Special Session Summary the Effects of Partnering With Good Cause on Corporate and Organization Image

Yeosun Yoon, University of Michigan
Zeynep Gurhan-Canli, University of Michigan
[ to cite ]:
Yeosun Yoon and Zeynep Gurhan-Canli (2003) ,"Special Session Summary the Effects of Partnering With Good Cause on Corporate and Organization Image", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, eds. Punam Anand Keller and Dennis W. Rook, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 322-324.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, 2003     Pages 322-324



Yeosun Yoon, University of Michigan

Zeynep Gurhan-Canli, University of Michigan


A recent survey of 25,000 people worldwide showed that 56 percent formed opinions of a company based on its social behavior (The New York Times March 24, 2002). Also, 40 percent of respondents said that they had boycotted or considered boycotting companies they thought as irresponsible. Despite increasing interest on the effects of CSR on consumers’ attitudes, it is not clear when and how CSR activities influence consumer evaluations. Previous research suggests that if the degree of perceived congruence between the CSR campaign and the company’s core business is high (vs. low), consumers are likely to evaluate the company more favorably (Brown and Dacin 1997; Sen and Bhattacharya 2001). This session seeks to extend the existing literature in the CSR area by identifying other important factors (e.g., perceived intention, effort, and motives) that affect cognitive processes that underlie the outcomes of CSR activities. In addition, this session discusses the effects of CSR activities on evaluations of both the company that supports CSR activities as well as the partnering organization. Furthermore, the session extends previous research by examining when CSR activities may backfire. All three papers present completed empirical work. Overall, the session suggests that in addition to the perceived congruence between the CSR campaign and the company’s core business, prior company reputation, perceived intentions and motives, and perceived level of CSR activities may affect consumer evaluations.




Pam Scholder Ellen, Georgia State University

Lois A. Mohr, Georgia State University

Deborah J. Webb, State University of West Georgia

Marketers face a daunting task in developing and implementing prosocial strategies that garner consumer trust in today’s business environment. In a 2001 Gallup survey, only 10 percent of respondents said they have a 'great deal’ and only 18 percent said they have 'quite a lot’ of confidence in big business. This lack of confidence is not surprising in light of consumer discontent with the role and conduct of business in America as revealed in a Business Week/Harris Poll (Bernstein 2000). Two-thirds said that companies care more about making large profits than about selling safe, reliable, quality products.

Interestingly, it is in this environment that marketing campaigns with a social dimension have found their way into mainstream marketing (Drumwright 1996). While academicians are finding support for the soundness of prosocial marketing strategies (Brown and Dacin 1996, Handelman and Arnold 1999, Lafferty and Goldsmith 1999, Osterhus 1997), research suggests there are critical moderating influences that determine whether such strategies achieve the intended effects or backfire (Osterhus 1997, Handelman and Arnold 1999). Consumers’ trust in the firm (Lafferty and Goldsmith 1999, Osterhus 1997), and more specifically, whether consumers attribute the firm’s behavior to egoistic (self-interested) or altruistic (other-interested) motives (Handelman and Arnold 1999, Webb and Mohr 1998) are important determinants of the outcomes of prosocial marketing programs.

The purpose of our research is to examine the motives that consumers attribute to companies that participate in prosocial marketing programs. Specifically, we examine whether consumers attribute purely altruistic or purely egoistic motives or reconcile mixed motives for company participation in a variety of cause marketing programs.

Attribution theory has long been used to understand the causal inferences individuals make in their attempts to understand and control their environment (Folkes 1988). According to Kruglanski (1975), endogenously attributed actions are ends in themselves and infer intrinsic motivation. In contrast, exogenously attributed actions are a means to an end, whereby the action provides an avenue to accomplish a further goal. In this context, consumers may perceive prosocial corporate behavior simply as a means to the end of furthering the firm’s profit objectives (egoistic). On the other hand, consumers may perceive the firm’s prosocial action as an end in itself aimed at helping others (altruistic). Alternatively, consumers’ may attribute prosocial marketing programs to a combination of these motives. If so, how are these dual motives reconciled by consumers, and how does this reconciliation influence their attitudinal and behavioral responses?

