Examining the influence of social justice attitudes on consumer attributions.
Jole Kooijman | 12355208 | Master’s Thesis | Graduate School of Communication | Corporate Communication | Supervisor Christel van Eck | February 4, 2022 / Word count:
This research examined how corporate social advocacy (CSA) efforts are perceived by consumers in terms of consumer attributions. The present study used an experimental survey in which participants were asked to fill out questions measuring their social justice attitudes.
Then, participants were randomly assigned to experimental groups which differed in brand- cause fit and communicated motives by the organizations. Participants were asked to fill out survey questions after they were introduced to a CSA message in which an organization makes a statement against racism. Results suggested no interaction effects of brand-cause fit nor communicated motives in relation to social justice attitudes. However, results indicate that higher social justice attitudes may evoke suspiciousness due to the strategic-driven attributions assigned. Also, the effect of brand-cause fit on egoistic-driven attributions gives cause to expect suspicious or skeptical attitudes. These, and other interesting paradoxical relations give rise to do future research into the relationship between social justice attitudes and skepticism in the context of corporate social advocacy.
Keywords: corporate social responsibility, corporate social advocacy, social justice attitudes, organizational motives
When Colin Kaepernick went down on one knee in order to start a movement against racial inequality, Nike decided to stand behind the NFL player by making him the face of the 30-years anniversary ‘Just Do it’ campaign (The Guardian, 2018). Nike took a risk here, knowing that opinions on this view differ significantly among stakeholders. The buzz that followed was immense and reactions varied widely. Nike met severe disapproval by people posting videos while recording burning their Nike apparel (Bostock, 2018; Kittelstrom, 2018) while others praised that Nike acted for social justice by taking this political stand and
stakeholders stand behind them (Linanne, 2018). The motives behind these corporate social advocacy (CSA) initiatives can be questioned: the market value of the company has increased by no less than $ 6 billion (5.1 billion euros) (Reints, 2018) as well as all the (free) publicity that followed (Williams, 2018; Rense, 2018). While research (e.g.; Baskentli et al., 2019;
Del Mar García-De Los Salmones & Perez, 2017; Marín et al., 2015) has shown that general consumer responses towards socially responsible initiatives as such tend to be positive, to date it is however virtually unknown what determines a so-called corporate social
responsibility (CSR) strategy to be experienced as sincere and if it’s driven by the companies’
internal values or that commercial components might play a role. If claims of such social initiatives are not substantiated enough, greenwashing might be lurking (Aggarwal &
Kadyan, 2011). Greenwashing literature questions, among other things, what the drivers of corporate greenwashing are (Delmas & Burbano, 2011). Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has proven to be an increasingly important topic in our current hypermodern society (Verhoeven, Zerfass, Verčič, Tench, Moreno, 2018) in which (political) activism plays an important part (Cameron, Campo, & Brossard, 2003). Moreover, the current hypermodern society (Verhoeven, Zerfass, Verčič, Tench, Moreno, 2018) holds a very assertive audience that actually expects organizations to actively participate in societal debates and consumer activism that is aiming for social justice (Lightfoot, 2019). Business research on the entanglement of business and politics states that “with even greater intensity, Americans continue to believe that corporations should take action to address important issues facing society (81%) and have a responsibility to do so (77%)” (Hootkin & Meck, 2018, p. 3).
Given the continued emerging demand for companies engaging in social-political issues, Dudd and Supa (2014) introduced the term corporate social advocacy (CSA) as a form of corporate social responsibility (CSR) that focuses more specifically and explicitly on controversial issues in the politicized issue arena. Meeting those stakeholder expectations while also sticking to their own values is of high importance for companies in order to earn legitimacy (Phillips, 2003). From this perspective, there is an apparent need to extensively research how CSA can be implemented in a way that it meets or exceeds stakeholder
expectations but also upholds to the core values of the corporation, in order to earn legitimacy which gives them the social license to operate (SLO) (Gehman et al., 2017). In CSR and CSA literature, this frequently used concept is used to indicate whether an organization is socially accepted in performing social initiatives.
From a communication perspective on CSA, it is virtually unknown what determines the messaging on these social efforts to be experienced as sincere and legitimate (a.o., Hall &
Jeanneret, 2015; Johansen & Nielsen, 2011; Podnar & Golob, 2007). As the demands of CSR grow, so is the public concern over CSR activities and CSR communication (Rim & Kim, 2016). If claims of social initiatives are not substantiated enough by actual performance, companies may face backlash from their stakeholders who may experience the CSR as greenwashing or another form of imagepolishing-marketing which will be threatening to the organizational legitimacy (Aggarwal & Kadyan, 2011; Torelli et al., 2019). Existing CSR research shows that the public is inclined to develop skeptical attitudes towards CSR
initiatives when they repeatedly experience inconsistency in the organization's behavior and promises (Webb & Mohr, 1998). This skepticism towards corporations and its CSR initiatives including the underlying motives, hinders the success of CSR activities and thereby
influences the assessment of publics' CSR evaluations (Rim & Kim, 2016).
In order to increase public support for corporations to gain legitimacy and a license to operate CSR and CSA activities, it is important to determine how consumers receive,
perceive and assess messaging on these social initiatives and what determines the assessment of these motives. For example, it has been studied how consumer responses towards CSR messaging depend on characteristics of the message source (e.g.; CEO’s Facebook account vs. organizational Facebook account) (Wang & Huang, 2018) and the role of prior brand reputation (Del Mar García-De Los Salmones & Perez, 2017) were studied.
