Corporate Reputation Review
Publication year: 2024

How consumers perceive corporate social responsibility (CSR) has shifted significantly over the past decades. Initially, a voluntary commitment to solving urgent social problems, CSR was once a source of competitive advantage, specific positioning, and exclusivity in customers’ eyes. Today, however, CSR has become a fundamental prerequisite for a company to function in society, a source of company legitimacy, expected and demanded by many stakeholder groups. As research demonstrates, young people in particular loudly and intensely declare their interest in today’s challenges and vigorously demand that the companies they buy from or work for participate in CSR. On the contrary, in everyday practice, we as scholars and educators have learned that CSR is more of an empty word for consumers, something that is right but of which they have no precise idea. CSR finds itself in a paradoxical situation. Therefore, our study aims to identify the main paradoxes in how millennials perceive CSR. First, it addresses the term paradox and its contextualization within the CSR discourse. Second, the three main paradoxes (authenticity/communication, legitimacy/trust, pay-off/non-pay-off) are outlined and verified through mixed methods research. The paradoxes are identified and confirmed through the ambivalent and inconsistent responses to a questionnaire and, subsequently, multiple focus groups. Finally, implications for the CSR concept are suggested. Furthermore, this paper questions the validity of instruments traditionally used to measure consumer attitudes (not only) in the field of CSR.