Processing Contradictory CSR Information: The Influence of Primacy and Recency Effects on the Consumer-Firm Relationship


Drawing on the influence of primacy and recency effects in processing information about corporate social responsibility (CSR), the authors examine how internal (customer experience) and external (CSR reputation) factors impact the consumer-firm relationship in the presence of contradictory CSR information. Evaluating these factors provides a more comprehensive understanding of how consumers react to unethical and socially irresponsible actions. Contrary to recent research that suggests a reactive CSR communication strategy to be best due to recency effects, the present findings show that past customer experiences with the firm facilitate a ‘primacy effect’. Thus, when corporate social irresponsibility (CSI) occurs, a customer’s prior experiences mitigate negative consequences. Conversely, a firm’s positive CSR reputation may provide goodwill, although it does not guarantee that consumers will process CSR information differently. Therefore, firms cannot build a strong CSR reputation and expect to be immune from the consequences of CSI. Given these new findings of how consumers process contradictory CSR information, firms should implement a strategic and deliberate communication plan that delivers different messages to different stakeholders. Specifically, these findings suggest that firms benefit most from a proactive communication strategy with their current customers and a reactive communication strategy with the general public.



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Journal of Business Ethics