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Protest Rhetoric’s Appeal: How Brands as Moral Entrepreneurs Recruit the Media into Moral Struggles

The Contested Moralities of Markets

ISBN: 978-1-78769-120-9, eISBN: 978-1-78769-119-3

Publication date: 2 September 2019


Whenever the news media feature brand-related moral struggles over issues such as ethicality, fairness, or sustainability, brands often find themselves in the position of the culprit. However, brands may also take the opposite position, that of a moral entrepreneur who proactively raises and addresses moral issues that matter to society. In this chapter, the authors present a case study of the Austrian shoe manufacturer Waldviertler, which staged a protest campaign against Austria’s financial market authorities in the wake of the authorities demanding that the company closes its alternative (and illegal) consumer investment model after 10 years of operation. In response to this demand, the company organized protest marches, online petitions, and press conferences to reclaim the moral high ground for its financing model as a way out of the crunch following the global credit crisis and as a way to fight unfair administrative burdens. The authors present an interpretive analysis of brand communication material and media coverage that reveals how this brand used protest rhetoric on three levels – logos, ethos, and pathos – to reverse moral standards, to embody a rebel ethos, and to cultivate moral indignation. The authors also show how the media responded to protest rhetoric both with thematic coverage of context, trends, and general evidence, and with episodic coverage focusing on dramatic actions and the company owner’s charisma. The authors close with a discussion of how protestainment, the stylization of a leader figure, and marketplace sentiments can ensure sustained media coverage of moral struggles.



Wieser, V.E., Hemetsberger, A. and Luedicke, M.K. (2019), "Protest Rhetoric’s Appeal: How Brands as Moral Entrepreneurs Recruit the Media into Moral Struggles", Schiller-Merkens, S. and Balsiger, P. (Ed.) The Contested Moralities of Markets (Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Vol. 63), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 151-166.



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