Research

on Symbolic Boundary Work

Via experiential consumption

Consuming for an Imagined Future: Middle Class Consumer Lifestyle and Exploratory Experiences in the Transition to Adulthood

Weinberger, Michelle F.,  Jane Zavisca and Jennifer M. Silva (2017), Journal of Consumer Research, 44 (2), 332–360.

This study examines middle-class consumption and lifestyle during the transition to adulthood in the United States. Based on analysis of qualitative data from interviews with emerging adults between adolescence and settled adulthood, we argue that middle-class emerging adulthood is marked by a focus on exploratory experience consumption: the consumption of novel experiences with cultural capital potential. This tacit, embodied orientation is rooted in a habitus developed during entitled childhoods but is also shaped by an anticipated shortage of opportunities for exploration after they marry and have children. Accordingly, middle-class emerging adults voraciously consume exploratory experiences now in the present with their imagined future selves in mind. The class basis for this orientation is examined through our analysis of interviews with working-class emerging adults whose lifestyles are focused not on experiential consumption but on a desire for the familiar, a fear of the unknown, and a longing for stability. The discussion focuses on how the middle-class consumer orientation toward exploratory experiences reinforces class (dis)advantage, life trajectories, and inequality.

Via consumption rituals and gift giving

Intracommunity Gifting at the Intersection of Contemporary Moral & Market Economies

Weinberger, Michelle F. and Melanie Wallendorf (2012), Journal of Consumer Research, 39 (1), 74-92.

Consumer research on gifting has primarily focused on the interpersonal meanings and behavior patterns associated with dyadic gifts that are specifically given from one individual to another and in which the central goal is interpersonal relationship maintenance. Yet we find another type of gifting when community members in one social position give to community members in another position in which the central goal is intracommunity, rather than interpersonal, relationship work. This ethnographic research details the ritual practices, structural components, and meanings associated with intracommunity gifts employing the empirical context of the post-Katrina New Orleans’ community celebration of Mardi Gras. Through this context, we detail how intracommunity gifting gives prominence to the logics of the moral economy while still drawing from those of the market economy. Beyond this context, we use our conclusions about the intersection of the market and moral economies to understand contemporary ambivalence to corporate sponsorships of local community events.

– Co-winner of Sidney J. Levy Award, research from a doctoral dissertation.

– Featured and reprinted in Thompson, Craig (2013) “The Politics of Consumer Identity Work,” Journal of Consumer Research, Research Curation.

– Featured and reprinted in Grayson, Kent (2014) “Morality and the Marketplace,” Journal of Consumer Research, Research Curation.

Dominant Consumption Rituals and Intragroup Boundary Work: How Non-Celebrants Manage Conflicting Relational and Identity Goals through Consumption

Weinberger, Michelle F. (2015), Journal of Consumer Research, 42(3), 378-400.

Through collective engagement in consumption rituals, group members reinforce intragroup relationships and the boundaries of the group. Yet, paradoxically, as intragroup diversity increases, dominant rituals deployed for this relational work can run counter to the ideologically rooted identities of some members. Using a sociological lens, this article focuses on the complexities of not celebrating a dominant collective consumption ritual by focusing on people who do not celebrate Christmas in America. The qualitative data analysis finds that non-celebrants use a set of ritual strategies that are grounded in their conflicting goals of protecting their ideologically rooted identities but also doing relational work with celebrators. It shows how non-celebrants deploy consumptive elements of the dominant ritual as symbolic resources to enact each strategy, foregrounding or backgrounding the symbolic boundary between themselves and celebrators. Beyond the context, contributions to the study of symbolic boundaries, identity politics, and collective consumption rituals are discussed.

Gifts: intertwining market and moral economies and the rise of store bought gifts 

Weinberger, Michelle F., (2017), Consumption, Markets, Culture, 20(3), 245-57.

Gifts are a major part of both economic and social life. This intertwined relationship between the market and moral economies has long been unsettling to those concerned about rationalized marketplace meanings contaminating and eroding the sacred social role of gift giving. Consumer researchers have analysed the important relationship work done through gift giving in the moral economy and the ways that the marketplace facilitates such work (or not). However, little has explored when, how, and why a store bought gift, rather than a homemade one, actually became acceptable. This paper uses three case studies from the early to mid-1800s to trace the rise of the store bought gift in the American marketplace. It highlights how the sociocultural context, marketing innovations, retailers, and meanings surrounding gifting all helped to ensconce gift giving as both a central component in the contemporary marketplace and a tool for symbolic communication in social life.

