Form and substance: visual content in CSR reports and investors’ perceptions

Anna Chiara Invernizzi, Marco Bellucci, Diletta Acuti*, Giacomo Manetti

*Corresponding author for this work

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    Although the importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting is well recognized, the influence of the visual characteristics of CSR reports on stakeholders’ evaluations of companies is largely overlooked. Drawing on theories of the processing of fluency and legitimacy, this study deploys a content analysis and a realistic laboratory experiment to assess how the use of visuals in CSR reports affects investors’ perceptions. With an international sample of large companies, the content analysis explores how reports use visuals and convey messages to readers. The subsequent experiment measures the optimal number of images in reports related to social responsibility. Specifically, we investigate whether a larger number of images increases the processing fluency of investors. Based on the theoretical background and the content analysis findings, we expect that an increase in processing fluency reduces perceived hypocrisy and, in turn, increases perceived organizational legitimacy. The results show that a moderate number of images (vs. zero images or a high number of images) increases investors’ processing fluency and decreases their perception of hypocrisy, leading to higher levels of organizational legitimacy. This study concludes by providing actionable implications for how companies can improve their legitimacy through nonfinancial disclosure.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)974-989
    Number of pages16
    JournalPsychology and Marketing
    Issue number5
    Early online date23 Dec 2021
    Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2022


    • CSR communication
    • organizational legitimacy
    • hypocrisy perception
    • visual content
    • processing fluency


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