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How Truthiness, Fake News and Post-Fact Endanger Brands and What to Do About It


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Brands can interact both directly and indirectly with fake news. In some instances, brands are the victims of fake news and, other times, the purveyors. Brands can either finance fake news or be the targets of it. Indirectly, they can be linked via image transfer, where either fake news contaminates brands, or brands validate fake news. To control the risk of negative image transfer, the authors propose technical actions to address false news and systemic steps to rethink the management of brands in order to inoculate against various forms of “fakery” and to reestablish stakeholder trust. Systemic solutions involve a rethinking of brands and branding. Too often, brands have become uncoupled from the reality of the offerings they adorn. But brands are not ends in themselves, they are the result of outstanding offerings. They can act as interpretive frames, but they don’t unilaterally create reality, as many seem to believe. Brands should not be seen and managed as objects but as perceptual processes.
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How Truthiness, Fake News and
Post-Fact Endanger Brands and
What to Do About It
Pierre Berthon, Emily Treen and Leyland Pitt
The Age of Truthiness and Post-Fact Are alternative
facts, facts?” In the post-fact world, the validity of something
is based on how it feels (truthiness). The “post-fact” world
is, simply, what you wish it to be, regardless of objective,
verifiable statements. Marketing and post-fact merge on
mainstream and social media and can often be tied to one
another. This not only spells trouble for brands, it places them
at risk. One such area of trouble for brands is fake news. Fake
news is nothing new. However, in the recent past, the scale
of the problem has grown exponentially. Incongruously, the
information age has simultaneously given us the misinforma-
tion age. When individuals select both the stories they read
and the people they interact with, opinions and views are
reinforced in an echo chamber driven by positive feedback
loops. The truth more and more becomes my truth. Thus, the
social media Internet’s truth is rather popularity and truth
is my truth. These two tendencies both crave and fuel the
spread of fake news.
Brands and fake news Brands can interact both directly
and indirectly with fake news. In some instances, brands are
the victims of fake news and other times, the purveyors (see
Figure 1). Directly, brands can either finance fake news or
be the targets of it. Indirectly, they can be linked via image
transfer where either fake news contaminates brands, or
brands validate fake news.
Brands as victims of fake news As targets, brands can
be fake news casualties. Pepsi stock fell around 4% just
prior to the 2016 US presidential election when a fake news
Brands and Fake News / Vol. 10, No. 1, 2018 / GfK MIR
Brand Management, Brands as Processes,
Truthiness, Post-fact, Fake News
 
Pierre R. Berthon
Professor of Information Design and
Corporate Communication
McCallum Graduate School of Business,
Bentley University Waltham, MA.USA
Emi l y Tre e n
Beedie School of Business, Simon Fraser University,
Vancouver, BC, Canada
Leyland F. Pitt
Dennis F. Culver EMBA Alumni Chair of Business,
Beedie School of Business , Simon Fraser University,
Vancouver, BC, Canada
doi 10.2478 / gfkmir-2018-0003
Download Date | 4/21/18 3:09 AM
story about Pepsi’s CEO, Indra Nooyi, telling Trump support-
ers to “take their business elsewhere” went viral. Brands
can appear associated with spurious stories, and this can
tarnish or contaminate them, while lending validity to the
content. Consumers reading of an apparent affair between
Yoko Ono and Hillary Clinton might have been reassured of
the story’s validity because Fiat-Chrysler’s Ram Trucks brand
prominently sponsored the page. Brands also risk consumer
backlash if consumers interpret that brands support suspect
or misleading news. For instance, this was the case when Kel-
logg Co. was forced to pull its sponsorship of the “alternative
fact” site Breitbart.
Brands as purveyors of fake news Alternatively, brands
can propagate fake news. Searching for greater reach, brands
tend to associate themselves with the most popular stories
– whether these are true or fake. Ironically, brands may be
the primary force behind the fake news explosion: Fake news
attracts eyeballs, and eyeballs attract advertisers.
