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Research: How Do Consumers Evaluate Corporate Social Responsibility?

Diogo Hildebrand, researcher and Corporate Social Responsibility expert at Grenoble Ecole de Management
Published on
17 November 2017

From fighting poverty and illness to providing disaster relief, corporations around the world dedicate considerable resources to corporate social responsibility (CSR). Contributions come in a variety of forms such as monetary donations, the donation of goods or employee volunteerism. This latest study explores how consumers perceive different types of CSR actions and evaluate a company.

This article of Diogo Hildebrand is the sujet of the 39th Executive Summary by Grenoble Ecole de Management.

From the article

Consumer Responses to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Contribution
Type
Journal of Consumer Research, 22 Avril 2017
doi.org/10.1093/jcr/ucx063

Diogo Hildebrand

While CSR policies can improve the world and elicit positive consumer reactions, little research has focused on how different types of corporate contributions are evaluated. The researchers focused on two types of contributions: cash donations and inkind actions (product donation, sharing of company know-how, employee volunteerism, etc.). They demonstrated that their effectiveness depends on whether an issue can be categorized as more or less controllable (e.g., obesity versus an earthquake).

Consumer evaluations depend on emotionality

The central fi nding in this study is the fact that consumer evaluations are based on the concordance between the emotions associated with a contribution and the intensity of emotions caused by an issue. In other words, the researchers fi rst explain that less controllable issues such as natural disasters evoke more intense emotions than controllable issues such as poverty. Second, they demonstrate that in-kind contributions cause greater emotional responses than monetary contributions.

When these two fi ndings are combined, the study highlights that positive consumer evaluations can be linked to how closely the emotionality of an issue is matched to the emotionality of the company contribution. For example, a monetary donation to fi ght obesity (both of which garner lower emotional reactions) would elicit positive consumer evaluations. On the other hand, employee volunteerism to provide disaster relief (both of which garner high emotional reactions) would also elicit positive evaluations.

Matching CSR actions and emotionality

The study underlines the importance of matching the right contribution to a particular issue. In practical terms, this means companies can choose monetary or in-kind contributions depending on the perceived controllability of an issue. A reassuring point for companies is that monetary assistance, which generally requires less effort, is likely to garner a positive response when associated with a controllable issue.

However, the researchers highlight that this analysis requires consumers to be aware of an issue's controllability. As a result, they suggest that when a company communicates on a CSR initiative, it would be benefi cial to also communicate on the issue's controllability in order to ensure optimal consumer perception.

Key points

  • In-kind contributions evoke stronger emotional responses than monetary contributions
  • An uncontrollable issue (natural disaster) evokes stronger emotions than a controllable issue (obesity)
  • Consumers more positively evaluate CSR initiatives in which the emotional response to a company contribution matches the emotional response to an issue

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