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Abstract

Few television commercials for alcohol end with the protagonist slumped unconscious on the couch, falling off a bar stool, or driving a car into a telephone pole. To the contrary, as many of us have experienced, advertising writes a very different narrative: that purchase and consumption of the advertised beverage will make one more attractive, expand one's social circle, and yield unbridled happiness. It is a story that, the advertiser hopes, will inspire consumers to choose its beverage during the next trip to the store; in this vein, the true protagonist of the commercial is the brand.

Marketing scholars and, to a lesser extent, trademark scholars have increasingly viewed advertising and branding through the lens of literary theory, recognizing that consumers interpret communications about a product using many of the same tools that they use to interpret other kinds of texts. But this lens has not been similarly focused on an important counternarrative: the warning or disclaimer (such as "Caution: This product may contain nuts" on a candy bar or "Not authorized by Starbucks" on a poster that uses the chain's logo to humorous effect). While all forms of branding, advertising, and marketing are ways of communicating information about a product to consumers, warnings and disclaimers are a special kind of communication: unadorned, declarative statements purportedly meant to cause a consumer to act in a particular way or reach a specific cognitive result. They are counternarratives both in the voice they adopt-less emotional, more stentorian-and in the message they communicate. But narratives they remain.

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