 :
Brand interactions with fake news
GfK MIR / Vol. 10, No. 1, 2018 / Brands and Fake News
Brands can also fund fake news sites. They fund them directly
by simply targeting popular sites, because web traffic attracts
advertisers. Also, they target sites based on the information
search profiles of likely customers, centered on the type of
content to which potential customers are attracted. In addi-
tion, they may fund them indirectly by tracking customers as
they surf from site to site.
Managing brands in a post-rational world By being
purveyors of truthiness (see Box 1), brands place themselves
at risk. However, the abundance of fake news and post-fact in
our post-rational era are even more powerful forces imperil-
ing brands. We propose two kinds of solutions for both
sources of risk: First, technical actions that can be undertaken
to address false news and, second, systemic steps that can be
undertaken to rethink the management of brands in order to
inoculate against various forms of “fakery” and to reestablish
stakeholder trust.
Direct Impact
Indirect Impact
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Technical actions to prevent brand damage Technical
solutions involve addressing each of the four types of rela-
tionships that brands have with fake news that are sum-
marized in Figure 1: enabling, validation, contamination and
targeting. Obviously, enabling (through funding), validation
and contamination are interrelated and are underpinned by
two issues. First, how to minimize the placement of brand
adverts adjacent to fake news stories and second, when such
pairings do occur, how to minimize the damage.
The minimization of pairing of brand advertisements and
fake news involves changing the ways in which marketers
target consumers. Ideally, algorithmically selected sites
should be screened by trained observers, just as Wikipedia
screens dubious content. In the longer term, humans can be
augmented by deep learning AI programs that have been
trained by humans to spot fake news stories. Alternatively, or
in addition, consumers themselves can be recruited to iden-
tify fake news and flag spurious content and the associated
web sites.
When brand advertisements do appear next to fake news
stories, remedies are twofold. First, consumers can be edu-
cated about fake news and the algorithmic targeting used
by advertisers, similar to the current efforts to educate
Brands and Fake News / Vol. 10, No. 1, 2018 / GfK MIR
Are marketers part of the problem or simply victims of it? A cursory review of the origins of modern
marketing reveals that it developed, in part, when supply of low-cost, mass-produced products began
to outstrip demand. Advertisers were charged with persuading people to buy more goods and services.
Advertising products for their functionality – soaps that clean – shifted to advertising brands as “reality
creators,” be this a feeling, a lifestyle or even a world. Soaps “save the world,” and beverages bring “happi-
ness and peace.” Marketers have become some of the main cultural purveyors of truthiness and post-fact.
Another common marketing practice has been what is now called Betteridge’s Law: It states that when a
headline asks a question, it can mostly be answered with “no.” Formulated by the British journalist Ian
Betteridge, it proposes, that news outlets use headline questions for stories that do not possess sufficient
facts to support the “nut graph.” The same principle can be observed in advertising with questions like:
“Have you driven a Ford lately?” “Did someone say McDonalds?” “Pardon me, do you have any Grey Pou-
pon?” Most of the “probability-of-a-no answer” questions proffered above are posed by famous brand
slogans. By using such headlines, these brands try to make an impression that they cannot actually back
up. This practice shows how brands have always been purveyors of truthiness and post-fact.
{ Box 1}
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22 GfK MIR / Vol. 10, No. 1, 2018 / Brands and Fake News
The American Marketing Association defines a brand as a name, term, design, symbol or other feature that
distinguishes an organization or product from its rivals in the eyes of the customer. We suggest instead that a
brand is a continually updated cognitive schema that invites the customer to experience an offering in a particular
way. It is constantly modified by the customer’s experience of the branded offering. Therefore, brands evolve as
a co-production of the company and the customer which form process partnerships.
