Corporate Social Irresponsibility and Consumers' Psychological Conflicts

Doctoral Thesis / Dissertation, 2018

168 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1. Introduction

2. Contemporary Usage of Marketing Ethics Terminology: A Concept Analysis (Paper 1)

3. Transition between Paper 1 and Paper 2

4. Fooling Yourself: The Role of Internal Defense Mechanisms in Unsustainable Consumption Behavior (Paper 2)

5. Transition between Paper 2 and Paper 3

6. Cling Together, Swing Together? Corporate Social Irresponsibility: Do Consumers Feel Accountable for It? (Paper 3)

7. General Discussion

8. References

9. Affirmation – Statutory Declaration

1. Introduction

The introduction chapter of this quasi-cumulative dissertation gives a short overview about the three papers included in this work. It is important to note that the papers follow a logical order which will be briefly described at this point, in the chapter transitions as well as in the general discussion of the dissertation.

The three papers together follow the overarching research question how corporate social irresponsibility (CSI) and consumers’ psychological conflicts are connected. First, Paper 1 describes a literature analysis, building the basis for Paper 2 and Paper 3, specifically, to understand the terminology and theoretical properties surrounding CSI as well as corporate social responsibility (CSR). The most important (abstract) ethics-related terms (e.g., CSR, green consumption, sustainability) used in the marketing ethics literature are therefore examined. The question which terms are used to which extent in influential marketing journals and how they relate to each other constitutes the basic research question of Paper 1 (‘Contemporary Usage of Marketing Ethics Terminology: A Concept Analysis’). Second, Paper 2 (‘Fooling Yourself: The Role of Internal Defense Mechanisms in Unsustainable Consumption Behavior’) then exploratory addresses the role of consumers’ inner conflicts in the field of unsustainable consumption behavior – and in case of their indirect support of CSI behavior – by means of 20 in-depth interviews. Third, Paper 3 (‘Cling Together, Swing Together? Corporate Social Irresponsibility: Do Consumers Feel Accountable for It?’) experimentally investigates the specific causal relationships of particular consumer conflicts on the basis of their perceived degree of moral responsibility.

Contemporary Usage of Marketing Ethics Terminology: A Concept Analysis (Paper 1)

Conceptual and empirical articles in the field of marketing ethics deal with terms such as CSR, CSI, sustainability, or business ethics. As we could not find an overarching framework about the different relevant terms, the authors conceptually explored the most important terms as well as their frequency of use (in different outlets) and its interrelations. 868 journal articles using 105 different ethics-related terms were analyzed in order to build a conceptual framework of marketing ethics terms, facilitating the following research approaches of Paper 2 and Paper 3. As will be stated later, three relevant dimensions constitute the pillars of the developed conceptual framework, that is, abstraction (macro, meso, micro), appeal (moral, pragmatic), and subject (environmental, social). Further analyses of Paper 1 deal with specific term usage frequencies across time and between different marketing outlets. Major definitions of relevant ethics-related concepts are stated in the theoretical part of this paper. In the research at hand, marketing ethics is – among others – used as an umbrella term for the more practice-oriented expressions CSR, corporate social performance (CSP), CSI as well as for sustainability.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

CSR is hotly debated in business ethics (e.g., McWilliams and Siegel 2001). However, there is neither a clear and strict CSR definition (e.g., Maignan and Ferrell 2004) nor a determined way of measuring the construct (e.g., Turker, 2009). So far, the definition of Archie B. Carroll (1979, 1991) still holds a big impact when it comes to operationalization. According to this definition, the basis of socially responsible behavior lies in economic responsibilities, that is, the company is obligated to make profit to ensure its own prospective existence (Carroll 1979). The next level describes companies’ duty to obey the law, which is called legal responsibilities. At level three there are ethical responsibilities (e.g., fairness), which are not binding by law but more or less expected by society. Finally, philanthropic responsibilities such as voluntary acts like charitable donations stand on top of Carroll’s classification.

Corporate Social Performance (CSP)

Corporate social performance (CSP) specifies corporate behavior which relates to CSR aspects (Igalens and Gond 2005). In their well-known meta-analysis about the link of CSP with corporate financial performance (CFP), Orlitzky, Schmidt, and Rynes (2003) found a positive CSP-CFP-relation of ρ = .36 (N = 388), which relates to a medium effect size (Cohen 1992). Following the argumentation of Wang, Choi, and Li (2008), the CSP-CFP relationship is not linear but described by an inverse U-shape. More recently, Servaes and Tamayo (2013) found out that CSR activities and firm value are positively related for specific conditions only (i.e., in case of high customer awareness).

Corporate Social Irresponsibility (CSI)

With regard to CSR, an essential problem is that positive and negative CSP are not on the same continuum (Wood 2010). Wagner, Bicen, and Hall (2008) argue that negative information (compared to positive information) is more intensively communicated in the media. In addition to that, consumers remember negative information longer than positive information. Finally, there is more talk about companies ‘doing bad things’. CSI seems to constitute an important factor for consumers’ decision making and a negative link between bad CSP and CFP has been found (Wood 2010). For instance, consumers negatively interpret CSI information while positive CSR information is only relevant for all those who are interested in the CSR theme (Sen and Bhattacharya 2001). Case studies such as BP (Friedman and Weiser Friedman 2010) also show the negative economic impact of CSI (i.e., BP lost much money because of its negatively judged behavior).


Mastering the challenges of sustainability will be the key factor of a firm’s future success (Sheth, Sethia, and Srinivas 2011). In general, the term is defined in many different ways (e.g., Hoffman and Bazerman 2005). Business researchers describe sustainability through the ‘triple bottom line’ (Elkington 1998), consisting of economic, social, and environmental goals (e.g., Dyllick and Hockerts 2002). First, economic sustainability describes the company’s ability to create long-term value in order to ensure its future profitability (Chabowski, Mena, and Gonzalez-Padron 2011). Second, social sustainability aims for taking into account societal issues such as equal rights or tolerance (e.g., Goodland and Daly 1996). Third, environmental sustainability constitutes the “maintenance-of-natural-capital” (Goodland and Daly 1996, p. 1007). This facet contains resource management (Chabowski et al. 2011) as well as a sense of caring for our nature (Kilbourne 2006).

