How Social-Cause Marketing Affects Consumer Perceptions

A market research technique called conjoint analysis can help managers predict what kind of affinity marketing program is likely to offer the best return on investment for their brand.

Reading Time: 23 min 


Permissions and PDF

How should companies determine the best way to allocate marketing dollars between conventional promotional programs and affinity marketing programs? The former simply stress the benefits of buying a specific brand, while the latter prominently and publicly identify a company’s association with a particular sport, entertainment event, nonprofit organization or social cause. Experiments we have conducted suggest that the research method known as conjoint analysis could be a valuable market research tool to help companies predict which of several alternative affinity marketing affiliations would provide the best return on investment. Furthermore, based on both theory and our initial findings from a set of studies using conjoint analysis, many companies will obtain better returns through creating an affinity with a social cause than through affiliating with other, more clearly commercial ventures.

The Potential Returns From Affinity Marketing

According to an article in the IEG Sponsorship Report, spending on sponsorships in North America during 2005 was expected to reach $12.1 billion, with 69% going to sports, 10% to entertainment tours and attractions, 5% to the arts, 4% to festivals, fairs and annual events, 3% to associations and membership organizations and 9%, or about $1.15 billion, to social causes.1 Elsewhere, another article claimed that $9 billion was spent by corporations in 2001 on all types of social initiatives, including strategic philanthropy.2

Clearly, companies are making substantial investments to try to demonstrate an affinity with consumers interested in sports teams, entertainment events and social causes. While a company at one time might have sponsored or supported an activity simply because an executive wanted to help a favorite team or cause, companies today are increasingly treating investments in affinity marketing as important strategic moves. Affinity marketing programs are designed to achieve objectives such as improving overall corporate reputation, differentiating a brand, attracting the interest of targeted consumers, stimulating brand preference and loyalty, attracting loyal employees and, ultimately, increasing profits and stock prices.

Whether companies are achieving these objectives is only beginning to be understood. There is evidence that sports and entertainment sponsorships can be successful, but the available empirical research on this topic is limited.3 Considerably more research has been done on the effects of societal marketing programs, which emphasize a brand’s affinity with a social cause.



1. “Sponsorship Spending to See Biggest Rise in Five Years,” IEG Sponsorship Report, Dec. 27, 2004, 1.

2. C.L. Cone, M.A. Feldman and A.T. DaSilva, “Causes and Effects,” Harvard Business Review 81 (July 2003): 95–101.

3. T.B. Cornwell, S.W. Pruitt and J.M. Clark, “The Relationship Between Major-League Sports’ Official Sponsorship Announcements and the Stock Prices of Sponsoring Firms,” Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 33, no. 4 (fall 2005): 401–412; R. Speed and P. Thompson, “Determinants of Sports Sponsorship Response,” Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 28, no. 2 (spring 2000): 226–238; and T.B. Cornwell and I. Maignan, “An International Review of Sponsorship Research,” Journal of Advertising 27, no.1 (spring 1998), 1–21.

4. Cone, Feldman and DaSilva, “Causes and Effects,” 95–101; M. Drumwright and P.E. Murphy, “Corporate Societal Marketing,” in “Handbook of Marketing and Society,” eds. P.N. Bloom and G.T. Gundlach (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2000): 162–171; D. Barrett and S. McCarthy, “The Rise of Cause-Related Marketing,” Harvard Business School case no. 9-302-105 (Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2002); and P. Kotler and N. Lee, “Best of Breed,” Stanford Social Innovation Review 1, no. 4 (spring 2004): 14–23.

5. Cone, Feldman, and DaSilva, “Causes and Effects,” 95–101; Drumwright and Murphy, “Corporate Societal Marketing,” 162–171; and L. Aksoy and K.M. Elliott, “Conference Summary: Marketing, Corporate Social Initiatives, and the Bottom Line,” in 2001 Working Paper Series (Cambridge, MA: Marketing Science Institute, 2001).

