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Consumer evaluation and response to philanthropic advertising

Leland Campbell, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The integration of philanthropy into corporate advertising and sales promotion campaigns is becoming a popular persuasion tactic. Companies are now using product advertising to portray themselves as benefactors of charities and social causes. The underlying marketing premise is that a firm can do better by "doing good." Philanthropic advertising can be grouped into two basic categories. One category ties consumer purchases to the corporate donation while the other communicates the firm's benevolence without a purchase connection. Causes perceived by consumers as personally relevant receive more cognitive elaboration than those causes perceived to have little relevance. On the surface, philanthropic advertising appears to be a "win-win" situation. The firm achieves an additional sale, or enhances its image, and the charity receives needed financial support. However, little is known as to how these messages influence consumer perceptions, attitudes and purchase likelihood. This study examined the effects of different forms of philanthropic messages, with varying levels of personal relevance, on consumer perceptions and behavior. It addresses these issues from an attribution theory viewpoint. Specifically, this study suggests that, given varying combinations of philanthropic advertising and personal relevance, consumers form different perceptions of the firm's altruism. These attributions influence consumer attitudes and purchase intentions. The study used an after-only, with control group, experiment to investigate the differential impact of the experimental factors. Two hundred and seventy-five graduate students responded to randomly assigned advertising stimuli and answered a questionnaire that measured their attitudes and purchase intentions. The initial hypothesis tests failed to show any significant results. Overall, subjects did not perceive any difference between the two types of philanthropic promotions. However, some effects emerged when the blocking factors were introduced. These results indicated that those who had a less favorable attitude toward business tended to respond unfavorably to philanthropic advertisements. Additionally, non-users of the product had more favorable responses for philanthropic advertisements than non-philanthropic advertisements. Messages of high personal relevance also produced more favorable responses than low relevance messages. Individuals who were not active contributors responded favorably to the purchase-linked messages. The results imply that these messages may have a different impact on various consumer segments. This message strategy can be useful in stimulating brand switching among current non-users.

Subject Area

Marketing|Social psychology

Recommended Citation

Campbell, Leland, "Consumer evaluation and response to philanthropic advertising" (1992). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9233034.