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Can CSR communication act as a buffer in case of a CSR scandal? An experimental exploration of consumer responses

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Klaus Schoefer


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Companies are increasingly communicating their CSR engagement to stakeholders through their websites, advertising and press releases. In contrast, stakeholders are often confronted with media reports about CSR misconduct and scandals. In this experimental study, two scenarios are explored: First, the authors investigate how multiple CSR communication messages from a brand and an independent source influence consumers’ attitudes and purchase intentions. Second, it is explored if and how these consumers’ perceptions may change if the brand faces a CSR scandal thereafter. The paper builds upon existing signaling theory by examining the impact that multiple signals and the sequence of signals have on signaling efficiency. The results show that generally CSR communication can lead to enhance consumers’ attitudes and purchase intentions. However, in case of a product brand’s scandal prior CSR communication can damage consumer responses. Only if consumers are confronted with a CSR advertisement and a report from an independent source about CSR engagement before the scandal, a brand can be protected in the case of a CSR scandal regarding consumers’ purchase intentions, but not regarding their brand attitude. The implications indicate that marketers need to carefully decide if and how to communicate CSR to stakeholders to avoid backfire effects in case of a scandal.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Brunner CB, McLeay F, Esch FR, Schoefer K

Editor(s): Marwa Tourky and William Harvey

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Published

Conference Name: 23rd International Conference on Corporate and Marketing Communications Conference at Exeter University Business School

Year of Conference: 2018

Print publication date: 12/04/2018

Online publication date: 12/04/2018

Acceptance date: 27/02/2018