Fooling Yourself: The Role of Internal Defense Mechanisms in Unsustainable Consumption Behavior’ ( Paper 2)

Based on the literature analysis conducted in Paper 1, the second research question is based on the theoretical concept of the attitude-behavior gap. In particular, consumers on the one hand (increasingly) claim pro-environmental attitudes while on the other hand buying non-green products or services (Olson 2013). The authors propose that this ‘contradiction’ should lead to inner consumer conflicts. Therefore, Paper 2 uses an explorative research approach (i.e., in-depth interviews) to detect these inner conflicts and to investigate how consumers deal with them in order to avoid a negative emotional condition.

Unsustainable consumption behavior – which can be defined as a resource-intensive way of individual consumption – is suspected to contrast with consumers’ resource-saving ideals. Therefore, consumers with both a high sustainability orientation and unsustainable consumption patterns should perceive or feel intrapsychic conflicts. In-depth interviews led to a novel classification with regard to consumer sustainability (i.e., the aspects consumers subsume under the sustainability label). Interviews revealed that long-term sustainability-related motives (e.g., low energy use) stay in contrast with short-term motives (e.g., individual comfort), resulting in inner conflicts of varying degree. Notably, consumption behavior is only changed in case of very intense conflicts. On the contrary, consumers make use of several psychological defense mechanisms in order to deal with their psychological conflicts, leaving them the possibility to consume unsustainably. Last but not least, Paper 2 revealed first evidence for the presence and significance of consumers’ moral responsibility for socially irresponsible firm behavior, which is examined in Paper 3.

Cling Together, Swing Together? Corporate Social Irresponsibility: Do Consumers Feel Accountable for It? (Paper 3)

As stated above, Paper 2 detected that (some) consumers show inner psychic conflicts because of their unsustainable consumption behavior. Results also indicate that consumer might perceive individual (moral) responsibility for unsustainable company actions (see also transition between Paper 2 and Paper 3). Paper 3 therefore explores consumers’ moral responsibility for companies’ socially irresponsible behavior.

To the best of our knowledge, consumers’ self-perceptions in third-party-scenarios, that is, in cases of companies doing harm to a third party (e.g., employees), have not been investigated in depth so far. A common moral responsibility factor, consisting of responsibility and guilt, is investigated. Causal relationships are tested by means of three independent experimental studies, in the first place manipulating formal customer affiliation (customer vs. non-customer) as well as psychological customer affiliation (high brand glorification vs. low brand glorification). Study 1 (describing a company acting socially irresponsible to its employees) shows that high-glorifying consumers perceive higher moral responsibility compared to low-glorifying consumers only in case of low customer affiliation. Study 2 (again describing a company acting socially irresponsible to its employees) demonstrates the important role of victim proximity with regard to individual moral responsibility for irresponsible company actions. This relationship is mediated by consumers’ perceived empathic concern. Study 3 reveals that the relationship between victim poverty and moral responsibility is mediated through victim controllability and empathic concern. Finally, the three studies deal with the mediating role of moral responsibility for purchase intention, negative word-of-mouth as well as consumers’ willingness to donate for the victims (i.e., the employees).

The following dissertation is structured as follows: Papers 1 and 2 are connected through a short transition, first of all consisting of two conducted pre-studies of Paper 2. The transition between Paper 2 and Paper 3 mainly consists of additional theoretical parts about moral responsibility as well as s ocial identity theory. Finally, a general discussion deals with some additional important aspects.

2. Contemporary Usage of Marketing Ethics Terminology: A Concept Analysis*

Alexander Stich**

Doctoral candidate

WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management

Chair of Services Marketing

Burgplatz 2, 56179 Vallendar, Germany

Tillmann Wagner

Professor of Marketing

WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management

Chair of Services Marketing

Burgplatz 2, 56179 Vallendar, Germany

* This paper has not been published yet (unpublished working paper). It was submitted in different versions to different journals, among others to Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science (2nd round).

**corresponding author


Marketing scholars build on terms such as corporate social responsibility, sustainability, or business ethics when conducting conceptual as well as empirical research efforts. However, it seems difficult to find incorporating reflections about relevant terms, its frequency of use in different outlets, and its conceptual interrelations. Such a uniting perspective would support a less ambiguous deployment of contemporary marketing ethics terminology and thus advance theory development. Therefore, we conducted a contemporary concept analysis of marketing ethics terminology. In so doing, we built upon a comprehensive dataset, consisting of 868 journal articles and using 105 different marketing ethics terms. A conceptual framework of marketing ethics is proposed, synthesizing terms alongside three dimensions in terms of abstraction (macro, meso, micro), appeal (moral, pragmatic), and subject (environmental, social). The paper also analyzes how often specific terms are used in premier marketing outlets across time and reflects on resulting implications for future research efforts.

Terms such as corporate social responsibility (CSR), sustainability, prosocial behavior, ethical consumption, and many other ethics-related terms are used by marketing researchers in order to express relevant social and environmental issues. However, the exact meaning of a single term as well as the terms’ incidences and interrelationships often seem unclear. Such problematic term use can lead to misunderstandings, resulting in theoretical misconceptualizations as well as questionable practical implications. This is particularly true if the authors do not provide a working definition for the respective term. Academia has generally acknowledged that it is essential to use the right term for the specific context in order to avoid such misunderstandings. Researchers should therefore get away from a ‘one-term-fits-all’-approach (van Marrewijk 2003) but rather work on a common language for the different marketing ethics facets (Peloza and Shang 2011). To take a step toward an integrating framework, our research proposes a general typology of marketing ethics terminology. We will use the labels ‘ethics-related terminology’ and ‘marketing ethics terminology’ as an umbrella for all below-discussed terms, consisting of terms such as CSR, cause-related marketing (CRM), or business ethics.

Next, we explore how the usage of the most common marketing ethics terms has evolved over time. On the one hand, many researchers emphasize the elevated meaning of business ethics, CSR, and sustainability for both academia as well as corporate practice (e.g., Kotler 2011). On the other hand, it seems relevant to examine if leading marketing journals also follow this important megatrend.