In the first study, our goal was to discover the variety of motives consumers attribute to companies’ socially responsive behaviors. To generate maximally different attributions, student respondents (n=281) were exposed to hypothetical radio scripts requesting consumers’ charitable donations through different store types, to different causes (e.g., disaster-relief or an on-going local cause) and with different participation requirements (e.g., cash or product donations; matched or not matched). Respondents were asked to record their thoughts about why the company would make such an offer. Following interpretive procedures, a descriptive coding system was developed and used to code the resulting 651 thoughts (Miles and Huberman 1994). Informed by the theoretical perspectives from the attribution and motivation literatures, interpretive coding was used to aggregate the 23 descriptive categories for why companies would make the offer into three more inferential and explanatory categories: altruistic motives, such as they care, they want to help, or they identify with the beneficiaries (34.5% of responses, 56.2% of cases); egoistic, such as for public relations, more profits, or a tax write-off (63.7% of responses, 85.1% of cases), and other responses, such as everyone benefits (1.8% of responses, 4.0 % of cases). The average number of attributions made by respondents was 2.28. While 42.8% attributed pure motives to the company (all either egoistic or altruistic), 28.7% made equally mixed attributions. Interestingly those reporting equally mixed motives evaluated the offer itself more highly (M=6.05) compared to either group attributing pure motives (M=5.43-5.50).

The first study only allowed us to look at altruistic and egoistic dimensions but not at differences within the dimensions or their relative impact. Using the categories developed in Study 1, a 21-item Likert-type scale was developed to assess firm motives. Adult respondents (n=163) were exposed to fictitious print ads in which a firm offers to make a donation to a nonprofit organization (NPO) each time a consumer makes a purchase. The offers varied on issues such as the length of time of their relationship with the NPO and the nature of the donation. Evaluation of the offer, the firm and purchase intent were measured. Factor analysis and structural equation modeling revealed four dimensions of consumers’ attributions, accounting for 66.7% of the variance. The four dimensions are altruism (7 items including "they care"), normative expectations (3 items including "customers expect" and "stockholders expect"), egoistic (2 items including "taking advantage of the cause"), and accepted business strategies (2 items including "getting more customers." Overall, evaluation of the offer and evaluation of the firm were positively affected by attributions of altruism and accepted business strategies. Purchase intent was also affected positively by these same attributions and negatively by egoistic attributions.

Across these methods and contexts, participants attributed mixed motives to companies making prosocial offers. While evaluations of the offer and firm, and purchase intent were high overall (M=5.22, M=5.02, M=4.68 on 7-point scales, respectively), different attributions did affect response to the offer. Importantly, participants differentiated between company-oriented motives that are seen as acceptable and those perceived as negative and/or manipulative. Consumers seemed to believe that getting and keeping more customers is an acceptable reason to make such offers. Only when they judged the company as "taking advantage" were intentions to participate in such programs diminished.

This research highlights the complexity of consumers’ processing of prosocial marketing stimuli. Further analysis will examine whether the elements of the prosocial marketing programs or the characteristics of the respondents elicited the mixed versus pure causal attributions and the impact of these attributions on consumer responses.


Brown, Tom J. and Peter A. Dacin (1997), "The Company and the Product: Corporate Associations and Consumer Product Responses," Journal of Marketing, 61 (January), 68-84.

Drumwright, Minette E. (1996), "Company Advertising with a Social Dimension: The Role of Noneconomic Criteria," Journal of Marketing, 60 (4), 71-87.

Handelman, Jay M. and Stephen J. Arnold (1999), "The Role of Marketing Actions with a Social Dimension: Appeals to the Institutional Environment," Journal of Marketing, 63 (3), 33-48.

Kruglanski, Arie Wl (1975), "The Endogenous-Exogenous Partition in Attribution Theory," Psychological Review, 82 (6), 387-406.

Lafferty, Barbara A. and Ronald E. Goldsmith (1999), "Corporate Credibility’s Role in Consumers’ Attitudes and Purchase Intentions When a High versus a Low Credibility Endorser is Used in the Ad," Journal of Business Research, 44 (2), 109-116.

Osterhus, Thomas L. (1997), "Pro-Social Consumer Influence Strategies: When And How Do They Work?" Journal of Marketing, 61 (October), 16-29.