Furthermore, existing literature has addressed the fit between the organization and the social cause it advocates for. Meaning, how well the ‘fit’ between the organization and the social initiative is perceived (Austin & Gaither, 2017; Brammer & Pavelin, 2006; Wang &
Lee, 2018;). Becker-Olsen and Cudmore (2006) found that low-fit CSR initiatives had a negative impact on the consumers’ perceptions of the CSR initiative no matter what the organizational motive is, as well as high-fit initiatives that come from profit motivated organizations. The motivation of the organization seems to be a significant factor here.
Meanwhile, Austin and Gaither (2017) found that high brand-cause fit initiatives were perceived as self serving and low brand-cause fit initiatives were perceived as started in the public’s, more altruistic interest. The skepticism that then arises also lies in the paradox between the nature of the (profit-making) organization and the nature of CSR (Rim & Kim, 2016), which should not be aimed at making profit in commercial terms, but in terms of profit for society.
When a company decides to speak openly about a controversial social-political issue they should be aware of the fact that the consumer outcomes can differ significantly
depending on incongruent consumer values (Heffron, 2019). Engaging in socio-political or controversial CSR fields is called Corporate Social Advocacy (CSA); In this study I will draw upon attribution theory as a fundamental basis to capture consumers' responses towards such CSA initiatives. As stakeholder expectations of involvement in corporate social
advocacy evolved, the present research explores, for the first time, the effects of social justice attitudes of consumers on the processing and assessment of attributions towards CSA. As to date, the impact of consumer values on the processing and assessment of attributions towards CSA messaging is understudied. This study provides an important opportunity to advance the understanding of consumer responses towards CSA while incorporating social justice
attitudes. In order to investigate social justice attitudes, this study uses existing scales by Torres-Harding et al. (2012).
This study aims to contribute to the field of CSR and CSA literature by expanding knowledge on the influence of brand-cause fit and organizational motives on consumer attributes. Therefore, the following research question will be central to this study:
RQ: Do communicated motives and the brand-cause fit influence the attributes consumers assign to CSA-messaging and is this relation moderated by social justice attitudes?
Through a 2x2 between-subjects experimental design, the current study investigates whether different organizational motives (value-driven vs. market-driven) influence
consumer’ attributions as assigned to CSA messaging as well as whether there is an effect of brand-cause fit. The present study fills a gap in the literature by incorporating the possible moderating effect of consumer values on the assignment of consumer attributions towards CSA messaging. The following chapter outlines the theoretical framework of the present study upon which we drew our conceptual model and hypotheses as depicted in Figure 1.
Subsequently, Chapter three presents the methodology used to conduct the study. Next, Chapter four reports the results of the analyses. Finally, Chapter five offers the discussion, implications and conclusion as well as the limitations and future research suggestions.
In the following chapter, I will elaborate on the concepts of corporate social
responsibility and corporate social advocacy. Then, I will explain attribution theory literature which forms the theoretical basis for the outcome variable consumer attributions.
Subsequently, the concepts of organizational motives and brand-cause fit will be explored.
Finally, consumer values being social justice attitudes will be highlighted.
Corporate Social Responsibility and Corporate Social Advocacy
Based on various studies from leading CSR literature (Carroll, 1999; McWilliams, Siegel and Wright, 2006) and in line with the conceptualization by Pour, Nazari and Emami (2013), this study defines CSR as the activities that companies perform in order to be ‘good citizens’ by contributing to society’s welfare beyond their own interests such as profit making (Ihlen, Barlett & May, 2011). Howard Bowen “Father of corporate Social Responsibility”
(Carroll, 1999) defined CSR as “the obligations of businessmen to pursue those policies, to
make those decisions, or to follow those lines of action which are desirable in terms of the objectives and values of our society” (as cited1 in Caroll, 1999, p.270). In 1991, Carroll introduced the pyramid of corporate social responsibility, which reflects the different
responsibility levels of CSR: economic, legal, ethical and philanthropic. Caroll (1991) claims that the combination of those different features in one practice is the essence of CSR. Themes belonging to the interests of CSR practices involve issues such as diversity and inclusion, environmental responsibility and community outreach. In line with Stakeholder Theory by Edward Freeman (Parmar et al., 2010), the firm should constantly be aware of the proposition they have regarding the interests of their internal- and external stakeholders in order to
maintain stakeholder relationships as desired. Academic scholarship recently differentiates between the terms corporate social responsibility and corporate social advocacy. CSA is an area of CSR in which strategies engage in controversial or socio-political issues by making statements and taking stances (Abitbol, Lee, Seltzer, & Lee, 2018). Dodd and Supa (2013) described CSA as “the outgrowth of two important fields of academic study in public relations: strategic issues management and corporate social responsibility” (p. 288). CSA initiatives are a way for organizations to reflect their core values to their stakeholders. For example, Lindgreen and Swaen (2010) consider it necessary for organizations to define their roles in society because of consumers' perceptions of the company. In todays’ society the consumer holds a very assertive attitude while expecting organizations to be socially responsible actors aiming for socially responsible outcomes (Lightfood, 2019). However, when these socially responsible actions are not in line with the stakeholder values, they risk backlash like boycotts or negative brand reputation. Dodd and Supa (2014) also argue that engaging in social-political issues potentially isolates certain stakeholders whose values are at
odds with the organization while simultaneously serving and attracting other stakeholders.
