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Should you buy a product just because the company selling it is donating a portion of the sale to a good cause?

You certainly have plenty of opportunities to do so as more companies see linking to a popular cause as a way to do good and just maybe, boost sales and mollify their critics. For example, during October's breast cancer awareness campaign, 5-Hour Energy packaged products in pink, donating a portion of the sale to breast cancer research.

While corporate philanthropy is to be applauded, it's worth noting that a company's use of corporate responsibility for marketing can have a manipulative effect on you.

Michelle Andrews and Xueming Luo of Temple University, Zheng Fang of Sichuan University and Jaakko Aspara of Hanken Swedish School of Economics, found that when a company offers to make charitable donations tied to consumer purchases, consumers tend to purchase more. A lot more.

Big boost in sales

"The mere presence of a charitable donation opportunity can generate significantly more sales," the authors write. "Offering the donation nearly doubled the number of purchases."

To prove their point the researchers sent two text messages to consumers. The first advertised tickets for a new film at a nearby IMAX theater, and the second advertised the tickets with a note saying that part of the proceeds would go to help low income students pay for college.

The results were significant. Those people believing their purchase would help others were far more inclined to make a purchase.

Buying a warm glow

The researchers said triggering a “warm glow” feeling in consumers makes them more likely to buy whatever is being sold, whether or not they want it or really need it.

We reported last week on another study that found food manufacturers that supported good causes enjoyed a “health halo,” with consumers assuming the companies' products are healthier than they are.

The authors found that this "health halo" encouraged overconsumption and underestimation of calories consumed, adding that the current study could lead to important changes in advertising regulations -- for example, limiting how much information about its social programs a company may include on its food packaging.

Corporations have commissioned their own socially responsible marketing studies for years, which may be why you see so many of these campaigns. However, business consultants generally advise companies to make their support meaningful and genuine so that they don't appear self-serving.

For consumers, that means giving purchases a little more thought when a product is tied to a cause. If you really want to support the cause, maybe it's okay to be swayed. If it's something you need and you can also support a good cause, so much the better.


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