Special Session Summary the Role of Afit@ in Cause Related Marketing

ABSTRACT - As more is learned about consumer response to associations between brands and causes, the issue of Afit@, or how logical the association seems, is emerging as an important area of investigation. The impact of the fit between brand and cause on consumer perceptions of the alliance partners, and the association itself are two of the important issues within this developing domain. It is also important to consider, however, whether fit only affects perceptions, or if it actually changes behavior toward one or more of the alliance partners. The three papers in this session carefully considers these three important issues, as well as corollary questions.


John W. Pracejus (2001) ,"Special Session Summary the Role of Afit@ in Cause Related Marketing", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, eds. Andrea Groeppel-Klien and Frank-Rudolf Esch, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 286-289.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 2001      Pages 286-289



John W. Pracejus, University of Alberta, Canada


As more is learned about consumer response to associations between brands and causes, the issue of "fit", or how logical the association seems, is emerging as an important area of investigation. The impact of the fit between brand and cause on consumer perceptions of the alliance partners, and the association itself are two of the important issues within this developing domain. It is also important to consider, however, whether fit only affects perceptions, or if it actually changes behavior toward one or more of the alliance partners. The three papers in this session carefully considers these three important issues, as well as corollary questions.

In the first paper, Becker-Olsen and Simmons consider how associational fit can impact important psychological outcome variables related to the sponsorship of non-profit organizations by companies. They not only find enhancement to the partners under high fit, but harm under low fit. In the second paper, Samu and Wymer finds that fit enhances the communication process with respect to alliances between companies and non-profits. They also demonstrate positive effects when the communication is dominated by the non-profit. In the third paper, Pracejus demonstrates that fit between the company and the non-profit can have a significant impact on choice behavior. The technique employed allows consumer attribute tradeoffs to be calculated, so that a dollar value associated with high fit (as opposed to low fit) association can be established.

Clearly the three papers are highly related and deal with an important, emerging issue in consumer psychology. While the substantive area addresses are very similar, different methods are employed, and different sub-issues are addressed. This provides the session with appropriate breadth, as well as depth. This session addresses cause-related marketing, sponsorship, and the psychology of communications.



Karen Becker-Olsen, New York University

Carolyn J. Simmons, University of Virginia

Does the fit between a cause and the sponsoring firm’s image moderate the efficacy of the sponsorship in creating or maintaining equity? Theory and empirical evidence on source identification, brand extensions and alliances, and information economics suggests that high fit should increase the likelihood of accurate awareness of the sponsorship, reinforcement rather than dilution of brand positioning, positive perceptions of corporate social responsibility, and increased brand credibility, all of which can lead to increased purchase likelihood. Further, work on brand alliances suggests that the sponsored cause or event may be similarly affected, leading to an increased likelihood of donations.

We experimentally examine the effects of sponsorship on cognitive and behavioral measures, and isolate the effects of fit (consistency) with brand/company image as a moderator of these effects. Because sponsorship marketers report that their primary objectives are to generate goodwill and promote a positive company or brand image (Cornwall and Maignon 1998; des Thwaites, Aguilar-Manjarrez, and Kidd 1998; Javalgi, et al. 1994), we focus on beliefs associated with general company/brand image. These beliefs include not only those intuitively related to "good works" such as corporate citizenship, but also those more broadly related to brand equity and credibility, such as product quality and management expertise.


H1: Fit moderates the effects of sponsorship of a positively evaluated non-profit organization on the favorability of company beliefs, attitudes, and purchase intentions.

1. High fit, as compared to low fit, leads to more favorable judgments.

2. High fit, as compared to a no-sponsorship control condition, leads to more favorable judgments.

H2: Low fit, as compared to high fit, results in greater elaboration, more thoughts about fit, more thoughts about marketing motivations and benefits, more negative elaboration

H3: Low fit, as compared to high fit, results in less favorable attitudes toward the sponsorship.

H4: The effects of fit on attitudes toward the sponsorship are mediated by the elaborative processing described in H2.

H5: The effects of fit on beliefs, attitudes, and purchase intentions are mediated by attitude toward the sponsorship.

Experiment 1

The design is a 3 (sponsorship: high fit, low fit, and no sponsorship) x 4 (company) factorial, with subjects randomly assigned to conditions. The companies and high-fit and low-fit sponsored organizations are: Home Depot: Habitat for Humanity and the Girl Scouts; Tonka: the Boy Scouts and the Crisis Center for Women; Seagrams: Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Muscular Dystrophy Association; and Disney: Make a Wish Foundation and Alcoholics Anonymous. Pretests established that these pairings vary with regard to fit as intended and that liking for the non-profit organizations is not confounded with fit.

