Luxury Corporate Brands: Is Their Corporate Social Responsibility Credible?

August 9, 2011; Source: The Atlantic | There’s a theory that consumers seek out and prefer to buy from companies with strong corporate philanthropic and social responsibility track records. Most corporate executives believe, according to a McKinsey survey, that corporate social responsibility adds to “long-term shareholder value.” But do all CSR messages work the same? If a CSR strategy is coming from a seller of luxury goods, will consumers buy it?

According to researcher Carlos Torelli, a marketing professor from the University of Minnesota, many people “seem to be a bit skeptical of CSR actions from for-profit entities,” and that “something doesn’t feel right” about some corporate CSR ads and messages. Torelli specifically suggests that CSR efforts do not resonate well for “brands that suggest luxury, power, or status.” He believes that this is a spontaneous reaction by consumers in response to the conflict between a corporation’s “self-aggrandizing ethos and its selfless CSR message.” Golden Gate University marketing professor Michal Ann Strahilevitz concurs: “Consumers are not stupid. If you want people to take your CSR efforts seriously, you need to display authentic commitment.”

So how would NPQ Newswire readers feel about corporate social responsibility campaigns of the world’s top luxury brands? According to Forbes, the ten most powerful luxury brands in 2009 were, in reverse order, Prada, Fendi,Moët & Chandon, Cartier, Hennessy, Rolex, Chanel, Gucci, Hermes, and in the top spot, Louis Vuitton. Does anyone have any experience with CSR strategies associated with these brands? (For example, a portion of the sales of Louis Vuitton stuff at a Takashi Murakami exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum will benefit, according to the Vuitton website, the “Homeland Security Foundation.”) Do you think these CSR efforts have substance, or do they strike you as sort of insincere, self-promotional, or lacking in credibility? Do these firms’ philanthropic gestures make you feel more like consuming their products, or admiring those who do? Let us know.—Rick Cohen