The article, “The Safety of Objects: Materialism, Existential Insecurity, and Brand Connection,” (Rindfleisch et al. 2008) roots itself in Terror Management Theory (TMT; Greenberg et al. 1990; Greenberg et al. 1986).  In particular, this theory is based on research in social and clinical psychology that posits self-esteem and cultural tendencies are susceptible to fears of death and other tragic uncertainties.  Rindfleisch et al. use TMT in part as the motivational factor of their particular research, employing it as the synthetic framework for their new discovery.  It achieves this by exposing extant marketing research on materialism and brand connections to the new framework and then conducting empirical research to validate the new proposition.

            The logical explanation provided by the research presented in Rindfleisch et al. can be assessed by the positivist model presented by Hempel and Oppenheim (1948).  This model assumes that there are both antecedent conditions to a phenomenon and general laws (a universal affirmative or generally accepted principle).  By the power of deductive reasoning and logic, if there is a series of valid antecedent conditions and general laws, the explanation of the phenomenon must also be valid and sufficiently explained.

            Hempel and Oppenheim describe the explanation of a phenomenon as having two parts: the explanans and the explanandum.  The explanans (predictor) is the set of antecedent conditions and general laws; the explanandum is the description of the phenomenon to be explained.  Therefore the explanadum is the consequence of the explanans.  According to Hempel and Oppenheim, the soundness of an explanation relies on 1) general laws that serve as a necessary condition for a sound explanation and, 2) empiricism that tests whether or not the general laws predict the explanandum.

            The Rindfleisch et al. article follows the Hempel and Oppenheim view of scientific explanation by using TMT (derived in part from death anxiety, mortality salience, and self-esteem) to drive the empirical work bridging the gap between materialism and brand connections.  First, it proposes a conceptualization of materialism, a conceptualization of brand connections, and a conceptualization of how insecurity leads to materialism as a result of insecurity.  TMT explains “why materialistic individuals employ brand connections as a means of assuaging existential insecurity” (p.2).  From these general laws provided as part of the explanans, Rindfleisch et al. thereby deduce the article’s fundamental proposition that materialism is associated with high materialism when existential insecurity is high and low materialism when existential insecurity is low.

            Empirical measurement is used to test this proposition in a two-study process; these measurements can be treated as antecedent conditions in the explanans.  In the first study, a sampling frame is given a survey with items from various scales measuring the proposition’s key concepts.  Using high-low blocking conditions for the measure of existential insecurity, they form regression interactions to estimate the effect of materialism on the two conditions, the theoretical proposition is affirmed; brand connections provide materialistic individuals with a coping mechanism for existential insecurity.

            The second study is an experimental study, designed to cross-validate and extend the results of the first study, making the central thesis more robust.  This experimental manipulation adds another antecedent condition that provides further support for the explanandum.  The high-low median split blocking technique is then used on the results of the manipulation, ensuring the robustness of the empirical testing.  Thus, using propositional logic, the Hempel & Oppenheim model applied to Rindflesich et al. would appear as such:

1. Materialism –> Increased Connections
2. Brands –> Connections
3. Increased Connections –> Higher Self-Esteem
4. Higher Self-Esteem –> Lower Existential Insecurity

5. Therefore, Materialism –> Brand Connections –> Lower Existential Insecurity

where 1-4 serve as general laws, 3 and 4 explain TMT, and the high-low median split blocking technique serves as an antecedent condition; together, these comprise the explanans, while 5 is the explanandum.

The concept of marketing is one that has been both broadly and narrowly defined for more than a half-century.  However, more ink has been spilt over an existential question that has absolutely no objective answer; Karl Popper (1959) is right in suggesting that philosophy has no definition.  Whether or not we broaden, widen, deepen, or refine the boundary definitions of marketing, these definitions are in essence, arbitrary.  As a result, the framework approach to marketing scope is of referential context only, not of absolution.  The boundaries of a science are artificial; as researchers we constantly force those boundaries to evolve.  Thus, while the arguments posed in this week’s set of readings are valid, their fragmented subjectivity only constitutes the basis of a set of opinions from which marketing practitioners and academics can work.

In the original “Marketing Myopia” article (Levitt 1960), a theory is posited, wherein the activities of a firm will ultimately become stale if the definition of that firm’s business becomes too narrow; a firm will only grow if it constantly redefines its markets.  The same claim can be made about any academic disciple or science.  For successful academic pursuit of knowledge, a domain must constantly be broadened, narrowed, and refined.