Therefore, it is of utmost importance that the CSR and CSA practitioners are aware of how their strategies are received, depending on the target group they want to address and the effect they want to achieve, as well as the awareness of the characteristics of the organization from which they operate and the social purpose they want to support. The studies I have used in this study do overall not distinguish the terms CSR and CSA, but one does not exclude the other since CSA is in fact a form of CSR.
With the increasingly important position of CSR and CSA, companies with bad reputations (e.g. BP and Shell), in the field of ecological footprint, are investing heavily in this (Monsanto and Exxon, 2001 as cited in Yoon et al., 2006, p.1). For some the outcomes are successful and helped them change their image. For others, strategies to be (or appear to be) more socially responsible backfire and result in greenwashing allocations (de Vries et al., 2013). A study on CSR communication in the oil industry found that suspicion of corporate greenwashing was reduced when the company was transparent by acknowledging economic motives (de Vries et al., 2013). Organizational motives for CSR activities can vary widely (Ellen et al., 2006). However, a commonly used way is to classify these motives into two distinctive categories: public-serving motives and firm-serving motives (Forehand and Grier, 2003; Korschun et al., 2019). Public-serving motives lie beyond the own primary interest of the organization and demonstrates the organizations' public concern for the collective societal interest. Firm-serving motives demonstrate the organization's own interest. In this study, the terms value-driven and market-driven are used respectively. This distinction is maintained to avoid confusion, since value-driven motives can serve both the public and the own
organization. The same goes for market-driven motives (Korschun et al., 2019). This study
defines a market-driven motive as one that places its customers’ wants and needs central. In this strategy the firm strives for understanding the market trends and is aware of its
competitors. Being aware and understanding the market needs “enables the firm to be more effective and efficient by allowing managers to select the most productive available resource combinations to match market conditions” (Morgan, Vorhies,and Mason 2009, p. 910) in order to maximize financial performance of the company (Hult and Ketchen 2001). Decisions are rational and objectively made and profit is measured by performance goals.
In contrast to organizations communicating market-driven motives, organizations communicating value-driven motives foster an image that is driven by the company’s internal values. The organization emphasizes why they do what it does (Ligas and Cotte 1999).
Instead of adapting to the market needs, they strive to project their values on the market. For example, Dutch sneaker brand ‘Patta’ states on their website “Out of love and necessity rather than profit and novelty” (www.patta.nl). Another example includes the mission
statement of Nike: “Our mission is what drives us to do everything possible to expand human potential” (Nike, 2022, n.p.).
The present study uses the organizational mission statement as a means to analyze the organizational motives. In this study, these will be referred to as communicated motives since the messages will be analyzed at a communication level given that this study does not delve into substantive depth.
Attribution Theory describes the psychological mechanism in which the perceiver gathers, processes and tries to make sense of information and combines this to form a causal judgment (Coombs, 2007). In the context of CSR, observers have a certain judgment and favorability about a CSR initiative which is determined by the attributes made on the basis of
the perceived organizational motives. Gilbert and Malone (1995) state that “(...) people care less about what others do than about why they do it’’ (p. 21). The present research follows the motives typology of Ellen, Webb and Mohr (2006) about attributions that consumers give to the message. Two types are concerned with self-centered motives, respectively (1)
strategic and (2) egoistic. The other two types involve other-centered motives, respectively (3) value-driven and (4) stakeholder-driven. Strategic-driven motives can be defined as a firm-serving motive pursuing business goals (“They will get more customers by this offer”, Ellen et al. (2006)). Also, egoistic-driven motives are defined as a firm-serving motive in which decision-making is primarily beneficial to the company itself, regardless of the potential negative impact on others (“They want to get publicity”, Ellen et al. (2006)).
Stakeholder-driven motives are motives that support social causes because of the needs and expectations of their stakeholders (“They feel their customers expect it”, Ellen et al. (2006)), the stakeholders’ values and expectations transcend the company’s self-interest here. Value- driven motives are the sincere internal values of the company driving the strategy which reflects that a company cares about the case (“They have a long-term interest in the
community”, Ellen et al. (2006)). Barone, Miyazaki, and Taylor (2000) found that consumers prefer a brand that shows an altruistic (non-selfish) motivation to support a social cause in comparison to a similar brand that underlies a selfish motivation.
In the context of this study, these organizational motives will be derived from the communicated organizational motive through their mission statements. The present study assumes that organizations with a market-driven mission statement will be experienced as strategic or egoistic, whereas organizations with a value-driven mission statement will be attributed by the consumer as value-driven or stakeholder-driven. For stakeholder-driven motives, I argue that this will be attributed to companies with a communicated value-driven motive. The company aims to operate to what the consumer wants and not what is best for the
company (value-driven). The aim of this experiment is to investigate if the communicated motive as stated in the organizational mission statement (value-driven vs. market-driven) aligns with the attributions consumers assign to a CSA message. By not manipulating the CSA message itself, but manipulating the communicated motive, the effects of the communicated motive can be measured.
H1: Being exposed to organizational messages with a communicated value-driven motive will have a more positive effect on the assignment of value-driven attributions (H1a) and stakeholder-driven (H1b) attributions than being exposed to organizational messages with a communicated market-driven motive when reviewing the CSA statement.
H2: Being exposed to organizational messages with a communicated market-driven motive will have a more positive effect on the assignment of egoistic-driven (H2a) and strategic-driven attributions (H2b) than being exposed to organizational messages with a communicated value-driven motive when reviewing the CSA statement.
