This research examines how and why consumers evaluate brand messages about corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities differently. Insights from secondary data suggest that brands may prioritize environmental activities over social activities, and vice versa, depending on the type of company. Using a field experiment and surveys, we explore whether consumers’ attitudes toward these brand decisions follow company priorities. We find that consumers perceive brands that sell goods and communicate messages about environmental sustainability activities more positively than services companies, while consumers perceive brands that provides services and communicate messages about social sustainability activities more positively than goods companies. We show that the tangibility of the brand’s offering also impacts brand attitudes in a similar way. These findings have important implications for brand managers as they communicate CSR activities and attempt to maximize sustainability investments across various causes.

Document Type

Post-print Article

Publication Date


Publisher Statement

Copyright © 2019 Palgrave.

DOI: 10.1057/s41262-018-0110-8

The definitive version is available at:

Full citation:

Hanson, Sara, Lan Jiang, Jun Ye, and Nagesh Murthy. “Society or the Environment? Understanding How Consumers Evaluate Brand Messages about Corporate Social Responsibility Activities.” Journal of Brand Management 26, no. 1 (January 2019): 21–34. doi:10.1057/s41262-018-0110-8