The psychologist Ulric Neisser described a perceptual cycle, which suggests how the perception of an object, for
instance, a brand, evolves. While traditional theories present perception as a passive act Neisser describes percep-
tion as more an act of construction. Stimuli from the outside world are filtered and then either noticed, ignored
or processed further. The environment is actively scanned and sampled for specific information and modifies the
original “driving” schema (see Figure 2).
{ Box 2 }
modifies samples
 :
Brand perception as active construction
(adapted from: U. Neisser, Cognitive Psychology: Classic Edition (Hove, UK: Psychology Press, 2014)
Brands can therefore be thought of as cognitive schema that select, drive and frame explorations of offerings.
BMW’s “the ultimate driving machine” focuses consumers’ perceptions on the driving experience. A customer
drives a BMW and “tests” the schema against the reality of the product experience. United Airlines’ recent forcible
removal of a passenger from a flight confirms many customers’ experience of the airline: Its branding as “fly the
friendly skies” fails the reality test.
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Andrews, T. (2016):
“Kellogg, Citing ‘Values,’ Joins Growing List
of Companies That Pledged to Stop Advertising in
Breitbart New,”
Washington Post, November 30,
Kirkpatrick, D. (2016):
Ad Placements on Fake News Sites
Continue to Befuddle Brands,”
Marketing Drive, (December, 9).
Murtha, J. (2015):
“Can You Really Tell an Entire Story in a Headline?”
Columbia Journalism Review,
(Sept – Oct, 6).
ers about phishing scams. Second, consumer brand
advocates can be enlisted and enabled to alert managers when
a brand advert has been coupled with inappropriate content.
Systemic approaches to reduce fake-news risk Systemic
solutions involve a rethinking of brands and branding. It
means taking a good, long, hard look in the mirror and frankly
acknowledging that business has been complicit in creating
the post-rational culture we now inhabit (see Box 1). Too often,
brands have become ends in themselves, uncoupled from the
reality of the offerings they adorn. Toyota didn’t become one
of the biggest and most respected car companies by appealing
to magical thinking. It got there by making reliable cars. Tesla
did not come from nothing to be the largest maker of electric
cars in a mere four years by appealing to ecological thinking.
It got there by making electric cars outperform gas-powered
cars – although its ecological appeal obviously helped.
Brands are not ends in themselves; they are the result of
outstanding offerings. Certainly, they can act as interpretive
frames, but they don’t unilaterally create reality, as many
seem to believe. One way forward is to look at brands not as
objects but as processes – specifically, perceptual processes
(see Box2) – and manage them accordingly.
Recommendations for managing brands in a post-factual
world Our solution to the problem of minimizing the
brand risks posed by truthiness and post-fact is that managers
not view brands as “objects” but as “processes,” as outlined in
Box 2. Managers following this reasoning should consider the
following recommendations.
> Design all brand interactions carefully Brands frame
the way customers interact with offerings by highlighting
certain features while diminishing others. Managers must
think carefully about what their brands suggest, promise
and elicit.
> Consider the context of the interaction Perceptual
exploration is an active process. A customer’s experience
of the offering is directed by the schema they have of the
offering. Simply, no experience is independent of its context.
Apple understands that how and where customers interact
with their products is critical. Apple stores not only look and
feel different, mirroring the branding of “think different,”
they invite customers to interact with their products in a
relaxed environment, with help and advice available at a
moment’s notice.
> Apply reality-tests to your brand claims Any brand
experience must match the brand schema. If a company’s
offering fails its own brand reality test, the consequences
are negative. BP’s branding of ‘Beyond Petroleum’ was
meant to conjure images of a traditional oil company
exploring multiple other energy alternatives. The reality
was that BP was only expending a pittance of R&D fund-
ing on alternative energy sources. The Deepwater Horizon
event exacerbated public brand disillusionment by sug-
gesting that “Beyond Petroleum” meant denigrating the
environment in a cavalier manner.
> Expect consumers to participate in the creation of brand
meaning Finally, managers need to remember that
the perceptual cycle belongs to the consumer and not the
brand manager. The company may own the brand trade-
mark, but not the consumer’s brand schema.
