Corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities not only involve corporate social contributions but also are considered strategic elements of the company’s sustainable growth and are recognized as essential for corporate management activities. Consumers also perceive factors related to CSR activities beyond financial performance in evaluating a company, and such factors not only affect their attitude toward products but also their recommendations and purchases [1
]. In addition, corporate CSR activities have played a role in positively shifting consumer awareness in the context of corporate crises [4
As such, consumers’ awareness of corporate CSR activities and their participation in CSR have continued to increase, but some previous studies have shown that consumer evaluations of corporate CSR activities are not positive [5
]. This is because many consumers perceive CSR as a marketing activity to improve a company’s image, and they doubt whether it truly contributes to society. In other words, when consumers perceive that a company is carrying out CSR activities for strategic gain, they are skeptical of the company’s CSR activities and, as a result, negatively evaluate the CSR activities.
To study the effects of CSR activities, previous studies have mainly addressed factors such as ‘CSR sustainability’, whether CSR activities are performed consistently [8
]; ‘CSR purity’, the degree of commercial motivation for the purpose of CSR activities [8
]; ‘CSR consistency’, whether the company’s CSR activities have lasted a long time; ‘CSR fit’, or ‘CSR suitability’, the degree to which a company’s stakeholders recognize the relationship between the company and CSR activities [10
]; and ‘CSR authenticity’, indicating that consumers believe in corporate CSR behavior and believe that a company is truly conducting CSR activities for the benefit of society [11
]. Most previous studies have been conducted in a way that verifies the effectiveness of these individual factors, whereas the causal relationship between the elements has not been addressed. In addition, a few studies suggest the influence of individual consumer perception in verifying this effectiveness. Therefore, empirical research is needed to focus on the results of various CSR activities through results focused on consumers and to provide clear and specific directions for companies to carry out effective CSR communication strategies.
Therefore, this study aims to achieve the following objectives. First, this study explores how differences in consumer perceptions of CSR activities affect their acceptance of CSR activities. In addition, we empirically examine how the difference in consumers’ perceptions of CSR affect their brand attitude. Currently, many companies are participating in CSR activities, but in order to induce more active and continuous CSR activities, it is important to understand how these activities are linked to the marketing activities of the company to enhance the image of the company’s brand or consumer purchases. Specifically, to examine consumer perceptions, we investigate the impact of the authenticity and fit of CSR and assume that these differences affect brand attitudes.
Second, we investigate how the evaluation of CSR activities depends on the difference in consumers’ involvement in CSR activities. This study explores consumer involvement in CSR centering on cause involvement [12
], which indicates the level of association with oneself or personal interest. Smith, Menon, and Sivakumar [13
] examined the impact of task involvement, showing that the level of personal perception of the task influences decision making regarding online product purchase. In particular, Kim et al. [14
] showed that consumers with high levels of CSR involvement have a high level of personal interest in the company’s CSR activities and have a greater impact on CSR in evaluating companies. Based on the results of these previous studies, we assume that CSR involvement acts as a moderator of the effect of CSR fit on CSR authenticity.
Through the above discussions, this study examines consumer evaluation of CSR activities with a focus on the factors of CSR authenticity and fit and analyzes the effects of CSR involvement on these processes. In addition, through this, we comprehensively and structurally identify the factors influencing the evaluation of CSR activities, and suggest practical implications through discussion of consumer judgments and evaluation criteria for CSR activities.
Analyzing the factors that influence a consumer’s assessment of a company’s CSR activities and examining the relationships among them is a very important process for demonstrating the effectiveness and sustainability of a company’s CSR activities. This study refines the results of previous studies by examining the CSR communication strategies of companies, by focusing on consumer behavior, and by suggesting psychological mechanisms of the influence of these activities on consumers’ brand evaluation. More specifically, we investigated consumer evaluations of CSR activities by focusing on the authenticity and fit of CSR activities and analyzed the impact of consumers’ individual perceptions via the impact of CSR involvement.
