Facilitating Trust: The Benefits and Challenges of Communicating Corporate Social Responsibility Online

Facilitating Trust: The Benefits and Challenges of Communicating Corporate Social Responsibility Online

Mary Lyn Stoll
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-7476-9.ch018
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Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is highly valuable for transnational corporations, but entails special requirements of heightened honesty in the marketing of CSR as compared to other goods and services. Because trust is essential to communicating the value of CSR effectively, companies must attend to the unique benefits and challenges that online communication of CSR commitments pose. While the Internet is ideal in allowing for global reach and greater capacity than the confines of standard advertisements, the Internet also poses special challenges in terms of facilitating trust with consumers and other stakeholders. This chapter highlights both the problems and benefits of marketing good corporate conduct online and provides moral guidelines for marketers of good corporate conduct.
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Many of the issues faced by those charged with communicating corporate social responsibility initiatives are the same as those faced by individuals advertising goods and services more generally. When it comes to advertising, there are already a number of ethics codes in place. The Better Business Bureau Code of Advertising, the Australian Advertiser Code of Ethics, the British Codes of Advertising Sales Promotion, and the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards share the following key principles. First, it is essential to recognize that advertisers must meet responsibilities to consumers, local communities, and society at large. Second, advertising should adhere to standards of decency, honesty, and truth. This, of course, entails that advertisers ought to avoid misrepresentation and outright deception in ads. Advertisers also ought to respect a sense of fair play with other market competitors. Finally, advertisers must consider how their behavior affects the advertising industry as a whole (Spence and van Heekeren, 2005).

Despite these codes advertising practice clearly often diverges from the requirements of honesty and avoidance of misrepresentation. Consumers facing the glut of beer and automobile ads promising a hot date know that beer and nice cars won’t actually guarantee delivery of the blond bombshells in the advertisements. Puffery is common practice in advertising. Puffery refers to “exaggerated claims, comments, commendations, or hyperbole, and in its most common usage, puffery is based on subjective views and opinions” (Spence and Van Hekeren, 2005, p. 46). The public is fully aware that puffery is common. According to a survey by online marketing research company Yougov only 3% of Americans fully trust advertisements and 44% believe ads are fairly dishonest (37%) or very dishonest (7%) (Marketing Charts, 2014). So long as the positions endorsed in ads are presented as subjective rather than as objective rationally defensible claims, even the Federal Trade Commission tends to let this sort of misrepresentation slide.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Trust: Robust belief in the reliability of another person, organization, or thing.

Codes of Ethics: A written set of moral principles and values meant to guide individuals in meeting particular role based moral duties within an institution or industry.

Corporate Social Responsibility: The view that corporations have moral duties to stakeholders beyond those who own stocks or shares in the company. Corporate Social Responsibility extends to consumers, employees, the industry in which a business operates, community members impacted by corporate choices, and the natural environment.

Advertising Ethics: Moral constraints, values, and expectations of right and/or virtuous conduct that apply to advertising communication.

Online Communication: Any kind of communication between either individuals or organizations that occurs on the internet.

Marketing Ethics: Moral constraints, values, and expectations of right and/or virtuous conduct that apply to those engaged in promoting a product or service to consumers.

Puffery: Exaggerated claims, comments, commendations, or hyperbole in advertising.

Infomediaries: Individuals or institutions that serve as a mediator for the dissemination of information about some other entity. In business, common infomediaries for communication of corporate values and policies include the media, financial analysts, regulators and consumer organizations.

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