The articles by Kotler and Levy (1969a; 1969b), Luck (1969), and Enis (1973) provide suitable discourse defining the “marketing concept,” while Hunt (1976) prescribes normative and positive facets for the marketing scope.  However, while Hunt’s scopes of marketing may continue to flourish in the contemporary marketing environment, evolving, granular details enable the fundamental “definitions” of marketing to possibly leak into other domains.  This should not be considered uncommon for the sciences as knowledge-leaks only serve to embolden a particular science, giving more credence to our answers to the question, “Why?”

A multidisciplinary approach to science often provides new (and sometimes, more rewarding) answers to old questions.  For example, a group of mathematicians at a university in Rome decided to apply fluid dynamics concepts from physics to solve a traffic engineering problem.[1] By “overreaching” the traditional definitions of any one of those three domains (mathematics, physics, engineering), the resulting algorithm they developed paved the way not only for normative objectives, but also for positive future research objectives.  As researchers, we could choose to philosophize the merits of their boundary definitions, but it is objectively moot; as they stand, the results of the research are, indeed, very real.

Marketing therefore has no real boundaries; it borrows from various other fields of study (mathematics, economics, social and cognitive psychologies, sociology, and more) and virtually contributes in-kind to each of those fields.  Hunt (1976) suggests that the core of the marketing concept is based on the “science of transactions.”  This science itself seems to be based on Homan’s (1958) notion of social exchange theory (n.b.— Homans (1967) also states “what makes a science are its aims, not its results.”).  The marketing concept (Houston 1986) is all-encompassing, yet in an applied context: commerce.  “It is a willingness to recognize and understand the consumer’s needs and wants, and a willingness to adjust any of the marketing mix elements […]”

Thus, both the positive and normative studies of marketing enable the researcher to extract maximum value out of the social exchange process.  As we constantly discover the nuanced dimensions of the science of transactions, we contribute incremental knowledge to the disciplines we borrow from.  It comes as no surprise, for instance, that many marketing academics are wont to publish in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.  So long as marketing has distinct subject matter, presumes underlying uniformities, and adopts intersubjectively certifiable procedures (Hunt 1976), there is no reason why its principles cannot be found applicable to all other disciplines.  It would be nothing less than myopic to presume that boundaries must remain static both between and within disciplines; rather marketing thrives and evolves from this constant redefinition.

[1] Bretti, Gabriella, Roberto Natalini, and Benedetto Piccoli (2007), “A Fluid-Dynamic Traffic Model on Road Networks,” Archives of Computational Methods in Engineering, 14(2), 139-172.

Given the history of marketing, it is nearly impossible to blame the discipline for current displays of consumer abundance.  Marketing takes roots from the development of mercantilism and, even earlier (though not posited until fairly recently), from the theory of specialization of labour.  If we are to extend these theories to a sociological level, then consumer abundance is merely a hallmark development in human society.  As “marketing” developed as a science that studies the decision making of both producers and consumers, it as well studied the relationships between these two parties.  To say that marketing is “evil” as a result is, therefore, an erroneous claim.

Market economies have dated back to biblical times; agricultural-based markets seemed to become an evolutionarily-necessary staple for producers to match oversupply with consumers who required such goods essential for survival.  The Greek and Persian bazaars served as storefronts for these producers to price out their wares and for consumers to purchase.  Ultimately, these wares included more than just food supplies, but other household objects as well.

Over time, it seemed to make sense that the market-makers would serve as intermediaries between these parties.  The responsibility of production of market activities became an internal business venture, particularly through retailing channels.  As a result, the bazaar could truly be described as one of the first displays of consumer abundance.  The idea of producing goods—aligned with theories of competitive advantage—meant that businesses (as they eventually became) could dispose of surplus in conjunction with matching consumer household deficits.  Initially, these transactions took place using bartering (and haggling) techniques, but monetary systems ultimately fell into place, enabling more efficient pricing mechanisms and allowing business to outsource marketing operations.

The theory of competitive advantage fully started to take root around the mid-1600s, when Jean-Baptiste Colbert laid the foundation for mercantilism.  Mercantilist theory played to national strengths in a particular market for goods and selling those goods to other countries where those goods were in demand.  This was an early form of globalization, setting up global trade routes to enable such market-making.  In the contemporary marketplace, China has found a way to apply surplus production from a command economy to global exports, while simultaneously loosening the restrictions of this command economy to widen domestic consumer abundance.

Thus, history has shown that marketing in its various incantations has been a precursor for consumer abundance in almost every era, irrespective of any implications on modern consumer society.  The arguments made by O’Shaughnessy and O’Shaughnessy (2002) initially seem to demonstrate the pitfalls of consumer abundance.  In retrospect however, their presentation of the various facets of hedonism in terms of enjoyment versus pleasure seems to exemplify the arguments for consumer abundance.  It is as though consumer abundance allows for existence in a truly material world, giving some dimension to an otherwise ontological quandary.

