Stigma of smell: The co-evolution of social exclusion and the legitimacy of the deodorant industry

Stephanie Schreven, Kristina Auxtova, Stelios Zyglidopoulos

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Stigmatisation, a form of social exclusion, is well documented to negatively affect well-being and life chances. This research explores how the deodorant industry capitalises on our sensorial impressions by stigmatising those who are ‘smelly’. In particular, we analyse how deodorant advertising balances the stigmatisation of smell with a de-stigmatising solution. Combined, this establishes boundaries for exclusion and inclusion, making inclusion possible, but also conditional, while simultaneously legitimising a product and industry.
As Williamson (1978) argues, when we ‘interpret’ advertisements, “we do not produce a genuine ‘meaning’ but consume a predetermined ‘solution’” (p.75). What is the solution to exclusion, historically speaking, that advertisements propose, and how does de-stigmatisation take shape? Despite advertising being commonly understood as a cultural text that proposes socially desirable, accepted (and expected) behaviours, as exemplified by the pioneering work of Williamson (1978), marketing literature only sparingly addresses stigma (Ellen & Bone 2008).
This study, interdisciplinary in nature, thus draws on sociological theory, institutional theory, historical sociology, and relies on archival research. Through in-depth historical analysis of deodorant advertisements, we aim to understand the process that simultaneously led to the stigmatisation of odour, and hence social exclusion, and the legitimation of the deodorant industry offering the solution of inclusion via de-stigmatisation. The data will be collected from the archives of the History of Advertising Trust and analysed using semiotic analysis.
Our study offers an original contribution to existing research on stigma in marketing and constitutes an original project that traces how a product and industry legitimises itself by drawing boundaries around social inclusion through advertising, which is also of interest to management and corporate social responsibility scholars.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jul 2021
EventPRME UK & Ireland Chapter Conference 2021: Crises and the Rethinking of Responsibility - Lincoln, United Kingdom
Duration: 5 Jul 20217 Jul 2021


ConferencePRME UK & Ireland Chapter Conference 2021
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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  • Stigma of smell

    Schreven, S., Auxtova, K. & Zyglidopoulos, S.

    11/01/21 → …

    Project: Research

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