Auditioning for Amazon: The dark side of place branding and corporate domination

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


This case study on the dark side of communication and place branding explores the Amazon corporation’s highly-publicized competitive search for a city to become their second headquarters (dubbed HQ2). In 2017 Amazon sent an open Request for Proposals (RFP) to cities in North America defining what constitutes an ‘ideal’ headquarters. In addition to offering capital and incentives, Amazon’s ideal city is a creative-thinking, business-friendly metropolitan hub that attracts technical talent. The RFP motivated 238 cities to submit proposals communicating their particular ‘business-friendly brand’. A year of intense media attention later, Amazon announced they would split their second U.S. headquarters between two cities in New York and Virginia. Our empirical materials include Amazon’s public H2Q documents, 15 cities’ publicly available proposals, and 10-15 city-generated promotional videos. We draw on critical discourse analysis (Fairclough, 1993), critical studies of branding (Mumby, 2016) and Powers’ (1997) Audit Society to explore how a branding orientation shifts the power relationships between cities and corporations. Expected findings include insights into how cities brand themselves for Amazon in text and imagery, how cities make themselves ‘auditable’ and with what effects, and how a brand orientation is generated in the interaction between corporate strategizing and city management. Inviting cities to brand themselves around the Amazon ideal encouraged conformity to the Amazon brand, rather than diversity. This case shows how city branding becomes a medium of corporate interests.
ReferencesFairclough, N. (1993). Critical discourse analysis and the marketization of public discourse: The universities. Discourse & Society, 4(2), 133-168.
Mumby, D. K. 2016. “Organizing Beyond Organization: Branding, Discourse, and Communicative Capitalism,” Organization, 23, 884–907.
Power, M. (1997). The audit society: Rituals of verification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


External organisations
  • University of Colorado-Colorado Springs
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Business Administration
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Publication categoryResearch
EventThe dark side of communication : 2nd International and interdisciplinary conference on Discourse and Communication in Professional contexts - Aalborg university, Aalborg, Denmark
Duration: 2019 Aug 142019 Aug 16
Conference number: 19


ConferenceThe dark side of communication
Abbreviated titleICDC
Internet address