Furthermore, important marketing journals should differ in their role for marketing ethics research. This issue appears to be relevant for business researchers who have to focus on a specific target journal. We also analyze the question which papers could be labeled as key papers in the field of marketing ethics. Key papers’ role for academic research cannot be overestimated as they have a guiding function in stimulating and influencing future research. Thus, the identification of these specific journal articles could help marketing ethics researchers in developing new research questions by building on existing literature.

Finally, we explore how often the most relevant terms are used in between an article. This statistic shows the strength a specific term has in the articles it is used, varying from being just a popular keyword to being essential for the paper. High strength rates also indicate the degree the papers could be classified as marketing ethics articles.

By analyzing all full published articles of eleven important marketing journals from 2000 to 2012, our research contributes to the field by presenting a general typology of marketing ethics terminology. In particular, 105 most common ethics-related terms are arranged in a structuring framework which includes three dimensions. First, the level of abstraction (macro, meso, micro) shows if a term is mainly connected with an individual (e.g., consumer), a finite and well-defined group of individuals (e.g., company), or general principles referring to broader entities (e.g., the whole society). Second, a term can through its wording include an implicit connotation of a moral appeal (e.g., ethical behavior) or a rather non-moral pragmatic one (e.g., sustainability). Third, many terms can, depending on content, refer to an environmental and a social subject. Finally, most ethics-related terms can be clustered into five term fields, that is, charity, environmental, ethics, social/CSR, and sustainability. We also detect that both the number of papers using ethics-related terminology and the number of selected marketing ethics terms in total have clearly increased from 2000 to 2012. Interestingly, there is no linear growth of terminology but high periodic variations between increasing and decreasing time periods. One further result of our analyses is that JAMS (Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science), JMM (Journal of Macromarketing), and JPPM (Journal of Public Policy & Marketing) play a leading role concerning the amount of marketing ethics terminology.

The remainder of this article starts with a theoretical background section, followed by a description of the methodological approach of the research at hand. Subsequently, a derived framework of marketing ethics terminology is presented. Next, further results deal with the evolvement of ethics-related terminology, commonalities and differences between journals, key papers of marketing ethics as well as the article-oriented strength of the most important terms. The paper also discusses its contribution, limitations as well as future research opportunities.

Theoretical Background

When reading literature dealing with sustainability, ethics, or CSR, it becomes clear that there are many disagreements and inconsistencies concerning the use of ethics-related terminology (Dahlsrud 2008). Amongst the used terms are sustainable consumption (Dolan 2002), green consumption (Gupta and Ogden 2009), ethical consumption (Strong 1997), sustainability (Elkington 1998), CSR (Sen and Bhattacharya 2001), corporate citizenship (Maignan and Ferrell 2001), corporate social responsiveness (Carroll 1979), or cause-related marketing (Varadarajan and Menon 1988). Recent research tries to list and define the complete range of CSR terms (Visser et al. 2010) which at the same time shows a high need to structure the most relevant ones. However, there are still growing numbers of different terms (Rossouw 2012) which adds confusion to the field (De Bakker, Groenewegen, and Den Hond 2005). This leads Peloza and Shang (2011) to argue for an increased consistency in business ethics research. Therefore, some theoretical background with regard to our umbrella term (i.e., marketing ethics) and the most essential and general terms seems necessary.

Marketing Ethics

Marketing ethics can be defined as a systematic way to explore the application of moral standards to marketing decisions, behaviors as well as institutions (Laczniak and Murphy 1993) by means of evaluation of fairness or perceived injustice by others (Ferrell and Ferrell 2008). This also means that marketing managers should follow these standards in order to act in a right and fair way (Laczniak and Murphy 2006). As Thomas et al. (2002) note, marketing ethics involves morals norms with regard to exchange relations and other marketing-related issues, for example fair and just treatment of customers. The term ethical marketing “refers to practices that emphasize transparent, trustworthy, and responsible personal and/or organizational marketing policies and actions that exhibit integrity as well as fairness to consumers and other stakeholders” (Murphy, Laczniak, and Prothero 2012, p. 4). However, when it comes to business ethics, costs and benefits for a person and for the whole society have to be weighed against each other (Cornelissen et al. 2007).

More generally spoken, ethics of marketing involves some kind of moral standards (Shapiro 2012) which can go beyond the law (Murphy et al. 2012). However, more pragmatic issues such as resource-driven firm policies are not independent from marketing ethics. There is a logical connection between ethics and sustainability, because the conservation of our environment (which is the basis for the future of mankind) is also related to moral issues. For instance, the decision to use renewable energy in order to help the environment is also connected with moral norms.

Indeed, the notion of marketing ethics can be traced back to basic philosophical ethics theories such as utilitarianism (Murphy et al. 2012). Sophisticated theories about marketing ethics have been developed. One basic approach describes ethical behavior as an indirect result of different environments (cultural, industrial, organizational, professional) and personal characteristics, mediated (among others) by positive and negative consequences and its respective probabilities (Hunt and Vitell 2006). Ferrell and Gresham (1985) developed a contingency framework how marketers come to ethical or unethical decisions. They postulated several propositions, for example that unethical behavior depends on the ratio between “contacts with unethical patterns to contacts with ethical patterns” (p. 93).

In line with researchers such as Nill and Schibrowsky (2007) as well as Schlegelmilch and Öberseder (2010) marketing ethics is adopted as a broader umbrella term in the present study: Both papers use the label marketing ethics articles to investigate different issues such as green marketing and social responsibility. Accordingly, we define as follows:

‘Marketing ethics terminology (or ethics-related terminology in marketing) denotes terms which can (context-sensitive) be linked with someone (individual, company, politics, society) doing something good (or precisely not) for a broader entity (the environment, society).’

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

The term CSR stands amongst the most prominent ones in marketing ethics. Furthermore, this term is of highest academic interest for marketing researchers. Therefore, the following sections deal particularly with the specificities of the CSR term. The CSR concept has been discussed already decades ago (Bowen 1953; Carroll 1979) and indeed, Carroll’s CSR conceptualization remains to be the most influential definition so far. He describes CSR as a pyramid consisting of economic, legal, ethical, and philanthropic responsibilities which a company should follow (Carroll 1979, 1991). Other definitions picture a societal marketing concept which improves the welfare of consumers as well as the society (Kotler 1997) and involves damage prevention (Mohr et al. 2001). Furthermore, CSR as a strategic device has been divided into ‘quiet’ and ‘loud’ (Ligeti and Oravecz 2009) or ‘implicit’ and ‘explicit’ CSR (Matten and Moon 2008). A good CSR strategy has been shown to lead to positive consumer reactions such as positive word-of-mouth (Lacey, Kennett-Hensel, and Manolis 2015). These effects of CSR actions on consumer responses are mediated by moral emotions and individual differences (Xie, Bagozzi, and Grønhaug 2015). Meta-analyses have been likewise conducted to examine the firm profitability of CSR strategies (Orlitzky et al. 2003; Walsh, Weber, and Margolis 2003).