The fit between the company’s business and the social issue central in the CSA- messaging statement is what we define as the brand-cause fit. Previous research found significant effects of perceived congruency of CSR activities on a company’s credibility (Wang & Lee, 2018). Previous research has provided insights into CSR fit across sectors (Brammer & Pavelin, 2006) and the importance of CSR fit on the assignment of attributions (Wang & Lee, 2018). Also, brand-cause fit is deemed important because it affects the attributions that consumers assign to CSR-messaging (Becker-Olsen, et al., 2006). Becker- Olsen et al. found that low-fit CSR initiatives by a company, have a negative impact on consumer beliefs, attitudes, and intentions. The company’s motive behind this initiative does
not alter this effect. Also, the study found that high-fit CSR initiatives have the same negative impact when coming from a market-motivated company. Some CSR practitioners
deliberately select social causes that are “least associated with their line of business” (Smith 1994, p. 107), in order to prevent people from suspecting opportunistic motives. On the other hand, such a low brand-cause fit could cause people to suspect the company from exploiting the cause, which will still evoke opportunistic motives and may even evoke allegations of
‘woke washing’. However, generally academic scholarship recommends companies to support causes with a high brand-cause fit which can be logically matched to their brand image, values or target market (e.g. Becker-Olsen, Cudmore, and Hill, 2006; Varadarajan and Menon, 1988). Ross, Patterson, and Stutts (1992) suggest that consumer attitudes toward a company engaging in a certain form of cause related marketing would be more favorable when the program focuses on a local social cause than when it involves one that is national.
This study investigates the relationship between brand-cause fit and communicated motives in order to shed new light on determinants for consumer attributions. Thus, the current research proposes the following hypothesis: H3: Being exposed to an organization with high brand-cause fit will have a more positive effect on the assignment of value-driven and stakeholder-driven attributions (H3a,b) than being exposed to an organization with low brand-cause fit when reviewing the CSR statement.
Moderating role of social justice attitudes
When organizations are increasingly committed to making a positive social impact, consumers might be suspicious of the actual motives of the CSR or CSA commitment that leads to the assignment of attributions. Researchers found that (Baskeentli et al., 2019) the
alignment of consumers’ moral foundations with the foundations of the CSR initiatives leads to more positive consumer reactions to the initiatives. Therefore, researchers must also consider consumer’s psychological mechanisms in order to capture consumer responses towards CSR and CSA initiatives (Xie et al., 2019). Social justice attitudes were chosen since these reflect the growing demand of corporate acting for society. As research by Murphy and Wood (2007) suggest, consumers with strong social justice values are more likely to
experience feelings of elevation and awe when processing CSR information. This study (Murphy & Wood, 2007) also suggests that stronger social justice attitudes lead to more positive attitudes towards CSR initiatives. However, Xie and colleagues (2019) found that those with higher social justice attitudes are more empathetic and experience more negative emotions when exposed to corporate social irresponsibility leading to boycotting and consumer complaining. The choice to include social justice attitudes in this research is also self-evident since it is a characteristic that is very compatible within the CSR context. Social justice attitude is one of the things that determines how activist someone is (Torres-Harding et al. (2012). The activist citizen is one that is critical, conscious, aware of inequality and the need for justice (Freire, 1970) Also, activities such as advocacy, a critical view on public policy and political activism belong to an activistic individual (Prilleltensky and Nelson, 2002). It may also involve confronting or questioning organizational practices. Accordingly, the present study hypotheses that people who are highly involved in socio-political issues approach their environment with a more critical eye and are more likely inclined to distrust or be skeptical of organizations’ motives.
Therefore H4: High social justice attitudes will have a positive effect on the
assignment of value-driven (H4a) and stakeholder-driven (H4b) attributions when exposed to a communicated value-driven motive (vs. communicated market-driven motive) as well as a
positive effect on the assignment of egoistic-driven (H4c) and strategic-driven (H4d)
attributions when exposed to a CSR message with a communicated market-driven motive (vs.
communicated value-driven motive).
People with activist attitudes and value social importance are critical of knowledge they obtain from consultancies for business or for the state (Miller, 2015). Therefore, this study speculates that in general, individuals with higher social justice levels will rather attribute egoistic-driven and strategic-driven motives to CSA statements. However, no
previous research has been done on the influence of social justice attitudes on relationships as described in the conceptual model. Therefore, there is no scientific evidence to formulate hypotheses. Therefore, the possible moderation between the brand-cause fit and social justice attitudes will be studied which is of exploratory nature (H5).
The conceptual framework
Consumer attributions Value-driven Stakeholder-driven
Social Justice Attitudes 5-point Likert Scale Communicated motive
Value-driven / Market-driven organization
Brand-cause fit Low brand-cause fit / high brand-
H4(a,b,c,d) H1, H2
The following chapter will shed light on the studied sample, the research design, the performance of pre-tests, procedures followed by measures, manipulation checks and the performed statistical analyses.
A total of one hundred and seventy-nine (N=179) participants were recruited to fill in the online questionnaire with the software Qualtrics, Inc. Seventy-six responses were deleted due to incomplete or missing data, resulting in a final sample of hundred-and-three responses (N=103). I cannot give a definitive explanation as to the cause of the participant dropout.
