How consumers subvert advertising through rhetorical institutional work

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    We consider consumer subversion of advertising by investigating social media activity in response to an advertisement aired by a global brand. We draw on Aristotle’s rhetorical justification to show how consumers used logos (logical appeals), ethos (credibility or moral authority), pathos (emotion-inducing) and kairos (opportunity) rhetoric to challenge and undermine this advertising. Our study provides greater understanding of the mechanisms of consumer activism, examining how rhetorical strategies were deployed within consumers’ institutional work towards the subversion of contentious advertising. We also examine the work of an organised boundary group to marshal consumer support for marketplace change and identify how ensuing argumentation led to the development of novel message frames intended to de-legitimize advertising practices. We warn advertisers and brands to consider the implications of such collective consumer subversion at a time when the public and media are increasingly intolerant of organisational transgressions, particularly in relation to social justice issues, for example gender stereotyping in advertising.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages13
    JournalPsychology and Marketing
    Early online date15 Nov 2021
    Publication statusEarly online - 15 Nov 2021


    • consumer subversion
    • subversion of advertising
    • rhetoric
    • message frames
    • institutional work
    • consumer activism
    • gender stereotyping


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