Brands and Fake News / Vol. 10, No. 1, 2018 / GfK MIR
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... • Digital channels as a loss of personal interaction [78] • Migrating customers to online channels as a force creating resistance and customer dissatisfaction [79] • Programmatic native advertisement as deception and misleading [80] • "Customer reviews" as incentives for manipulation [ ...
... "Searching for greater reach, brands tend to associate themselves with the most popular stories-whether these are true or fake. " [78] Research reveals that fake news marketing is likely to increase interest in products [79]. Nevertheless, they belong to the category of zombie marketing as they are artificial, and likely to damage reputation. ...
Marketing intelligence fosters two major developments within digital service marketing. On the one hand, a boom of services seems to have evolved, accelerated by the opportunities of marketing intelligence. It has contributed to the optimization of customer experiences, e.g., supported by mobile, personalized, and customized marketing services. On the other hand, (digital) self-services are likely to pervert the term "service". Lifecycle marketing, including annoying marketing communication in real-time, automated price adjustment and programmatic advertising based on artificial intelligence, affects the vision of fully standardized marketing automation. Additionally, there are incentives to pollute the digital information in order to manufacture opinions. Fake news is one popular example. This leads to the (open) question if marketing intelligence means service boom or bust of marketing. This contribution aims to elaborate the boom-and-bust aspects of marketing intelligence and suggests a trade-off. The method applied in this paper will be a descriptive and conceptual literature review, through which the paradigmatic thoughts will be juxtaposed from the perspective of service.
... Fake news can influence to a certain extent consumers' perceptions about different companies, brands, or products [74] because it spreads farther and faster than real news [75,76,77]. For instance, the release of the Pfizer-BioNTech generated a large amount of fake news, conspiracy theories, and disinformation as it was supposed that mRNA vaccines might alter human DNA. ...
... When an organization becomes a target of fake news, it should plan its reaction strategy meticulously to minimize the negative impact [80]. Once exposed to fake news, consumers are more likely to trust the information if it is sponsored by a famous company [74]. The mixed effects of fake news on different stakeholders and especially on consumers varies according to source intention: they might be positive if the fake news portrays the brand positively, neutrally, or negatively if the brand is the target of the fake news [81]. ...
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Trust in social media information is gaining in importance and relevance for both companies and individuals as nowadays contemporary society is confronted with a wave of fake news about daily life situations, brands, organizations, etc. As it becomes more difficult to accurately assess social media information and to determine its origin or source, as well as to be able to double-check information spread across different Social Networking Sites (SNS), businesses must understand how individuals' perceived control, concentration, and time distortion enhances the social media usage, thus allowing them to correctly assess online information. Therefore, the scope of the paper is to assess, based on a conceptual model, the antecedents of trust in online information about companies by considering users' perceived control, concentration, and time distortion, while browsing social media networks and sharing fake news about companies in SNS. With the help of an online survey, data was collected from social media users, later being analysed with SmartPLS. The findings suggest that social media usage and sharing of fake news mediate the relationship between users' perceived control, concentration, and time distortion (i.e., flow characteristics) and trust in online information about companies.
... Fake news has been attributed to misinforming the public regarding vaccinations, cancer treatment, COVID-19 treatment, to inciting physical attacks against healthcare personnel, to influencing elections, and to deceiving world leaders [7][8][9]. In 2016, the United Kingdom European Union referendum was the subject of concern for researchers and the press due to vast swaths of Twitterbots influencing public opinion online. ...
... Companies may sponsor and legitimize fake news while also being tainted by affiliation [18]. When confronted with fake news, users are more inclined to believe it if it is funded by a well-known brand [167]. ...
