Silence Speaks Louder Than Words

1 January 2017

As companies to a greater extend are held account for the social consequences of their business activities, the pressure to be socially responsible has created a tension between business and society and caused companies to think of CSR in generic ways. In fact, the most common corporate response has been neither strategic, nor operational, but cosmetic; public relations and media campaigns, the centrepieces of which are often glossy CSR reports that showcase companies’ socially and environmentally good deeds.

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However, the extensive use of CSR for marketing ommunication has caused consumers to question the motivation behind the actions and resulted in increased scepticism and cynicism toward companies’ CSR messages. To gain an understanding of how companies can avoid this consumer scepticism and communicate a credible CSR message, this thesis explores the field of CSR and identifies the benefits as well as shortcomings of the various communication tools. Furthermore, it seeks to examine how Noir, a company highly recognised for its sustainable business model, has chosen to communicate about its CSR engagement.

As a consequence of this development, it has now become common business practice to publish corporate literature and marketing communication material giving details on CSR activities as a way of showing consideration and recognition of the companies’ various stakeholders. In fact, non-financial reporting has evolved to such a degree that companies now produce specific CSR reports in order to “showcase” their engagement in social causes (Tench & Yeomans, 2006). However, studies have found the use of CSR engagement for marketing communication purposes distasteful to some consumers (Drumwright, 1996).

Some academics even argue that this approach to CSR is unfortunate as it creates a tension between business and society. According to their view, the pressure to be socially responsible causes companies to think of CSR in generic ways and pit businesses against society, even though the two are highly interdependent (Porter & Kramer, 2006). Acknowledging this interdependency, companies have to a greater extend come to recognise CSR as central to core business activities rather than peripheral considerations associated with philanthropy.

In fact, some academics argue that, by integrating CSR into the frameworks that guide core business practices, companies can gain a competitive advantage and, at the same time, overcome the increasing consumer scepticism and cynicism towards companies’ CSR messages. However, if a company has managed to fully integrate CSR into the core of its business principles, the question of how to avoid consumer scepticism and communicate a credible CSR message still remains. ? 5? Problem Statement (Gro & Lea)

Integrating ethical fashion with sexy and edgy designs, the Danish fashion company Noir is recognised for driving a sustainable business model based on Corporate Social Responsibility principles (Wong, 2009). Therefore, Noir appears to be a perfect example of a company that has succeeded in integrating CSR into its core framework and managed to overcome consumer scepticism by applying a different communication strategy. In this thesis, we therefore find it particularly interesting to investigate how Noir communicates its CSR engagement, why the company chooses to do so, and if this communication strategy is effective.

In order to answer these questions, we will make an in-depth analysis of Noir’s corporate websites and subsequently conduct a quantitative study, since this will give us an indication of the actual effectiveness of the company’s communication efforts. Method (Gro & Lea) Overall, our thesis is based on a hermeneutical foundation, since hermeneutics refers to the study of interpretation theory (Palmer, 1969). In this paper, we choose to base our analysis on methodological as well as philosophical hermeneutics in order to interpret the intentions of the sender and subsequently analyse how the sender’s messages are received.

In the analytical part of the thesis, we wish to reveal the meaning, which the sender has injected into the texts of the websites in order to gain an in-dept understanding and interpretation of the texts from the senders’ point of view (Palmer, 1969). Hence, we apply the scientific method of methodological hermeneutics. However, in our discussion, we acknowledge the fact that texts hold a potentiality of meanings and that individuals construct interpretations differently across cultures and countries.

Therefore, we base our research on a philosophical hermeneutical foundation, since we in our own empirical research focus on how consumers receive and interpret Noir’s messages. ? 6? Theory and Structure (Gro & Lea) This thesis is divided into three different parts: a theoretical part, an analytical part, and a discussion. The Theoretical Part In the first part of the thesis, we present and discuss the three dominant approaches to CSR from a theoretical perspective in order to gain a better understanding of the concept.

To gain a deeper understanding of the relation between CSR and branding and discuss how a company can benefit from integrating CSR in its branding strategies, we have included the work of Fan (2005) since it explores the concept of ethical branding and its link to corporate reputation. As mentioned previously, we acknowledge that CSR and communication about it is different and can be perceived differently across cultures. Therefore, we include Maignan (2001), who compares consumers’ understanding of and reaction to CSR in different countries.

Finally, to end this theoretical part of the thesis, we pay attention to Morsing & Schultz’s (2006) research based on data from a national reputation survey in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, since it highlights the CSR communication challenges companies face when operating in Scandinavian countries. ? 7? The Analytical Part As mentioned previously, we will use Noir as a case study. Therefore, we open the second part of the thesis by making a short presentation of Noir and analysing the company’s CSR strategy.

More specifically, we do this by drawing on Porter & Kramer’s theoretical framework of strategic CSR. In order to determine how companies can engage in CSR in a credible manner and thereby avoid consumer scepticism, we will make an in-depth analysis of Noir and Illuminati II’s websites. Our method builds on the work of Askehave & Nielsen (2005) as their theoretical framework is based on research related to websites. More specifically, their framework is based on the Swalesian genre model, which operates with the otion of communicative purpose, move structures, and rhetorical strategies.

According to this model, a text contains different visual and textual rhetorical strategies in order to realise different moves. Subsequent analysis of these moves will lead to an understanding of the overall communicative purpose of the text. However, since the original genre model primarily focuses on texts, Askehave & Nielsen (2005) include the general characteristics of websites and thereby introduce a genre model that captures the essence of text and medium simultaneously.

