About the role of CSR communication as a determinant of consumer attitudes towards brands - Identification of CSR message features creating positive attitudes towards CSR messages and brands behind it

Heidinger, Anna (2012) About the role of CSR communication as a determinant of consumer attitudes towards brands - Identification of CSR message features creating positive attitudes towards CSR messages and brands behind it.

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Abstract:Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) communication literature indicates that brands which communicate about CSR are subject to consumer skepticism, while also suggesting that CSR and CSR communication is able to foster positive consumer responses and purchase intentions. The more an organization is able to control CSR message contents, the less trustworthy it is evaluated by consumers according to the literature. This proposition is called the CSR communication dilemma (Morsing, 2003) as it implies that organizations and brands cannot communicate about their social efforts themselves without risking to be encountered with consumer skepticism which has been found to prevent actual and intended purchases. In this research it is argued that concluding from consumer skepticism towards CSR messages to low purchase intentions as it is often handled in the academic literature is a too narrow conclusion. Researches on CSR advertisements give reason to believe that other consumer attitudes towards brands might also be of relevance in the effect of CSR messages on the consumer-brand relationship and purchase intentions. Therefore, current findings in the field of (CSR) communication have been reviewed for their relevance for this research while considering the guiding question: To what extent do particular CSR message features influence positive consumer attitudes towards CSR messages and the brands behind these messages? Based upon the literature study, four distinct CSR message features (CSR motives, CSR-brand fit, CSR message specificity and CSR target) have been selected and tested for their influence on two consumer attitudes towards CSR messages (skepticism and credibility) and on consumer attitudes towards brands (identification, commitment, trust and satisfaction). The CSR message features can be differentiated in extrinsic and intrinsic CSR motives, low and high CSR-brand fit, low and high CSR message specificity, and global and local CSR targets. Deduced from earlier investigations it is hypothesized that intrinsic CSR motives, high CSR-brand fit, high CSR message specificity and local CSR targets have a more positive effect on credibility, brand identification, commitment, trust and satisfaction than the opposite CSR message particularity. It is also hypothesized that credibility (skepticism) influences brand identification, commitment, trust and satisfaction positively (negatively). All these attitudes, except for skepticism, are expected to impact purchase intentions positively. These hypotheses have been tested by means of a cross-sectional 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 factorial experiment including five different CSR messages from real fast moving consumer goods’ brand websites. Findings, obtained by a heterogeneous sample (n = 251) with a mean age of 26 years, reveal that perceptions of intrinsic CSR motives, a high CSR-brand fit, high CSR message specificity and local CSR targets influence credibility of CSR messages positively while reducing skepticism towards the same message, as it has been hypothesized. Also, the hypotheses regarding the positive effect of the CSR message features intrinsic CSR motives, high CSR-brand fit, local CSR target and high CSR message specificity on positive consumer responses, namely brand identification, commitment, trust, and satisfaction could be accepted. According to this study, brand trust is negatively influenced by skepticism towards CSR messages. High Purchase intentions are best predicted by high CSR message specificity, high brand commitment, brand trust, and brand satisfaction, while being reduced by perceptions of extrinsic CSR motives. Brand identification and message credibility are significantly influenced by an interaction between CSR message specificity and CSR motives: high message specificity and intrinsic motives yield higher scores on brand identification and message credibility. Combining the observed findings with previous findings leads to the conclusion that the research offers support for previous findings that name CSR motives, CSR-brand fit and CSR target as decisive factors for successful CSR communication as they appear to have direct effect on consumer attitudes. Yet, the research adds to these earlier findings that certain combination of CSR message features even have a stronger impact on those positive consumer attitudes and that for written CSR communication, message specificity is a key factor that should be considered carefully when formulating and publishing CSR messages that are accessible for a broad audience, for instance on brand websites. Finally, it is suggested to consider the observed CSR message features that are connected to positive consumer attitudes when formulating CSR strategies and CSR communication, and to combine them with Morsing and Schultz’s (2006) stakeholder involvement strategy. It is argued that brands can achieve best and most successful consumer-brand relationships from CSR communication that is based on a strategy that is developed in cooperation with consumers and which is communicated by means of messages that are also formulated conjointly while considering the investigated CSR message features. The research at hand adds to the literature that company- or brand-created communication about CSR efforts might not be the source of consumer skepticism or low CSR message credibility as the CSR communication dilemma proposes. It is rather suggested that the adequate combination of relevant CSR message features (the ones tested here and probably some unobserved ones) has the potential to influence consumer attitudes towards CSR communication and brands positively. It is also argued that the common approach to test only one or two CSR message features for their effect on one or two consumer attitudes fails to capture the complex interaction of the multiple factors that are of relevance on the emotional context of CSR and consumer-brand relationships. It is therefore called for future investigations that extend the current research by adding further CSR message features and to test also for the effect of pre-established consumer attitudes on the evaluations of CSR message features.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:05 communication studies
Programme:Communication Studies MSc (60713)
Link to this item:http://purl.utwente.nl/essays/62140
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