Why Brands Still Cause Trouble : Revisiting Holt's dialectical theory of consumer culture and branding

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Sammanfattning: The rise of social media in general and Instagram in particular has enabled a new type of celebrities, called micro-celebrities, that nowadays are being increasingly used by companies to endorse their products or establish their brands. While celebrity endorsement as a type of stealth branding together with some other marketing techniques characteristic of postmodernism were predicted to be unveiled and scorned by consumers (Holt, 2002), there are signs that through the practices of micro-celebrities, the language and logic of marketing have become even more ubiquitous in our contemporary social life (Khamis et al., 2017). The purpose of this research is to investigate the interplay of Instagram micro-celebrities with brands of the social media marketing ecosystem with the aim to add to the understanding of the spotted contradiction. The research adopted the case study design. Some preliminary interviews with advertising agencies and brands allowed to construct two independent cases where Instagram influencers were used in campaigns by brands of different scale. Semi-structured interviews with brand owners, marketing specialists of advertising agencies, Instagram influencers, and their followers were used to collect qualitative data. The obtained information was further analyzed through the lens of Bourdieu’s social theory and Lacan’s theory of the four discourses. The research reveals that despite Holt’s conclusive extrapolations, stealth branding techniques are exponentially growing not only in their popularity but also in efficiency. The study also suggests that even though today’s consumers indeed require an appendage to the product being consumed in the form of symbol or particular tacit knowledge (post postmodern consumer culture according to Holt) the dialectical model provided by Holt seems to be hasty enough to build since we manage to distil some current processes characteristic not only for post postmodern and postmodern period but also for modern and pre modern ones.

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