Journal of Brand Management

, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 21–34 | Cite as

Society or the environment? Understanding how consumers evaluate brand messages about corporate social responsibility activities

  • Sara HansonEmail author
  • Lan Jiang
  • Jun Ye
  • Nagesh Murthy
Original Article


This research examines how and why consumers evaluate brand messages about corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities differently. Insights from secondary data suggest that brands may prioritize environmental activities over social activities, and vice versa, depending on the type of company. Using a field experiment and surveys, we explore whether consumers’ attitudes toward these brand decisions follow company priorities. We find that consumers perceive brands that sell goods and communicate messages about environmental sustainability activities more positively than services companies, while consumers perceive brands that provide services and communicate messages about social sustainability activities more positively than goods companies. We show that the tangibility of the brand’s offering also impacts brand attitudes in a similar way. These findings have important implications for brand managers as they communicate CSR activities and attempt to maximize sustainability investments across various causes.


Corporate social responsibility Sustainability Brand attitudes Tangibility 



A portion of this research has been published as a report for the United States Department of Defense titled, Northwest Manufacturing Initiative, available at the Defense Technical Information Center ( Co-authors of this report include Nagesh Murthy, Jesse Aronson, Ellen Fuller, and J.R. Evans, and co-authors of the related technical manuscript reported therein include Sara Hanson, Lan Jiang, Jun Ye, and Nagesh Murthy.


This research was funded by a grant to the fourth author from the Department of Defense Northwest Manufacturing Initiative (SP4701-11-C-0002).


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Robins School of BusinessUniversity of RichmondRichmondUSA
  2. 2.Leavey School of BusinessSanta Clara UniversitySanta ClaraUSA
  3. 3.School of ManagementXiamen UniversityXiamenChina
  4. 4.Lundquist College of Business1208 University of OregonEugeneUSA

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