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Brand activism in social media: the effects of sarcastic and explanatory responses on consumers' attitude toward social activism


Brands have been facing communication challenges in the social media related to their position on social, political, economic, and/or environmental causes, which are often controversial. We refer to this effort to positon in such issues as "brand activism". Such brands have been responding to consumers who may feel discontent or even offended by the brand's positioning, at the same time having in their audience consumers who support the brand's activism. Due to this dilemma, companies have to simultaneously deal with discontent consumers, who may be prone to complain, and those who are satisfied. While some brands - such as Sony and Adidas - have given sarcastic responses to consumers who have questioned their positioning, others - such as Gillette and Avon - have replied with explanatory messages. However, it is unclear which type of communication is the most effective for building brands' reputation as change agents and why. Using a mixed method approach, our objective is to understand the effect of the type of the message (sarcastic; explanatory) posted on social media by brands in their cause positioning attempts (brand activism) on consumer's attitude towards the brand. We also explore the possible underlying mechanisms that make one type of message (e.g. explanatory) more effective than the other, examine whether situational (e.g. appropriateness of the message to the brand image) and individual (e.g. consumer's goal - hedonic, utilitarian, or social) factors moderate the main effect, and investigate the reactions among consumers who act as observers in this communication context. Moreover, our research proposal opens a new path in the customer complaints literature: thus far marketing literature has focused on tactics and strategies companies use to deal with consumer complaints that involve failures. However, in the context of this research, customer complaint is not generated by a company's typical failure, but from its positioning (activism) towards controversial causes. This research project aims to fill this gap. (AU)

Articles published in Pesquisa FAPESP Magazine about the research grant:
Gestores digitales en ascenso 
The rise of the digital manager 
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