What is it about?

As cause‐related marketing (CRM) is usually subsumed under corporate social responsibility (CSR), in practice CSR and CRM can serve as different public relations tools. This study aims to compare the effect of CRS and CRM on customer attitude. In order to overcome various measurement problems, an experiment is conducted in a country characterized by a significant diversity of attitudes towards a cause. The result indicates that both CSR and CRM have similar positive effects on customers' attitudes. However, while CRM might be more cost‐efficient, its positive effect is limited to customers with high cause affinity. In contrast, CRM has a negative effect on customers with low cause affinity, or who oppose the cause. A major finding is that CRM can compensate for negative CSR to a high degree in the cause affinity segment of the market. Therefore, a high degree of cause specificity of CSR might only be preferable if the market is characterized by broad cause affinity, or if a firm is facing negative public sentiment caused, for instance, by a product harm crisis.

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Why is it important?

This study explores the key issues in an experimental study conducted with subjects recruited at various locations within two cities in Pakistan. A key aim was to compare highly religious with less religious subjects and a final sample of 203 was obtained. The survey concerned a hypothetical local textile manufacturing organization and participants were presented with different manipulated scenarios containing information about the company, CSR and a supported cause. Four different scenarios were used out of nine possible combinations of CSR and cause that also incorporated conditions within which CSR or cause were not mentioned. Positive and negative causes were included, based on the perception that they would be either supported or opposed by segments of the Islamic population. Each respondent was asked to evaluate two of the scenarios; so 406 observations were generated in total. Study findings revealed: . Stronger support for the company supporting a religious oriented cause among religious subjects than among those identified as less religious. . Attitude towards the company was more favorable among less religious participants than among religious participants when the cause was secular. Less religious subjects responded considerably more positively when CSR was unspecified than did religious subjects. However, other indications prevented any firm conclusion that religiousness inspires a less positive attitude to CSR in the absence of a religious cause. . Religious subjects displayed a positive attitude to the company supporting a religious cause even when the firm’s CSR record was negative. . Support was strongest overall from less religious respondents in the condition that combined positive CSR and a cause “contrary to religious doctrine”. The final two of these findings are considered surprising by the authors. Given Pakistan’s reputation for being highly religious, the strength of support indicated in the last example was particularly unexpected. More generally, the experiment offered some indication that: . Customers will exhibit greater positivity towards firms that appear socially responsible and more negative towards those that do not appear socially responsible. . Personal affinity towards a cause supported by a company makes the customer more positive towards that company. . The relationship between a firm’s general CSR efforts and customer attitude is moderated by customer affinity to the cause the company supports. . Customers have a more positive attitude towards a company when the two are congruent. . Congruence between company and customer has a positive moderating effect on the relationship between CSR information and customer attitude. . Company-cause fit positively influences customer attitude towards the company and moderates the relationship between this attitude and cause affinity. On this evidence, support for a specific cause reflects more positively on a company than does general compliance with CSR principles. This study believes that the illustrative nature of a cause helps the firm to connect more easily with its target market. This could help increase purchases if customers feel that buying from the organization means they are further supporting the cause too. The down side is that few causes will appeal to everyone. This is illustrated by the fact that support for the religious cause did not extend to those in the market segment having low affinity with the cause. That the society in question is renowned for its “strong social desirability bias toward a specific cause” adds extra significance. Consideration of this alongside the finding that negative cause affinity has a markedly negative effect on attitude leads the authors to recommend that companies should not support causes that are negative or controversial. Actions that might be regarded as adverse to CSR should likewise be avoided in order to prevent a similar outcome. In order to achieve a desired effect, careful design of a CSR activity is essential. Causes should be selected on the basis of high cause affinity within the target market and a close fit between company and cause. Involvement with low-fit causes is not advised, as negative perception of the organization will probably result. Another way of cultivating a more positive attitude towards the brand is through company-customer congruence. This effect is likelier when firm and customer are similar in their characteristics, goals and values. The authors recommend study into other causes, such as those driven by culture or ethnicity. Given their likely significance, they suggest that a non-specific approach to CSR is the safest option for companies who operate in various culturally diverse settings.


The perception of the negative effects of corporations on various aspects of life has changed consumers’ consumption patterns in developed countries, and increasingly in developing countries. The recent financial crisis has added to the negative impression of the corporate community. A company’s performance is judged more and more on the basis of its impact on the environment and on society as a whole. This in turn means that companies have to increase their efforts to improve their corporate responsibility and trustworthiness in the eyes of customers and the population in general. In last few decades the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) emerged as a main theme for corporations to address; and with each new corporate quandary this trend is picking up momentum. CSR as a holistic strategy can be described in very broad terms as “good citizenship,” or being a “good” company that is supportive of its shareholders as well as society as a whole. CSR covers a broad spectrum of a company’s activities, ranging from human resource management to environmental protection, and includes every aspect of a firm’s impact on society. However, when pursued as an abstract concept, CSR is not easy for the public to comprehend. Focusing on specific social issues is often desirable for effective communication, and enhances the public’s receptiveness to a firm’s public relations efforts. A company might need to explain what they stand for, how corporate responsibility is carried out, and how people benefit from such actions. Thus, a common vehicle to communicate the CSR effort of a firm is the financial or non-financial support of a specific cause. This study argues that CRM is often employed as a signifier of CSR. Conceptually, CRM represents cause-specificity of CSR. Cause specificity of CSR is, for various reasons, often more appealing than a more general approach to good corporate citizenship. CRM is not only easier to communicate but most likely cheaper and more attuned or adjustable to the specific customer segments a company targets. A cause is not only an identifier of CSR but it also creates a direct linkage between customer and company.

Dr. Sana-ur-Rehman .
NFC- Institute of Engineering and Technology, Multan, Pakistan

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This page is a summary of: Corporate social responsibility or cause‐related marketing? The role of cause specificity of CSR, Journal of Consumer Marketing, January 2011, Emerald,
DOI: 10.1108/07363761111101921.
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