Guilt appeals in cause-related marketing: the subversive roles of product type and donation magnitude

Chun-Tuan Chang

National Sun Yat-sen University


After the recent Haiti earthquake, many companies began scrambling to donate money to the relief effort. For example, Sony Online Entertainment chose to donate ten dollars to disaster relief for each PlayStation purchase, while Timberland made a donation of two dollars to the Yéle Haiti Earthquake Fund for every pair of shoes it sold, contributing to the relief and recovery that communities in Haiti urgently need. This type of corporate giving is referred to as cause-related marketing (CRM) (Varagarajan & Menon 1988). It involves a monetary donation to a cause only when the company’s product is purchased.

Research on CRM has expanded as a response to the growth and acceptance that this trend has had worldwide (Lavack & Kropp 2003; Subrahmanyan 2004; Chang 2008). One influential variable that has been identified to determine the success of CRM is the way an ad is framed (Chang 2008). Typically, CRM print ads show the promoted product as the focal point, and the cause plays a secondary role (see Appendix 1 for examples) because brand managers initiated the partnerships and paid for the ads from their marketing budget (Kelly 1991; Sciulli & Bebko 2006). However, some recent ads highlight the cause, or a representation of the cause, with the product taking a lesser role in the advertising copy (Lafferty & Edmondson 2009). These cause-focused ads may have an interesting and prevalent effect on perceptions because causes evoke consumers’ affective reaction (Kim et al. 1998). This is especially true while product attributes may have universal appeal and product functions are similar across markets (Sciulli & Bebko 2005). This new type of campaign may enhance the image of the company since companies involved with CRM are generally perceived as being generous and altruistic (Adkins 2010). This paper thus focuses on this recent departure from the traditional execution style of CRM advertising.