Many businesses have implemented corporate citizenship strategies to help convey to the general public that they behave in a socially responsible manner. However, the benefits of these citizenship-related activities are somewhat contradictory, leaving many businesses uncertain about the extent to which they should commit resources to these activities to influence a positive response from consumers.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Marketing Management, I have explored consumers’ awareness of corporate citizenship activities and their moral responses to such efforts. Traditionally, research on this topic has been conducted by adopting a normative approach which generally refers to morality in terms of the rightness or wrongness of an individual’s behaviour as guided by a code of conduct and/or a set of rules. Uniquely, this research adopts a descriptive approach which involves focusing on people’s subjective conceptions of the moral meanings of everyday practices by examining the extent to which individuals cast their moral nets. Using a combination of interviews, focus groups and projective techniques with a broad cross-section of twenty consumers,this approach helps to address the previous contradictions surrounding consumer responses to corporate citizenship strategies by identifying that consumer morality is not an all or nothing phenomenon and that it varies between the recognition of a moral issue, the subsequent judgement of that issue, and actual choice.

Finally, the study concludes that

‘being good’ does matter to consumers when making purchase decisions but this is not held to be the most important influencing characteristic.

Even for those consumers who identified socially responsible business practices as a primary influence, they acknowledged that they would be unlikely (and/or unable) to become actively involved in pressurising manufacturers and retailers to adopt more rigorous ethical business practices. Consequently, consumers placed a great deal of importance around the work carried out by NGOs and certification bodies such as the Fairtrade Foundation and shifted responsibility for them to monitor company activities and put pressure on manufacturers and retailers to alter their trading practices and achieve fairer supply chains where needed.

Read the original research article (Open Access): McEachern, M.G.(2015). Corporate citizenship and its impact upon consumer moralisation, decision-making and choice. Journal of Marketing Management, 31(3-4), 430-452.

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Morven McEachern

Morven McEachern

Dr Morven McEachern’s research activity focuses on consumption behaviour, ethics and sustainability. She is a Reader in Marketing at Salford Business School, where she helped establish the Centre for Social Business.

Disclaimer: Any views expressed in this posting are the views of the Author(s), and are not necessarily the views of the JMM Editors, Westburn Publishers Ltd. or Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.