People More Suspicious, More Informed About Corporate Social Responsibility

There’s a reason brands like Amazon, Kellogg and Lego mean so much to consumers: They’re widely admired not just for products, but for their corporate behavior. And a new study from Cone Communications reveals that worldwide, people don't just expect companies to play nice in the global sandbox, they want them to prove it as well. And they have a growing sense of their own power to punish brands that don’t measure up.

The 2015 Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study reports that consumers are watching more closely, and sharpening their observations. They are more suspicious, with 52% assuming companies are behaving badly until they hear otherwise. And they are also less confused, with 65% reporting they are sometimes bewildered by corporate social responsibility (CSR) messages, compared to 71% in the 2011 study. And in the U.S, only 58% say they are sometimes confused, down from 65% four years ago.

Cone, which conducted similar research in 2013 and 2011, says 90% of people worldwide now say they would switch brands to support a cause, and 84% are seeking out responsible products whenever possible.

And they’re feeling their clout. Some 72% believe their purchases make a moderate-to-significant impact, with 63% saying they have made the decision to buy a product, 61% making a donation, and 53% boycotting a product in the last 12 months. Americans are more likely to have made a donation than the global average, at 69% vs. 61%, and also more likely to have volunteered (47% compared with 40% worldwide.)

But U.S. consumers are less motivated to buy products because of CSR efforts, with reported purchase of products with either a social or environmental benefit falling to 56%, from 72% in 2011. And Americans are also less likely to make any sacrifice to support a CSR initiative. Just 49% say they’d be willing to buy a lower-quality product from a more responsible company, for instance, compared with 61% of the global average. And 56% would be willing to take a pay cut to work for a more conscientious company, versus 62% worldwide. U.S. cynicism is softening, however, with 23% now saying CSR efforts have a positive impact, up from 16% in both the 2013 and 2011 research.

The study is based on responses from 10,000 people in the U.S., Canada, Brazil, the UK, Germany, France, China, India and Japan.

Recently, the Reputation Institute released its list of U.S. brands that rank highest with consumers, in terms of their CSR efforts. Amazon came in first for the second year, followed by Kellogg, Lego, Fruit of the Loom, Campbell Soup, Levi Strauss & Co., Snap-on, Hershey, Panera Bread and Briggs & Stratton.

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