Can we find the right balance in cause-related marketing? Analyzing the boundaries of balance theory in evaluating brand-cause partnerships.

Abstract: Cause‐related marketing (CRM) refers to the phenomenon where brands partner with causes, such as nonprofit organizations. Consumers may see some CRM partnerships as less compatible than others, however the level of perceived compatibility differs from one consumer to another. We know a great deal about how perceptions of compatibility affect attitude and behavior toward CRM partnerships, but we know less about how to predict a consumer’s perception of compatibility. Therefore, our purpose was to investigate the boundaries in which balance theory could be used to make predictions about consumers’ responses to CRM partnerships. This is the first study to consider the construct of attitude strength (vs. attitude alone) when considering balance theory. We found that a consumer’s attitude toward a brand, along with their attitude toward a cause, predicts their perceptions of CRM compatibility. We also found that CRM triadic balance could be predicted when attitude strength was included in the models, and that balance theory allowed us to observe preliminary evidence of attitude and attitude strength spillover effects in CRM triads. Practitioners can use these insights to determine which organizations to partner with, as well as determine how advertising these partnerships may affect acceptance of these partnerships.