Several other authors have also contributed to a more advanced understanding of CSR (Vaaland, Heide, and Grønhaug 2008) and its respective activities (Peloza and Shang 2011). Nevertheless, Dahlsrud (2008) notes that there is still much confusion in the field of CSR definitions, for example with regard to the inclusion of other ethics-related terms such as corporate philanthropy (Szőcs et al. 2016).

When having a look at CSR definitions in leading marketing journals, it comes to the fore that there is only a small amount of widely established definitions which are used again and again. Most authors refer to these original sources and only some researchers state more than one CSR definition (Hult 2011; Maignan and Ferrell 2004; Sen and Bhattacharya 2001). In general, definitions can be divided into four streams: straightforward or objective definitions (type one), obligational or educational definitions (type two), more balanced or pragmatic definitions (type three), and illustrating or specific ones (type four). The definitions stem from various different outlets. However, it seems difficult to find contemporary definitions from Journal of Consumer Research (JCR), Journal of Consumer Psychology (JCP), and Journal of Retailing (JR).

Definitions of type one appear to be quite generic and are contentwise closely connected to the wording ‘corporate social responsibility’. The best example is the simple statement that CSR describes the degree of a firm’s social responsibility (Du, Bhattacharya, and Sen 2007). These straightforward definitions (see also Hult 2011; Peloza and Shang 2011) can on the one hand be criticized as being too vague. On the other hand, these definitions could be regarded as the only overarching CSR explanations (i.e., they explain what CSR means by its original wording).

Next, definitions of type two share an educational element by including a moral appeal with regard to a company’s obligation to behave responsibly towards the society (e.g., Mohr and Sarin 2009). This type is also represented by older definitions by Bowen (1953), Brown and Dacin (1997) as well as Drucker (1946, 1954). The definition by Wagner, Lutz, and Weitz (2009) is one of the rare ones mentioning negative CSR (e.g., air pollution, bribery, child labor practices), which is undoubtedly of high relevance for different stakeholders.

Third, definitions of type three take a more balanced perspective by integrating economic corporate goals into the CSR definition. For instance, CSR should not only improve societal welfare but also organizational interests (Sen and Bhattacharya 2001). Focusing on economic interests only, Friedman (1970) sees a company’s social responsibility solely in an obligation to increase its own profits.

Finally, type four definitions are more specific in illustrating what a firm stands for or does within the broad field of CSR issues. These issues might relate to CRM (Luo and Bhattacharya 2009), donations (Krishna and Rajan 2009), or the support of employees, the community, and the environment (Paul et al. 2009). More specific definitions bear the potential to explain what aspects or issues belong to CSR. Nevertheless and as opposed to generic definitions, they might also exclude other important CSR aspects.

No specific CSR scale is dominating academic research (Turker 2009), which makes the question how to measure CSR a hot-debated topic. As Orlitzky et al. (2003) note, different ways of CSR measurement do also distort their found relationship between corporate social performance (CSP) and corporate financial performance. Some authors give an overview about the measurement of CSP (Igalens and Gond 2005) or marketing ethics scales (Vitell and Ho 1997). On the contrary, we could not find a contemporary overview of CSR measurement in leading marketing journals.

Above stated CSR definitions give insights into the meaning of CSR and they can also serve as a basis to develop respective items for measuring CSR as a construct. However, although CSR compounds (e.g., CSR activities, CSR beliefs) are sometimes measured, in most cases the CSR term is not measured at all as it is rather operationalized, manipulated, or integrated into theoretical argumentations. Furthermore, there is research building on objective indices to measure CSR (Torres et al. 2012). Apart from this, we identified some papers which explicitly use one or more items to measure CSR. Amongst these are also papers which measure CSR without discussing CSR definitions in depth. The scales can be arranged on a continuum ranging from very general CSR to concrete actions of corporate giving. In particular, some papers are more or less straightforward in measuring if a company is socially responsible (Gürhan-Canli and Batra 2004; Klein and Dawar 2004). Other papers integrate concrete corporate causes in their scales, for example by introducing the question if a company supports good causes (Berens, van Riel, and van Bruggen 2005), and others (which claim to measure CSR) have an exclusive focus on corporate giving (Lichtenstein, Drumwright, and Braig 2004; Paul et al. 2009). With regard to the latter ones, it becomes clear that the CSR term is also used as a synonym for corporate giving or CSP.


Sustainability basically refers to the general principle to only use resources to a degree which enables future generations to live with at least the same amount of resources (United Nations 1987). The common core of sustainability definitions is that “a sustainable system is one which survives or persists” (Costanza and Patten 1995, p. 193). From a business point of view, sustainability goes down to the so-called ‘triple bottom line’ (Elkington 1998), which is said to consist of economic, social, and environmental aspects (Sheth et al. 2011): First, economic sustainability includes securing a firm’s own future or ensuring quality and durability of goods. Second, social sustainability can refer to human rights, law abidance as well as health and security of customers and employees. Third, environmental sustainability encompasses issues such as pollution, recycling, or the use of natural resources (e.g., wood, oil, water). Sheth et al. (2011) recently emphasized a lack of sustainability research focusing on consumers. Therefore, they developed the concept of mindful consumption, which consists of caring for nature, community, and oneself. First research also indicates that a sort of individual sustainability (consisting of one’s own economic, mental, and physical health) might exist (Stich and Wagner 2012).

Sustainability can be understood in different ways: While Luchs et al. (2010) use the term as an equivalent to ethicality, other research focuses on the distinction of sustainability from terms such as responsible marketing (Varey 2010) or marketing ethics (Shapiro 2006). According to Holliday, Schmidheiny and Watts (2002), sustainability should lead to eco-efficiency, CSR, or transparency and Farrell and Hart (1998) stress that sustainability should enhance social welfare whilst preserving the environment.