As predicted by H1, sponsorship of a favorably evaluated non-profit organization can have a positive effect on beliefs, attitudes, and purchase intentions and this effect is moderated by fit. Most benefits accrue only for high-fit sponsorships, and there are some harmful effects of low-fit sponsorships. These effects have high generality across beliefs and companies.

Experiment 2

The goals of this experiment are to examine H2-H5 regarding the cognitive processes mediating the effects of fit on beliefs, attitudes, and purchase intentions and to verify the construct validity of the fit variable. Because we manipulated fit via news stories that were more complex stimuli than the simple pairings of company and non-profit names used in the pretest, a manipulation check is needed to determine if we successfully manipulated fit as intended.

The design is a 2 (high vs. low fit) x 4 (company) factorial with subjects randomly assigned to conditions. Here we also measured retrospective thoughts about the sponsorship, attitude toward the sponsorship, and perceived fit of the non-profit organization with the company’s image. Low fit does not, as predicted by H2a and H2c, increase the number of thoughts or the number of thoughts about marketing motivations and benefits. Low fit does, as predicted by H2b and H2d, lead to more thoughts about fit and to less favorable thoughts in general. As predicted by H3 and H5, attitude toward the sponsorship is more favorable when fit is high rather than low, and attitude toward the sponsorship mediates the effect of fit on company beliefs, attitudes, and purchase intentions. However, contrary to H4, the effect of fit on attitude toward the sponsorship is not mediated by thoughts about the sponsorship program. Instead, our analysis strongly suggests the opposite causal flow; that is, that attitude toward the sponsorship mediates the effect of fit on thoughts. Fit may serve as a heuristic cue in the formation of attitude toward the sponsorship (Eagly and Chaiken 1993, p. 327), which is interpreted via a general rule such as things that make sense are good; things that don’t make sense are bad. To the extent that fit operates heuristicallyBi.e, with little cognitive effortBmediating thoughts are limited and may be less accessible to be reported.


We have experimentally demonstrated the predicted effects. In addition, we show that the sponsorship partners are not only helped by high-fit sponsorships, but that they are harmed by ow-fit sponsorships. This equity dilution occurs even for the sponsored non-profit organization, despite a mission that is defined by a proactive socially responsible use of funds rather than by delivering economic value to stockholders.

These effects of fit are partially mediated by attitude toward the sponsorship, implicating affect transfer and attitude priming as an underlying cognitive mechanism. However, effects of fit are also mediated by brand and non-profit organization credibility, implicating consideration of the predictability of product performance and service activities as a cognitive mechanism. Hence, these effects appear likely under both heuristic and systematic processing conditions.

We also experimentally investigate how simple low-cost program and communication strategies can reduce the risk of equity dilution. Specifically, we show how sponsorship fit can be increased via program details such as gifts-in-kind, and how communications that are perceived as emanating from the non-profit organization rather than the sponsor can moderate the effects of low fit.

Taken together, our findings show how firms can maximize the benefits of sponsorship for themselves and the organizations they sponsor. When the firm engages in a sponsorship solely to increase profits, choice of a high-fit cause is the obvious course of action, and the sponsored organization will benefit as well. When the firm engages in a sponsorship primarily due to a sense of social responsibility, selecting a high-fit cause may be less feasible. However, increasing fit via program details such as gifts-in-kind and creating awareness via communications that emanate from the sponsored organization will benefit both the firm and the sponsored organization.



Sridhar Samu, Memorial University of Newfoundland

Walter Wymer, Christopher Newport University

Business-to-business alliances have shown tremendous growth in recent years and demonstrated the potential to grow at an even faster rate (Bucklin and Sengupta 1993, Harbison and Pekar 1993). At the same time, nonprofit-business alliances (NBA’s) have also been growing at an increasing rate (Milne, Iyer, and Gooding-Williams 1996; Andreasen 1996). Such growth has led to renewed research interest in the nonprofit-business alliance sector.

