Exploring the impact of corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs on consumer responses
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is becoming a more relevant aspect of marketing in today’s world. More than ever, companies are expected to get involved in social responsibility programs to show their commitment to the community they are serving and to have a greater impact on society. Supporting different CSR programs has become a common practice for many companies. The dilemma arises when companies expect that these CSR programs will naturally lead to a responsible brand image, consumer trust, and business growth. Despite the clear outcomes related to CSR programs, success is not guaranteed. Consumers do not blindly trust companies’ CSR programs, and instead of generating positive reactions to the companies’ CSR programs, consumers may develop unfavourable attitude towards the company and even boycott it.
CSR has proved to be a double-edged sword generating both positive and negative reactions among consumers. Recent research focuses on factors contributing to the success of CSR programs and the mechanism that helps to build favourable consumer responses. Although the phenomenon where companies increasingly engage in social behaviour is growing, more rigorous and empirical research is needed to explore how consumers respond to companies’ CSR programs. What are the factors contributing to the success of CSR programs and what type of CSR programs (internal, external-related or external-unrelated) generate more favourable consumer responses?
This study follows the thesis by publication approach and develops three distinct but inter-related papers. Paper 1, “CSR and Consumer Responses: A systematic literature review” analyses the academic literature on CSR, focusing on consumers and their responses towards CSR. Paper 1 adopts a systematic analysis approach to explore customer-focused CSR research studies. Using content analysis, Paper 1 examines how consumers respond to CSR programs and highlights several trends in the selected 161 articles, such as year of publication, journal, research design, sampling technique, and sample country. Based on this analysis, Paper 1 identifies the variables, theories, countries, methodology, and procedures that have been employed in customer-centric CSR research studies. Further, the results of Paper 1 identify the gaps in the literature and provide a conceptual framework for future studies to guide what has been done and what needs to be done. The findings of Paper 1 contribute to the CSR literature by developing an integrative framework of customer-centric CSR research, its antecedents, consequences, mediators, and moderators. Moreover, Paper 1 provides future research directions in five specific domains, namely categorisation of CSR, individuals’ involvement in CSR, CSR outcomes, new theoretical perspectives, and new methodological approaches to examine CSR. The identified future research directions serve as a basis for Paper 2 and Paper 3 of this thesis.
Paper 2 — “Exploring The Impact Of A Company’s Social Programs on Consumer Responses: The Role of Relatedness, Reputation, and Perceived Attributions” draws on image transfer and dispositional attributional theory to examine the factors contributing to the success of the CSR programs in generating favourable consumer responses. Paper 2 examines the role of corporate reputation, CSR fit (related or unrelated CSR programs), and perceived CSR attributions in forming consumers' attitudes, purchase intentions and word-of-mouth intentions. To analyse the relationship in Paper 2, two experimental studies are conducted manipulating CSR programs (related or unrelated) and reputation. The findings of Paper 2 demonstrate that both corporate reputation and CSR reputation hold a dominant position in influencing consumers’ favourable responses towards a company’s CSR program. The results from Paper 2 reveal that perceived CSR attributions partially mediate the relationship between corporate reputation and consumer responses. Relatedness interacts with reputation and impacts consumer responses, under a high corporate reputation, related CSR program results in a more favourable consumer response. Under a low corporate reputation, related or unrelated CSR program makes no significant difference in consumer responses. Paper 2 contributes to the debate of CSR fit as a company should use related or related CSR programs. Further, the research work in Paper 2 provides a useful explanation of why the same CSR activity followed by different companies generates different results. Practitioners will find the results of Paper 2 useful in selecting and communicating CSR activities based on their company’s characteristics.
Paper 3 — “The Impact of CSR Programs on Consumer Responses: Role of Attributions and Authenticity” draws on signalling theory to investigate the impact of three corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs (internal CSR, external-related, and external-unrelated) on consumer attitudes, purchase intentions, and brand attractiveness. Paper 3 also examines the role of perceived CSR authenticity on consumer attitudes, purchase intentions, and brand attractiveness across CSR programs. The results of Paper 3 propose that when a company is involved in internal CSR programs and brings change within its system, it generates more favourable consumer responses than when it supports external-related and external-unrelated CSR programs. Paper 3 contributes to the CSR literature by looking at different CSR programs which are pursued by companies and empirically analyses the impact of perceived CSR authenticity on consumer responses. Paper 3 provides useful insights for managers regarding what CSR programs are most favoured by consumers and what sort of CSR programs companies should follow to generate positive outcomes.
Taking everything into account, by developing three papers, this thesis advances the CSR literature by systematically reviewing the literature, empirically examining the factors contributing to the success of the CSR program and examining the impact of different CSR programs in forming favourable consumer responses.