6. Cone, Inc., “2002 Cone Corporate Citizenship Study: The Role of Cause Branding: Executive Summary” (Boston: 2002): 4; V. Blair and Y. Lopez, “El consumidor quiere buenas acciones,” Expansión (February 2003): 10–14.

7. S. Menon and B. Kahn, “Corporate Sponsorships of Philanthropic Activities: When Do They Impact Perception of Sponsor Brand?” Journal of Consumer Psychology 13, no. 3 (2003): 316–327; S. Sen and C.B. Bhattacharya, “Does Doing Good Always Lead to Doing Better? Consumer Reactions to Corporate Social Responsibility,” Journal of Marketing Research 38, no. 2 (May 2001): 225–243; J.W. Pracejus and G.D. Olsen, “The Role of Brand/Cause Fit in the Effectiveness of Cause-Related Marketing Campaigns,” Journal of Business Research 57, no. 6 (June 2004): 635–640; M.J. Barone, A.D. Miyazaki and K.A. Taylor, “The Influence of Cause-Related Marketing on Consumer Choice: Does One Good Turn Deserve Another?” Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 28, no. 2 (spring 2000): 248–262; J.M. Handelman and S.J. Arnold, “The Role of Marketing Actions with a Social Dimension: Appeals to the Institutional Environment,” Journal of Marketing 63, no. 3 (July 1999): 33–48; and M. Strahilevitz and J. Myers, “Donations to Charity as Purchase Incentives: How Well They Work May Depend on What You Are Trying to Sell,” Journal of Consumer Research 24, no. 4 (1998): 434–446.

8. D.R. Lichtenstein, M.E. Drumwright and B.M. Braig, “The Effect of Corporate Social Responsibility on Customer Donations to Corporate-Supported Nonprofits,” Journal of Marketing 68, no. 4 (October 2004): 16–32; and C.B. Bhattacharya and S. Sen, “Consumer-Company Identification: A Framework for Understanding Consumers’ Relationships with Companies,” Journal of Marketing 67, no. 2 (April 2003): 76–88.

9. K.L. Keller and D.A. Aaker, “The Effects of Sequential Introduction of Brand Extensions,” Journal of Marketing Research 29, no. 1 (February 1992): 35–50; and D.A. Aaker and K.L. Keller, “Consumer Evaluations of Brand Extensions,” Journal of Marketing 54, no. 1 (January 1990): 27–41.

10. Sen and Bhattacharya, “Doing Good,” 225–243; Pracejus and Olsen, “Brand/Cause Fit,” 635–640; and Menon and Kahn, “Corporate Sponsorships of Philanthropic Activities,” 316–327.

11. S. Hoeffler and K.L. Keller, “Building Brand Equity Through Corporate Social Marketing,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing 21, no. 1 (spring 2002): 78–89; and Cone, Feldman and DaSilva, “Causes and Effects,” 95–101.

12. P.E. Green, A.M. Krieger and Y. Wind, “Thirty Years of Conjoint Analysis: Reflections and Prospects,” Interfaces 31, no. 3 (May–June, 2001): S56–S73; P. Cattin and D.R. Wittink, “Commercial Use of Conjoint Analysis: A Survey,” Journal of Marketing 46, no. 3 (summer 1982): 44–53; and D.R. Wittink, M. Vriens and W. Burhenne, “Commercial Use of Conjoint Analysis in Europe: Results and Critical Reflections,” International Journal of Research in Marketing, 11, no. 1 (January 1994): 41–52.

Reprint #:


More Like This

Add a comment

You must to post a comment.

First time here? Sign up for a free account: Comment on articles and get access to many more articles.

Comment (1)
Eliel Daang
This article influenced me a lot! I have been working for a marketing agency that specializes in cause marketing to morality, so this explains many of the reasons why it is important. At Better Better Better, we routinely use Social Missions to make sure the business, consumer, and society are all benefiting from the enterprise. You can check out our similar article at: