NEW YORK: Two reliable tools of marketing research – attribution theory and congruity – can help marketers understand the effects of event sponsorship as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs.

Angeline Close Scheinbaum (University of Texas/Austin), Russell Lacey (Xavier University), and Ming-Ching Liang (Metropolitan State University/St. Paul, Minnesota) drew from attribution theory and congruity theory as a basis for a recent study about sincerity and event sponsorship.

“Attribution theory explains consumers’ inferences regarding another’s motivation for a given behavior. As such, the event attendees infer why the brand sponsors the event; they infer the sponsoring brand’s motivations,” they argued.

Writing in the latest edition of the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR), the authors introduced the concept of “event social responsibility (ESR)”, defined as “an attendee’s perception about the event’s contribution to local and sports communities.”

ESR, they explain, is built on congruity theory. In the case of event sponsorship, Communicating Corporate Responsibility to Fit Consumer Perceptions: How Sincerity Drives Event and Sponsor Outcomes examines, in greater detail, the extent to which an event is a good fit for consumers’ perceived values of a sponsor.

To develop a context for their study, the research team conducted a field study at the Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Road and Time Trial National Championship held in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

One of their findings: “Sponsors that are perceived as sincere in their sponsorship will achieve superior responses to their sponsorship, compared with sponsors that are viewed as insincere.

“Consumers also may attribute sincerity to the sponsor’s motives when they learn about its support of pro-social activities through a neutral source, rather than directly from the sponsor.”

Marketers should be wary of pursuing explicitly revenue-orientated goals, too. “Sincerity may be at risk if the sponsor leverages, or publicity highlights, its commercial objectives,” the academics reported.

Another insight involved the nature of the events a brand could partner with. “Events that hold strong social responsibility associations play a pivotal role in generating greater enthusiasm for the event and its sponsors,” they wrote.

“Communicating Corporate Responsibility to Fit Consumer Perceptions” appears as part of a special “What We Know About Corporate Social Responsibility Messaging” section of the JAR.

Sourced from Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by WARC staff