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Social media has triggered an increase in fake news spread about different aspects of modern lives, society, politics, societal changes, etc., and has also affected companies' reputation and brands' trust. Therefore, this paper is aimed at investigating why social media users share fake news about environmentally friendly brands. To examine social media users' behavior towards environmentally friendly brands, a theoretical research model proposed and analyzed using structural equations modeling in SmartPLS on a convenience sample consisting of 922 questionnaires. Data was collected by means of a quantitative-based approach via a survey conducted among social media users from an emerging market. The results show that social media flow has a mediated impact on sharing fake news about environmentally friendly brands on social media. Considering the critical consequences of fake news, the paper argues that understanding the dissemination process of this type of bogus content on social media platforms has important theoretical and managerial implications. Understanding the psychological mechanisms that influence people's behavior in sharing fake news about environmentally friendly brands on social networking sites (SNS) could help in better understanding the factors and the effects of this phenomenon. The originality of this research consists of proposing flow theory from positive psychology to be used as a theoretical framework to explain users' behavior of sharing fake news about environmentally friendly brands on social media.
... When consumers suspect that a brand supports fake news, the brand risks consumer backlash and hostility toward the brand, as was the case when Kellogg was forced to remove its sponsorship of the controversial "alternative fact" news website Breitbart. Similarly, Pepsi's stock fell around 4% due to a viral fake news story claiming Pepsi's CEO told Trump supporters to "take their business elsewhere" during the 2016 US presidential election (Berthon et al., 2018). Furthermore, Raymaekers (2018) indicates that fake news not only impacts sales but can also diminish consumers' trust in brands and weaken brand image and reputation. ...
Purpose The spread of fake news on social networking sites (SNS) poses a threat to the marketing landscape, yet little is known about how fake news affect consumers’ perceptions, attitudes and behaviors. This study aims to explore when consumers believe fake news, whom they blame for it (e.g. negative attitudes toward brands or SNS) and when they choose to share it. Design/methodology/approach Data obtained from 80 open-ended, semistructured interviews, conducted with SNS consumers and experts, is analyzed following the principles of grounded theory and the Gioia methodology. Findings Factors affecting consumers’ perceptions of fake news include skepticism, awareness, previous experience, appeal and message cues. Consumers’ brand- and SNS-related attitudes are affected by consumers’ blame, which is determined by consumers’ perceptions of the vetting efforts, role and ethical obligation of SNS. Consumers’ motives for sharing fake news include duty, retaliation, authentication and status-seeking. Theoretical and practical implications derived from the study’s novel conceptual framework are discussed. Practical implications This study identifies communication strategies that marketing professionals can use to mitigate and counter the negative effects of fake news. Originality/value By simultaneously considering consumers’ perceptions of the source, information and medium (i.e. SNS), this study presents a novel conceptual framework providing a marketing-centered, dynamic view on consumers’ fake news experience and connecting consumers’ perceptions, attitudes and behaviors in the context of fake news.
