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Academic papers

note, the incongruity between “what consumers value most” at the
point of purchasing behaviors and “how marketers should market
products” (p. 127) presents a situation that remains largely
inexplicable. In light of the shortcomings of current methodological
approaches to the phenomena, Newholm and Shaw (2007) advocate
for a new direction in research, governed by an anti-enlightenment
assumption: the purchasing behavior behind ethical consumption
should be explored as something other than “rational” activity.

al. (2011) define CSR as ‘‘a concept whereby companies integrate
social and environmental concerns in their business operations and
in their interaction with their stakeholders on a voluntary basis’’ (p.

All of these definitions presuppose a more sustained relationship
between companies and consumers. Consonant with this focus on
sustaining relationships, Liu et al. (2011) note that businesses “are
starting to focus on transforming ethical practices from the purely
philanthropical approach into more commercially related business
activities” (253). To that end, Tracey et al. (2005) posit moving beyond
“charity,” which they define as a limited means by which to improve,
and remain impactful in, communities. The logic of this argument
follows the distinction posed by Matten et al. (2003)—that “corporate
citizenship” can be understood, and practiced, in two distinctive ways:
the “limited view,” comprised of philanthropy and other volunteer
activities; and the “equivalent view,” in which CSR becomes
corporate citizenship, as firms seek to minimize damage they create
and maximize the contributions they make in their societies.

Although not without its own set of limitations for marketers,
“consumer engagement” discourse has emerged recently as an
attempt to fill the knowledge/motivation gaps between marketers and
consumers. These approaches circumvent the assumption that
“rational decision-making” is in the font of consumer purchasing
behavior; instead, this approach encourages, and tracks, consumer
behavior without directly engaging in understanding consumer

Del Pinto identifies key behavioral characteristics in the emerging
marketplace. Consumers, at once anonymous and social, “aren’t
interested in just reading about a product—they want to utilize a
social network or communal dialogue to solve a specific problem”
(“Trends and Observations”). In this marketplace, consumers “don’t
just access information—they contribute to it and create it” (“Trends”).
This widespread trend inverts the paradigmatic relation between
“purchasing decision-making behavior” and “consumer motivation”;
as the “consumer engagement” denomination suggests, consumer
behavior itself becomes purchasing decision content. Such content is
governed by seeming opposites: as Del Pinto notes, the key
characteristics of these forms of consumer interaction with a product
or brand are that the experience remains “personalized and
tailored…social and interactive…and destination neutral”
(“Trends”)—despite being embedded in, and anchored explicitly
through, subjective perceptions and experiences of consumers
themselves. Del Pinto identifies this phenomenon as “a fundamental
paradigm shift” in both consumer interactions and expectations

Tracey et al. (2005) identify the paradox of CSR research and
practice for businesses: despite increasing investment in CSR, and,
in scholarship on CSR, “while many writers have argued for the
importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR), there has been
very little scholarship that considers how corporations should manage
their CSR activities in order to use their resources to deliver the
greatest improvement in social outcomes” (p. 327). As Alexander
(1997) notes, companies’ CSR approaches are often poorly focused,
lack coordination with the internal values of the company, and are
largely ineffectual in generating measurable social benefits—or
building tangibly the company’s bottom line. As Tracey et al.
conclude, “these difficulties stem partly from corporations' continued
reliance on philanthropy as the dominant mode for delivering CSR
initiatives which fall outside the boundaries or core operations of the
firm”; and, as Porter and Kramer (2002) note, this strategy devolves
into “uncoordinated and piecemeal donations to 'worthy' local causes”
(Porter and Kramer, 2002). “This is symptomatic of the fact that these
kinds of CSR activity are regarded as peripheral in many companies”
(Tracey et al., 2005, p. 328).

Marks (2005), largely in agreement with Del Pinto’s assessment of
the “changing consumer” and emerging “new rules of engagement,”
argues for a reinvigoration of the role of strategizing in marketing
campaigns. The best practice, she contends, is to recognize the
opportunity that consumer engagement models offer: to “rewrite the
rules [of marketing] by pursuing literally scores of microniches in a
consumer-direct world” (p. 18).

Messaging becomes a complex process in a rapid-paced climate of
meaning exchange. Consumers are wary of inconsistencies between
businesses’ messaging functions and the consistency or coherence
signified in and by their operations. These are often now understood,
or framed, by consumers as ethical shortcomings, rather than as the
consequence of “doing business.” In part, this demand for greater
coherence across the entirety of business operations is due to the
wider business and social climate. Recent historical events have kept
the need for ethical review mechanisms a dominant feature of social
and business discourse (and perpetuated the focus on
communicating socially about ethical standards). In the wake of the
Enron scandal, for example, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (2002)
established both more wide-ranging and more specific accountability
and transparency standards for public companies; exacerbated by
the more recent housing finance scandals of 2007-08 and the long
recession that has followed, the ethical climate in which, and the
connectivity with which, consumers themselves make purchasing
decisions has undergone radical changes.

How can businesses better position themselves as “going (ethical)
concerns” in the face of rapid changes posed by what is likely to
become the most intractable arena of business ethics: environmental
ethics? One tool that has been a mainstay in businesses’ ability to
address ethical considerations in the marketplace is the concept of
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Although CSR has a relatively
short history of development and refinement, that history has been
characterized by the definition of a set of performance measures
whose primary aim has often been to represent more of a company’s
internal atmosphere—in particular, its internal climate of ethicallybased decision-making and action—than the relation of a company to
its (potential) external audiences. The majority of businesses
communicate their ethos as practiced within the walls of that
business, in order to indicate more of an internal environment than
balance sheets and income statements can, and in more objective
methodologies and findings, to its immediate stakeholders.

Even though a strong ethical orientation forms the bedrock of most
effective business strategies many business professionals and
consumers often find themselves conflicted about the actualization of
ethical decision-making processes, and its relation to strategic
positioning for maximizing profitability in a global environment. In no
business-consumer relation is this paradoxical crossroads more
evident at present than in the conundrum represented by
environmental ethics. The “greening” of the business environment
has received considerable attention in the last fifteen years, with no
signs of abating. But sustainability as a set of “ethically-motivated”
ideas, behaviors and actions has produced a paralyzing crossroads
between business-based definitions of ethically-motivated behavior
and a more robust, more wide-spread, ethically-motivated ecoconsumerism. For instance, many businesses have done little to
produce the coherence or consistency necessary for an actionoriented ethic represented by “environmental sustainability”; similarly,
most consumers have done little to shift their purchasing behaviors
and attitudes, beyond demanding more “green” solutions of
businesses. As an ethical orientation, “sustainability” has produced

Increasingly, this approach places businesses at a disadvantage in
the marketplace of ethical responsiveness. And, although operative
definitions of CSR have been advanced, there exists no universally
agreed-upon definition, which, as Fooks et al. (2013) claim, prevents
a standardized, outcomes-based assessment method, and may
continue to allow CSR to be used by companies that operate in
harmful ways, only to “externalize many of their costs” and “pass
themselves off as socially responsible” (p, 284). On a more positive
note, Davis and Blomstrom (1975) define “corporate social
responsibility” as an obligation corporate decision makers have to
“take action which protects and improves the welfare of society as a
whole along with their own interests”(p. 6). Holme and Watts (2000)
defined CSR as “the continuing commitment by business to behave
ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the
quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the local
community and society at large’’ (p. 8). More recently, Öberseder et