Does Being Seen As Green Pay Off For Restaurants?
Being seen as “green” and socially conscious is now a crucial part of corporate strategy for many companies. One way to cultivate this perception is through cause-related marketing, or CRM. This type of marketing allows companies to demonstrate their commitment to social responsibility. CRM lets companies link themselves with social welfare campaigns that appeal to their customers.
Non-profits benefit from this arrangement as well. It can help fill their coffers and extend their capacity to carry out their mission. But consumers tend to be highly skeptical of such efforts. Nonprofits, too, may be wary of aligning themselves too closely with business. And if consumers perceive corporate hypocrisy or exaggerated chest-thumping, they may lose trust in both the business and the cause. Given this, can CRM really work? Can businesses convince the public that they care for more than their own bottom line?
Here, researchers look at these questions in the context of the restaurant industry. In recent years, the food service industry has been criticized for its role in the obesity epidemic, for abusing its workers, and for environmental issues. Companies have tried to improve their image using third-party certifications that attest to their social welfare bona fides. These accreditations come with an icon, seal, or other visual image that businesses can display on their signage, packaging and so forth. CRM may be another way to improve the industry’s standing.
To assess CRM’s potential, this study examines which types of messages are most effective and whether the specific social cause affects consumer receptivity to the message. Sample ads were created to test two types of messages, one with text only and one that combined text and images. These messages covered four types of social causes: health, human services, animal welfare, and environmental protection. Researchers assessed whether subjects responded to the messages with decreased skepticism, increased trust, and, greater respect for corporate reputation. Subjects were 432 U.S. adults who volunteered to take a survey through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, or MTurk, platform.
Analysis of the survey results showed that consumers responded most positively to advertisements that included images with message text. Such ads reduce the chance that the reader will incorrectly interpret the visual image by providing explanatory copy. Participants reacted to this format with lower levels of skepticism, higher levels of trust and greater respect for corporate reputation. But message type also interacted with cause category. Perceptions of social responsibility increased when participants viewed Health-related messaging, in the form of an ad for healthier menu options. This may be because respondents could relate directly to healthier food choices. By contrast, causes such as animal welfare and the environment carried less personal relevance.
As the authors note, one of the survey limitations is the survey process itself. It used a convenience sample, which did not accurately represent the U.S. population demographics. It skewed younger, with 68% under age 35. It was also heavily male, with men making up 59% of the respondents. And 75% of those surveyed were Caucasian. While the researchers made efforts to control the quality of the sample, they had no way of knowing the true makeup of the respondents. Thus, as they note, the results should not be overgeneralized. Because of the study’s limitations, advocates will want to use the findings mainly as a starting point for exploring this topic.