Other

Consumer Ethnicity Three Decades After: A TCR agenda

Visconti, L., A. Jafari, W. Batat, A. Broeckerhoff, A. Özhan Dedeoglu, C. Demangeot, E. Kipnis, A. Lindridge, L. Peñaloza, C. Pullig, F. Regany, E. Ustundagli, and M. F. Weinberger (2014), Journal of Marketing Management.

Research into consumer ethnicity is a vital discipline that has substantially evolved in the past three decades. This conceptual article critically reviews its immense literature and examines the extent to which it has provided extensive contributions not only for the understanding of ethnicity in the marketplace but also for personal/collective well-being. We identify two gaps accounting for scant transformative contributions. First, today social transformations and conceptual sophistications require a revised vocabulary to provide adequate interpretive lenses. Second, extant work has mostly addressed the subjective level of ethnic identity projects but left untended the meso/macro forces affecting ethnicity (de)construction and personal/collective well-being. Our contribution stems from filling both gaps and providing a theory of ethnicity (de)construction that includes migrants as well as non-migrants.

on  Marketing Communications and Meaning Making

Publicity and Advertising: What Matter Most for Sales?

Spotts, Harlan, Marc G. Weinberger, and Michelle F. Weinberger, (2014), European Journal of Marketing, 48 (11/12).

The study examines the relationship between existing corporate reputation, publicity, advertising activity, and sales levels for major multi-national companies in the technology products sector. It finds that positive publicity is most important in distinguishing between firms with higher and lower sales. The effects of negative publicity and advertising are dependent on a firm’s existing reputation. For companies with weaker reputations, positive publicity in tandem with B2C advertising is most highly associated with higher company sales. Conversely, for firms with stronger existing reputations, advertising has a significantly diminished role; positive and even negative publicity are most crucial in distinguishing between companies with high and low sales. Negative publicity can be harmful to these firms though if it is not balanced by more positive publicity. Finally, the topic of news coverage is related to sales. Generally, stories that are positive reporting on Business Outcomes, Leadership & Business Future, and Marketing Practices are most important in discriminating between firms with stronger vs. weaker sales. The findings have implications for how researchers and practitioners understand how stakeholders process different forms of marketing communications and the effects of such communications.

– Winner Outstanding Paper of 2014 Award, European Journal of Marketing.

– Version printed in AdMap / WARC Industry Magazine: “Integrate PR and Advertising to Boost Sales,” pages 14-6, March 2015.

How Publicity and Advertising Spending Affect Marketing and Company Performance

Spotts, Harlan, Marc G. Weinberger, and Michelle F. Weinberger, (2015) Journal of Advertising Research.

This study brings together five sets of industry data to develop a better understanding of the relative effects of specific marketing communications on a chain of “marketing productivity measures,” metrics that evaluate the influence of marketing at consumer, market, financial, and firm levels. The results reveal that publicity and advertising do have unique and different relative effects on the chain of marketing productivity. Further, publicity has a stronger relative importance compared with advertising for several indicators, a finding that has implications for the current marketing communications environment that is increasingly saturated with publicity from a variety of sources.

The results help researchers and practitioners understand the differential effects of marketing communications on a range of metrics important to organizations.

Looking in Through Outdoor: A Socio-Cultural and Historical Perspective on the Evolution of Advertising Humour

Weinberger, Marc G., Charles Gulas, Michelle F. Weinberger, (2015), International Journal of Advertising, 34(3), 447-472.

This study examines the evolving acceptance and use of humour in advertising over the past century. Sociologists point to humour as an expression of the macro-societal mood. Consistent with this thesis, we analyse two data sets of outdoor advertisements that span over 100 years. We use a socio-cultural and historical perspective to understand the underlying drivers and changes in humour use at both the macro-cultural level and at the micro-industry level in the US. The results reveal the contextual interplay that led to changes in the acceptance of humorous advertisements as well as the evolution of humour styles and elements.

The Role of Culture in Advertising Humor

Weinberger, Marc G., Charles Gulas, and Michelle F. Weinberger (2012), in Wells, Victoria and Gordon Foxall (ed.), Handbook of New Developments in Consumer Behaviour, 83-120

Humor has been studied by linguists, philosophers, psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists, and advertising researchers and its use in advertising dates back to the very roots of the field. English pub signs dating to the 1500s used incongruity. Puns appeared in print advertising by the 1700s. With the advent of radio advertising in the 1920s and television in the 1950s the acceptance and use of humor became widespread. Virtually all cultures make some use of humor in advertising; however its usage often differs between countries and sub-cultural groups. Paradoxically, while found in every culture, humor is specific to time and context. As a result, the amount and nature of successful humor attempts might also undergo changes based on changing contextual meanings. The focus of this chapter is not only on how contextualized cultural meanings shape perceptions of humor in advertising but also how humorous advertisements reflect and potentially influence cultural norms.

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