The general term the environment (in its connotation to nature or climate) or its compounds (e.g., environmental friendliness, natural environment) are of highest relevance and therefore an important part of many marketing ethics (e.g., Nill and Schibrowsky 2007) or CSR articles (e.g., Brown and Dacin 1997). However, the term itself leaves no room for deeper discussions how it should be defined. This is why we standardly understand the environment as an equivalent to nature (Torelli, Monga, and Kaikati 2012). Notably, the environment normally is not defined at all.

Further Relevant Terms

Ethics (like marketing ethics) is an umbrella term itself which can refer to different fields (e.g., human behavior, marketing, moral philosophy) or different subtypes of ethics (e.g., research ethics, utilitarian ethics, virtue ethics, work ethics). In addition to that it often lacks a clear definition. Therefore, we can only understand the ethics term by analyzing the respective context. For our purposes, we combine the definitions by Aurier and N’Goala (2010) as well as Shapiro (2012), who describe ethics as a moral consideration or marketing standard. It is important to note that ethics constitutes the basic facet of our umbrella term marketing ethics.

The term charity refers to the general principle to help someone or something in need (or at least the intention to do so). However, in marketing research the term charity often stands for charity foundation or charity organization (e.g., Krishna 2011). Both definitions are easy to understand and useful for our purposes.

Social welfare characterizes a maximization of “the sum of utilities for all members in a society” (Ding 2007, p. 4). It includes both efficiency and equity considerations (Kannan and Telang 2005). Social welfare integrates criteria from consumers, producers, and society but also intends to lessen environmental damage (Levi and Nault 2004).

State of Research

The need to systematize knowledge on business ethics has been realized by various researchers. Whilst De Bakker et al. (2005) have a look on historical developments in ethics-related terminology, other authors focus on giving an overview of the marketing ethics literature (Nill and Schibrowsky 2007; Schlegelmilch and Öberseder 2010). Furthermore, ethics research has been explored from an interdisciplinary perspective (Bernardi et al. 2008). Notably, there has been a special issue on sustainability in JAMS in 2011, contributing to the discipline by analyzing green marketing strategies (Cronin et al. 2011) and the structure of sustainability research (Chabowski et al. 2011) as well as by comparing sustainability with CSR (Hult 2011).

Existing classifications focus on specific issues such as CSR activities (Peloza and Shang 2011), CSR stakeholders (Fairbrass and Zueva-Owens 2012), or sustainability dimensions (Closs, Speier, and Meacham 2011). We could not find a comprising framework of the most common ethics-related terminology in marketing, which we attempt to create through the extraction and analysis of contemporary ethics-related terminology in important marketing journals. This new typology could contribute to a better understanding of the most important terms. Notably, our framework can help to select the adequate term in a specific research context.

Several researchers have analyzed general trends concerning the amount of ethics-related research in marketing. De Bakker et al. (2005) detected for example a rising number of publications about CSR and CSP between 1969 and 2002. However, this analysis lacks more contemporary research and is not limited to leading marketing journals, which results in the fact that specialized journals (i.e., Business & Society, Journal of Business Ethics) comprise the largest amount of publications. This is in line with findings by Nill and Schibrowsky (2007) who find a large increase in the number of marketing ethics publications between 1981 and 2005 only for specialized journals. Finally, the analysis by Schlegelmilch and Öberseder (2010) shows increasing numbers of marketing ethics articles but only on a decade level. Altogether, marketing ethics research shows that academic knowledge in this area is growing fast.

Previous authors have divided the literature into ethics-related papers and non-ethics-related papers, which led to the fact that their analyses did only deal with full ethics-related papers (De Bakker et al. 2005; Nill and Schibrowsky 2007; Schlegelmilch and Öberseder 2010; Vaaland et al. 2008). In other words, marketing papers using ethics-related terminology but focusing basically on another topic have been excluded from previous analyses. Therefore, we explore which terms are most common in marketing ethics in general rather than only in specific marketing ethics articles and how their use has evolved over the last years. The research at hand also gives researchers an overview about the relevance of marketing ethics terminology in important marketing journals. Usage frequencies of ethics terminology in general as well as incidence rates of specific terms are compared for eleven outlets. To the best of our knowledge, differences and commonalities between journals with regard to ethics-related terms have not been explored so far.

Determining a paper’s influence by number of citations is well-established in the marketing community (Baumgartner and Pieters 2003; Kunz and Hogreve 2011). However, citation numbers are biased through certain factors such as journal quality or publication date (older articles are cited more than newer ones). As opposed to this, our research analyzes the number of used ethics-related terms, indicating how mainstream a paper’s terminology is compared to the whole field. This approach is innovative insofar as it constitutes an alternative way of influence measurement. Notably, our research contributes to marketing ethics research by building on the idea of a nomological network (Cronbach and Meehl 1955): A nomological network illustrates concepts and its interrelations. Although our derived framework has no direct linkages between constructs, relationships can be seen in the model, that is, a term’s position is not independent from other terms’ positions. As Cronbach and Meehl (1955) note, nomological networks help researchers to ensure a concept’s (here: marketing ethics) construct validity.

In particular, key papers are articles which use the most common terms, that is, they build on existing research terminology. This approach helps to come to a more complete picture of a specific issue. On the contrary, papers developing new unestablished terms, basically denoting already existing ones, are more or less operating ‘in vacuo’ by ignoring existing academic research. Therefore, these articles can barely be seen as key papers for the business ethics field.

A final analysis deals with the quantity a specific term is used in between an article. A term (not: the meaning of a term) appears to be more essential for a paper if it is used several times. In particular, some terms are used as keywords (i.e., their meaning is important for the paper) but not a second time within the same paper (i.e., the term itself is not important). For instance, green marketing (Agrawal et al. 2012) or social responsibility (Dobson and Gerstner 2010) are only used as keywords. We could not find any existing research analyzing the strength of specific ethics-related terms, indicating which terms serve as well-used umbrella terms only and which terms are basically essential for a paper.

