Why Social Responsibility Marketing Only Works for Some Brands Credit: Dreamstime.com

Luxury brands, beware. Your socially responsible activities could come back to hurt you.

A recent study has found that Corporate Social Responsibility programs need to align with consumers’ concepts of company brands or they can backfire.

The researchers examined how consumers react to the social responsibility missions of companies with different types of brand concepts. They looked at luxury brands like Rolex, which consumers may associate with the concept of self-enhancement, “conservation” brands like Aunt Jemima that are associated with tradition and protection of the status quo, and “openness” brands like Apple iTunes that consumers consider exciting and free-spirited.

The authors found that consumers’ evaluation of luxury brands declined when the brands were tied to Corporate Social Responsibility  programs. Consumers did not similarly feel uncomfortable when CSR messages were connected to brands that were tied to the “conservation” and “openness” concepts.

Luxury brands could potentially harm themselves with CSR programs because luxury and socially responsible concepts are at odds with each other, according to Alokparna (Sonia) Basu Monga, one of the article’s authors and an assistant professor of marketing at the University of South Carolina.

“When consumers are exposed to such information (e.g., a luxury brand helping the poor), consumers often experience a sense of…unease,” Monga told BusinessNewsDaily. “As a result, consumers feel less favorably toward the luxury brand.”

Monga added that if luxury brands are up front about the disconnect between their brands’ self-enhancement concept and the notion of social responsibility, they can decrease the adverse impact of CSR programs.

Because this is difficult to do, Monga said, the authors are trying to determine new ways that luxury brands can reduce the negative effects of their corporate social responsibility, such as through specific branding and advertising strategies.

The notion of CSR has gained the attention of business leaders in recent years. The article, in the Journal of Consumer Research,  cites a 2010 McKinsey global survey that found that 76 percent of executives think CSR contributes positively to long-term shareholder value.

“Given that billions of dollars are being poured into CSR activities, knowing which brands are more or less likely to succeed is highly consequential,” the authors said in a press release.