While corporate social responsibility (CSR) currently occupies an important position on the corporate agenda, the relationship between CSR and financial performance is equivocal. Specifically, previous research suggests the way in which CSR activities are executed determines whether or not consumers or other stakeholders will support them. Through three papers, the research provides a nuanced understanding of both how firms communicate their CSR activities and how consumers in turn respond to different types of marketing appeals associated with CSR activities. Using both qualitative and quantitative data, the research provides key insights that help explain the equivocal nature of the business case for CSR, and provide practical recommendations for firms’ CSR activities. The first paper uses content analysis of over 4,000 magazine advertisements to examine the commitment of managers to CSR in the recent recession. The findings demonstrate that the recession dramatically changed the face of CSR communication and impacted how managers balance longer-term brand building objectives with short-term economic realities. The second paper demonstrates that, consumers’ support for retailers that engage in both CSR and Corporate Social Irresponsible (CSIR) activities is influenced by the size of the retailer through two key intervening variables: community interdependence and attributions. The paper combines data from depth consumer interviews and three experiments and finds that small retailers are perceived as more socially responsible compared to their larger counterparts while also being protected by a layer of insurance in the event of socially irresponsible behaviour. Finally, the third paper explores the effectiveness of environmentally friendly promotion that includes either self-benefit or other-benefit appeals. The paper seeks to reconcile the conflicting findings on the efficacy of each type of appeal, and finds that public accountability is a key moderator. In settings where public accountability is high, other-benefit appeals are more successful, and in private consumption settings self-benefit appeals are more successful.
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Thesis advisor: Peloza, John
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