Methodological Approach

As there are quite a lot of published papers in numerous marketing journals, we had to narrow down the number of potentially relevant papers. Therefore, we decided to include all full conceptual or empirical research papers (we excluded editorials, executive summaries, etc.) published between 2000 and 2012 in the following leading marketing journals:

International Journal of Research in Marketing (IJRM)

Journal of Consumer Psychology (JCP)

Journal of Consumer Research (JCR)

Journal of Marketing (JM)

Journal of Marketing Research (JMR)

Journal of Retailing (JR)

Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science (JAMS)

Management Science (MNS)

Marketing Science (MKS)

In addition to that we included two journals both from the general marketing discipline and at the same time probably very relevant for the issue at hand:

Journal of Macromarketing (JMM)

Journal of Public Policy & Marketing (JPPM)

Specialist journals focusing primarily on ethics-related topics (e.g., Journal of Business Ethics) were not included as our research explicitly focuses on marketing journals publishing articles with different themes. The outlet Management Science was also included as it contains a section of marketing articles (Bernardi et al. 2008; Chabowski et al. 2011), Harvard Business Review left out because of its high practical orientation. In general, the journal selection is similar to the selections by other authors (Baumgartner and Pieters 2003; Kunz and Hogreve 2011). Additionaly, the heuristic to choose these specific outlets stems from personal talks to several marketing researchers. The time period (i.e., 2000 to 2012) was mainly chosen because it provides us with enough papers to come to valid conclusions with regard to the use of marketing ethics terminology and at the same time focusing on more contemporary research. Among the used databases were EBSCO, INFORMS, JSTOR, ScienceDirect, and Springer.

Furthermore, we had to limit the number of relevant search terms as there is an almost innumerable amount of terms which can be linked with CSR, ethics, or sustainability in a broader sense. In general, we included terms relating to consumers, companies, or broader principles (e.g., CSR, ethical consumption, sustainability). However, we decided to exclude (concrete) product- and store-related terms (e.g., ethical product, green product, socially responsible store), very generic terms (e.g., fairness, legitimacy, moral, social justice) but also terms naming very specific issues (e.g., animal welfare, child labor, bribery) as well as some appearances of relevant terms used in a different or very unclear context (e.g., ethics, prosocial behavior). Notably, our analysis is not about issues (i.e., specific ethics-related issues such as fair advertising, local production, or employee rights) but about (abstract) general marketing ethics terms. For an overview about different marketing ethics issues, the article by Peloza and Shang (2011) is highly recommended. Finally, we excluded sustainability issues in the sense of ‘making good business in the long-term’ (e.g., economic sustainability, sustainable competitive advantage) because these terms are not directly linked with doing something good for a broader entity, that is, the environment or parts of our society (Chabowski et al. 2011). For a more detailed insight into the decision to include or exclude certain terms the authors can be contacted.

The full search instruction was:

"cause mark*" OR "cause-related marketing" OR "cause related marketing" OR "charit*" OR "citizenship" OR "corporate societal marketing" OR "csr" OR "ecolog*" OR "environment*" OR "ethic*" OR "green" OR "mindful" OR "organic produc*” OR "philanthrop*” OR "social behav*" OR "social cons*" OR "social mark*" OR "social perf*" OR "social resp*" OR "sustainab*"

In addition to that, a second search was performed for the terms social cause, socially responsible behavior, and social welfare. Terms had to be verbatim to be included, although singular and plural were treated as equivalents. 3803 published papers were downloaded and examined in detail. A raw data set was created. In a next step, this data set was reduced to only terms which have been used in at least 10 different papers. This final data set consists of 868 papers using 3270 terms (please note that each term is counted only one time per paper but one paper can make use of several different terms).

The authors used the final dataset to conduct a contemporary concept analysis. Concept analyses are not very common in marketing outlets, but have often been used in medical research (e.g., Maben and Macleod Clark 1995). However, there is not only one single way to conduct a concept analysis. So-called formal concept analyses are used in order to build a hierarchy of a specific concept (by means of mathematical vectors) including connections between different attributes of the concept (Cimiano, Hotho, and Staab 2005). On the contrary, concept analyses in health care and nursery are rather focusing on wording instead of mathematical connections.

Several concepts have been analyzed by concept analyses, for example collaboration (Hennemann, Lee, and Cohen 1995), fatigue (Ream and Richardson 1996), health promotion (Maben and Macleod Clark 1995), quality of life (Meeberg 1993), or resilience (Olsson et al. 2003). There are also different ways to conduct concept analyses in this field: Some authors focus on a concept’s attributes, antecedents, and relations, while other researchers concentrate on definitions. Comparisons of and differentiations from related concepts can also be taken into account (Meeberg 1993; Ream and Richardson 1996).

As a consequence, concept analysis is a quite flexible methodology which allows for deeper comprehension of a specific concept. On the one hand, this methodology is especially helpful to understand very broad, generic, or mainly colloquially used concepts or terms which are unclear to many receptors. On the other hand, concept analyses always depend on the amount of existing literature which makes them rather inappropriate for very unknown and unexplored concepts. All types of concept analyses have in common that they try to consider elements belonging to a specific higher-order concept in one way or the other. While Olsson et al. (2003) try to figure out the core elements of a specific concept and Meeberg (1993) illustrates a concept’s essential attributes, we decided to focus on the core terms of a concept (i.e., marketing ethics). These terms can then be connected with specific attributes (partly reflected in our three extracted dimensions). One could also say that a concept analysis is similar to bibliometric analyses (De Bakker et al. 2005) and literature reviews (Nill and Schibrowsky 2007), however aiming for a systematic comprehension of the terms expressing a certain concept (i.e., marketing ethics terminology).


Structuring Marketing Ethics Terminology

In total, the final sample consists of 105 different terms (i.e., terms used in at least 10 different papers). But before these terms can be arranged in an illustrating framework, a rationale for structuring these terms has to be detected. Therefore, key definitions of the relevant terms have been analyzed. Overall, the majority of terms can be structured in terms of five special term fields: charity, environmental, social/CSR, ethics, and sustainability. Table 1 shows a complete list as well as the information how often a certain term is used and to which field it belongs.

