Millennials may have different motivations for supporting corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts than older consumers, with important implications for advertising in this space, a study in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR) has argued.

Yoon-Joo Lee (Washington State University) and Eric Haley (University of Tennessee) addressed this subject in a digital-first JAR paper entitled, How do generational differences drive response to social-issue ads? The effect of value orientations across generations in the US.

One finding was that “older consumers (older than 30 years) in the United States may feel that they have responsibilities or duties to help society and that CSR initiatives can help them to fulfill that duty,” they wrote.

“The younger age group (younger than 30 years), however, gets less pressure from duty fulfillment, which implies that they may want to help CSR initiatives more for other reasons compared with their older counterparts.”

In exploring this idea, the scholars looked at the role of “vertical collectivism”, where “family and society” hold higher status than the individual, and “horizontal collectivism”, where values like “harmony” and “benevolence” are key.

Younger consumers tended to fall in the latter camp, as their responses usually emerged from a “self-value motivation,” the study said. “That is, millennials do not desire to follow rules or duties; rather, they want to be independent selves.

“Consumers older than 30 years (Generation X and baby boomers), however, were motivated by vertical collectivism in the present data.”

These findings were drawn from a sample of 197 participants – spanning people in their twenties to contributors in their seventies – who first answered questions about their cultural values.

Respondents then viewed ads for an energy conversation program from a fictional oil company or a message from a made up pharma firm highlighting its support for cancer research.

Next, members of the panel outlined their perceptions and attitudes concerning the CSR advertisements, their attitude towards the brand, and the perceived social approval that might result from supporting such an initiative.

And “horizontal” factors were found to influence behavioural intentions – say, the willingness to purchase a brand or visit its website – across age groups. These criteria shaped perceptions that using a product could be status-enhancing among millennial respondents and older consumers, too.

Lee and Haley further qualified this point: “Vertical collectivism also was an important value that made people perceive that their status could be increased, but not among those under 30 years old.

“They probably less likely will support CSR initiatives because they have to fulfill their duties. Rather, they support such initiatives genuinely to help society out of benevolent motives but also to increase their social status pragmatically.”

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