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