Webb, Deborah J. and Lois A. Mohr (1998), "A Typology of Consumer Responses to Cause-Related Marketing: From Skeptics to Socially Concerned," Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 17 (2), 226-238.



Yeosun Yoon, University of Michigan

Zeynep Gurhan-Canli, University of Michigan

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities have been used to address consumers’ social concerns, create a favorable corporate image and develop a positive relationship with consumers and other stakeholders. However, a poorly planned CSR activity does not help a company to achieve its goals and can sometimes hurt its existing image and business. This research investigates under what circumstances a company’s CSR activity may not achieve any desired effects. Even worse, engaging a CSR activity can backfire on the company (e.g., boomerang effects) if consumers perceive that the company’s true motives for the CSR activity is only to improve its image to sell more products than to act for the sake of consumers. This research examines how perceived motives and attributions mediate the effect of CSR activities on company evaluations.

Attribution literature suggests that people make attributions by identifying behavior to the target person’s corresponding disposition and by correcting the corresponding disposition with contextual information (Gilbert and Malone 1995; Trope 2000). Contextual information may include other cues in the immediate context, prior knowledge about the target, situational demands, etc. This suggests that in the context of CSR, consumers may evaluate a firm based on not only its CSR activity but also other accessible contextual information, such as prior knowledge about the company and its products. If contextual information is salient, people are more likely to consider it along with dispositional information in evaluating the behavior (Trope 2000). When the perceived thematic relatedness between the CSR activity and the company’s core business is high, prior knowledge about the company becomes highly accessible. Under high accessibility of prior knowledge, consumers are more likely to question the company’s underlying motives for the CSR activity when prior knowledge contradicts with the implications of the CSR activity.

We employ two experiments to examine how consumers’ prior knowledge about the company and its products affects perceived motives for a CSR activity, and how perceived motives may evaluations of the company. In experiment 1, we identify three key factors that moderate the effects of CSR on company evaluations: a company’s prior reputation, the degree of perceived thematic relatedness between the CSR campaign and the company’s core business, and the source which introduces the company’s CSR activity to consumers. The study employs a 2 (company reputation: good vs. bad) X 2 (CSR issue: close vs. far) X 2 (source: corporate advertisement vs. PR) between subjects design. We used a fictitious tobacco company as a company with a bad reputation and a fictitious tobacco patch company as a company with a good reputation. Supporting the National Cancer Associations and supporting the National Environment and Conservation Association represent closely and distantly related CSR campaigns, respectively. The source of CSR is either from the company (e.g., corporate advertising campaign) or from an independent source (e.g., the Corporate Social Ratings Monitor, an independent and non-profit organization that provides unbiased evaluations of corporate activities). Our results suggest that consumers do not evaluate the tobacco company more favorably when it supports the National Cancer Association. More importantly, when the information about the CSR activity comes from its own corporate advertising campaign vs. the Corporate Social Ratings Monitor, consumers are likely to attribute its true motives purely to the purpose of improving image and evaluate the company even more negatively than before the campaign.

In experiment 2, we seek to enhance the findings from experiment 1 by demonstrating that consumers evaluate a company with a good reputation negatively if they perceive that its CSR effort is not adequate or substantial. Specifically, we hypothesize that the degree of a company’s effort to support CSR activity relative to its effort to advertise the same CSR activity will moderate the effects of CSR on company evaluation. We expect that if the company spends more money on corporate advertising featuring its CSR activity than on contributions to the CSR activity, consumers attribute the company’s motives only to improving company image. Consequently, it can backfire on the company with a good reputation. The second study employs a 2 (company reputation: good vs. bad) X 2 (perceived CSR effort: high vs. low) between subject design. Again, we used a fictitious tobacco company as a company with a bad reputation and a fictitious tobacco patch company as a company with a good reputation. The CSR campaign for this study is supporting the National Cancer Association and other cancer-related organizations. The amount of effort for CSR is either contributing $18 million to the cancer-related organizations while spending $2 million to advertise about it (high effort), or spending $18 million for advertising while contributing $2 million to the CSR activity (low effort). Consistent with our expectations, we found that when perceived CSR effort is low (vs. high), consumers evaluate the company more negatively than before the campaign regardless of prior reputation.


