Habermas, Fraser, social power, corporations, brand activism, political advocacy

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Research Article


Brand activism has emerged as a prominent practice among corporations, as they publicly take a stand on contentious socio-political issues such as gender inequality, climate change, or discrimination, often through advertising. While extensive research has been conducted on the impact of brand activism as a marketing tool, examining its effects on sales, brand image, consumer attitudes, and authenticity, only a limited number of studies have studied its influence on public debate and processes of democratic legitimation. The latter have portrayed brand activism as an empowering force for the supported social movements, the public sphere, and democratic legitimacy, largely ignoring the consideration of potential negative effects. To address this gap, Habermas’s political theory and Nancy Fraser’s ideas on the resignification of feminist discourse are applied to ‘femvertising’ (feminist advertising). Fraser’s ideas show how feminist values within femvertsing and the cultural progress they spurred, have paradoxically come to legitimate an institutional order that runs counter to feminist visions of a just society. Since this institutional order is based on power structures in which corporations flourish, brand activism should be understood as a form of ‘opinion management’ in the Habermasian sense of the word. Applying Fraser’s ideas moreover shows how brand activism complicates the problems associated with ‘regular’ public relations. By claiming to be activist, yet legitimating existing power structures, brand activism is not merely depoliticizing but also incapacitating resistance from within. These findings demonstrate how brand activism might be detrimental to public opinion formation and the democratic legitimacy of our institutional order, but also that Habermas might be overly optimistic in his confidence in civil society.




December 23, 2023


December 28, 2023