Ike Silver, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania


As a doctoral student, Ike Silver conducts fascinating research focused on how consumers manage their reputation and track and evaluate the reputation of other individuals and brands. A recent article on one of his studies prompted me to ask a few questions about his work and its implications for those working at the intersection of cause and commerce.

Question: What is the focus of your research?

I’m a consumer psychologist doing research on moral and political marketing topics. Specifically, I conduct online, lab, and field experiments that examine the impact of moral considerations on people’s judgments and decisions. Right now I’m working on a number of projects that all touch on two big questions: How do people react when they see brands and other people doing good? And why is it so difficult to have productive discussions on moral and political issues?

Q: Tell me about your recent study on how consumers respond to corporate social impact initiatives and the apparent “first benefit”?

One of the strongest determinants of whether consumers react positively or negatively to social impact initiatives is whether the brands that launch them seem to actually care about the cause. In fact, recent research from our lab and others suggests that consumers care more about Why a brand gets involved – are they just trying to make a profit or do they really care? – than knowing how much the brand really does good.

Of course, it’s hard to know exactly why a brand is doing good, so consumers have to rely on indirect cues like whether the cause “matches” the brand’s image, or whether it seems likely that the brand one way or another will benefit from doing good.

In a recent article by Journal of Consumer Psychology, my colleagues and I have shown that consumers consider the order of entry as an important clue in judging the apparent motives of brands. Through a series of experiments, we found that the first brands to go green or to donate to children in need, for example, were seen as committed to the cause. Subscribers, on the other hand, were more likely to be viewed as calculating and profit oriented. So while pro-social early comers are often rewarded as champions of the cause, prosocial followers often end up looking more like inauthentic impersonators.

The document offers two practical points to remember for brand managers. One is, if you’re looking to get involved in social impact, don’t wait – it’s worth being the first. The other is that if you’re late in the game, it’s often better to find your own cause or a unique way to contribute than to jump on the bandwagon of what other brands are already doing.

I would just add one more thought. While people are psychologically predisposed to focus on patterns, this is not necessarily the way it is. should to be. It would probably be better if we all care a little less about doing good for the right reasons and a little more about doing good that has a big impact.

Q: People are often very reluctant to “broadcast” when they have supported a cause, fearing that people will think less of them for bragging rights. And yet, causes often need their supporters to “go public” in hopes of influencing others to follow suit. Based on your research, what advice do you give to businesses and nonprofits in this regard?

Similar to the conundrum brand managers face, individual benefactors often fear that if they publicize their good deeds, others will see them as dishonest virtue signalers or more holy hypocrites than you. So, for example, while donating to charity might make you feel good, tell others that you’ve donated to charity – perhaps posting about it on Facebook – can make you look bad. Therefore, people often treat altruism as a private matter.

But this dynamic has perverse consequences for the causes people ostensibly care about. If you don’t tell anyone you’ve donated, you can’t inspire anyone else to get involved, and the cause loses valuable word of mouth. This is an issue that we are grappling with in current research, but one of the lessons that emerge from our work is that reminding people of their capacity for social influence can help.

In other words, it helps get people thinking about how talking about good behavior can be its own way of doing good, something that they might naturally not focus on while still being concerned about protection. of their reputation. So instead of just asking donors to “tell their friends” about a charitable cause, for example, word-of-mouth nonprofits might consider using language that frames the fact of giving. talking about the cause as a way to inspire others to get involved and ultimately do more good.

More generally, if we are to create a culture where people are generous and sacrifice themselves, we must be more willing to speak openly about good deeds and to set standards that make them visible and expected.


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