Possible dropout reasons could be difficulty level or time commitment (Dandurand, Shultz, &
Onishi, 2008). The participants were asked to share their gender, age, and educational level as background characteristics. Participants' ages ranged between 17 and 67 years with the mean age being 34 (M = 34.18, SD = 15.29). Overall, the sample consisted of 68% females and 32% males, with a Master’s degree being the most common educational level (40.8%) closely followed by a Bachelor’s degree (38.8%). In order to check if the participants were equally distributed among the conditions, a randomization check was conducted. A one-way ANOVA revealed that there was no statistically significant difference in mean score over the distribution among the conditions for age (F(3,99)=[1.181], p = .909). A chi-square test was done for both gender (!² = .26, p = .968) and educational level (!² = 15.18, p = .232). The test demonstrated that the sample characteristics did not significantly differ among the conditions.
A 2 (market-driven vs. value-driven) x 2 (high brand-cause fit vs. low brand-cause fit) between-subjects factorial design was used (see Table 1). The survey questionnaire was
circulated within the researcher’s network using a snowball sampling technique. Each of the participants was randomly assigned to one of the four conditions. Two conditions refer to the type of communicated motives: namely the communicated market-driven motive and the communicated value-driven motive. The other two conditions refer to the brand-cause fit;
namely high brand-cause fit and low brand-cause fit.
The social-political issue that is central to this study is operationalized in the means of a CSA statement:
‘We, [company], take a stance against constitutional racism and underline that racism does not belong in the world in which we work, operate and live. We are committed $100 million to invest in and support organizations focused on empowerment, education and social justice to address racial inequality for the Black Community.’
The first pre-test sought to identify a pair of equally well-liked brand types that could be paired with the social cause in order to identify the manipulations for the independent variable brand-cause fit. This pre-test was done in order to avoid that other characteristics than just the brand-cause fit will play a role in the manipulation. Therefore, it was sought to identify the equally liked brands, to avoid that the participants would react differently on
brands they preferred over the other. A group of 10 respondents (N=10) was given a list of six different types of brands (fast fashion brand, sports fashion brand, food & beverages brand, oil company, travel agency, beauty products brand). One-sample t-tests revealed that
‘Sports fashion brand’ (t(10)= 69.47, p < .001, Cohen’s D = .31) and ‘Food & beverages brand’ (t(10)= 70.45, p < .001, Cohen’s D =.30) were equally liked firms using three five- point scales (1=negative/5=positive, 1=unfavourable/5=favourable, and 1=bad/5=good, Cronbach’s " =.75), for equally liking. The second pretest (N=10) evaluated the stimuli to ensure that the levels of brand-cause fit pairings were representative of the intended fit.
Participants were exposed to the social cause information. Participants were introduced to the social cause by the following sentence: ‘Taking a stance against constitutional racism and investing in organizations and initiatives to address racial inequality’. Fit between the brands and the social cause was measured using three scaled items (1=low fit/8=strong fit,
1=dissimilar/8=similar, 1=inconsistent/8=consistent, Cronbach’s " =.74, for strength of brand-cause fit) as suggested by Becker-Olsen (2006). One-sample t-tests revealed that
‘Sports fashion brand’ was evaluated as high brand-cause fit (t(10)= 41.83, p < .001, Cohen’s D = .53) and the ‘Food & Beverages brand’ (t(10)= 5.49, p < .001, Cohen’s D = 1.69)
evaluated as a low brand-cause fit.
When entering the landing page of the questionnaire, participants were instructed to read a general instruction on the survey including asking the participant for consent on the use of the data. Then, the participants were asked to fill in demographic characteristics (gender, age and education level). In the second section of the questionnaire, the participant was asked to answer questions measuring their social justice attitudes. All participants were introduced to the CSA statement (Appendix D) that company ‘X’ made on the issue of
constitutional racism. The statement, includes the stand the company made, as well as the commitment the company makes to invest in the cause. Then, the participants landed in the experimental phase in which they were randomly assigned to one of the four conditions. Each participant was introduced to the mission statement of company ‘X’, which could either be a company with a high fit to the cause (Sports fashion brand) or a company with a low fit to the cause (Food & Beverages brand). The participants were introduced to the organizational descriptions of the assigned brand (Table 2, Appendix E). The organizational descriptions are completely fictional and exclusively written and used for the aim of this research. The
mission statements are means to identify the communicated motives. Meaning that both distinct communicated motives (market-driven vs. value-driven) are paired with a mission statement. The mission statements were based on a study by Korschun, Aggarwal and Rafieian (2016) but modified for this specific study in order to avoid bias due to eventual pre- existing knowledge on the topic. Textual elements in the stimuli specifically indicating one of the two conditions were modified. The rest of the text was kept constant. For example: “our guiding principle is, “values first”’, as being part of the value-driven mission statement, was modified to “our guiding principle is, “data first”’, as being part of the market-driven mission statement. The complete mission statements and CSA statements have been appended (see Appendix D). After being exposed to the stimuli, the participants were asked to respond to the questions measuring the dependent variables about consumer attributions.
Consumer attributions. To measure consumer attributions, a study by Ellen, Webb and Mohr (2006) was used. This study distinguished value-driven, stakeholder-driven, egoistic-driven, strategic-driven as the four types of consumer attributions. Value-driven attributes were measured by five items, which included “They feel morally obligated to help”
with the Eigenvalue being 4.36 (M = 3.55, SD = .98, Cronbach’s = .73). Stakeholder-driven attributes were measured with four items which included “They feel their stockholders expect it” with the Eigenvalue being 3.12 (M = 3.73, SD = .95, Cronbach’s = .83). The third
attribution egoistic-driven attributes was measured with four items and included “They want it as a tax write off’, with the Eigenvalue being 1.56 (M = 3.54, SD = .92, Cronbach’s "= .72.
