Cross-national corporate social responsibility programs can be effective

May 21, 2009 by

By Charles R. Taylor

A research study my colleague, Ronald Hill, and I are working on in conjunction with lead research Karen Becker Olsen of the College of New Jersey demonstrates that corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs that are run cross-nationally can be effective for a company in terms of consumer perceptions. The study examined the reactions of consumers in both the U.S. and Mexico to Nokia’s global CSR initiative called “Make a Connection.”

Run in cooperation with the International Youth Foundation and supported by a $6 million annual donation from Nokia, the program has supported more than 140 projects in 20 countries. Its primary purpose is to promote positive youth development by improving educational opportunities and focusing on the development of life skills.

The study involved an experiment in which the source of the message (company vs. non-profit organization) and the reach of the message (global impact vs. local impact) were varied in the context of a press release of about the CSR program. Data was collected from 480 consumers in New York City and Mexico.

Both Mexican and U.S. consumers reported favorable attitudes toward company involvement in CSR programs in general, with Mexicans responding even more favorably than their U.S. counterparts. However, U.S. consumers were significantly more likely to have an expectation that firms engage in CSR efforts. In both countries, however, involvement in CSR programs was viewed positively.

Notably, the source of the message made no difference in terms of attitude toward the sponsoring company and purchase intention in either country. Thus, the findings support the notion that promotional messages about a CSR program that involve the message being communicated from either the non-profit organization, company, or both, can be effective.

A major finding of the study is that, in both countries, consumers had more positive reactions in terms of attitude enhancement, brand identification, and perception of firm reputation when exposed to a message indicating that the program had global reach. This means that global programs actually enhance company reputation more than local programs and suggests that it may be possible for large multinationals to standardize the use of global reach in communications about CSR programs.

In summary, our results support the notion that companies can achieve positive results from promoting a CSR program that operates on a multi-nation scale and build brand equity in the process.

The specific program studied here, “Make a Connection,” was well received in both the U.S. and Mexico. Whether the company or non-profit organization was identified by the sponsor in the press release did not make a difference. The one major difference found was that, in both countries, a focus on the global aspects of the program performed better than a focus on local successes.

Charles R. Taylor is the John A. Murphy Professor of Marketing at the Villanova School of Business. He also directs the Corporate Social Responsibility Strategic Initiative Group at Villanova and is senior research fellow in the Center for Marketing and Public Policy Research. Taylor currently serves as editor of the “International Journal of Advertising.” He is also a past president of the American Academy of Advertising.

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