Strategic Communication  

Corporate Vanguards: The Contemporary Role of Organization Altruism

It is critical for a company to be recognized by their brand as well as to be known for supporting positive corporate responsibility through community initiatives. But will attaching themselves to one side of the debate on a controversial issue impact that brand image?

Corporations have become more active on a politically charged and divisive stage leading University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Public Relations Assistant Professor Myiah Hutchens and doctoral students Lincoln Lu and Kalyca Becktel to wonder whether doing so impacts overall brand adoption and currently held corporate perception. Meaning, if a company publicly takes a stand one way or another on a political topic, will consumers view the company differently?

Immigration issues laid the groundwork for the researchers’ recent study looking at whether a corporation’s stance on a hot button issue would increase a brand’s relationship with the public and transform perception of corporate responsibility in the form of altruism. When a company rallies behind the refugee caravan, will their brand and sense of corporate responsibility be viewed in a different light by consumers?

Evaluating Walmart, which is perceived as having a politically conservative-leaning corporate culture, and Target, considered to hold a more liberal ideology toward corporate responsibility, and three different levels of support for the refugee caravan, the research determined that the public’s view of the brand was not affected by the level of support provided to the caravan. However, consumers did view the corporations as more altruistic depending on which level of support they provided the caravan. In particular, Target was seen as more altruistic as more explicit support was provided, whereas there was no difference for Walmart.

The results indicate that the relationship between a company’s brand and their position on social matters is complicated. Particularly, the more explicit support for socially relevant issues, even as divisive as immigration reform, led consumers to see Target as more altruistic and caring about the greater good, while the perception of Walmart was not changed. However, just because a company is deemed altruistic does not mean that consumers will make the connection between the brand and their altruism.

Authors:  Lincoln Lu, University of Florida; Kalyca Lynn Becktel, University of Florida; Myiah Hutchens, University of Florida 

The research was originally presented at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Conference in August 2019.

This summary was written by Dana Hackley, Ph.D.

Posted: December 3, 2019
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