Scholars untangle marketing's complex role in understanding political activities

September 25, 2020

As 2020 began, many pundits predicted a politically charged year, but few predicted that it would include a global pandemic overtaxing healthcare resources, strained U.S. race relations resulting in mass demonstrations across the globe, devastating fires consuming massive swaths of the United States, and a catastrophic global economic downturn. This month's special issue of the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing acknowledges the role that marketing does and can play in addressing political activities with articles that explore key topics like elections, voting, corporate political advocacy, and consumer political identities. Two commentaries from an industry veteran and an esteemed journal editor offer both applied and scholarly paths for future marketing strategies and research. While the articles were not intended to respond directly to the specific events, they still provide theories explaining firm, consumer, agency, and other stakeholder behaviors along with strategy implications.

"A Vote of Competence: How a Similar Upbringing to Political Candidates Influences Voting Choice," by Matthew D. Meng and Alexander Davidson

The authors explore a commonly used political strategy: showing how similar political candidates are to constituents and voters. The authors confirm this relationship but expand the understanding as it relates to a candidate's competence along with particular audiences for whom the strategy is most effective.

"Citizen Participation in Political Markets: Extending Service-Dominant Logic to Public Policy," by Mark Peterson and Robert W. Godby

The results of this study suggest that the decisions offered by citizens in a research setting reflect citizens' competence for informing elected representatives and policy makers regarding budgeting. When constituents can be brought into the process of ongoing governance in an effective and manageable fashion that does not require an expensive referendum or election, distortions of democracy will be reduced.

"To Change the Law, Defy the Law: Hijacking the Cause and Co-Opting Its Advocate," by Bernard Cova

This research examines how the advocates of a cause respond to corporate approaches that integrate marketing and political activities for the cause. The findings reveal that such marketing activities resemble co-optation of the initial advocate of the cause and hijacking of the cause they advocate for.

"Brands Taking a Stand: Authentic Brand Activism or Woke Washing?" by Jessica Vredenburg, Sommer Kapitan, Amanda Spry, and Joya A. Kemper

The authors draw on theory to determine how and when a brand engaging with a sociopolitical cause can be viewed as authentic, finding that moderate, optimal incongruence between brand and cause acts as a boundary condition. They explore important policy and practice implications for current and aspiring brand activists, from specific brand-level standards in marketing efforts to third-party certifications and public sector partnerships.

"The Activist Company: Examining a Company's Pursuit of Societal Change Through Corporate Activism Using an Institutional Theoretical Lens," by Meike Eilert and Abigail Nappier Cherup

Using institutional theory, the authors create a framework showing how corporate activism can address these societal problems through influence and change strategies that can target the institutional environment "top-down" or "bottom-up." This framework further investigates how the company's identity orientation facilitates corporate activism.

"Political Ideology in Consumer Resistance: Analyzing Far-Right Opposition to Multicultural Marketing," by Sofia Ulver and Christofer Laurell

The authors explore the discursive efforts in far-right consumer resistance to advance a political agenda through protests directed at brands' multicultural advertising and analyze how these consumers conceptualize their adversaries in the marketplace. In contrast to previous framings of adversaries identified in consumer research, where resistance is typically anticapitalist and directed toward firms' unethical conduct or the exploitation by the global market economy per se, the authors find that the following discursive themes stand out in the far-right consumer resistance: the emphasis on the state as main antagonist, the indifference to capitalism as a potential adversary, and overt contestation of liberal ethics.

"Politics at the Mall: The Moral Foundations of Boycotts," by Daniel Fernandes

This article demonstrates that although both liberals and conservatives engage in consumer political actions, they do so for different reasons influenced by their unique moral concerns: Liberals engage in boycotts and buycotts that are associated with the protection of harm and fairness moral values (individualizing moral values), whereas conservatives engage in boycotts and buycotts that are associated with the protection of authority, loyalty, and purity moral values (binding moral values). In addition, the individualizing moral values lead to a generally more positive attitude toward boycotts, which explains why liberals are more likely to boycott and buycott.

"Commentary: Brand Activism in a Political World," by Christine Moorman

The Editor in Chief of the venerable Journal of Marketing and author of "The CMO Survey" analyzes CMO's changing opinions on firm activism.

"Commentary: Patagonia and the Business of Activism," by Vincent Stanley

Patagonia's Director of Philosophy discusses the brand's decision to take public stands on critical issues such as climate change.

For the full issue and contact information, visit
About the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing

The Journal of Public Policy & Marketing is a forum for understanding the nexus of marketing and public policy, with each issue featuring a wide-range of topics, including, but not limited to, ecology, ethics and social responsibility, nutrition and health, regulation and deregulation, security and privacy.

About the American Marketing Association (AMA)

As the largest chapter-based marketing association in the world, the AMA is trusted by marketing and sales professionals to help them discover what's coming next in the industry. The AMA has a community of local chapters in more than 70 cities and 350 college campuses throughout North America. The AMA is home to award-winning content, PCM® professional certification, premiere academic journals, and industry-leading training events and conferences.

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