Project R-12342


Brand Activism: From the Struggle for Profit, to the Profit in Struggle (Research)


This project investigates why and how an increasing number of corporations present themselves as activists in their communication with consumers. Brand activism refers to the branding strategy in which corporations take a stand on contentious political issues by launching advertising campaigns in which they side with social movements, for instance those fighting against sexism, racism or homophobia. To date, critical scholarship on brand activism has almost exclusively focused on deconstructing the problematic, essentializing meaning offered to the audience by the advertisement material. Moving beyond the discursive, this project interrogates the advertising market mechanisms and corporate interests involved in the production of these activist advertising campaigns. To bring the corporate context into view, this study proposes to understand brand activism as the corporate co-optation of identity politics: the selective appropriation of the agendas of social movements in ways that neutralize their political signification and render them instrumental in capital accumulation. Empirically, a long-term multi-sited ethnography will be conducted to observe corporate co-optation as it unfolds over time and to account for all the actors involved in this contentious process: small marketing agencies producing the campaigns, corporations engaged in brand activism, and activist social movements committed to reclaiming their struggle for social justice.

Period of project

01 December 2021 - 30 November 2023