The CSR paradox: when a social responsibility campaign can tarnish a brand

Elizabeth Johnson-Young (University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, Virginia, USA)
Robert G. Magee (The Meek School of Journalism and New Media, University of Mississippi, Oxford, Mississippi, USA)

Corporate Communications: An International Journal

ISSN: 1356-3289

Publication date: 13 February 2019



The purpose of this paper is to explore the corporate social responsibility (CSR) paradox, when a social campaign hurts the sponsoring brand even while raising concern for the campaign issue.


A between-subjects experiment tested the effects of regulatory frames, issue involvement and collective efficacy on brand attitude, attitude toward the campaign messages, and concern for the issue.


A promotion-oriented frame (vs prevention-oriented frame) produced a more unfavorable brand attitude among consumers who had low levels of collective efficacy, even though the promotion-oriented frame generated strong concern for the issue itself. Attitudes toward the campaign messages remained favorable, suggesting that the negative effect of message frames was directly specifically at the brand.


Using real-world campaign materials demonstrated that a firm’s CSR campaign efforts can create important brand risks.



Johnson-Young, E. and Magee, R. (2019), "The CSR paradox: when a social responsibility campaign can tarnish a brand", Corporate Communications: An International Journal, Vol. 24 No. 1, pp. 179-196.

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