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1 Has communication become uncontrollable? Or rather, have communicators totally lost control over their content and audiences? If this were the case, should we regret that other stakeholders, consumers, citizens, associations, activists, etc. have taken the opposite view of communication that has been top-down for too long on the part of companies, brands, and a multitude of institutions, both private and public, of which they have been the targets and sometimes the victims, alienated or consenting? Or on the contrary, should we fear that new powers are being put in place, bringing a new order/disorder that would be more radical, more authoritarian, and more intolerant than the previous one, and would put our society in even greater peril?

2 Management in general and marketing are disciplines which give control (demand, offer, costs, production, etc.) a top priority. However, practitioners are unanimous in their opinion that the media, communities, and social networks have changed the face of marketing and communication and made them lose a large part of the control over their actions and results. Their opinions are often ambivalent towards the social sphere, arguing at the same time the tremendous potential of knowledge, targeting and access to their customers while regretting that their responses are not always those expected (Busca, 2017). Internet user engagement has become a marketing priority in the same way as user-generated content, recommendation indicators (net promoter score, for example) or online reputation. By turning the crowd of Internet users into allies of circumstances, organizations run the risk of becoming dependent and vulnerable to actors over whom they have no control. In the field of business as well as in the field of politics, the feeling that nothing would be controllable anymore and that these new platforms and tools would potentially generate hatred, radicalism, scientific untruths, or a generalized intellectual debasement is spreading untiringly. This field of social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Telegram, etc.) is often taken over by a crowd of fake profiles, “haters”, “trolls”, anonymous conspiracy theorists, vengeful customers, or competitors, etc. Audiences are thus constantly bombarded with information that they struggle to determine whether it is truth, post-truth, or a blatant lie (Di Domenico et al., 2021). The potentially dark side of social media thus counterbalances its bright sides and necessitates the development of new, more appropriate theories to understand the mechanics and mechanisms at work (Baccarella et al., 2018; Demetis, 2020).

3 In the field of marketing research, and more particularly in consumer behavior, the empowerment of customers, Internet users and the “invisible” members of society is often presented as a necessary counterweight to the maneuvers of companies, the media, politicians, or institutions, and as a societal objective that can be valued. After decades of marketing and communication strategies based on an offensive or even warlike semantics to approach consumers (tactics, target, position, defense, conquest, etc.), which has produced numerous negative externalities (overconsumption, materialism, job destruction, climate impact, addictions, obesity, sedentariness, etc.), consumer opposition or rebellion is seen as a salutary phenomenon and as a manifestation of a greater democratization (Asmussen et al., 2013). The risks of this, however, are often ignored or underestimated, including the risk of giving voice to a hateful, destructive, and irresponsible crowd. Yet, as Victor Hugo said, “often the crowd betrays the people”. The contents generated on the media, discussion forums and social networks are not the expression of the majority, but on the contrary those of active minorities who consider themselves more enlightened and less alienated (law of the 1%). The activism of a few consumer groups is indeed aimed at «guiding the action of ordinary consumers» (Bouillé, Basso and Robert-Demontrond, 2016). Is it then legitimate to substitute the order of corporations, media, politics or public institutions with an order that would be self-managed by a crowd of activist and acting minorities?

4 Moreover, how can we ignore the driving role of the large platforms that structure and energize our economy, with the GAFAMs (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft) at the forefront, which feed this new economy and reap all the benefits. These huge platforms get most of their value from our personal data, master the world of artificial intelligence, develop algorithms focused on engagement that lock us in “filter bubbles” and feed on our various exchanges and controversies. In a statement on April 25, 2022, the social network Twitter accepted the offer of Elon Musk, owner of 9.2% of the shares, to buy the remaining 90.8% of shares at a rate of $54.20 per share. By spending more than 43 billion dollars, this billionaire entrepreneur could take control over a part of the social sphere with more than 215 million users in 2022, including 179 million in the United States and 12 million in France. As a stated objective, Elon Musk intends to promote greater freedom of expression, in compliance with the laws of the countries concerned, and to diametrically review the security and moderation rules set up by the company. Some of these rules had notably led to the eviction of Donald Trump from the social network and to the launch of a social network, «Truth», which would allow him to express himself without measure, as American laws are more permissive than those of many other countries. This example underlines how radicalism, hatred, intolerance, systematic polemics, conspiracy, etc. are essential to the development of social media and networks and how companies as well as consumers can become the instruments of an economy that exceeds them.

5 Coincidence or not, on April 21, 2022, former U.S. President Barack Obama accused the major social networking platforms of amplifying “the worst instincts of humanity” and judged that “one of the major causes of the weakening of democracies is the profound change in the way we communicate and inform ourselves”. The episode of the assault on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021, did indeed leave its mark on people’s minds and highlighted the limits of free expression online. Two days later, in a press release dated April 23, 2022, the European Union announced the “Digital Service Act” (DSA) whose mission will be to regulate this digital universe and the platforms that dominate it. This legislation on digital services and digital markets has two stated objectives [1]: “to create a safer digital space in which the fundamental rights of all users of digital services are protected; to establish a level playing field to foster innovation, growth and competitiveness, both within the European single market and globally. Faced with the growing power of platforms, states seem to be forced to stop letting the invisible hand of conversations do the talking and are trying to implement sufficient regulation to protect their populations, their economy, and their own sovereignty.

