Doctoral Dissertations

Orcid ID

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Business Administration

Major Professor

Daniel J. Flint

Committee Members

Alex R. Zablah, John Eric Haley, Annika K. Abell


An increasing number of consumers expect brands to take a stand on social issues. In response to this trend, brands such as Gillette, Microsoft, and Always have advertised their positions on salient issues in public discourse (e.g., gender equality, racial equality, and voting rights). But some CSR ads generate a positive consumer reception, and others create controversy and polarization. This dissertation examines how and when CSR advertising positively and negatively impacts brand attitudes.

In the first essay, I apply the salience theory of competition to a brand advertising context. Through a series of four experiments, I find that the effectiveness of riding the wave (advertising about a highly salient issue in public discourse) depends on an issue’s consensus level. However, advertising a lower consensus (LC) issue does not necessarily lead to polarization – adopting a non-salient (versus salient) issue can lead to more (less) favorable brand attitudes. These effects also depend on individual issue importance. The first essay (a) opens a new theoretical corridor for CSR advertising, (b) demonstrates how the advertising context influences brand attitudes, (c) provides a holistic framework for issue selection, and (d) generates new insight on individual issue importance.

In the second essay, I explore when CSR advertising becomes lecturing using a mixed-methods approach that proceeds through three phases. First, phenomenological interviews reveal five emergent themes underlying the experience of being lectured. Second, I apply these themes to 200 CSR Tweets from over 75 brands and identify the prevalent use of presupposition, an assumption a speaker makes about shared knowledge or beliefs. Finally, through a series of four experiments, I find that more (less) subtle presupposition leads to higher (lower) message agreement. The final study shows that the effectiveness of less subtle presupposition depends on the brand’s activism stage. The second essay (a) introduces a thematic framework for the experience of being lectured known as the Lecturing Experience Ascension Process (LEAP), (b) applies a new linguistic concept to advertising discourse, and (c) empirically demonstrates how brand activism stage differentially impacts consumer attitudes toward the brand when an ad uses less subtle presupposition.

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