There is a misconstrual that Western civilization is the only civilization that can adequately grasp consumer abundance.  Buddhism emphasizes the provision and the enjoyment of material goods, albeit at the expense of their material attachments.  As Tyler Durden said in the film Fight Club, “the things you own end up owning you.”  The hedonic component of consumer abundance does not contribute to happiness, but serves as rewards for the Sisyphean struggles of our lives.

Does marketing contribute to market-making?  Yes.  Does it contribute to fulfilling latent desires?  Yes.  And in doing so, it may even create perceptions of consumer abundance that upend the outcomes of traditional need-hierarchy concepts.  But insofar as marketing cannot manufacture those latent desires, it cannot be considered “evil.”  Desire (affect-driven choice) is the result of emotion and rationalizations, based on various other social constructs, including components of social identity theory (Tajfel and Turner 1979).  Values espoused by these social constructs (religion, ethnicity, etc.) are therefore the double-edged arbiters of consumer abundance, not marketing.

One of the things associated with being an academic is the constant travel to conferences.  As publishing is the lifeblood of what we do, conferences are a chance to meet new colleagues, dialogue with potential collaborators, gather feedback on research-in-progress, relate new ideas to our own subjects-of-interest, and just get a chance to generally socialize with others in our field who may not teach/research at our own institutions.

Within marketing academia, there are several conferences a year, ranging from broad subject matter to special topics.  Of maybe four or five major conferences a year, the American Marketing Association puts on two major semi-annual educators conferences.  This year, the summer conference was held at the Boston Marriott Copley Square and UMass-Amherst, along with UConn were conference co-chairs.  Thus, as UMass students, we were allotted money to attend the conference at no cost.  Given the cost of conferences, PhD students typically don’t attend unless they have work to present.

However, with no papers to present and no job interviews this year (typically the Summer Educators’ conference is where the university interview process takes place), I had the good fortune to attend my first conference early on in my PhD student career — without any of the added pressures conferences tend to bring.  As the two-hour drive to Boston was essentially “in my backyard,” I decided to make the most of the opportunity and stay the entire weekend to partake in as much of the conference as I could absorb……

I came into Brighton on Thursday evening, since I decided to stay at my cousin Seth’s apartment in Brighton — about a 20 minute T ride to the conference hotel.  We went out for dinner around the corner and then more or less hit the sack, since we had to leave the house Friday by 7:45am.

For me, the conference kicked off  Friday at 8:30 with a DocSIG pre-conference symposium, comprised of various marketing PhD students from around the globe.  I sat at a table with Aaron Ward (Lincoln Univ, N.Z.), Chelsea Wise (Univ of Tech., Sydney, AUS), Dan Friesen (Wayne State), and Bill Cleveland (Indiana).  So we got to talking about our research interests and introducing each other to everyone else in the room.  Then we had a roundtable discussion, where each table of 4 had a professor and a question and then the professors went from table to table — speeddating-like.   A lot of good perspective on the field, on academic careers, on research, etc.  My favourites were Ray Fisk (TSU-San Marcos), Manjit Yadav (Texas A&M), and Julie Ozanne (Virginia Tech).

From there, we had a luncheon and kind of switched up and met some other people.  After lunch, we got to listen to another panel of editors (Tomas Hult – JAMS, Greg Marshall – JMTP, and Kay Lemon – JSR), where we got to hear what different types of journals were looking for, submissions, etc.   By that time, it was about 2, so I decided to walk around a little bit of Boston before heading back to the opening reception at 5.

Going to the reception was a bit unnerving for me, a person who has a hard time meeting people in new social environments.  So I first saw my advisor, George, but went to get a drink and met a few different people as I made my way back.  Got to start talking about this year’s [marketing academic] job market, interviews, etc and even bounced off some ideas.  And somewhat starstruck by names like Roland Rust (Maryland), Shelby Hunt (Texas Tech), Robert Palmatier (Univ of Washington), etc…  All this, before heading back to Brighton.

Saturday kicked off the “real” sessions, were papers were being presented.  I decided to go to as many sessions as I could during the weekend, so I was into the Marriott at 8:30 for my first session on branding issues.  Of the four papers presented in that session, one of the more interesting ones was done by Chelsea Wise about esoteric specifications and how customers try to re-frame their purchase behaviours based on those specs (i.e., a camera is marketed at “8MP” instead of “3072 x 2048 pixels”).  At 10:30, my classmate, Shabnam, was presenting at the internationalization and foreign market entry strategy session, so I decided to go support.  Regrettably, I realized that “international” marketing  and “cross-cultural” marketing are two different fields; international marketing is actually not something that I’m interested in.  So after the second presentation, I decided to leave the session.

