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When brands take a stand: the nature of consumers’ polarized reactions to social narrative videos

Tyler Milfeld (Department of Marketing, Haslam College of Business, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA)
Daniel J. Flint (Department of Marketing, Haslam College of Business, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA)

Journal of Product & Brand Management

ISSN: 1061-0421

Article publication date: 20 May 2020

Issue publication date: 11 May 2021

1320

Abstract

Purpose

A growing number of consumers expect brands to take a stand on social issues. When Gillette launched its video with a social message in 2019, the popular press described it as divisive and controversial. This study aims to examine themes behind the polarized consumer response, aiding brands in the development of social narrative videos.

Design/methodology/approach

The authors use an existential-phenomenological approach to investigate the meaning behind consumers’ reactions to the Gillette video. Empirical data collection consisted of 24 semi-structured, in-depth interviews. Data were analyzed using the hermeneutic method.

Findings

By viewing the Gillette video through the lens of a story, this research uncovers how marketing stories can lead to different interpretations. Specifically, the roots of polarization lie in perceived realism activation and character activation. Additionally, product placement may activate persuasive intent, interrupting immersion into the story.

Practical implications

Brand managers should consider the potential for alternative interpretations when using storytelling. By measuring a viewer’s narrative transportation, it is possible to identify different interpretations. From a tactical standpoint, brand managers should be cautious about using celebrity endorsers and prominent product placement in social narrative videos. These cues activate persuasive intent, leading to alternative interpretations.

Originality/value

While marketing research has tended to focus on storytelling’s positive outcomes, this research considers how stories can result in polarizing outcomes for brands. The concept of social narrative videos is introduced and a framework is presented that outlines facilitators and inhibitors for this type of brand communication.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors gratefully acknowledge the support of Flowers Foods, Inc.

Citation

Milfeld, T. and Flint, D.J. (2021), "When brands take a stand: the nature of consumers’ polarized reactions to social narrative videos", Journal of Product & Brand Management, Vol. 30 No. 4, pp. 532-548. https://doi.org/10.1108/JPBM-10-2019-2606

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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