Charity: The charity field consists out of eight different terms making it to 367 data points. Charity terminology is only defined in rare cases in published papers because its meaning is quite common and can best be explained by the use of a brief example (e.g., ‘company XY donates money for the Red Cross’). In general, charities collect money for a cause (Popkowski Leszczyc and Rothkopf 2010) and “provide numerous vital services, ranging from health care to housing to disaster relief” (White and Peloza 2009, p. 109). Therefore, they can refer to various different contents, complicating their integration into a specific business ethics context. They can rather be seen as an open middle category between different dimensions.

Environmental: The environmental field includes 1096 data points based on the deployment of 41 different terms. Notably, the integration of JMM and JPPM led to the integration of many additional environmental terms (i.e., terms reached the minimum use number of ten), which makes the environmental field to the largest term field. The variety of common terms is distinctively pronounced, emphasizing the rising significance of environmental issues in the marketing literature. The environment can be seen as a pillar of sustainability (Huang and Rust 2011), encompassing issues such as recycling or the avoidance of pollution (Luchs et al. 2010). Environmental impacts are for instance global warming (Nelson 2004) or the amount of pollution (Banerjee, Iyer, and Kashyap 2003) and environmental concerns relate to how important someone considers “the protection of the natural environment” (van Doorn and Verhoef 2011, p. 170). The term green represents something natural or environmental and hence belongs as well to the environmental field. Green marketing refers to “products that are less harmful to the environment” (Sheth 2011, p. 175), whilst green consumers “choose to purchase environmentally friendly products when given the opportunity” (Cronin et al. 2011, p. 169). Finally, ecology terminology is also part of the environmental field.

Table 1


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a ’Charity’ field

b ’Environmental’ field

c ’Ethics’ field

d ’Social’ field/CSR

e ’Sustainability’ field

f Others

Notes: Numbers (N) and numbers in brackets show in how many different papers a term is used. Terms are sorted according to these numbers.

Social/CSR: The social field comprises 23 terms and 822 data points. It is therefore the second largest field with regard to the number of data points. Especially, CSR, social responsibility, and social welfare are often used. CSR and social responsibility are often defined as a corporate obligation to have a positive impact on the society (Wagner et al. 2009). Social welfare stems from a more macroeconomic perspective and, whilst often not defined at all, describes the maximization of “the sum of utilities for all members in a society” (Ding 2007, p. 4).

Ethics: The ethics field includes 668 data points from 23 different terms. Interestingly, ethical consumption did not make it into the final sample as this term is rarely used in leading marketing journals. On the contrary, ethics and (un-) ethical behavior are amongst the most common terms. Ethics is a very generic term which can be seen as a moral consideration (Aurier and N'Goala 2010). Similarly, business ethics serves as an umbrella for sustainability, corporate citizenship, and inter-individual ethics (Rossouw 2011). Ethical and unethical behavior refer to the degree an act is perceived as right, fair, or just (Hunt and Vitell 1986; Thomas et al. 2002).

Sustainability: Five different terms constituting 205 data points characterize the sustainability field, which makes it by far the smallest of the five term fields. This seems quite surprising because sustainability can be seen as a higher-order principle where CSR and other terms rest on (Hult 2011). We speculate that the sustainability term might sometimes be too generic and also difficult to grasp which makes other terms more suitable for a specific research question. Indeed, sustainability appears to be amongst the vaguest terms as it can mean almost everything. Therefore, a majority of researchers refer to the classical definition that sustainability means “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (United Nations 1987, p. 1).

After analyzing relevant ethics-related terminology, a comprehensive framework showing the selected terms will be introduced. First of all, our framework consists of three dimensions: subject (environmental, social), abstraction (macro, meso, micro), and appeal (moral, pragmatic). It is important to note that some terms can appear twice in this model (i.e., as a social term and as an environmental term). In other words, non-environmental/-social terminology (i.e., ethics field, charity field, and sustainability field terminology as well as CRM and corporate citizenship) appears top and down exactly at the same position. On the contrary, environmental and social field terminology is only used once in the model.

The present conceptualization corresponds with Chabowski et al. (2011) who point out basic social and environmental ethical properties. Furthermore, sustainability research on the triple bottom line uses the environment and the society as fundamental constituents (Elkington 1998).

The second dimension is framed as abstraction, consisting of micro, meso, and macro levels of conceptualization. Several researchers use this trichotomy to systematize a wide range of different concepts (Arnould and Thompson 2005; Layton 2008) and it is also connected with ethics (Brinkmann 2002; Preuss 1999). Enderle (1997) gives a reasonable description of the three levels: First, the micro level refers to individuals such as consumers, employees, or employers. Second, economic organizations are located on the meso level as their conduct “cannot be described solely by the actions of its individual members” (p. 175). Third, the macro level includes broad and holistic economic conditions, policies, and relations. Other authors have also coined terms relating to micro (individual), meso (local, organizational), and macro (cosmopolitan, global, societal) levels (Hearn et al. 2008; Seitanidi and Lindgreen 2010; Victor and Cullen 1988). Also being in line with Rossouw (2011), ethics and sustainability belong to the macro level and corporate (social) responsibility as well as corporate citizenship to the meso level.

Appeal constitutes the third important dimension of our framework, containing a moral and a pragmatic pole. Related dichotomies exist in the extant literature such as distinctions in terms of moral versus legal (Humphreys 2010), normative versus positive (Nill and Schibrowsky 2007), ethical versus normative (Rossouw 2012) as well as ethical versus pragmatic (Wartick and Cochran 1985) opposing principles.

Moral and pragmatic appeals can be connected with subject and abstraction. Every term was therefore allocated to a specific combination of the three framework dimensions. Three different coders (i.e., marketing researchers) independently rated each of the 105 terms according to these dimensions. Their ratings are first of all based on the definitions given in the selected papers. However, in case of vagueness or ambiguity, definitions stated in other papers or internet sources could be considered as well. As can be seen in Figure 1, ratings for abstraction ranged from 0 to 2.5 and ratings for appeal from -2 to 2 (0.5 intervals). Coders also rated if a term is usually used environmental and/or social. In case of disagreement about a term’s positioning, raters jointly came to a mutual agreement.

Terms such as behavior can not only refer to an individual but also to an entire group. However, the most common meaning of a word with regard to the extracted definitions decided about the term’s position in the framework. The framework is also incomplete with regard to the whole range of marketing ethics terms. Nevertheless, the stated figure can be used as a holistic and flexible structure for the integration of additional ethics-related terms. Altogether, this framework could help academic researchers in the selection of the most appropriate marketing ethics terminology.

