Coca-Cola vs. Obesity. Visual communication in CSR advertising and legitimacy management

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School of Business | Master's thesis
International Business Communication
International Business Communication
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Objective of the study: This study aimed to analyze how the Coca-Cola Company, the leading beverage brand in the United States, used multimodality to legitimize its position in an anti-obesity advertisement named Coming Together, and how Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a public health advocate group, used a parody version of the same advertisement to illegitimate the company. The more specific focus was given on how the advertisement and the parody perceive legitimacy and in which ways they are building or questioning it. Methodology and the Analytical Framework: The study utilized a theoretical framework combining legitimacy and CSR advertising theories. The framework considers legitimacy to be the ultimate goal of CSR, and indicates how legitimacy has an influence on what kind of responsibilities the companies should address. In addition, it focuses on advertising of corporate social initiatives, such as the Coming Together campaign, and discusses the different factors influencing on consumer scepticism. The data of the study, two videos, was analysed with the qualitative methods of systemic functional multimodal discourse analysis, since it enabled to reveal the socio-political connections of the videos instead of focusing only on their content. Findings and Conclusions: The main findings of the study revealed that the Coca-Cola Company aimed to build procedural legitimacy in its Coming Together advertisement by embracing concrete actions, which they believed to be in line with the general perception of accurate methods to support healthy habits. By focusing on these actions, it shifted the attention from the obesity issue as such, and aimed to diminish the linkage between obesity and its beverages altogether by framing the beverages to be part of a healthy and active everyday life. The parody version's perspective on legitimacy was fundamentally different in comparison to the original version. Instead of criticising the represented actions as such, CSPI focused on questioning the structural legitimacy of the company by pointing out issues that can decrease the moral support of the public. With this perspective, it framed the Coca-Cola Company to be a hypocritical organization that only aims to increase its own sales with the advertisement.
multimodality, visual, communication, CSR, advertising, parody, obesity, skepticism
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