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Stories From an (Un)lived Past: Applying Narrative Theory, Vicarious Nostalgia and Brand Authenticity to Urban Outfitters' Instagram Advertising Practices

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posted on 24.05.2021, 12:57 by Cristina Rizzardo
This study develops a narrative-focused analytic model that assesses how a brand communicates its narrative identity by incorporating vicarious nostalgia as a branding practice. Nostalgia as a branding strategy aims to leverage affect and emotion in consumption practices. This is carried out via engagement with stories of an era primarily unlived by the brand’s targeted consumer base. In the presence of nostalgic associations, this strategy facilitates the impression of brand longevity and, thus, brand authenticity and legitimacy. This major research paper applies these theoretical discourses to a case study of the American lifestyle brand Urban Outfitters’ digital advertising implementations on Instagram. A multimodal approach guided the analysis of narrative communication patterns that occurred throughout the 2014 calendar year on the brand’s Instagram account. The findings indicate that Urban Outfitters uses Instagram’s digital infrastructure to facilitate a cohesive brand narrative that is both temporally and causally structured. This narrative encompasses plotlines, settings, and characters of an idealized era that the brand’s targeted consumer base is unacquainted with yet endeavours to elicit consumer identification with the brand nonetheless. Finally, by using an authentic mode of communication as well as cues that faithfully depict the character and culture of a former era, Urban Outfitters generates the same projections of authenticity that nostalgic brands with longstanding histories have by virtue of age. This project offers suggestions for further research including the adaptation of the study to other social media platforms, as well as expanding it to integrate user response to the social media content.





Master of Professional Communication


Professional Communication

Granting Institution

Ryerson University

LAC Thesis Type