Gilbert, Daniel T. and Patrick S. Malone (1995), "The Correspondence Bias," Psychological Bulletin, 117 (1), 21-38.

Trop, Yaacov (2000), "Processing Alternative Explanations of Behavior Correction or Integration," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79 (3), 344-354.



C. B. Bhattacharya, Boston University

Sankar Sen, Boston University

Today, more companies than ever before are backing corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives such as corporate philanthropy, cause-related marketing, minority support programs and socially responsible employment and manufacturing practices, with real financial and marketing muscle. The Web sites of more than 80% of the Fortune-500 companies address CSR issues, reflecting the pervasive belief among business leaders that CSR in not only an ethical imperative but also an economic one it today’s national as well as global marketplace. In making their CSR contributions, companies often partner with or sponsor one or more nonprofit organizations that work on issues/causes the companies are interested in supporting. However, while we are learning much about the effects of a company’s involvement in various CSR domains on consumers’ attitudes towards the company and their willingness to buy its products (e.g. Brown and Dacin 1997, Sen and Bhattacharya 2001), little is understood about the effect of such involvement on consumers’ reactions to the partnering non-profit. Aside from the theoretical relevance of understanding whether, how and why a company’s CSR activities can affect consumers’ reactions to its non-profit partners, insights into these research questions can not only aid non-profits in selecting optimal corporate partners but also assist companies in better assessing the full impact of their CSR efforts.

Prior research suggests that consumers’ generally positive reactions to a company’s CSR activities not only depend on a variety of company-specific (e.g. the specific CSR issues the company chooses to focus on, product quality) and consumer-specific factors (e.g. general beliefs about CSR, personal support of CSR issues) but are also driven, at least in part, by their perceived relationship with the company. This paper draws on this contingent picture of consumer reactions to CSR to examine the effects of a company’s partnership with a non-profit organization on consumers’ reactions to, and more specifically, willingness to support, the non-profit. In an experiment involving a non-profit organization focused on AIDS prevention and care, we examine the effects of a corporate sponsor’s (i) level of involvement (two levels; 1=low (financial support amounting to<10% of nonprofit’s current operating budget), 2=high (financial support amounting to>500% of nonprofit’s current operating budget as well as marketing support)), (ii) perceptual "fit" with the non-profit (two levels; 1=low (computer company), 2=high (pharmaceutical company)), and (iii) reputation (two levels; 1=low (absent from Fortune’s list of Most Admired Companies), 2=high (top of Fortune’s list of Most Admired Companies)) on respondents’ (a) attitude toward the non-profit, (b) willingness to support the non-profit, in terms of both monetary donations and volunteer work with the organization, (c) attitude toward the company, and (d) causal attributions about the company’s support of the non-profit. We also examine the moderating effect of respondents’ beliefs about the relationship between companies’ CSR efforts and their ability to make high quality products, and the mediating effect of consumers’ identification with the sponsoring organization. In line with our expectations, we find that a company’s involvement with a non-profit has a positive effect on both consumers’ attitudes towards and their willingness to support a non-profit, but only under certain company involvement, fit and reputation conditions. More specifically, consumers’ support of the non-profit is more sensitive to the level of a company’s involvement when the fit between the two organizations is low than when it is high. On the other hand, sensitivity to involvement level is greater when the company reputation level is high than when it is low. Finally, consumers’ willingness to donate money to the non-profit or do volunteer work for it do not seem to be affected in the same manner by corporate involvement. While willingness to donate money seems to parallel consumers’ attitude towards the non-profit, their willingness to donate time (i.e. volunteer) seems to be more affected by their beliefs about the CSR-product quality relationship.


Sen, Sankar and C.B. Bhattacharya (2001), "Does Doing Good Always Lead to Doing Better? Consumer Reactions to Corporate Social Responsibility," Journal of Marketing Research, 38 (May), 225-243.

Brown, Tom J. and Peter A. Dacin (1997), "The Company and the Product: Corporate Associations and Consumer Product Response," Journal of Marketing, 61 (January), 68-84.