The purpose of this study is to answer the call for additional detailed research on factors that influence corporate social responsibility (CSR) authenticity by examining how the former is affected by the commonly reported CSR spending allocations expressed as percentages of annual profits. It integrates equity and attribution theories to propose a new construct of inequity perceptions to explain how CSR spending allocations influence CSR authenticity. Inequity perceptions form from smaller allocations that are perceived disproportionate compared to the potential reputational gains from the executed CSR communication, which, in turn, prompts lower authenticity inferences.
Three experiments were performed. Study 1 examines how different CSR spending allocations influence inequity perceptions and how the latter relate to CSR authenticity. Study 2 examines how inequity perceptions are affected by firm size. Study 3 examines whether psychological distance (being a customer or non-customer) affects information processing by predisposing customers to forming higher inequity perceptions.
Study 1 shows that lesser allocations produce higher inequity perceptions. Study 2 demonstrates that inequity perceptions are enhanced when numerically small allocations are reported by a large as opposed to a small firm. Study 3 shows that both customers and non-customers form similar inequity perceptions from smaller percentage allocations without support for the psychological distance effect.
This study shows that the percentage of profits allocated to CSR, as well as firm size, can affect authenticity inferences via inequity perceptions. These findings point to different implications of CSR communication that features percentage allocations that multiple firms may not be aware of.
Marketers can benefit from the reported findings by understanding when and how CSR communication that features percentage allocations may be counter-productive by generating lesser CSR authenticity.
This study provides a novel perspective on how consumers evaluate CSR authenticity in a marketplace where awareness of firms’ vested interests is increasing.
Funding: This research has been funded by the University of Western Australia Business School research grant (PG: 10302216).
Tarabashkina, L., Quester, P.G. and Tarabashkina, O. (2020), "How much firms “give” to CSR vs how much they “gain” from it: inequity perceptions and their implications for CSR authenticity", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 54 No. 8, pp. 1987-2012. https://doi.org/10.1108/EJM-11-2018-0772
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