Research on business alliances has had a broad focus and examined a number of different areas, including alliance formation and advertising (Samu, Krishnan, and Smith 1998). However, NBA’s have typically been examined in very specific and limited contexts. Previous research in this area has focused on cause-related marketing (Varadarajan and Menon 1988), sponsorships (Cornwell and Maignan 1998), and company advertising with a social dimension (Drumwright 1996). These topics have been considered as separate areas even though all three are cooperative relationships between a business and a nonprofit organization, charity, or cause. With the growth in new forms of nonprofit-business alliances, identifying and developing a common conceptual theme will aid the understanding of these alliances in general, and each type in particular. Such research will provide a better understanding of the antecedents and process of alliance formation as well as identify the consequences for partnering organizations. By synthesizing the different types of relationships that comprise NBA’s into a conceptual framework, further analysis of its components, like cause-related marketing, can be enhanced. While it is important to focus on the development and operation of nonprofit-business alliances, it is also important to focus on the outcomes of such alliances and that is the focus of this paper.

When examining NBA outcomes, it is important to have a consumer perspective. It is possible that consumers would be exposed to the ads leading to increased awareness; however, it is also important to examine changes in memory, attitude, and behavior to have a better understanding of the success of NBA communications.

Factors Affecting Alliance Outcomes:

The consequences of alliance communication would depend on consumer perceptions of the firms in the alliance. While the individual perception of each of the firms will be important in any evaluation, it is the combined effect of the firms in a communication that would have a larger effect. Hence, the fit between the firms (Variable 1) would play a significant role in the evaluation process (Andreasen 1996). Even if the for-profit firm is perceived to be unethical in its operations (e.g., Union Carbide accident in Bhopal, India), consumers may still be willing to accept a joint communication if the right type of nonprofit firm is a partner (e.g., nonprofit firm working with the affected people). Hence, the fit between the business and nonprofit firm could serve as a more powerful indicator than the perception of the individual firms.

The consequences for both firms would depend significantly on the fit between the two partners. If consumers perceive a good fit between the two firms, the relationship is more easily understood. Hence, they are more likely to process the information in a positive manner leading to increased liking toward both firms (Samu, Krishnan, and Smith 1999; Aaker and Keller 1990). On the other hand, if the perception of fit between the firms is weak, consumers may attribute negative reasons for the formation of the NBA (e.g., for-profit firm trying to look good), and this could result in a loss for both the firms.

A second factor influencing consumer processing and outcomes is the perception of dominance in a joint NBA communication (Variable 2). Dominance can be conceptualized as the amount of space/time occupied by each of the firms in any communication. If the firms share equal space/time, there is no domination. In this situation, consumers could believe that both firms have contributed equally to the alliance and this belief could lead to positive feelings towards the firms. If the for-profit firm dominates, consumers could interpret this as an indication that the business may be interested in benefitting commercially from the alliance. This public perception could lead to negative feelings towards the business. It could also lead to negative feelings towards the nonprofit firm for allowing it to be compromised by a business’s self-interest. On the other hand, if the nonprofit firm dominates, consumers are more likely to believe that the for-profit firm supports the cause and this could lead to positive feelings towards both the nonprofit and the business.

A third factor that could influence the evaluation of NBA communication is the type of NBA (Variable 3). A number of different types of NBA’s, ranging from corporate foundation to joint ventures, have been identified. Depending on the relative roles of the for-profit and nonprofit firms and their perceived locus of control and focus of interest in the NBA, consumers could attribute different motives for such communication. When the for-profit firm is perceived to have more control, it is possible that consumers could attribute profit oriented motives to the communication. When the nonprofit firm is perceived to have more control, consumers could view the communication in a positive manner.

Study 1:

A preliminary study used a 2 (fit) X 2 (dominance) design. The focal brand was "Gerber baby food". Pretesting determined that a high fit cause was "Save the Children" and a lower fit cause was "National Wildlife Fund". These associations were presented to undergraduate subjects in a cause related marketing scenario. Results indicated that both fit and dominance have a significant effect on processing (cognitive thoughts), attitude towards both firms, intention to purchase (for-profit), and intention to contribute (nonprofit). Consumers had more positivethoughts during processing, more positive attitudes and intention to purchase/ contribute when the fit was high and the communication was dominated by the nonprofit organization. On the other hand, when fit was low and the communication was dominated by the for-profit firm, the overall responses were negative. There was also a significant interaction between fit and dominance.


This paper presents a structure for understanding the outcomes of an alliance between a nonprofit and a for-profit firm. The focus has been on identifying the factors that influence processing by consumers and the factors that affect the consequences.