6 So what are the implications for our marketing research?

7 In our opinion, the first is to approach digital phenomena without underestimating their societal impact, the problems of digital sovereignty and privacy and the business models that underlie them. The digitization of customer journeys or distribution channels, the implementation of digital strategies or even connected environments and experiences (Internet of things (IOT), smart city, virtual reality, metaverses, etc.) have impacts that go beyond the micro-level (a company, customers, etc.).

8 The second is not to underestimate the weight of ideologies in the motivations and oppositions of actors, whether they are managers, elected officials, the media, institutions or consumers, customers, and citizens… or researchers. Marketing has had a relatively little conversation with political science, even though politics is a part of everyone’s opinions and decisions, especially in our democracies. By meeting a multitude of stakeholders, everyone must try to understand «where they are talking from» and adopt a more critical approach.

9 Finally, the third is to do research that is rooted in and inspired by reality, in connection with news and current affairs, terms that are widely abused and devalued in research, but which attempts to go beyond it. Our research topics must be more in tune with the times and respond to the major economic, ecological, societal, and political issues facing decision-makers (public, private, etc.). Very often in scientific articles, this relationship to current affairs is at best fabricated, if not anecdotal (managerial implications “to be found” by authors). However, the positioning of Décisions Marketing is fundamentally centered on the understanding of contemporary decision contexts and on a project of transferring the results of scientific research to decision-makers. This work of constant impregnation of the current affairs underlying organizations’ decision-making and this willingness to engage in a scientific mediation with these stakeholders are indeed at the heart of the project of Décisions Marketing since its origins in 1993. They allow everyone to respond to new problems with new concepts, methods and tools. This is what the authors and readers of Décisions Marketing, including those featured in this issue, are committed to. They deal alternately with the product, political or corporate communication or digital transformation and underline the need to finely understand their effects - sometimes counter-intuitive - on various publics (consumers, buyers, audiences, job applicants, distributors, etc.). And we thank them for that.

10 In the food sector, Lydiane Nabec, Nathalie Guichard, Valérie Hémar-Nicolas and Florence Durieux examine the combined roles of the nutriscore and the nature of the brand (national brand vs. private label) in informing parents about food products for children. In the case of a C/Yellow or E/Orange nutriscore, private labels are significantly less disadvantaged than national brands among parents.

11 In the field of politics, Nadr El Hana and Ouidade Sabri investigate how humor, and in particular parody, affects the attitude towards the parodied politician. The disrepute of the politician’s program, contents or ideas is more effective than personal attacks. On the contrary, the latter becomes counterproductive because many people have an unfavorable attitude towards them or do not consider them ethical.

12 Catherine Madrid and Mariana Vlad analyze retailer applications and compare the communicated value with the perceived value. They highlight the potential gaps between the value that the brands, in this case, Casino Max and Mon E. Leclerc, promise through their applications and the value that is perceived by customers. This article shows how retailers could then communicate in a richer and more efficient way on the value they deliver to their customers and thus increase their adoption and usage.

13 Then, Soffien Bataoui, Jessica Gérard and Christelle Martin-Lacroux observe how much the hospitality of a website, in this case of an SME, influences the firm’s attractiveness towards candidates. They underline that the virtual hospitality of a site accentuates the warmth and the perceived competence of the company and thus favors the intention to apply for a job. For example, the insertion of photographs or testimonials from employees could contribute to the attractiveness of these SMEs.

14 In the retail sector, Maud Daniel, Elisa Monnot, Fanny Reniou and Lucie Sirieix investigate the specificities of bulk distribution and highlight how theories of practice can be used to adapt the retailing mix in this field. Based on a qualitative study including interviews with retailers, visits, and photographs of retail outlets as well as a press review, they recommend the implementation of an adapted retailing-mix that would better take into account different materials, skills and meanings related to bulk distribution.

15 Finally, Jean-Marc Joyeux, Jean-François Notebaert and Bertrand Belvaux examine the extent to which digitization, through the mediation of large digital platforms, is leading to the process of bypassing wholesalers in distribution channels. From a qualitative study, they observe that disintermediation is not total. Despite the advent of digital platforms, wholesalers are still in charge of managing the most expensive and risky flows, which are also often high value-added.

References

  • OnlineAsmussen B., Harridge-March S., Occhiocupo N., Farquhar J. (2013), The multi-layered nature of the internet-based democratization of brand management, Journal of Business Research, 66(9): 1473-1483.
  • OnlineBaccarella C. V., Wagner T. F., Kietzmann J. H., McCarthy I. P. (2018), Social media? It’s serious! Understanding the dark side of social media, European Management Journal, 36(4): 431-438.
  • OnlineBouillé J., Basso F., Robert-Demontrond P. (2016), La rhétorique incarnée de l’activisme consumériste au regard de la théorie de la métaphore conceptuelle : étude exploratoire et perspectives de recherche, Recherche et Applications en Marketing, 31(2): 1-27.
  • Busca L. (2017), Le façonnement des marchés par les pratiques marketing routinières : une application au Social Media Management. Thèse de Doctorat en Sciences de Gestion, Université Toulouse Capitole, Toulouse (France).
  • OnlineDemetis Dionysios S. (2020), Breaking bad online: A synthesis of the darker sides of social networking sites, European Management Journal, 38(1): 33-44.
  • OnlineDi Domenico G., Sit J., Ishizaka A., Nunan D. (2021), Fake news, social media and marketing: A systematic review, Journal of Business Research, 124: 329-341.
Uploaded on Cairn-int.info on 29/07/2022
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