Ethical Issues in Communication and CSR Communication

Developments like digitization and globalization along with an increased awareness regarding social and environmental issues has raised the importance of sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR). This responsibility concerns all aspects of corporate conduct, including corporate communication on CSR, marketing communication and employee communication. In our research, we address issues of transparency in CSR reporting as well as in marketing communication, where communication ethics has gained in importance in the light of new forms of communication like native advertising. Communication ethics is also addressed within the organization, where we analyze how internal communication can foster ethical communication of employees.


Native Advertising

Over the past decades, communicators have witnessed diminishing trust in traditional advertising. Individuals have learnt that advertisers' messages are persuasive attempts that try to influence consumers to prefer, like and buy certain products or brands. This skepticism urges communicators to consider new ways of promoting their offerings by applying less obtrusive messages that add informational, entertainment or social value. Here, 'native advertising' is often regarded as a promising new opportunity to inform consumers with sponsored content. Native advertising comes in a variety of forms and channels (e.g., Facebook posts, newspaper articles), however, at its heart it consists of promotional messages that are made to look like content which is published by a respected source (e.g., friends, journalists). This may lead to issues of transparency, as it becomes harder for consumers to distinguish commercial content from non-commercial content.

In our latest research, we strive to better understand the role of this message format for information recipients. We investigate the perceptions and reactions (e.g., reactance) of individuals to different forms of native advertising that are prominent in online news portals (i.e., online platforms of traditional newspapers). Here, we focus on the circumstances when and how different types of native advertising with alternative forms of content influence recipients' cognitions, emotions, intentions and behaviors.

This project is funded by KommAustria - the Austrian Communications Authority.

Contact: Sabine Einwiller, Jens Seiffert-Brockmann, Wolfgang Weitzl


  • Weitzl, W., Einwiller, S., & Seiffert-Brockmann, J. (2019). Investigating the Effects of Explicit and Implicit Ad Disclosures on Recipient’s Reactance. Communications - The European Journal of Communication Research (accepted for publication).


Transparency in CSR Reporting

By disclosing information on their corporate social performance over and above their financial reporting obligations firms attempt to legitimize their behavior. According to a study by KPMG, in 2015 over 92 percent of the world’s largest 250 firms issued CSR/sustainability reports. The proliferation in CSR reporting, however, does not lead to increased confidence in the intention of firms to report in a transparent way and to take CSR seriously. Enhancing transparency is a declared goal of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). A key aspect of transparency is balance, which includes disclosing “positive and negative aspects of the organization’s performance” (GRI, 2015, p. 17). In fact, one central point of criticism concerns the selectivity in CSR reporting concerning what to report on. Our analyses focus on how balanced CSR reporting is, i.e. whether firms also discuss their challenges, setbacks, and failures or whether CSR reports are mainly self-laudatory. In our research we also analyze the language applied in CSR reports to detect indications for transparency signaling and alignment with disclosure standards.

Contact: Sabine Einwiller

Publications and Presentations:

  • Einwiller, S., & Carroll, C.E. (2016). How balanced is CSR reporting? An intercultural comparison of negative disclosures. Paper presented at the 66th annual conference of the International Communication Association (ICA), June 9-13, Fukuoka, Japan.
  • Carroll, C. E., & Einwiller, S. A. (2014). Disclosure alignment and transparency signaling in CSR reports. In R. P. Hart (Ed.), Communication and Language Analysis in the Corporate World (pp. 249-270). Hershey, PA: IGI-Global.


Role of Internal Communication for Ethical Employee Behavior

Why do employees (and managers) behave unethically at their workplace, and what factors are leading to such unmoral conduct? In this research project we investigate the role of internal communication and its potential influence on employees’ (non-)ethical behavior. With the corporate culture as the foundation of a firm, developed and altered through communication, internal communication on ethical values and behavior across departments and hierarchies seems crucial for encouraging ethical employee behavior. But how can an internal communication strategy look like to foster a greater sensitivity towards ethical issues, and which psychological factors join the game when it comes to ethical communication and behavior? These questions are at the center of this project, and will be answered by means of a mixed methods design using expert interviews, content analysis and survey research. The findings will provide new insights into the role of internal communication for ethical and non-ethical employee behavior, which are relevant not only for the scientific community but also for organizations.

Contact: Sabine Einwiller, Daniel Wolfgruber

  • Wolfgruber, D., & Einwiller, S. (2018). The ethical borderline? An intercultural comparison of codes of conduct/ ethics. Presented at ECREA 2018, Oct. 31 - Nov. 3, Lugano, Switzerland.