Figure 1


A: Environmental

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Figure 1


B: Social

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Figure 1


C: Exponents/Further Relevant Terms & Notes

a Environmental Goal (12), Environmental Challenge (10)

b Environmental Regulation (14), Environmental Value (14), Environmental Standard (13), Ecological Sustainability (11)

c Environmental Marketing (13), Greenwashing (13), Greening (10)

d CSR Program (14), CSR Strategy (11)

e Environmental Pollution (19), Environmental Consequence (16), Proenvironmental Behavior (16), Environmental Practice (12),

Environmentally Responsible Behavior (11)

f Ecological Concern (13), Environmental Consciousness (12)

g Cause Marketing/CM (11), CRM Campaign (10)

h Social Marketing Campaign (17), Socially Responsible Behavior (17)

Notes: CSR = corporate social responsibility. CRM = cause-related marketing. Numbers in brackets show in how many different papers a term is used. Terms are sorted according to these

numbers. Terms with appearance rates >50 are printed in bold.

Evolvement of Marketing Ethics Terminology

First of all, the number of papers (in important marketing journals) using ethics-related terminology has increased. The effect becomes smaller but does hold when we control for the number of published articles per year. This control seems important as there is a general rise in the numbers of published papers per year. Additionally, the number of selected ethics-related terms has also increased. This effect might stand for a general increase of marketing ethics terminology but could also be interpreted as an increasing use of the most common marketing ethics terms. However, our analyses could rule out the latter explanation. A control for number of published papers revealed the same main effect for number of ethics-related terms. Figure 2 shows general trends in the usage of marketing ethics terminology. These effects also hold if JMM and JPPM papers are excluded from the sample.

Figure 2A illustrates the development for the number of selected papers. Three phases can be identified: a stagnation phase from 2000 to 2002 (negligible total increase and small periodic variation), a small boom between 2003 and 2007 (small total increase), and a big boom beginning in 2007 (high total increase and high periodic variation). A control for number of overall annual publications (Figure 2B) leads the small boom to disappear, that is, a longer stagnation phase occurs between 2000 and 2007 (negligible total increase and small periodic variation). We find no substantial change with regard to the big boom phase beginning in 2007.

Figure 2C depicts the progress for the number of selected ethics-related terms. Again, three phases emerge: a stagnation phase from 2000 till 2003 (no total increase and small periodic variation), followed by a small boom beginning in 2003 (small total increase and high periodic variation) and a big boom beginning in 2007 (high total increase and high periodic variation). A control for number of annual publications (Figure 2D) again leads to only two remaining phases, that is, a stagnation phase until 2007 (negligible total increase but high periodic variation) and a big boom beginning in 2007 (high total increase and high periodic variation).

It has to be noted that 2011 numbers of selected papers and terms are biased through the aforementioned special issue on sustainability. However, this does not change the overall trends which we identified. We like to emphasize three additional findings: First, selected papers and terms show similar patterns insofar as three phases (stagnation, small and big boom) turn into two (stagnation, big boom) when controlling for number of overall annual publications. Second, no linear increases but rather high periodic variations could be detected. Finally, marketing ethics seems currently situated in a big boom phase where it is also unclear what will come next. However, we speculate that the relevance of marketing ethics will continue to rise as will be discussed later.

Marketing Ethics across Journals

First, Figure 3 shows the degree (or percentage) of relevant papers (Figures 3A, 3B) and terms (Figures 3C, 3D) out of a certain outlet. Second, Table 2 lists the most common terms of every journal. Third, Figure 4 indicates how often the most relevant terms were used by journal. Finally, Figure 5 shows how often terms out of a certain term field were used by journal. In the following, key results will be extracted from Figures 3, 4, and 5 as well as from Table 2. Differences between outlets will be analyzed journal by journal.

International Journal of Research in Marketing (IJRM): The percentage of selected IJRM papers and terms is slightly below average, with a small total increase and high periodic variations over time. The most common terms are CSR, the environment, and charity, whilst sustainability is sparsely used. Compared to other outlets, the number for CSR appears to be quite high. Low term field numbers can be identified for charity, ethics, and sustainability.

Journal of Consumer Psychology (JCP): The percentage of selected JCP papers is distinctively pronounced (17.72%). Over time, there is a small increase comprising high periodic variations. However, the percentage of selected terms is not comparably high with also no substantial increase over time. On the one hand, charity and charitable donation are very common in general and CRM compared to other outlets. On the other hand, CSR and social welfare are not used this often and sustainability not at all. A comparable high term field number arises for charity and a low one for sustainability.

Figure 2


A: Number of Selected Papers B: Number of Selected Papers/Number of Published Papers

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Figure 2


C: Number of Selected Terms D: Number of Selected Terms/Number of Published Papers

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Notes: Year 2011 is ‘biased’ through a special issue about sustainability.

Figure 3


A: Number of SP/Number of PP per outlet (∑) B: Number of SP/Number of PP per outlet

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthaltenAbbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


Excerpt out of 168 pages


Corporate Social Irresponsibility and Consumers' Psychological Conflicts
Otto Beisheim School of Management Vallendar
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Research question: How are corporate social irresponsibility (CSI) and consumers’ psychological conflicts connected? Paper 1: The terminology and theoretical properties surrounding CSI as well as corporate social responsibility (CSR) (method: concept analysis). Paper 2: Consumers’ inner conflicts in the field of unsustainable consumption behavior and in case of their indirect support of CSI behavior (method: in-depth interviews). Paper 3: The specific causal relationships of particular consumer conflicts on the basis of their perceived degree of moral responsibility (method: experiments).
Sustainability, Corporate Social Responsibility, Corporate Social Irresponsibility, CSR, Inner Conflict, Defense Mechanism, Moral Responsibility, Consumer, Concept Analysis, Consumption, Nachhaltigkeit, Abwehrmechanismus, Moral, Verantwortlichkeit, Experiment, Interview
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Diplom-Psychologe Alexander Stich (Author), 2018, Corporate Social Irresponsibility and Consumers' Psychological Conflicts, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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