward the ad, (b) attitude toward
the brand, and (c) attitude toward the company than exposure
to a similar advertising message without a CRM component.
To test this hypothesis, a series of one-way ANOVAs (analyses
Summer 2007 69
of variance) comparing the high brand/cause fit condition and
the regular ad condition on the three evaluative responses were
conducted. No significant differences in attitude toward the
ad (Mhigh fit = 5.03, Mregular ad = 4.90, p > .70) or attitude toward
the brand (Mhigh fit = 5.61, Mregular ad = 5.32, p > .30) were found
across conditions. Thus, H1a and H1b were not supported. The
test results, however, did reveal a significant effect of experi-
mental condition on attitude toward the company such that
the attitude was more favorable under the high brand/cause fit
condition than under the regular ad condition, Mhigh fit = 5.30,
Mregular ad = 4.69, F(1, 64) = 5.05, p < .03. This finding lent
support for H1c.
In a similar vein, H2 predicted that exposure to an adver-
tising message with a CRM component involving low brand/
cause fit would lead to more favorable (a) attitude toward the
ad, (b) attitude toward the brand, and (c) attitude toward
the company than exposure to a similar advertising message
without a CRM component. A series of one-way ANOVAs
comparing the low brand/cause fit condition and the regular
ad condition on the three evaluative responses were conducted
to test this hypothesis. Again, no significant differences in
attitude toward the ad (Mlow fit = 4.75, Mregular ad = 4.90, p > .60)
or attitude toward the brand (Mlow fit = 5.16, Mregular ad = 5.32,
p > .50) were found across conditions. Thus, H2a and H2b
were not supported. Furthermore, attitude toward the
company was more favorable under the low brand/cause fit
condition than under the regular ad condition (Mlow fit = 5.14,
Mregular ad = 4.69), although the effect only approached the
conventional level of significance, F(1, 65) = 3.08, p < .09.
Thus, H2c received weak support. See Table 1 for a summary
of the hypothesis tests and Table 2 for means and standard
deviations of all dependent variables.
H3 and H4
H3 suggested that exposure to an advertising message with
a CRM component involving high (versus low) brand/cause
fit will lead to more favorable (a) attitude toward the ad,
(b) attitude toward the brand, and (c) attitude toward the
company. H4 further posited that these relationships would
be moderated by an individual’s brand consciousness such
that the impact of brand/cause fit on (a) attitude toward the
ad, (b) attitude toward the brand, and (c) attitude toward
the company would be more pronounced for individuals
high (versus low) in brand consciousness. Before testing the
hypotheses, participants were divided into a high brand con-
sciousness group and a low brand consciousness group based
on a median split.
Hypotheses 3 and 4 were tested simultaneously through a
MANOVA, where the independent variables were brand/cause
fit (high versus low) and brand consciousness (high versus low),
and the dependent variables were attitude toward the ad, at-
titude toward the brand, and attitude toward the company.
An unexpected main effect of brand consciousness emerged:
Wilks’s λ = .88, F(3, 61) = 2.82, p < .05. Univariate test
results indicated that brand consciousness had a positive ef-
fect on attitude toward the ad, Mhigh bc = 5.15, Mlow bc = 4.55,
F(1, 63) = 3.91, p = .05, and attitude toward the company,
Mhigh bc = 5.45, Mlow bc = 4.91, F(1, 63) = 4.62, p < .04, but
not attitude toward the brand (p > .60). The expected main
effect of brand/cause fit, on the other hand, did not emerge. It
appeared that brand/cause fit had no systematic effect on any
of the dependent variables (p’s > .14). Thus, H3 was largely
unsupported.
The analyses, however, did reveal a significant interaction
TABLE 1
A Summary of Statistical Tests
Dependent variables
(a) Attitude
toward the ad
(b) Attitude toward
the brand
(c) Attitude toward
the company
The high-fit condition versus the regular ad
condition (H1) F(1, 64) = .14 F(1, 64) = .99 F(1, 64) = 5.05**
The low-fit condition versus the regular ad
condition (H2) F(1, 65) = .20 F(1, 65) = .56 F(1, 65) = 3.08*
Main effect of brand/cause fit (H3) F(1, 63) = .32 F(1, 63) = 2.19 F(1, 63) = .17
Main effect of brand consciousness (not
hypothesized) F(1, 63) = 3.91** F(1, 63) = .26 F(1, 63) = 4.62**
Interaction of brand/cause fit and brand
consciousness (H4) F(1, 63) = 5.02** F(1, 63) = 6.85** F(1, 63) = 1.61
* p < .10.