The fourth attribution strategic-driven attributes was measured with three items which included “They will get more customers by making this offer”, with the Eigenvalue being 1.13 (M = 3.80, SD = .75, Cronbach’s " = .71). All items were measured on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”. A principal axis factor analysis with Direct Oblimin rotation was conducted with all 16 items that measure ‘consumer attributions’. Both Eigenvalue-criterion and Scree Plot show that there are four factors. In total, the factors explained 63.5% of the variance in the 16 items, with Factor 1 accounting for 27.3% of the variance explained, Factor 2 added 19.5% of explained variance, Factor 3 9.7% and Factor 4 7%. This thus means that the variable consumer attributions is reflected well via the four factors and no items had to be deleted (Field, 2017).
Social Justice Attitudes. A total of 11 items on a 7-point Likert-type scale borrowed from the Social Justice Scale developed by Torres-Harding et al. (2012) was used to measure social justice attitudes. Torres-Harding and colleagues validated The Social Justice Scale (2012) by examining the correlations with existing, external scales measuring symbolic racism, neosexism, and a global belief in-a-just-world. The subscales were found negatively correlated to four external scales. Respondents who score high on the Social Justice Scale, are less likely to deny that genders or race have already achieved equality and that discrimination against one gender does not exist. Also, this group is less likely to display underlying one- dimensional prejudices towards gender or ‘race’, and are less likely to believe that the world
is a fair or just place (“people get what they deserve”). In thee present study, 11-items (M=
4.51, SD = .49, Cronbach’s " = .90) measuring social justice attitudes were included. The scale included items such as ‘I believe that it is important to talk to others about societal systems of power, privilege, and oppression’ and ‘I believe that it is important to respect and appreciate people’s diverse social identities’ in order to measure social justice attitudes.
In order to control for the intended effect of the manipulation of the independent variable, manipulation checks were conducted. Participants were asked to identify the communicated motive they were assigned to, being either market-driven or value-driven.
Then, the participants were asked to identify the brand-cause fit, being either high brand- cause fit or low brand-cause fit. A chi-square test was conducted to validate that participants consciously processed the information belonging to the condition they were assigned to and could identify the brand-cause fit (X^2= 88.68, p < .001) and communicated motive (X^2=
88.62, p < .001). Given the significance levels of the tests, the stimuli can be said to be effectively manipulated.
In order to test the hypotheses of this study, the data was exported from the survey software (Qualtrics, Provo, UT) and loaded into IBM SPSS software (version 27). In order to prepare the data for the analyses data cleaning was performed. First, missing values were deleted. Because this study has a 2x2 factorial design, the independent variables had to be recoded into four condition variables resulting in multiple dichotomous variables. Then, a
series of multivariate analyses of variance (MANOVAs) followed by a series of moderated multiple regressions using the Hayes PROCESS macro (Hayes, 2012). The independent variables communicated motives and brand-cause fit were measured on a nominal level. The hypothesized independent moderating variable social justice attitudes was measured on a scale level as well as the dependent consumer attributions variables.
The following section discusses the results of the analyses. Table 4 (Appendix F) presents the mean-scores of the variables.
Communicated motives and brand-cause fit as predictors
H1 and H2 both predict an effect of organizational motive on attributions assigned to the CSA initiative. H1 predicted that being exposed to organizational messages with a communicated value-driven motive will have a more positive effect on the assignment of value-driven attributions (H1a) and stakeholder-driven (H1b) attributions than being exposed to a communicated market-driven motive when reviewing the CSA statement. H2 predicted that being exposed to organizational messages with communicated market-driven motives will have a more positive effect on the assignment of egoistic-driven (H2a) and strategic- driven attributions (H2b) than being exposed to organizational messages with a
communicated value-driven motive when reviewing the CSA statement. To test these hypotheses, a one-way Multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) comparing the market- driven condition and the value-driven condition on the combination of the four attributions was conducted. There was not a significant difference between a communicated value-driven
and market-driven motive on the combined dependent variables (F(4, 98)=1.02, p=0.4;
Wilks's # =0.96; ɳ2=.55). The results show that the null hypothesis cannot be rejected and therefore H1 and H2 cannot be supported. Participants assigned to the different
communicated motives did not significantly differ from each other when assigning attributions. Therefore, these results suggest that the communicated motive does not
influence which consumer attributions the participants in this context assign to the message.
