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EMAC 2023 Annual

Corporate Brand Activism: An Exploration of Advertising Polysemy and Online Interpretive Communities

Published: May 24, 2023


Aidan Kelly, University of East London; Hyunsun Yoon, University of Greenwich


In recent years there has been the emergence of “woke capitalism” with marketers drawing inspiration from social movements such as “Black Lives Matter” and “Me Too”. While there has been much media commentary on high-profile examples of brand activism for companies like Gillette and Nike, there is little empirical research which explores the consumer perspective, our paper is guided by the research question: How do online interpretive communities read brand activist advertising campaigns? We adopt a netnographic approach and explored the comments of interpretive communities in relation to three brand activist campaigns. We identified six reading strategies adopted of “Meaning Acceptance”, “Meaning Rejection”, “Cynicism”, “Interpretive Community Questioning”, “Brand Criticism” and “Competitor Promotion”. We conclude that brand while activism can be positive for a brand it has significant risks and requires the brand to act as a legitimate social activist to be considered authentic.