** p .05.
70 The Journal of Advertising
between the level of brand/cause fit and brand consciousness:
Wilks’s λ = .88, F(3, 61) = 2.76, p = .05. Univariate test re-
sults indicated that the interaction was significant for attitude
toward the ad, F(1, 63) = 5.02, p < .03 (see Figure 1), and at-
titude toward the brand, F(1, 63) = 6.85, p < .02 (see Figure
2), but not attitude toward the company (p > .20). Additional
analyses revealed that for participants who were high in brand
consciousness, the level of brand/cause fit had a positive ef-
fect on attitude toward the ad, Mhigh fit = 5.58, Mlow fit = 4.72,
F(1, 63) = 4.56, p < .04, and attitude toward the brand,
Mhigh fit = 5.93, Mlow fit = 4.93, F(1, 63) = 9.70, p < .01. For
those who were low in brand consciousness, however, the level
of brand/cause fit had no effect on either attitude toward the
ad (Mhigh fit = 4.29, Mlow fit = 4.80, p > .20) or attitude toward
the brand (Mhigh fit = 5.17, Mlow fit = 5.44, p > .40). Collectively,
these findings provided support for H4a and H4b. H4c was
not supported. See Table 1 for a summary of the hypothesis
tests and Table 2 for means and standard deviations of all
dependent variables.
DISCUSSION
Conclusions and Implications
Does an ad with a CRM message elicit more favorable con-
sumer responses compared with a similar ad without a CRM
component? The answer to this question appears to be a quali-
fied “yes.” This study indicates that a positive impact of CRM
occurs primarily on consumers’ attitudes toward the company,
rather than their attitudes toward the ad or the brand. The
experiment found that participants who were exposed to an
ad with a CRM message held significantly more favorable at-
titudes toward the company compared with those exposed to a
regular ad without a CRM component. As expected, this was so
regardless of the level of brand/cause fit involved in the CRM
program. It appears that the addition of a CRM component,
whether it involves high or low brand/cause fit, to a regular
ad message is beneficial in that it enhances the sponsoring
company’s overall image. Thus, complementing previous
4
4.5
5
5.5
6
High Brand/Cause Fit Low Brand/Cause Fit
Attitude toward the Ad
High BC
Low BC
FIGURE 1
The Interaction Between Brand/Cause Fit and
Brand Consciousness (Dependent Variable:
Attitude Toward the Ad)
4.5
5
5.5
6
6.5
High Brand/Cause Fit Low Brand/Cause Fit
Attitude toward the Brand
High BC
Low BC
FIGURE 2
The Interaction Between Brand/Cause Fit and Brand
Consciousness (Dependent Variable:
Attitude Toward the Brand)
TABLE 2
Means and Standard Deviations of All Dependent Variables
High brand consciousness Low brand consciousness
Regular ad
condition
High-fit
condition
Low-fit
condition
High-fit
condition
Low-fit
condition
Attitude toward the ad 4.90 (1.42) 5.58 (1.18) 4.72 (1.60) 4.29 (1.33) 4.80 (1.44)
Attitude toward the brand 5.32 (1.28) 5.93 (.81) 4.93 (1.01) 5.17 (1.12) 5.44 (1.04)
Attitude toward the company 4.69 (1.10) 5.66 (1.06) 5.24 (.90) 4.80 (.96) 5.02 (1.13)
Summer 2007 71
research on consumers’ general responses to CRM with focus
on absolute measures of effects, this study provides insight into
the relative effects of the CRM tactic and a baseline condition
where no CRM is used, thus offering a clearer picture of the
utility of CRM. A word of caution, however, is that the elevat-
ing effect of a CRM message on attitudes toward the company
may be less substantial when brand/cause fit is low rather than
high. This study found the expected positive effect of an ad
with a low-fit CRM message (versus the baseline condition)
on attitudes toward the company that only approached the
conventional level of significance.