In order to identify the visual and textual rhetorical strategies applied on the two websites, we will include Aristotle’s Rhetoric, which focuses on the different appeals a sender can use in order to persuade an audience; Ethos (credibility), Pathos (emotion), and Logos (logic) (Corbett,1971). In relation to the textual part, we pay special attention to Stillar’s (1998) theoretical framework that builds on Halliday’s Register Analysis since it help identify the linguistic structures and functions of texts.

In addition, this Register Analysis recognises that linguistic structures simultaneously function to represent experiences of the world, construct social relationships among the participants in the discourse, and create text that coheres with its context. In addition to Halliday’s Register Analysis, we find the work of Pollach (2005) particularly interesting as it is based on Halliday’s framework. More specifically, Pollach (2005) analyses the linguistic structures and functions different companies have applied in order to enhance message credibility and improve their selfpresentation on the WWW. 8?

In relation to the visual part of the analysis, we primarily use the visual analysis tools offered by Kress & Van Leeuwen (2006). In their framework, they operate with the Ideational, the Interpersonal, and the Textual Metafunction. Whereas the Ideational Metafunction deals with the different choices or different ways in which objects and their relation to other objects can be represented in an image, the Interpersonal Metafunction serves to project the relations between the producer and the receiver in order to present a particular social relation between the two.

Finally, the Textual Metafunction, also referred to as composition, attempts to identify how representational and interactive element are integrated into a meaningful whole and how these elements are endowed with specific information value. Finally, we make references to Mark’s (2003) Formal Analysis as it focuses on colour and colour symbolism. Discussion In the third and final part of the thesis, we will discuss the findings of our analysis and relate the findings to the theory described previously, as this will give us an indication of why Noir has chosen its particular communication strategy.

Finally, by conducting a quantitative study in the form of a questionnaire, we seek to reveal consumers’ general knowledge of Noir and its CSR engagement, determine if the perception of the brand is consistent with Noir’s desired image, since this will give us an indication of the overall effectiveness of Noir’s communication strategies. Delimitations (Gro & Lea) Since the field of CSR and communication is broad and can be addressed and examined from various perspectives, we acknowledge that the perspective we have applied in this thesis leads to the delimitation of others.

Branding theory and different branding techniques, for example, will not be discussed thoroughly in this thesis as we have chosen to focus on CSR and its relation to communication. However, the concept of branding will be used when discussing why companies engage in CSR and when determining how Noir wishes to be perceived as a brand. Furthermore, while acknowledging the fact that CSR and communication about it is different and can be perceived differently across cultures, we find an in-depth discussion of culture and CSR too comprehensive for this thesis.

We therefore choose to only briefly reflect upon some perspectives related to culture when comparing U. S. and European consumers. As we have chosen to focus on how Noir communicates its CSR messages on its corporate website, we will avoid elaborating further on the effectiveness of other communication vehicles Noir uses. In addition, we have, in our analysis, chosen to leave out BLLACK NOIR’s website and focus entirely on Noir and Illuminati II’s websites, as Noir, being the main line, aims to target a smaller and more distinctive target audience.

Since the analysis of Illuminati II’s website revealed that Illuminati II primarily aims to target other fashion companies, it would be particularly interesting to investigate how Illuminati II’s messages are received by companies in the B2B market. However, as this would be a fairly timeconsuming and extensive process, we have chosen to focus solely on the reception of Noir’s messages in the B2C market. Three Different Approaches to CSR (Lea) The discussion about what exactly CSR means and how it should be practiced is not new.

Over the last 50 years, intensive debates haven taken place among academics, consultants, and corporate executives. They have created, supported or criticised related concepts such as sustainability, corporate citizenship, Triple Bottom Line, business ethics, and CSR (Marrewijk, 2003). A rich literature on CSR has emerged, however, the practical guidance it offers to managers is often unclear. In fact, the discussion appears to have caused even more confusion and put business executives in an awkward dilemma (Porter & Kramer, 2006).

To understand how this confusion has arisen and where corporations should go from now, it is essential to examine the primary schools of CSR, since this will provide an overview of the different approaches and arguments in the debate. Overall, academics have referred to three different approaches to CSR, each including and transcending one other, in the attempt of defining to whom an organisation is responsible (Marrewijk, 2003).

The Shareholder Approach Nobel price-winning economist Milton Friedman (1970) defines CSR as “the social responsibility of a business to increase its profits” (p. 123). He argues that in order to create a successfully functioning society, institutions have to specialise. Since the corporation is an economic institution, it should therefore specialise in the economic – and not the social sphere. This classical view on CSR has become known as the shareholder approach. 10? ?

Some have argued that this view can be interpreted as business enterprises being concerned with CSR “only to the extend that it contributes to the aim of business, which is the creation of long-term value for owners of the business” (Marrewijk, 2003, p. 96). To companies operating from this view, the only motivation for engaging in CSR would therefore be to maximise profits in order to satisfy shareholders. Friedman’s view on CSR has been present in the discussions of CSR and business ethics since the 1970’s. Even today, his arguments separate the waters among academics.

While followers of Friedman’s economic view emphasise that profits clearly are socially beneficial, since positive outcomes such as greater employment and higher wages often derive from them, others (Gallagher, 2005; Hamann, 2003) have criticised this profitoriented approach as they claim that it is outdated and fails to address some important issues that characterise the relationship between business and society today. The most common critique of Friedman’s view relates to ethics and its role in companies’ motivation and decision-making.

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