H3 predicted that being exposed to an organization with high brand-cause fit will have a more positive effect on the assignment of value-driven and stakeholder-driven attributions (H3a,b) than being exposed to an organization with low brand-cause fit when reviewing the CSA statement. MANOVA comparing the high brand-cause fit condition and the low brand- cause fit condition on the four attributions was conducted, in order to test for the direct effect of brand-cause fit on the four attributions. The results showed a weak significant main effect (F(4, 98)=3.02, p= 0.016; Wilks's # =0.88; ɳ2= .11) of brand-cause fit on attributions which indicates that there is a difference in the effect on assigning attributions when the CSA
message comes from a brand with a high or a low fit to the cause. To reveal the differences of the effect between the different groups, a Tukey post hoc analysis showed that participants exposed to the low brand-cause fit (M = 3.79, SD = .93) scored significantly higher than those in the high brand-cause fit (M = 3.30, SD = .93) condition to attribute the firm’s CSA statement to value-driven (F(1, 101) = 6.76, p = .011 ɳ2= .063) and egoistic-driven reasons (F(1,101) = 9.80, p = 0.02. ɳ2 = .088). Participants in the low brand-cause fit were more likely to assign value-driven and egoistic-driven attributions than participants in the high brand-cause fit in this study. There were no significant differences on the stakeholder-driven (F(1, 101) = 2.88, p = .093 ɳ2= .028) and strategic-driven (F(1, 101) = .33, p = .564 ɳ2=.003) attributions. Therefore, these results do not offer support and contradict H3a and H3b. The results suggest that participants exposed to the brand with a low fit to the cause are more
likely to attribute the firm’s CSA statement to value-driven and egoistic-driven reasons.
Besides contradicting the hypotheses, these results seem to contradict each other given that value-driven and egoistic-driven are two diametrically opposed motivations.
Social justice attitudes as moderator
The PROCESS Macro by Hayes (2021) was used in order to test the moderating effect of social justice attitudes on the communicated motive and brand-cause fit as independent variables, in relation to the four attributions (1) value-driven, (2) stakeholder- driven, (3) egoistic-driven and (4) strategic-driven as dependent variables. The results of the moderated multiple regression models are discussed in an integrated manner in order to provide a clear representation of the moderations.
H4(a)(b)(c)(d) hypothesized that participants with high social justice attitudes will have a positive effect on the assignment of value-driven (H4a) and stakeholder-driven (H4b) attributions when exposed to a communicated value-driven motive (vs. communicated
market-driven motive) as well as a positive effect on the assignment of egoistic-driven (H4c) and strategic-driven (H4d) attributions when exposed to a CSA message with a
communicated market-driven motive (vs. communicated value-driven motive). H5(a)(b)(c)(d) is of exploratory nature and important results will be discussed.
Value-driven attributions. Results showed that there is a significant effect of the
moderator social justice attitudes (b* = -.51, SE = .19, t = -2.65, p < .005, 95% CI [-.89; - .13]) on the outcome variable value-driven attributions. This indicates a strong negative association between social justice attitudes and the assignment of value-driven attributions.
Nevertheless, the model explains only 9 per cent of the variation. Meaning, that people with higher social justice attitudes are less inclined to assign value-driven attributions then with
high levels of social justice attitudes. The interaction term is insignificant for the effect of either communicated motive (b* = -.36, SE = .39, t = -.92, p = .362, 95% CI [-1.13; .42]) and brand-cause fit (b* = .42, SE = .39, t = 1.08, p = .284, 95% CI [-.35; 1.19]) on the dependent variable value-driven attributions. This implies that the social justice attitude level of the participant does not influence the assignment of value-driven attributions when exposed to a communicated value-driven or market-driven motive or a high or low brand-cause fit.
Stakeholder-driven attributions. For the outcome variable stakeholder-driven
attributions, results showed that there is no significant effect of the moderator social justice attitudes (b* = .12, SE = .19, t = .63, p = .53, 95% CI [-.26; .50]). The interaction term is insignificant for the effect of either communicated motive (b* = -.64, SE = .38, t = -1.65, p = .101, 95% CI [-1.40; .13]) and brand-cause fit (b* = -.01, SE = .39, t = -.03, p = .976, 95% CI [-.79; .77]) on the dependent variable stakeholder-driven attributions.
Egoistic-driven attributions. For this outcome variable, results showed that there is
no significant effect of the moderator social justice attitudes (b* = .26, SE = .19, t = 1.40, p = .16, 95% CI [-.11; .63]). The interaction term is insignificant for the effect of either
communicated motive (b* =.04, SE = .38, t = .10, p = .917, 95% CI [-1.40; .13]) and brand- cause fit (b* = .25, SE = .37, t = .70, p = .491, 95% CI [-.48, .98]) on the dependent variable egoistic-driven attributions in the model.
Strategic-driven attributions. Lastly, results showed that there is a significant effect
of the moderator social justice attitudes (b* = .32, SE = .15, t = 2.15, p < .05, 95% CI [.02;
.61]) on the outcome variable strategic-driven attributions. This indicates a moderately strong association with the outcome variable which is the assignment of stakeholder-driven
attributions. Meaning, that people with higher social justice attitudes are more inclined to assign strategic-driven attributions then with low levels of social justice attitudes. However, the model only explains 7 per cent of the variance in the model. Also, the model predicting
the effects is not significant. The interaction term is insignificant for the effect of either communicated motive (b* = .07, SE = .30, t = .12, p = .881, 95% CI [-.52; .67]) and brand- cause fit (b* = -.327, SE = .31, t = -.06, p = .291, 95% CI [-.94; .28]) on the dependent variable strategic-driven attributions in the model. An overview of the moderated regressions can be found in Table 3 (Appendix F).