In this study, we focused on figuring out the relationships between CSR fit, CSR authenticity, and brand attitude. Furthermore, we suggested that CSR involvement might have an influence on the relationship between CSR fit and authenticity [12
]. This study explores whether high CSR fit that means a clear relationship between a company’s core areas of activity and its CSR activities [9
] shows enough impact on CSR authenticity and brand attitude through empirical research.
As a result, CSR fit was found to have a positive effect on both CSR authenticity and brand attitude. In other words, it can be seen that the consumer’s judgment that CSR activities are closely linked to the core activities of the company has a significant impact on both the CSR’s authenticity and brand attitude. Companies can therefore derive the importance of designing CSR activities that are relevant to their core activities. In addition, it was found that CSR fit can have a significant impact on CSR-related corporate performance depending on how interested consumers are in CSR. In other words, in order to induce a good brand attitude to consumers through CSR activities, it is important to properly target consumers who are interested in CSR activities.
The implications of this study are as follows. First, we have shown a causal relationship between each of the factors that consumers consider in evaluating a company’s CSR activities. The results of this study confirm the results of previous studies that the suitability of CSR activities is an important variable affecting the evaluation of CSR activities and the recognition of authenticity. Consumers perceived CSR authenticity positively as the level of CSR fit increased, and CSR authenticity had a positive effect on brand attitude. In addition, CSR fit had a positive impact on brand attitudes by itself. More specifically, companies are perceived as more genuine when they conduct CSR activities that match or relate to their industry or product characteristics, and a greater sense of authenticity also affects consumers’ brand attitudes.
Second, we showed that differences in consumers’ individual perceptions of a company’s CSR activities are relevant in evaluating CSR activities. In general, consumers with low involvement in CSR perceive high authenticity when the level of CSR-related advertisements is high, whereas high CSR involvement has a low impact on customers’ evaluation of corporate suitability. In particular, contrary to previous studies that showed negative results with regard to CSR conformance, mainly focusing on the level of conformity [5
], our study showed that CSR activity is assessed differently according to the degree of consumer involvement in the CSR activity.
The managerial implications of this study are as follows. First, CSR activities are actively conducted in the recent marketing environment. In this activity, the company’s original activities and the importance of the fit of CSR activities can be identified and introduced into the marketing strategy. Therefore, in this study, we practically suggested that CSR activities and CSR-related advertisements fit the company’s activities. Specifically, companies should strive to increase the relevance between corporate or product image, and CSR activities when conducting CSR strategies. Moreover, they should adopt a strategy of more strategic positioning in consideration of the psychological mechanisms of consumers in selecting the targets and types of CSR activities.
Second, through this study, it was confirmed that fit affects CSR authenticity according to how much consumers are usually involved in CSR activities. Based on this, we can suggest that consumer involvement in CSR should be considered when planning CSR-related marketing. Companies should focus on the individual interests of consumers in carrying out CSR activities and carry out more extensive CSR communication activities. More specifically, it is effective for companies to raise awareness of consumers’ genuineness by communicating in a way that clearly shows that there is a clear relationship between the company’s core activities and its CSR activities, targeting consumers who are not usually interested in CSR activities.
5.2. Limitations and Future Research Directions
The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between the factors influencing the evaluation of CSR activities in a three-dimensional manner by conducting experiments using scenario techniques. Nevertheless, this study has the following limitations. First, in this study, brand attitude was used as a dependent variable for consumers’ evaluation of CSR activities. In the future, it is necessary to analyze the actual effects of CSR activities by looking at the effect on actual sales and purchase points.
Subsequently, we need to expand our research on CSR fit and authenticity in various industries. This research studied airlines, a service area, and examined how CSR fit and authenticity influence brand attitudes in manufacturing and other service industries. A further examination may help to generalize the findings of this study. Finally, this study limited the subjects to university students. In future studies, it is necessary to generalize the study results by considering different age groups and social backgrounds in measuring CSR involvement.