Audience   Communication and Technology  

How Consumers React to Woke Advertising

The term “woke” is relatively new. To be woke means to become aware of social issues, such as discrimination, injustice, and stereotypes. Woke advertising is when brands capitalize on these issues and appropriate them in advertising narratives. The goal is to increase sales via a carefully cultivated brand identity that resonates with consumers because of their emotional connection to the social issue at hand.

University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Advertising Associate Professor Huan Chen and colleagues wanted to know how use of social media affects consumers’ responses to a social media-based advertising campaign designed to incorporate the concept of a woke mindset. They used a triangulation-based approach, integrating social media data and self-reported data to explore the influence of consumers’ behaviors. Specifically, they examined algorithms affecting consumers’ “likes” of Gillette’s “we believe: the best men can be” advertising campaign. This campaign caught wide-spread attention because of its promoted theme related to gender roles.

Specifically, researchers hypothesized that people who were exposed to negative top comments in an ad that depicts social norms would be more likely to leave negative responses there than to an ad with a more static message.

Results show that people are more negative on social media when they comment anonymously than they are when they self-report. Ultimately, the depersonalization of commenting on a YouTube video may act as a form of encouragement for users to leave harsh comments. The overwhelmingly negative responses in the comments allows researchers to begin to understand the impact of social norms on consumer responses.

This research concluded that social connection may pressure a person to provide socially desirable responses to an ad, whereas when fully anonymous users tend to be more negative in response.

Overall, this research provides a theoretical framework to unveil the formation of consumer opinions in a social media environment. When comments are “liked” early on, the YouTube algorithm may capture a dominant view and pass it along to other users. The comment ranking algorithm should be studied, and advertisers should be mindful of understanding how that algorithm affects user experience and interaction.

As this study was limited to one advertisement, future study may wish to examine other social-media-based ad campaigns that address social issues. Future researchers may also wish to consider examining consumer responses on other social media platforms, such as Facebook, to examine differences between the depersonalization of anonymity versus any differences in response when users are connected to acquaintances when they comment on advertising.

The original research paper, “How Consumers React to Woke Advertising: Methodological Triangulation Based on Social Media Data and Self-Report Data,” appeared in the Journal of Research in Interactive Marketing, 2021.

 Authors: Yang Feng, San Diego State University; Huan Chen; Ho-Young (Anthony) Ahn, Pepperdine University.

This summary was written by Marie Morganelli, Ph.D.

Posted: June 14, 2021
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