Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) en de invloed ervan op consumenten

Sophie Mellen Sophie Mellen

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) en de invloed ervan op consumenten

In the face of growing worldwide interest in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), this paper explores consumer perceptions related to CSR. CSR has been defined as a company’s status and activities with respect to its perceived societal or stakeholder obligations (Bhattacharya & Sen, 2004). The study investigates whether receiving information about CSR policies can influence consumers’ perceptions and their evaluation towards corporate social responsible companies. Previous research especially focused on CSR as a corporate issue, which means that it ignored other stakeholders aside from the company and its investors as for example, the essential role of consumers in marketing (Bhattacharya & Sen, 2003). Today, marketers need to be aware of the impact consumers have on companies. Concerns related to the environment are evident for the increasing ecologically conscious consumer and consumers demand more and more CSR information from companies (Oberseder, Schlegelmilch & Murphy, 2013). Conscious consumers are interested in the different initiatives companies take. Currently, the problem remains that consumers still find it hard to make a distinction between ethical and unethical companies. They are often not aware of those CSR initiatives taken (Pomering & Dolcinar, 2009). A first reason for this problem is that CSR is a complex and broad notion. For consumers who are not familiar with this concept it is hard to understand what the actual meaning of CSR is (Beckmann, 2005a). A second reason is a lack of information about CSR due to insufficient communication about the CSR initiatives of companies (Singh, Sanchez, & Del Bosque, 2008).

In order to make consumers more aware of CSR, communication about CSR initiatives of a company is important and should be enhanced and encouraged by companies (Panapanaan, Linnanen, Karnoven, & Phan, 2003). In particular marketeers are responsible for these communication initiatives and should have a better understanding of the consumers’ point of view in order to adjust their CSR implementation to consumers’ beliefs and expectations (Bhattacharya & Sen, 2004). Nowadays, consumers receive a lot of conflicting information about CSR initiatives undertaken by companies which makes it even harder for consumers to make the distinction between socially conscious and irresponsible companies (Boulstridge & Carrigan, 2000). Consequently, reactions to CSR are not as straighforward and evident as they seem. There are strong differences in reactions when receiving positive or negative information of a firms behavior. Receiving positive information leads to positive perceptions although these are not usually translating into actual purchase behavior (Lee & Shin, 2009; Mohr, Webb, & Harris, 2001). In order for social responsibility to lead to positive attitudes, the CSR has to be pereceived as trustworthy by consumers (Bhattacharya & Sen, 2003). Receiving negative information results in developing negative attitudes towards such company and consequently may lead to boycotts (Lin-Hi & Müller, 2013; Yoon, Gurhan-Canli, & Schwarz, 2006). Despite the fact that perceptions might not result in actual purchase behaviour, the role that perceptions play cannot be underestimated (Beckmann, 2005a). A company with CSR can influence attitudes towards itself as well as towards new products it manufactured (Ellen, Mohr, & Webb, 2006). Also, CSR associations may have effects on consumer’s corporate evaluations (Bhattacharya & Sen, 2004). When studies examine the impact of information about firms’ ethics, consumers’ evaluations are often explained in terms of self-interest or social pressure. Little empirical research has been performed about the impact of information about CSR on enhancing consumers’ perceptions towards an ethically behaving company. This study examines whether or not consumers react differently towards companies when receiving information about their CSR approach.

As consumers’ perceptions of CSR are complex to research, a quantitative approach offers some advantages. Through an online inquiry form, spread through Facebook, 200 participants have been reached in a fast way. 90% of the participants were still studying. 63% were female participants and 36.5% were male participants. The average age was 21 years old. Importantly, a quantitative research design gives the opportunity to draw causal relations between independent and dependent variables. This was necessary because of two manipulations used in this study.

-The first manipulation consisted in measuring the influence of receiving ‘general’ CSR information on participants’ perceptions. Participants either received general CSR information, general CSR information with a statement on strategic interests or no CSR information at all.-The second manipulation consisted in measuring the influence of receiving ‘company related CSR information’ in comparison to receiving ‘company related information without any mentioning’ of CSR. Six conditions could be formed. Approximately 30 participants were exposed to each condition.

With regard to the consumer participants, the underlying dimension was consumers’ attitudes towards CSR, their evaluations of the reputation of the company and their purchase intentions towards the company. In first instance, this master thesis attempts to prove that consumers’ attitudes and evaluations of the reputation of the company will tend to become more positive after having received company related CSR information than when no information is given about the company’s CSR initiatives (Hypothesis 1). A second hypothesis expects also purchase intentions to grow stronger and more positive after having received company related CSR information than participants who did not receive any information of CSR initiatives from the company (Hypothesis 2). As previously mentioned, gathering general information in advance about CSR may enhance consumers understanding of the concept and lead to more positive attitudes and better evaluations of the company’s reputation, as well as stronger purchase intentions towards the company after having received company related CSR information (Hypothesis 3 and Hypothesis 4). Furthermore, previous research emphasized that negative information may lead consumers to boycot supposodedly unethical firm’s whereas positive information leads to positive reactions towards a firm behaving ethically. This is why the study expected participants who only received general information on strategic interests in relation to CSR policies would evaluate a company with CSR more negatively after having received company related CSR information (Hypothesis 5). Participants would show a more negative attitude towards the company, evaluate the reputation of the company more badly, and develop negative purchase intentions towards such company.

The results indicated that attitude and evaluations on the reputation of the company become more positive towards the company after receiving company related CSR information in comparison with those who did not receive any company related CSR information (Hypothesis 1 and Hypothesis 2). This was not the case with purchase intentions. Participants did not show more positive purchase intentions after being exposed to company related CSR information. The hypotheses regarding the influence of receiving general (positive) information on more positive company evaluations after reading company related CSR information was not supported. Strangely, participants showed more positive attitudes and more positive company evaluations on reputation when they received general CSR information with strategic mentioning than when they did not receive any information about CSR. There was no influence on purchase behaviour. Hypothesis 3 and hypothesis 4 cannot be confirmed. Lastly, this study expected participants who received general information of CSR with strategic mentioning to react more negative towards the company after receiving company related CSR information. Instead of more negative they reacted more positive towards the company (Hypothesis 5). This might be related to some limitations of the study as for example the manipulation regarding general CSR information that was not successful.

Based on these findings the role of CSR on consumers’ perception has been confirmed. Consumers pay attention to CSR initiatives that companies take when they are aware of the CSR approach of a company. Consumers develop positive attitudes towards a social responsible company and evaluate the companies’ reputation more positively. Although positive influences occurred when receiving company related CSR information, such influence did not occur when participants received general (positive) information on CSR before receiving company related CSR information. This might be due to the second manipulation that was not successful. This means that marketing managers have to bear in mind the complex consumer evaluation process required to achieve consumers’ appreciation of CSR efforts. Companies should pay more attention in communicating their specific CSR initiatives related to the company’s business to consumers. 



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