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«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»

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267 Children Finally, results were analyzed based on populations with and without children. Participants were asked to select from the following options on the survey: (1) I don’t have any children, (2) 1, (3) 2, (4) 3, (5) 4, and (6) 5 or more. The researcher has selected to group these options into individuals indicating no children (n=170) and children (n=112), regardless of how many children indicated.

Participants without children are more likely to not purchase from socially responsible businesses than those with children. In comparison to overall results, both participants with and without children are slightly less likely (-2.6 and -4.5, respectively) to purchase products from socially responsible businesses.

Research Questions Participants were also asked to identify specific businesses that they considered to be particularly socially responsible and irresponsible. Analysis of these responses revealed the following significant results for businesses identified as socially responsible, in order of frequency or “top ten”: Starbucks (n=30), Patagonia (n=18), Target (n=16), Wal-Mart (n=14), McDonald’s (n=11) and Eli Lilly (n=11), Apple (n=9) and Ben & Jerry’s (n=9) and Walt Disney (n=8) and Whole Foods (n=8). The following businesses were identified as socially irresponsible, in order of frequency: WalMart (n=78), AIG (n=19), Exxon Mobil (n=15), GM (n=15), McDonald’s (n=14), Nike (n=10), Enron (n=8) and Ford (n=6). There were not enough significant results to create a “bottom ten.” Research question 1 revealed that, in comparison to Fortune magazine’s top ranked socially responsible companies for 2007 (CHS, United Parcel Service, Whole Foods Market, McDonald’s, Alcan, YRC Worldwide, Starbucks, International Paper, Vulcan Materials and Walt Disney), which are identified from surveying executives, directors and analysts per industry, participants in this study identified four of the Fortune top ten: Starbucks, McDonald’s, Walt Disney and Whole Foods.

However, Starbucks was ranked 8th by the Fortune study, whereas participants in this study identified it more often than any of the other businesses cited. This is not necessarily indicative of a ranking of 1st by participants, but it can be assumed that, as the most often identified, it should be ranked as such. Likewise, participants in this study ranked McDonald’s 5th, while Fortune ranked it as the 4th most socially responsible business. Walt Disney and Whole Foods tied for 9th and 10th rankings by participants in this study; however, Whole Foods was ranked 3rd by Fortune, but Walt Disney was ranked 10th as most socially responsible.

Research question 2 revealed that, in comparison to Fortune’s ten bottom ranked least socially responsible companies for 2007 (Visteon, Dana, CA, Delphi, Federal-Mogul, ArvinMeritor, Huntsman, Navistar International, Lyondell Chemical and Toys “R” Us), participants in this study did not identify any of the same businesses as the Fortune study did. However, Fortune ranked Delphi as the 4th most socially irresponsible business, and participants in this study identified GM, which is operated in part by Delphi, as the 4th most often cited socially irresponsible business. Also, it is interesting to note that Wal-Mart was identified both 4th as socially responsible and 1st as socially irresponsible by participants.

Overall, it appears that participants in this study had at least a moderate degree of awareness of social responsibility as it applies to specific businesses, identifying four to five of the ten same businesses as experts in the industries. Thus, the research questions can affirmatively be answered that consumers are moderately aware of specific organizational involvement in socially responsible activities and are slightly aware of specific organizational involvement in socially irresponsible activities.

Qualitative Additionally, qualitative data was collected that is important to note. Participants were initially asked to define what CSR means to them because CSR has proven to be an ambiguous and controversial topic. While it seemed that participants generally understood CSR, many participants in 268 this research were skeptical about organizational participation and promotion of CSR. For example, one respondent commented, “Social responsibility on a corporate level is a ploy to increase sales.

Nothing more.” Another respondent commented, “I believe social responsibility is just a PR and marketing ploy. Starbucks may be paying a living wage to South American coffee growers, but are they offering decent health insurance and retirement plans to their coffee house employees?” Despite skepticism, this study still shows that consumers are more likely to purchase products from socially responsible businesses, and, therefore, businesses should seek to implement and promote CSR activities, and many participants in this study agreed, indicating that CSR was an important, necessary business activity aimed at genuinely responsible business practices. For example, one respondent commented, “It is very important. For things to change in this world, socially, environmentally, etc., businesses need to take a leading role.” Another respondent commented, “I think social responsibility comes from the corporate top executives and trickles down. When a company is socially responsible everybody wins, not just the top echelon. I believe these companies will prosper even in difficult times.” Specifically, in relation to the H of this study (A positive association exists between an organization’s involvement in CSR programs and consumer’s purchase intention.), many participants’ qualitative responses supported the H. For example, one respondent stated, “I am more likely to purchase products from socially responsible companies over socially neutral or irresponsible companies. The bad thing is that socially irresponsible companies do a good job of hiding any questionable activities they may be involved in, so sometimes I don't have this piece of information to inform my shopping. I try to choose responsibly whenever I can.” However, a significant number of qualitative responses indicated that the higher prices associated with socially responsible businesses prevented them from purchasing products from those companies. For example, one respondent commented, “I believe that there will always be a struggle when it comes to social responsibility, mostly because of the money issue, where companies who are socially responsible generally charge higher prices for their products because it is harder to be socially responsible. It comes down to whether or not people are willing to do what is ethical and what is cheap, and unfortunately, most have to choose cheap over ethical because they do not make enough money to choose what is ethical.” Discussion The primary purpose of this research was to recognize the relationship between consumers’ purchase intentions and organizations’ involvement in socially responsible programs. The study’s H predicted that a positive association exists between an organization’s involvement in CSR programs and consumers’ purchase intentions or that consumers in this study are more likely to purchase an organization’s product if that organization is involved in socially responsible practices. Additionally, consumers’ awareness of specific organizational involvement in socially responsible and irresponsible activities was identified.