This paper deals with the links between disinformation and business. It starts from the premise that companies are important players in the post-truth era, not merely as “victims” of fake news and other forms of disinformation. Companies can also be an active source of disinformation and deception. Our work seeks to move forward in two directions: finding the link between the practice of disinformation by companies and, secondly, offering a proposed typology of eight possible current types of disinformation practiced in the business world.KeywordsDisinformationMisinformationDeceptiveFake newsBrand managementGreenwashing
The main objective of this paper is to start from the concept of fake news applied, in this case, not to journalistic information, but to the field of companies to determine how information and institutional communication can be distorted, and even attacked, by the dissemination of unverified (or malicious) information through the enormous dissemination provided by new technologies derived from the Internet, mainly social networks. This virality brought about by the digitalization of information and data can lead to truly damaging discredit for the trust of organizations among their different audiences. Precisely, the relational perspective (Grunig & Hung-Baesecke, 2015; Ledingham, 2015) maintains that the nature of public relations lies in its ability to manage relationships between an organization and its public of interest or stakeholders (Grunig, 2009) through through a strategically planned process (Otero and Pulido-Polo, 2018; Almiron & Xifra, 2019; Page & Parnel, 2019; Smith, 2017) capable of placing before public opinion (Greenhill, 2020) the excellence of organizational behavior. The purpose of this process is none other than to generate trust in the public, but its main obstacle, since the origin of public relations, has been public misinformation.To achieve the main objective of this paper, an exploratory methodological design is carried out, of a qualitative nature, in two phases: data collection and analysis. For the collection of data, the techniques of direct observation, participant observation and the use of data from secondary sources, eminently bibliographical, are used. To the review of the consulted sources, a systematic search of the terms is added: 'fake news', 'fake news + company/organization', 'corporate disinformation', 'disinformation + company/organization' (in English, Spanish and Portuguese) in the scientific databases Mendeley and Google Scholar. For the analysis, carried out between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022 by the undersigned researchers, a data matrix was created in Excel and the Atlas.ti software, version 21.0.8, was used. , from NK Qualitas. Finally, a total population of 239,700 files is obtained which, based on the data systematization criterion with a representative sample, represents a study corpus of n=23,970. The results show that almost 60% of the articles are indexed in the Journal Citation Report or Scopus databases, are concentrated in the areas "Information and Documentation", "Social Sciences" or "Miscellaneous" and revolve around the politics (almost 60%), “Economy” (19%), “Diseases and public health” (16%) and “Art, heritage and culture” (3%). Likewise, the most mentioned concepts are “Disinformation + fake news” (73%), “fact-checking” (13%) and “deepfakes” (8%). Interestingly, the percentages have been similar (around 2%) in the cases of the terms not searched for but found “legislation”, “media literacy” or “educommunication” and “corporate misinformation”. The conclusions show that there is disinformation whenever there is an attempt to manipulate, confuse or deceive with information of doubtful, misleading or false origin; that the concept of corporate disinformation is still to be developed; that, indeed, the dissemination of fake news affects the public perception of the organizations and that the use of artificial intelligence is revealed as an important tool for the development of new mechanisms for detecting fake news.
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With the emergence of fake news in the era of Internet 4.0, communication and management researchers have studied how fake news impacts different areas of everyday life. Notwithstanding the detailed depiction of fake news in the context of political communication, the implications and dissemination mechanisms of business-related fake news in particular in the digital space have not been fully investigated. Furthermore, there are no studies that offer a comprehensive approach for companies, organisations and brands to counter fake news in the digital environment. The purpose of this research is to offer new, applicable and innovative solutions to handle business-related crisis challenges caused by fake news in the digital space, through the development and examination of countering concepts based on the application of situational crisis communication theory (SCCT). A research gap was identified after a comprehensive review of 326 journal and conference articles relating to the term 'fake news'. Two novel concepts, the pentagram graph and the dynamic crisis communication model (DCCM) algorithm, are proposed and examined. The pentagram graph matches possible solutions and actions to combat and counter fake news with various actors involved in the generation and dissemination of fake news online. The DCCM algorithm, grounded in SCCT, offers an algorithmic view of possible organisational actions to counter fake-news-related crisis challenges at different stages of their evolution. Moreover, the effectiveness and impact of different response strategies to counter business-related fake news online were evaluated through the analysis of stock price changes during a crisis challenge. The novelty and complexity of the topic required a sequential mixed-methods exploratory design, using both qualitative and quantitative data. Through sequential multi-level sampling, an initial sample of 510 global companies was reduced to the final sample of 108 suitable fake-news-related cases. Interviews with senior managers from the companies included in the final quantitative sample were utilised to examine the practical applicability of SCCT and the theoretical concepts designed within this study to counter fake news in the digital space. I VII VI This research offers a historical overview of the channels used to spread fake news, enabling a full understanding of how fake news has evolved with the development of new channels. A comprehensive typology of fake news was developed, taking into consideration the nature of the news item, level of facticity, intention to deceive and motivational factors. From a business perspective, the findings from the research confirm
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