The National Breast Cancer Awareness Month campaign illustrated the importance of social signaling with their tremendous job in turning October pink. Corporate social responsible products were ubiquitous, from cosmetics to clothing -- even on the feet and hands of NFL players.
What makes BCAM successful is that people prefer products that send out highly visible, social signals to their relatives, friends and peers regarding their benevolence. Consumers who buy or wear "pink" think of themselves as being more charitable than those who don't. To these consumers, it's important to wear their charity on their sleeve -- literally.
It is well-documented that products with a CSR-association are extremely popular; consumers will even pay a premium for them. In the past decade, consumers have increasingly bought products that have a CSR association, such as cell phones that give a portion of proceeds to cancer or AIDS research. But our interest and research delved into the lesser-known specific motivations underlying a consumer's purchasing decision.
In a variety of experiments, our research found that consumers like CSR-associated products for two distinct reasons.
First, the fact that these products send out highly visible, social signals to their friends, family and co-workers regarding their kindness and charitable nature.
Second, they like the more private, self-signaling potential associated with the purchases of these products, even when a strong public social signal is absent to others.
In the research, we did three studies.
First, we manipulated the social signaling potential of the product by varying its coloring to gauge differences in responses due to visibility. We found that consumers generally preferred less colorful products. However, a sizable preference shift occurs when CSR attachment is added to products; preference then moves toward more colorful products.
Second, we kept the color of the product the same, but altered its visibility by changing the location of its use. The products were described as being used in a room that was used for entertaining friends or relaxing alone. The results matched those of the previous study -- consumers preferred CSR products that were used in highly visible situations. The interesting finding is that visibility can be increased by making the product more colorful or using it in more public situations.
Third, we examined how possible self-signals of CSR products influenced consumers. For example, we reminded consumers that each time they saw their CSR-associated purchase, they would remember that they contributed to a good cause. This did not alter the visibility or social signaling potential of the product, but appears to have influenced self-signaling potential. Consumers showed increased preference for the products that came with a reminder of their benevolent deed; this increase was greatest when the product was also highly visible.
Across all three studies, when products had a CSR-association, like donating a portion of proceeds to LIVESTRONG, the products with high social signaling potential were evaluated more favorably. Embedding a CSR-associated product with high visibility, such as color -- the yellow headphones on iPods for LIVESTRONG, or the pink products for BCAM -- is key. Consumers derive greater self-signaling benefits from more visible CSR-associated products.
Marketers that are eager to tap consumers willing to pay a premium for CSR-branded products should rethink all aspects of their messages to include larger graphics, brighter colors and emphatic reminders that to purchase a CSR product is to "do good."