Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? Image Usage in CSR Reports

66 Pages Posted: 5 Jan 2021

See all articles by Divya Anantharaman

Divya Anantharaman

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey - Accounting & Information Systems

Disen Huang

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey - Accounting & Information Systems

Keyi Zhao

Southwestern University of Finance and Economics (SWUFE) - School of Accountancy

Date Written: October 30, 2020

Abstract

Prior research identifies images as a tool for corporate impression management. We collect a novel dataset on widescale image usage in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reports using automated methods. We examine (1) associations between CSR report image usage and motivations for impression management, (2) changes in CSR report image usage after controversial events, and (3) market valuation of firms using excessive images. We hypothesize and find that socially problematic industries exhibit higher image usage than others. Firms who voluntarily commit to higher disclosure standards tend to use fewer images, while firms with less extensive textual disclosures in their CSR reports tend to use more images. Tellingly, firms with poorer ratings of CSR performance use more images in CSR reports, and firms increase image usage (albeit weakly) after controversial events. We find no evidence that investors overvalue firms with excessive image usage. Overall, the evidence is consistent with companies using images in CSR reports strategically to enhance stakeholder perception of CSR engagement and performance; such strategic usage does not impact equity valuation.

Keywords: CSR report, visual impression management, corporate use of images

JEL Classification: M00, M40

Suggested Citation

Anantharaman, Divya and Huang, Disen and Zhao, Keyi, Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? Image Usage in CSR Reports (October 30, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3722228 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3722228

Divya Anantharaman

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey - Accounting & Information Systems ( email )

1 Washington Park
#916
Newark, NJ 07102
United States

Disen Huang (Contact Author)

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey - Accounting & Information Systems ( email )

100 Rockafeller Rd
Piscataway, NJ New Jersey 08854
United States

Keyi Zhao

Southwestern University of Finance and Economics (SWUFE) - School of Accountancy ( email )

55 Guanghuacun St
Sichuan, 610072
China

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