At noon was the awards luncheon, in which awards are presented for the best track papers, the best overall conference paper, and the best doctoral dissertation.  I sat with Brooke Malinowski (Drexel), and we got to talk quite a bit about our research interests.  At the 1:30 session on brand personality, Rick Klink (Loyola Univ Maryland) gave a really interesting talk on brand names and brand personality — looking through the lens of linguistics.  After that, I was going to go to a CSR session at 3:30, but ended up doing some socializing instead until the DocSIG/Global Marketing reception at 5pm.  I hung out with Jun and Shabham at the reception until 6pm, when we headed over to the UMass reception.

The UMass reception was open to current faculty/students as well as PhD alumni, so I ultimately got to listen to perspectives from several alumni who graduated several years ago.  Was very interesting to hear comparisons of how the program was and how it still is.  Two awards were presented though – one to Roger Calantone (PhD, UMass 1976, now at Michigan State), who does a lot of work on innovation) and one to Ed Shirley (B.S.B.A., 1977), Vice Chair of the Global Beauty and Grooming Business Unit of Procter & Gamble.  So Ed Shirley gave a presentation on how P&G brands itself through consumer engagement.  I thought it was an excellent presentation for more practical perspective (and we even got to hear some about the recent Old Spice YouTube campaign!).  After that, I got to talk to some more alumni before heading out…

On Sunday am, I went to a session on CSR and citizenship.  It was a pretty good session; my favourite paper out of that was on excessive buying, though most all of the papers helped me to piece together some of my own research puzzles.  I met up with my classmate, Delancy, for the 10:30 session on person and celebrity brands.  The session was dominated by a highly interesting presentation by Mark Rosenbaum (Northern Illinois) essentially on internet-mediated hookups on craigslist.  The theory and public policy implications made the research findings a lot more compelling than I would have otherwise expected.

Delancy and I then went with Christina Kowalcyzk (Univ of Memphis) to a DocSIG luncheon featuring Gerry Tellis (USC-Marshall).  Gerry Tellis is a highly-cited researcher, so to get some perspective from him was really amazing stuff.  He was talking about a paper he was working on that took 17 years to get accepted!

After lunch, I went to a session on sustainability and consumer empowerment.  It was an alright session, but I found that some of the concepts were a little too… puffery?  I also learned how a seemingly interesting subject can be completely ruined by a poor presentation.  However, it did seem to inform my own work a little bit better.  We skipped the 3:30 session, but introduced ourselves to Dip Biswas (Bentley) and one of Bentley marketing’s first PhD students, Ekin Pehlivan.  As Jason started to finish up his interviews for the day, we started to make dinner plans at California Pizza Kitchen.  After dinner, Delancy, Nicole, and Kaylee headed up, and Jason, Ekin, and I met Ekin’s fiancé, Taylan (also a marketing PhD student at Harvard), then one of their friends from UConn, Maxim, who is also on the job market.  Jason and I then stuck around talking for a bit before I headed back…

Monday morning, I packed up the car and headed downtown, but was late for the advances in measurement and sampling session, so skipped it altogether.  For the last session of the conference, I went to “Putting values, consistency, and power to the test: challenging assumptions about cultural differences.”  It was a surprisingly good session, reinforcing my interest in cross-cultural marketing/branding, but even moreso, building into some of the work I’ve already done for myself.  The very last presentation dealt with a 2×2 of collective vs. individuals by hierarchical vs. egalitarian societies.  Indeed, Carlos Torelli (Wisconsin) (who presented the paper) linked it to prosocial products and brands, so I met up with him after the presentation and started to discuss my interests.  It would be excellent if, during my schooling, I could start networking for collaborations with people at other institutions.

Suffice to say, there was a lot I learned from this first conference — about how AMA interviewing proceeds, how stressful the interview process is, how social dynamics play out between academics, what makes a good presentation, how to network… The conference tracks also helped me to better define what my research interests are and are not.  I saw some presentations I thought would be better than they were, and some presentations that were more interesting than initially thought.

Most of all though, the weekend helped me refine my objective: “I’m interested in studying prosocial behaviors — specifically egoism — and how they relate to CSR and consumer behaviour. More directly, I’m interested in seeing how egoism affects both sustainable/socially responsible consumption and excessive/moderate consumption.”

For a second-year student to be able to say that, I guess it’s not half bad… The opportunity to go to a conference so early on (and have no pressures on me) was a most beneficial opportunity. Now, it makes me look forward to all the conferences to come…