All in One: Digital Influencers as Market Agents of Popular Culture.

Autorde Souza-Leao, Andre Luiz Maranhao

1 Introduction

In recent years, the socio-cultural context has been continuously changing, which is reflected in consumer practices (Bardhi & Eckhardt, 2017; Schmitt, 2019). Consequently, marketing research has started to consider an alternative approach as a possibility to investigate consumption as a cultural practice. In this venture, Arnould and Thompson (2005) present the existence of an alternative research tradition which is defined as Consumer Culture Theory (CCT).

Despite its name, CCT can be better understood as a research community (Jantzen et al., 2012); it is an emerging rhetorical construction, materialized through the analysis of consumption as a cultural practice, based on the combination of researchers' experience and social praxis (Bode & 0stergaard, 2013). Characterized by the aegis of the interpretive paradigm, these investigations consider that consumption relations are no longer only interpreted from a utilitarian or behavioral perspective, but can now also be understood as a cultural phenomenon (Arnould & Thompson, 2005; 2015).

The cultural perspective of consumption that guides CCT studies does not view culture as homogeneous, but rather as heterogeneous, and they have investigated how marketplace ideologies are propagated by different actors in massively measured practices (Arnould & Thompson 2005, 2007). This conception overlaps with the political action present in consumer practices, observed from the point of view of how producers try to conduct and reproduce consumer behaviors that are satisfactory to them (Arnould & Thompson, 2007; Casotti & Suarez, 2016), thus establishing relationships of power (Arnould & Thompson, 2015).

The media has been fundamental in this process, as it articulates truths taken by market agents (Cronin & Hopkinson, 2017). This is because the media discourse manifests social values present in certain contexts from their representations of reality present in their production and reception (Fairclough, 1995; Freitas, Dornela, Silva, Valadao, & Medeiros, 2019). Producers build their media texts based on the assumption that they will be interpreted by consumers; however, consumers incorporate their own interpretative conditions into their reading (Charaudeau, 2006; O'Keeffe, 2006).

The media role has been changed by the resonance of social networks (Paiva et al., 2017). They are increasingly becoming a strategic resource to promote brands and products (McQuarrie et al., 2013; Uzunoglu & Kip, 2014). Such platforms allow not only instant feedback on the level of interaction and scope for the propagation of the content produced for the media, but also allow users to form direct and interactive relationship channels (Van Dijck, 2013). Social media are exponents derived from possibilities for new marketing strategies based on communication practices that, among other factors, legitimize the role of digital influencers in this context (Sette & Brito, 2020; Zanette et al., 2013).

The impact of digital influencers on consumer practices is based on how they reach millions of users through their profiles on social platforms (Sudha & Sheena, 2017). Increasingly, consumers rely more on these influencers than on brand communications, hence they have become the target for marketing endorsements (Magno & Cassia, 2018; Uzunoglu & Kip, 2014, 2014). Digital influencers build their authority from the trust and authenticity they display when expressing identity projects that are congruent with their audience's perspectives and expectations (McQuarrie et al., 2013; Sette & Brito, 2020; Zanette et al., 2013). When different marketing agents--as is the case with digital influencers and their audience--converge into manifestations of consumer identity projects, they are even able to legitimize, destabilize, or transform market ideologies (Thompson, 2004; Thompson et al., 2018).

Accordingly, it is common to investigate how digital influencers usually lead their audience's attitudes and perceptions, becoming relevant agents for the media promotion of brands (Sette & Brito, 2020; Uzunoglu & Kip, 2014). The contents which they produce can be understood as complementary texts that allude to mainstream content. Those texts resemble the paratexts proposed by Genette (1987): texts which are produced in an allusive way to another text that, despite being autonomous of the paratext, can have its reading improved by it. The function of the paratext ranges from complementation to extrapolation, as it provides the reader with new interpretations of his/her readings (Gray, 2010).