Overall, the results of this study support the H. Specifically, a positive association exists between an organization’s involvement in CSR programs and consumer’s purchase intentions. The attitude toward the behavior (10) is decidedly moderately positive, and the subjective norm (21) is decidedly highly positive. The average of these two numbers is 15.5, showing a positive intention toward the behavior. The high products and average of these variables show that a positive relationship exists between corporate social responsibility and consumer purchase intention.

Also, the research questions were affirmatively answered in regards to participants’ awareness of specific organizational involvement in socially responsible and irresponsible activities.

It appears that consumers have at least a moderate amount of awareness in this regard. It is recommended that further research be conducted on this specific area.

269 Limitations The major limitation to this study could be that belief strength was not assessed with the survey participants. This could be eliminated by including belief strength questions in the survey;

however, interviews are preferred to the survey method because the amount of questions can be overwhelming, resulting in survey fatigue.

Also, this study did not use frequency-averaged weighted sums, as many other studies on this topic have used. This can be seen as a limitation in regards to comparisons of this study with other similar studies using the theory of reasoned action. Future researchers should analyze this data with more statistical competency than this researcher had at her disposal during the time research was conducted.

Another limitation to this study is that this study is not indicative of consumers, in general, but is only applicable to the population studied. Also, within the population studied, education level and income level were high in relation to regional (Midwest) demographic averages. Moreover, future research should seek a larger sample size in order that higher amounts of participants are present within demographic comparisons.

Finally, following the guidelines of the theory of reasoned action, purchase intention should result in purchase behavior; however, it can be argued that several other mediating variables exist that result in purchase behavior, as addressed in the literature review of this study. For example, qualitative data from this study indicated that price was a major variable in purchasing behavior.

Implications Therefore, having addressed the limitations of this study, it has implications for consumers and businesses, as well as the public relations profession within this population. Possibly most important to the implications of this study, is the comparison of numbers among demographic consumer groups in this study. For example, it is possible to compare the products of attitudes and subjective norms in terms of age, gender, marital status, etc. From this, it can be determined if particular demographic groups in this study are more likely than others to purchase products if the company that produces them is perceived to be socially responsible. Comparisons were made among the following populations: age, gender, marital status, children, education, annual household income and political affiliation. The results of comparisons among populations and with overall results are presented in Table 5.

From the results of participants in this study, it seems that female consumers whose highest level of education completed is high school or a graduate degree and whose annual household income is less than $25,000 and who are associated with an “other” political party are the most likely demographics to purchase products from businesses based on CSR.

Businesses patronized by consumers in this population should, therefore, seek to invest in the implementation and promotion of CSR activities among applicable demographics. Promotion of CSR activities per demographics is needed in order to make the public aware of these activities, thus, making consumers in this study more likely to purchase the business’s products.

In so much, a future implication of the positive relationship between consumer purchase intention and CSR, as determined by this study, may be an increase in demand for practitioners with a strong background in CSR. For example, a respondent to this research stated, “I believe that being 'socially responsible' will become a greater issue in the years to come. Differing viewpoints on it will also unearth. It's somewhat similar to ethics. Those companies that stick with topics that are more common ground for many consumers will be the most successful. For example, a fight against cancer campaign, a cause for human freedoms, giving to foster children, using clean energy, recycling and helping people who want to have a better future are all great ways for companies to show good will and make a powerful difference in our world.” Practitioners with the abilities to understand the many facets of and viewpoints on CSR will be most likely to succeed. Moreover, practitioners able to replicate this study or similar studies for a specific business’s demographics would be in greater demand.

270 In addition, practitioners often have difficulties proving the financial worth of public relations because results of public relations’ activities are difficult to measure in terms of monetary units.

However, the combination of public relations’ activities aimed at the implementation and promotion of CSR programs and the replication of this study could be used to show an increase in profits for the business based on aiming CSR activities at specific demographics. For example, profits per demographics could be assessed at varying times prior to implementation of a CSR program, throughout the implementation and promotion processes and following the campaign or, in the case that the activities are of a more permanent nature, once the program has been established. Thus, public relations could demonstrate its financial worth to a business.

Based on results of this study and implications for businesses, it can be concluded that CSR is a multi-faceted challenge, but worth the associated risks. It is in the best interest of consumers, businesses, public relations practitioners and society, in general, that businesses patronized by consumers in this study undertake the challenge of implementing socially responsible programs and activities as a strategic management function aimed at increasing profits; however, future research and studies are still necessary.

Future Research Because it is the first of its kind in regards to social responsibility, it is recommended that this study be replicated in order to determine likewise results of products in tables 2 and 4 in other populations. Specifically, it is recommended that this research be replicated using the revised version of the theory of reasoned action, the theory of planned behavior.

Moreover, it is recommended that researchers simply ask the question: “Are you more likely to purchase products if the company that produces them is socially responsible?” The researcher could then use these variables in comparison to others.

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