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Taking a Closer Look At Corporate Responsibility

September 4, 2013

Models of corporate responsibility continue to evolve, particularly as consumers become increasingly interested in the social responsibilities of the companies behind the products and services they buy. But does it really matter to consumers? That’s what Nielsen set out to answer.

The market research company surveyed more than 29,000 online respondents in 58 countries. As in its 2011 “The Global, Socially Conscious Consumer” report, this year the firm used stated willingness to spend more on goods and services from companies that have implemented programs to give back to society as a proxy for how much consumers care about brand investments in social impact. The results, according to Nielsen, provide one simple gauge for whether consumers care about cause marketing, shared value, conscious capitalism or other pursuits of corporate social impact, and it also helps to quantify the growing desire among consumers to reward the companies they view as socially responsible.

In the latest survey, 50% said they would be willing to reward companies that give back to society by paying more for their goods and services—up from 45% in 2011. The percentage of respondents who agreed increased among males and females and all age groups covered.

While respondents under age 30 are still the most likely to say they’d spend more, the attitudes among respondents ages 40 to 54 are shifting most rapidly, according to Nielsen. Among consumers ages 40-44, for instance, 50% agreed that they would spend extra for goods and services from companies giving back to society, up from just 38% two years ago.

According to Nic Covey, vice president of corporate social responsibility at Nielsen, “brands can confidently focus purpose messaging on both younger and older consumers.”

Nielsen said companies will have an easier time finding consumers willing to pay extra in India and the Philippines than in Russia, Belgium or Estonia. The density of respondents willing to spend more on products and services from companies that give back varies considerably. Broadly speaking, European respondents were less likely to pay more for goods and services from companies that “give back”—just 36% of consumers in the region said they would do so.

Meanwhile in India, the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia, more than two-thirds of respondents said they’d pay extra. Three-quarters of respondents in India agreed that they would do so.

What makes consumers in India nearly three times more likely to reward companies that give back than those in Estonia and Belgium? Existing high citizen expectations of corporate social responsibly (CSR) may be the reason. Expectations in India are so great that a bill working its way through parliament contains a clause mandating CSR investments from certain companies, according to Nielsen. Meanwhile, a broader cynicism toward business seems to prevail in Europe. Nielsen cited a study released by the European Commission earlier this year that showed that 41% percent of citizens in European Union member countries felt that the overall influence of companies on society was negative, more than citizens in other major economies.

“Today, the question is not whether consumers care about social impact, but which ones, how much and how to appeal to them,” said Covey. “The answer isn’t necessarily a traditional cause-marketing campaign—general responsibility, sustainable innovation and purpose messaging might also engage these consumers. No matter the approach, savvy brands are figuring out how to hit this nerve.”

The Nielsen Global Survey on Corporate Social Responsibility was conducted between Feb. 18 and March 8, 2013.

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