In this sense, paratextuality is the production of a text that complements or extrapolates an original text (Genette, 1987; Gray, 2010). Its functions include passing on the products and preparing consumers for the consumption experience (Hills & Garde-Hansen, 2017; Sorenssen, 2016). So, the content produced by digital influencers regarding popular culture, a segment that has become increasingly emblematic for CCT studies (McQuarrie et al., 2013; Sugihartati, 2020), can be understood as in-media-res paratexts (Mittell, 2015; Steiner, 2015) that allow the understanding of media products to be complemented or broadened (Duffett, 2013) and the discourses that emerge around them (Dalmonte, 2015).

Thus, this research aims to understand how popular culture digital influencer channels produce paratexts that complement and broaden the consumption of media texts. It contributes to a CCT agenda by addressing ideological mediations of consumption, a relevant theme that is much less investigated than consumer and even brand practices. Also, the current study focuses on an emerging market actor with growing interest in the research tradition.

The research is justified as it explores digital influencers' production of content as a way of exploring media discourses (Cotter, 2019; Godey et al., 2016; Uzunoglu & Kip, 2014). This is something that increasingly allows marketplace ideologies and market agencies to be established and transformed (Cronin & Hopkinson, 2017; Thompson, et al., 2018). It also views paratexts as a fruitful concept in establishing market relations. Despite the paratext concept already being established in Cultural Studies (Gray, 2010; Hills & Garde-Hansen, 2017), it is still scarcely explored by consumer research (Hackley & Hackley, 2019).

To this end, we seek to present, in the literature sections, an articulation between media discourses present in marketplace ideologies and market agencies. Then, we explore how the role of digital influencers as consumer mediators works as a paratextual production of media products. Further on, in the methodological section, the concepts and our execution of Foucauldian discourse analysis are presented. After that, the results are discussed and, later, reflected on in order to give continuity to the theoretical basis of the study. Finally, we answer the research question and point out possibilities for future research agendas in the final considerations section.

2 theoretical basis for the study

As mentioned in the elaboration of the research problem, the present study focuses on the paratextuality of digital influencers to establish market discourses. For this purpose, the paper briefly presents CCT as an alternative for consumer research. Based on one of its thematic domains, it assumes that marketplace ideologies establish media discourses. These discourses lead to the production of paratexts that deal with cultural objects. Digital influencers, who are responsible for creating and diffusing part of these paratexts, act as mediators of consumption practices, as shown in Figure 1. The sections below articulate these connections.

2.1 Marketplace ideologies: a consumer culture theory thematic domain

The proposition of Consumer Culture Theory as an alternative consumer research tradition which reflects a growing movement is to understand how recent sociocultural changes affect consumer practices. To do so, it is valid to investigate consumption related with concepts from culturalist anthropology, reality understood as a sociocultural construction, subjectivities present in human relations, and symbolic aspects that encourage interactional practices such as consumption (Gaiao, Souza, & Leao, 2012; Jantzen et al., 2012).

In the original proposition, Arnould and Thompson (2005) present thematic domains that illustrate the existence of the alternative consumer research tradition since the 1980s. Two years later, the authors (see Arnould & Thompson, 2007) revisit their seminal study to indicate how the four domains presented are not fixed and disconnected, but fluid and overlapping. This characteristic reveals how CCT is a research tradition that encompasses a set of theoretical perspectives to understand consumption as a cultural phenomenon. These domains are mutually interrelated; they are manifested in different consumption contexts that reveal how CCT works as a heuristic exploration of the cultural element inherent to consumption practices (Arnould & Thompson, 2018; Arnould et al., 2020). The four thematic domains are: consumer identity projects, considering that market practices bring together a range of mythical and symbolic resources through which consumers--the people who interact with a given product, whether through financial resources or not--build and maintain the manifestations of their identities (Belk, 1988; Holt, 2002); marketplace cultures, in the academic effort to unveil the processes by which specific cultural contexts instantiate the culture of consumption, addressing the ways that consumers forge feelings of connection with other marketing agents from common interests and consumption practices (Kozinets, 2002; Muniz & O'Guinn, 2001); the sociohistorical pattern of consumption, a flow of research dedicated to investigating how socially institutionalized structures (e.g., class, ethnicity, gender) systematically influence consumption (Otnes et al...

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