The Age of Fake News


Brands and Brand Management Under Threat, Special issue of Journal of Product and Brand Management; Deadline 2 Sep 2018

SPECIAL ISSUE on Brands and Brand Management Under Threat in an Age of Fake News


Leyland Pitt, PhD., Professor of Marketing, Dennis F. Culver EMBA Alumni Chair of Business, Beedie School of Business, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada, Email:

Kirk Plangger, PhD., Assistant Professor in Marketing, King’s Business School, King’s College London, London, UK, Email:



“When a headline asks a question, the answer should be, no”. As ridiculous as this might seem, this law even has a name: Betteridge’s Law. Formulated by the British journalist Ian Betteridge, it is based on the notion that “news outlets use questions with stories that do not possess sufficient facts to support the nut graph” (Murtha, 2015).

“Are alternative facts, facts?” President Trump’s advisor Kelly-Anne Conway used the term “alternative facts” during a Meet the Press interview in January 2017. In it she defended Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s false statement about the attendance numbers at the Trump presidential inauguration. Asked by a journalist, Chuck Todd, to explain why Spicer "utter[ed] a provable falsehood", her clarification was that Spicer was merely stating "alternative facts". Todd’s response was that “alternative facts are not facts, they are falsehoods”.

We live in an age of fake news, and this has serious consequences for society as a whole and for brands and brand management in particular. Fake news has always been with us – we can be certain that our earliest ancestors spread fake news. This might have been merely to amuse themselves (“You’ll love those forests, there aren’t any tigers there”); to mislead their enemies (“Our spirits dictate that we should never attack you on Thursdays”); or to gain exclusive use of resources for themselves (“Greenland is wonderful, everything is green,” said Eric the Red). However, the scale of fake news nowadays is unprecedented, enabled and indeed driven by the Internet, and especially, social media. Two constructs characterize the effect of fake news on our world, namely “truthiness”, and what we term “post-fact”. Truthiness simply means that the validity of something is based on how it “feels” rather than what it is, and the world is what you wish it (Cooke, 2017; Speed and Mannion, 2017). Post-fact means that we often accept things regardless of objective, verifiable statements about them and the world we inhabit (Cerf, 2017).

Brands are implicated with fake news in a number of important ways. First, there can be fake news about that can be damaging to it’s reputation with consumers. For example, there have been persistent rumors over many years, the latest of which emerged in 2016, that the fast food brand McDonalds was using ground worm filler in its burger patties. Despite the fact that this is blatantly untrue, the fake news spread easily on social media, and is believed by many consumers. Second, bona fide brand advertisements, in all kinds of advertising media, often appear next to fake news in a way that can be seen to support or verify the bogus content. An unsuspecting viewer is more likely to believe a bogus story when the content is being sponsored by a well-known and trusted brand. Very recently Vodafone became the first company to develop a concerted strategy to ensure that its ads would not appear in any vehicle featuring fake news. Third, when stories are found to be fake, brands risk being contaminated by association. Kellogg Co. was forced to pull its sponsorship of the ‘alternative fact’ site Breitbart. It’s customers threatened to boycott the company for its apparent support of suspect and misleading news. Fourth, brands either consciously or inadvertently finance fake news. In the search for greater reach, brands try to associate themselves with the most popular stories – whether these are true or fake. Ironically, brands are very often the primary force behind the explosion of fake news: simply fake news attracts eyeballs, and eyeballs attract advertisers. Fake news tends to attract attention because it more easily fits into peoples’ prejudices. Brands fund fake news sites both directly and indirectly. They fund them directly on the one hand, by simply targeting popular sites, because web traffic attracts advertisers. On the other, they target sites based on the information search profiles of likely customers, based on the type of story or product that potential customers are attracted to. They also fund them indirectly by following or tracking customers as they surf from site to site. Here it’s not the site that attracts the advertiser, but the customer. These simple algorithmic approaches to targeting are increasingly automated, and this exacerbates matters.

Brand managers have long been exposed to a wide range of critical issues, both internal and external, that threaten the viability of what many regards as firms’ most valuable intangible assets. Similarly, the brand management literature, as well as the broader marketing literature, has given considerable attention to an array of issues that menace brands, including environmental catastrophes, brand crises, misleading advertising, product recall calamities, fake branded goods, and brand misappropriation. However, to date, very little attention has been devoted to fake news about brands, and fake news by brands. This special issue of JPBM has the objective of starting that dialog, and laying the groundwork for future work in the interesting and challenging domain.

We invite submissions on a broad range of topics in this regard, and welcome both conceptual and empirical contributions. Some suggestions for broad themes include:

·       Conceptual models of and theoretical expositions on how brands are impacted by fake news

·       Is all fake news the same, or is fake news about brands conceptually or empirically different?

·       The philosophical evolution of fake news and its impact on brands – modern and postmodern perspectives

·       How consumers process and respond to fake news about brands?

·       How does fake news about brands spread on social media? What compels consumers to share fake news either by digital or traditional means? To what extent does emotion or content attributes play consumers’ sharing intention?

·       To what extent are different kinds of customers susceptible to fake news? Are some fake news stories more believable than others?

·       How do brand managers view fake news? What are their strategies for adapting to the threats posed by fake news?

·       What insights do data from social media provide regarding fake news and brands?

·       What are the consumer implications in terms of attitudes, behaviors, or relationships from the direct or indirect sponsorship of non-brand fake news?

·       What lessons can be learned from famous case studies of brands and fake news?


All papers need to be submitted online to the Special Issue on “Brands and Brand Management Under Threat in an Age of Fake News” through the ScholarOne System ( For informal enquiries you can contact the guest editors.

Deadline for submissions: 2nd September 2018.



Cerf, V. G. (2017), “Can liberty survive the digital age?”, Communications of the ACM, Vol. 60, No. 5, pp. 7-7.

Cooke, N. A. (2017), “Post truth, Truthiness, and Alternative Facts: Information Behavior and Critical Information Consumption for a New Age”. The Library Quarterly, Vol. 87, No. 3, pp. 211-221.

Murtha, J. (2015), “Can you really tell an entire story in a headline?”, Columbia Journalism Review, Sept-Oct, p. 6.

Speed, E., & Mannion, R. (2017). “The rise of post-truth populism in pluralist liberal democracies: challenges for health policy”, International Journal of Health Policy and Management, Vol. 6, No. 5, pp. 249-251.