A broad overview of alliance formation and outcomes is essential given the rapid growth of alliances between for-profit and nonprofit firms. Such an overview defines the scope of the alliance and provides directions for future research. The outcomes identified in this model can be applied to different types of alliances (e.g., sponsorships, cause-related marketing, etc) and comparisons would also be possible. Such a process will be extremely useful for marketing managers when trying to decide between different types of alliances. Such a comparison would also be useful for managers in nonprofit organizations in selecting the most appropriate form of relationship with for-profit firms. Initial results support this conceptualization. Future research will continue to examine other components of the proposed framework.



John W. Pracejus, University of Alberta

G. Douglas Olsen, University of Alberta

This paper attempts to determine whether perceived fit between a non-profit and a sponsoring brand can have an impact on choice for the sponsoring brand over a competitor. Two studies were conducted. In study 1, a 2(high/low fit)x2(brand name) between-subjects design was employed. One hundred twenty subjects read a one paragraph description of two brands within a category (theme parks). One of the parks was said to be sponsoring a non-profit. For half the subjects, this was a non-profit which was perceived to have "hi fit" with theme parks, for the other group, it was a non-profit which was perceived to be "low fit" with theme parks. Pretesting determined two non-profits that were equally well liked, but differed in perceived fit with theme parks. For fit, a seven point scale anchored by "very high fit" and "very low fit" was used. The well liked (M=6.1/7), high fit (M=6.1/7) non-profit was the "Children’s Miracle Network", and the well liked (M=6.3/7), low fit (M=3.2/7) non-profit was the "Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts". Perceived fit was significantly different for the two non-profits (F=45.81, p<.001), but liking was not (F<1).

Following the description of the theme park and the charity to which the donation would be made, respondents completed a series of 16 discrete-choice tasks. All choice tasks required the respondent to choose between the "Hudson" and "Davis" theme park alternatives. These alternatives were described along five different characteristics: admission price ($24.95 and $34.95); driving distance (45 minutes vs. 90 minutes); number of rides available (32 or 46); food quality (fair vs. good); and hours of operation (8 am to 8 PM versus 7 am to 11 PM). Subjects were told to consider what they had read about the two hotels in the advertisements, as well as the attribute information, which changed from task to task, in arriving at each of their 16 choices.

A full-factorial design was used to create all possible profiles (32) for the first option in each choice task. The choice sets were created by matching profiles from this set with a second set of all possible product profiles. This was done in a manner that permitted all attribute levels for the first alternative to remain orthogonal to all attribute levels for th second alternative. Specifically, the matching was conducted in such a way that all attribute levels for each of the attributes in the first set of profiles were paired an equal number of times with all attribute levels for each of the attributes in the second set of profiles.

In an effort to reduce respondent fatigue, a blocking technique was used, randomly assigning each of the choice tasks into one of two blocks. Hence, each respondent was only required to complete sixteen choice tasks (as opposed to all 32). The order of the choice tasks was randomised within each block.

A main effect of fit (p<.001) was observed, indicating that subjects in the high fit condition chose the sponsoring brand more often than those in the low fit condition. More interestingly, five significant interactions were observed. Significant interactions of fit with price (p<.05), driving distance (p<.01), number of rides (p<.05), food quality (p<.05) and hours of operation (p<.001) revealed that subjects in the high fit group were willing to pay more, drive farther, and deal with fewer rides worse food and shorter hours of operation for the sponsoring theme park than were subjects in the low fit condition.

Study two was done to replicate the findings in a different brand category, and to ensure that fit, and not some other aspect of the Children’s Miracle Network had been responsible for the findings in study one. Additional testing was done to find a product category for which the Kennedy Center would be high fit, and the Children’s Miracle Network would be low fit. Luxury hotels in Washington DC were found to meet these requirements.

One hundred twenty additional subjects participated in study two, which was identical to study one, except that product attributes for hotels replaced product attributes for theme parks. The five attributes used were price, number of free movie channels, exercise facilities, availability of free afternoon wine and cheese, and room service hours. The main effect of fit was replicated. That is, choice for the sponsoring hotel was greater for the high fit (Kennedy Center) group than for the low fit (Children’s Miracle Network) group. None of the interactions between fit and the product attributes, however, were significant.

While the these two studies indicates strong differences in stated preference choice behavior between high and low fit groups, process measures were not taken. A discussion of future research to determine why brand/non-profit fit might have this effect is proposed. Follow-up pilot studies suggest that people may equate fit with greater levels of helping, even when there is no logical reason to make such an assumption.


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John W. Pracejus, University of Alberta, Canada


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5 | 2001

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