Limitations & Discussion
The aim of this study was to investigate if the communicated motive and the brand- cause fit influence the attributes consumers assign to CSA-messaging and is this relation moderated by social justice attitudes. The message source characteristics this study paid attention to are communicated motive and brand-cause fit. Also, the influence of social justice attitudes was investigated in order to study a possible moderating effect. The study was performed through experimental research. The results of this study did not find evidence to conclude that the communicated motive of the organization influences the assignment of attributions. Participants did not seem to react differently to the CSA message originating from the organization communicating a market-driven motive in comparison to a value- driven motive. It could be an explanation that the seriousness of the issue central to the CSA message, namely racism, diverts attention from the organization's motive. It is debatable whether this can be seen as a favorable outcome. It is good that the emphasis is on the issue itself, regardless of the company's motive. However, it could serve as a watchdog or
controlling mechanism when consumers consider the motive of the organization.
The investigation towards the fit of the organization (brand) and the CSA initiative (cause) resulted in interesting but dubious findings. The results showed that there is a weak effect of brand-cause fit on the assignment of attributions. Namely, the results showed that
the participants who were assigned to the low brand-cause fit condition were more likely to attribute the firm’s CSA statement to value-driven and egoistic-driven reasons. More
specifically, participants who were assigned to the CSA message originating from the food &
beverages brand seemed to expect more value-driven and egoistic-driven motives. This contradicts the hypothesis (H3) that being exposed to the organization with high brand-cause fit will have a more positive effect on the assignment of value-driven and stakeholder-driven attributions. Given that the effect size is very small, these results should be interpreted very carefully. However, the results suggest the assignment of two diametrically opposed
motivations. Looking at the effect of the low brand-cause fit on value-driven attributions, the effect may be attributed to the credibility of the ‘match’ between the company’s business and the social issue. As mentioned in the theoretical framework, some scholars and PR
practitioners deliberately select CSR causes that are “least associated with their line of business” (Smith, 1994, p.8), to prevent people from suspecting opportunistic views. This is in line with the study by Rim and Kim (2016) who suggested that a low brand-cause fit is perceived as started in societies interest which is most in line with value-driven attributions.
However, the results are paradoxical. The assignment of egoistic-driven attributions in the low brand-cause fit condition could therefore be due to people suspecting the company from exploiting the cause and could evoke woke-washing and self-serving allegations due to skepticism (Becker-Olsen et al., 2006) The two opposite paradigms may be an explanation for the contrast as was shown in the results. A suggestion for future research is to develop a study that can provide insight into the factors that create this paradox. Research can be done on consumers ‘skeptical attitudes and whether these influence the carrying of egoistic- or value-driven attributes.
This study also investigated the participants’ self-perception of their level of social justice attitudes. The study found no interaction effects of the communicated motive or brand-cause fit on the assignment of attributions. However, there seemed to be a direct effect of social justice attitudes on value-driven attributes and strategic-driven attributes.
Participants with high level of social justice attitudes are less inclined to assign value-driven attributes, and more inclined to assign strategic-driven attributes. This seems to indicate that participants with higher social justice attitudes are more likely to assume self-serving motives. Reasoning from the study of Xie et al. (2014), this is in line with the negative consumer reactions given by participants with high social justice values. As stated in the theoretical framework, social justice in one of the determining factors for how activistic one is (Torres-Harding et al. (2012). One that is critical, conscious, aware of inequality and the need for justice (Freire, 1970). Research is needed to investigate if this suspiciousness, and thereby negatively attributing the CSA, is related to or can be explained by skepticism.
It is important to discuss possible limitations in this study that may have influenced the results and may have contributed to the lack of significant results on multiple
hypothesized effects. First, the sample was retrieved via snowball sampling and therefore the sample is most likely limited to the researchers’ network. Therefore, it is likely that the participants come from the same ‘social bubble’ as the researchers’ own. For example, the results showed that the majority of the sample obtained a master's degree or higher and that this was closely followed by the second largest group who obtained a bachelor's degree, which indicated that 79.6% of the sample has received higher education which is not an accurate reflection of society since the fact that 30% of the Dutch population has received higher vocational education (CBS, 2018). Scores on social justice attitudes may have biased due to self-perception and socially desirable responses, but also origin of residence of the
participants (e.g.; progressive modern city or conservative countryside). However, we have not asked the participants to indicate where they come from which is recommended for future research. For future research, I suggest using a different sampling method which might result in a more diverse sample which may be a better reflection of society and will therefore probably show more differentiation in the results and stronger effect sizes. Also, I suggest using a different way of measuring the social justice attitudes in order to prevent or minimize bias by self-perception and socially desirable responses. Another topic to reflect on is the brand-cause fit manipulation. This study manipulated brand, instead of the cause. By means of a pre-test I tried to rule out that only the fit is manipulated. However, there is a chance that changing the company (brand) has influenced the manipulation. However, when the cause is manipulated, a bias could also arise here due to, for example, the respondent's affinity with the cause.
Implications & Conclusion
This research contributed to the field of public relations within the theme of CSR and CSA communication. By looking at consumer attributions assigned to CSA-messaging, this study is a springboard for future research. The results indicate that research into the
association between social justice attitudes and skepticism is necessary. To answer the research question, which was stated as follows: ‘Does the communicated motive and the brand-cause fit influence the attributes consumers assign to CSA-messaging and is this relation moderated by social justice attitudes?’, it can be concluded that following this study, communicated motives don't show an effect on consumer attributions and different levels of social justice attitudes do not have an influence on this. However, higher social justice attitudes do seem to indicate consumer suspiciousness which could lead to less credibility or even loss of legitimacy. Feature research. I dare say with extreme caution that based on this
study, I expect people with higher social justice attitudes to be more skeptical. Therefore, I suggest for future research to study a possible relation between social justice attitudes and skepticism.
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