From a practical point of view, the findings here should be
considered encouraging to companies currently engaging in
CRM and those considering initiating CRM. It is clear that
consumers respond favorably to CRM. The advantage of a
communication message with an embedded CRM component
over a similar message without a CRM component primarily
resides in its ability to elicit more favorable consumer attitudes
toward the company. Thus, the decision of engaging versus
disengaging in CRM is more relevant when the priority is to
enhance company image than when the priority is to build
brand equity.
In terms of the relative effects of different types of CRM,
this study shows no systematic effects of brand/cause fit on
consumer responses. A CRM program with high brand/cause
fit, compared with one of low brand/cause fit, is no more ef-
fective in eliciting positive attitudes toward the company, the
ad, or the brand. The null effects, however, may be due to the
complexity of the relationships, which needs to be captured
with more complex theoretical models. This research proposes
such a model, taking into consideration an individual trait,
namely brand consciousness, when theorizing about the effect
of brand/cause fit. As anticipated, significant interactions be-
tween brand/cause fit and brand consciousness emerged. More
specifically, for participants with high brand consciousness,
high brand/cause fit led to more positive attitude toward the
ad and attitude toward the brand than low brand/cause fit.
In contrast, for those who were low in brand consciousness,
brand/cause fit had no impact on either ad or brand evalua-
tions. Attitude toward the company, however, was not affected
by the interaction.
This study thus demonstrates the effects of brand/cause fit
on consumer responses to CRM. An important contribution
of this research is the identification of brand consciousness as
an individual trait that moderates the relationships between
brand/cause fit and consumer evaluative responses toward
the ad message and the sponsoring brand. Complementing
previous research on the effects of “fit” under various mar-
keting contexts (e.g., brand extension, event sponsorship),
this research shows how “fit” can also be relevant for CRM,
a research question that has received limited empirical scru-
tiny. In doing so, it expands our understanding of the nature
of “fit”; the moderation framework proposed here could
indeed be relevant for brand extension or event sponsorship
research.
It is interesting to note that in this study, attitude toward
the company was not found to be affected by either the main
effect of brand/cause fit or the interaction of brand/cause fit
and brand consciousness. It thus appears that when the relative
effects of different types of CRM are of concern, differential
effects tend to be found for consumer responses toward proxi-
mal message sources (e.g., the ad and the brand) rather than
distal message sources (e.g., the company or the advertiser).
As suggested previously, when the relative effects of a CRM
ad and a regular ad are evaluated, differential effects are more
likely to be found for consumer responses toward distant rather
than proximal message sources. Therefore, practically speak-
ing, the decision of what sorts of CRM to engage in is more
relevant when the priority is to build brand equity than when
the priority is to enhance company image.
Limitations and Future Studies
Several limitations of this study need to be acknowledged. One
major limitation of the experiment is the use of a fictitious
brand and social causes, which was purported to strengthen
the internal validity of the experimental design, but nonethe-
less poses threats to external validity. In reality, it is highly
unlikely that consumers would be exposed to a CRM program
involving both an unfamiliar brand and an unfamiliar cause.
An alternative experimental design could address this limita-
tion by using existing brands and/or social causes. Research
participants’ prior knowledge about the brands and/or social
causes could then be statistically controlled. It is important
to note, however, that this alternative design is not without
limitations; it somehow sacrifices internal validity for the sake
of achieving external validity.
On a related note, a fruitful direction for future research may
be along the lines of examining the joint effects of brand/cause
fit and consumers’ existing perceptions of/attitudes toward the
sponsoring brand/social cause. That is, rather than control for
these extraneous variables, future studies could manipulate these
factors and see whether these variables have an impact on the
relationships between brand/cause fit and consumer responses.
Internal validity of this study could be strengthened by
including a number of replicate groups for both the high-fit
and low-fit conditions. That is, multiple nonprofit organiza-
tions that are a good or bad fit for the sponsoring brand could
be used. Analyses could then be conducted on an aggregate
level to reduce the impact of idiosyncratic differences between
any two organizations on the dependent variables.
Another limitation of this study is the relatively small
sample size. This is a concern both in terms of external validity
and statistical power. First, it is difficult to generalize results
72 The Journal of Advertising
from an experiment employing a small student sample to a
larger, more representative population. Thus, the robustness of
the results from this study needs to be tested in future studies
conducted with a larger, more representative sample. Second,
a small sample size tends to be associated with a relatively
low statistical power. In the case of H3, which predicted a
significant effect of brand/cause fit on consumer responses,
a post hoc power analysis indicated that the power to detect
a small effect (d = .25) at the significance level of α = .05
was a small .18. Thus, several null effects observed in this
study might be due to a relatively low statistical power,
rather than a true absence of the effects. Whereas using a larger
sample size can effectively address this concern, one should
also keep in mind that the observed null effects may simply
be due to a true absence of the effects.
It should be noted that the current study has examined the
effects of brand/cause fit in CRM exclusively from the perspec-
tive of the brand/company involved. A perhaps equally, if not
more, critical question is how brand/cause fit might influence
consumer reactions to the nonprofit organization involved
in a CRM program. Research addressing this question is
rare, but the issue has become increasingly salient (Anderson
1996; Lafferty and Goldsmith 2005). Future studies along
this line may generate knowledge useful for the management
of nonprofit organizations and for social welfare in general.
This study is also somehow limited in its exclusive focus on
nonprofit organizations as possible social alliances for private
companies engaging in CRM. In reality, CRM practice has
been much broader. Direct collaborations between private
companies and the public sector or public institutions (e.g.,
government agencies, universities, etc.) as alternative forms
of CRM deserve future research attention.1
Finally, brand/cause fit is conceptualized in this study as
the overall perceived relatedness of the brand and the cause
with multiple cognitive bases. Unfortunately, such a broad
treatment of brand/cause fit limits the opportunity to examine
the effects of different types of brand/cause fit. As suggested
previously, a brand could fit with a social cause to the extent
that both serve a similar consumer base or that both share a
similar value. Could brand/cause fit of a different nature have
differential effects on consumer responses to a CRM message?
Clearly, this is an intriguing research question that awaits
future exploration.2
Corporate investments in cause-related marketing in recent
years have been considerable and are still on the rise. The
increasing popularity of cause-related marketing calls for
systematic research that could potentially provide managerial
guidance for corporate decision marketers as well as nonprofit
organization leaders. On the other hand, the phenomenon of
cause-related marketing offers new marketing concepts and
poses thought-provoking research questions; in and of itself,
it is a fascinating topic for academic endeavors.
NOTES
1. The authors thank an anonymous reviewer for raising this
point.
2. The authors thank an anonymous reviewer for raising this
point.
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APPENDIX
Experimental Stimuli
The High-Fit Condition The Low-Fit Condition
The Regular Ad Condition
... "Brand is a product or service or organization, considered in combination with its name, its identity and reputation" (Anholt, 2007). High brand defines user image in a more consistent way towards high quality (Batra, Ahuvia, & Bagozzi, 2012;Nan & Heo, 2007). Low brand defines user image in a more non-consistent way towards quality". ...
... "Brand is a product or service or organization, considered in combination with its name, its identity and reputation" (Anholt, 2007). High brand defines user image in a more consistent way towards high quality (Batra, Ahuvia, & Bagozzi, 2012;Nan & Heo, 2007). Low brand defines user image in a more non-consistent way towards quality". ...
... "Brand is a product or service or organization, considered in combination with its name, its identity and reputation" (Anholt, 2007). High brand defines user image in a more consistent way towards high quality (Batra, Ahuvia, & Bagozzi, 2012;Nan & Heo, 2007). Low brand defines user image in a more non-consistent way towards quality". ...
Chapter
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In response to high‐profile calls, and the apparent demand from consumers, brands in a wide variety of categories have sought to define, articulate, communicate, and act according to their “brand purpose.” But what is brand purpose? Human purpose is seen as a long‐term commitment to act consistently with one’s values, leading to productive engagement with the world that transcends the self. However, the use of the term purpose as applied to brands raises a number of questions. In what ways is brand purpose similar to, and different from, human purpose? How do consumers react to brand purpose? How might a brand’s purpose impact consumers? In this review, we explore the concept of brand purpose and its potential impact on consumer behavior, drawing upon the literature on human purpose. Additionally, we propose that engagement with, and connections with, authentically purposeful brands may contribute to consumers’ own purposeful lives, ultimately helping consumers achieve their own eudaimonic well‐being. We develop a framework highlighting the relationship between brand purpose and consumer eudaimonic well‐being to guide future research in this domain.
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