What’s the deal with Tribes and Marketing?

Harry9Calling marketers a little conservative is probably not what many want to hear (after all, we are as cool as MadMen were, aren’t we?)… but when it comes to the tools of the trade, it  seems marketers love the tried and tested – rather than rethink what has been around for a long time. One of the examples of this “conservatism” are segments, the tried and tested corner stones of pretty much every marketing plan, something that marketing text books spend a great deal of time with – and which seems to be ingrained in everything that most marketers do day to day. Challenge the idea of these “segments” – and you can see the fear in some marketers eyes. And suggesting abandoning the often-relied upon segmentation tools, such as age, gender or social class – and some marketers (not all, not all!) seem to think you are a heretic rather than a person with a serious argument. But how “segmented” can consumers really be? In fact, is there such a thing as a coffee for the 35-45 year old, male, middle-class consumers? Or are these just figments of marketers imagination? Can we really slice consumers up into heterogenous little groups, that are stable, predictable (and who like our product)?

If you start looking around you, things are a lot more complicated than what the traditional ideas related to segmentation suggest: Every week, I take the train from Kings Cross to go to Hull (for example). And yes, there is a Harry Potter themed shop, and importantly, a photo-ready “Platform 9 3/4″. Here literally hordes of people line up patiently to take their picture with a disappearing luggage trolley. The interesting thing about this isn’t, of course, the tourist attraction that this has become. What should be really interesting for marketers are the people waiting in the line to have their picture taken. There are people from all over the world waiting patiently their turn, young, very young and even middle aged, male and female, … all have come to this place in London to have their picture taken. Some have come as they are, many are in costumes, sporting Harry Potter scarfs or glasses… and no real segmentation technique would be able to capture the people waiting in the queue – because the only thing that unites them is that they love Harry Potter enough to endure the wait. There is often talking in the queue, laughter and banter… but as soon as the picture is taken, they disband. So what is that what we see, if it isn’t a segment? It’s certainly not homogenous, nor stable. And trying to put demographic variables onto the people waiting might yield as much commonality as that they are all humans (although I did recently spot a dog in Harry Potter “flying cape”… but it probably wasn’t really into the entire experience).

So if segmentation doesn’t tell us much here, what alternative could we think about when we see this little gathering? The answer is Tribes. What we see are members of the “Harry Potter Tribe”. Or in other words, a group of people who are bound together by their love of the books, films etc – and are in most other senses unrelated. Of course, members of the tribe here are easy to spot (they are standing in line!). But once they leave Kings Cross, they are virtually indistinguishable from others: they morph back into being tourists, grandmothers, school children… although somewhere in them remains a little bit of the common “Harryness” that unites them. In other words: they are people bonded by the emotions they developed towards a fictional character (or characters).

I give it, that the example of the Harry Potter Tribe is pretty obvious and easy to understand. Not at least, because Platform 9 3/4 is, what could be called, a “tribal meeting point”. Other tribes, or this tribe in other situations, are less easy to spot. But they are spottable – at least for insiders. This is where brands come in: Think of subtle signals the tribe members use to signal their love of Harry Potter to other people in everyday situations, maybe even in the hope of finding a fellow tribe member. Think coloured scarfs, pencil cases, glasses… the small things that go almost unnoticed by the outsider, but convey a meaning to the person “in the know” – and give a feeling of belonging to the wearer. Of course, not all tribe members will proudly display all “insignia”, some will just know, some will have one or two items. Some will be discussing “What would Harry do” in internet forums, while others are happy to have just posted a picture of themselves on their facebook page, and may forget the scarf they bought with the intention to wear it when it gets cold. Again, we find this hard to explain from a segmentation perspective: after all, members of a segment are supposed to behave in similar ways – but the tribe members don’t. Some are “really into it”, some just sympathise, many are somewhere in between.

I’ll write more about “tribes” in the next post…and there is much more about tribes in my Social Media Marketing book if you want to jump ahead (spoiler alert: Tribes love to use social media!). However, in the meantime, why not share your ideas about tribes by using the comment function below!

AR: Boy’s responses to the integration of advertising and entertainment content

What does the article examine?
The article reports findings of a research project which examined the persuasion knowledge of young boys in relation to so called “brand-integrated magazines” and compared them to traditional product catalogues. Brand-integrated magazines are promotional magazines, which contain branded products, but which are not clearly labelled as a catalogue or advertising (for example, many retailers have these types of magazines, e.g. Waitrose Food Magazine for adults).

Which concepts are discussed in the article?
The article focuses largely on Persuasion Knowledge as a background to study how young boys evaluated these two different media forms. Moreover the study reports attitude measures for the products that were used.

Where is the data from and what methodology is being used?
The data that the article draws upon is based on young boys aged between 8 and 12 years old. The reason for choosing boys was that the brand-integrated magazine was targeted towards boys.

What are the main outcomes?
The boys identified the persuasive nature of the catalogue more readily than the persuasive intent of the magazine. However, while for adults identification of a persuasive often is linked to the activation of defence mechanisms, which often includes liking the product less. Conversely, in this study, the boys actually had more positive attitudes towards the products after seeing the catalogue, while also being more aware of the persuasive intention of the catalogue (i.e. they knew the intent was to persuade them to buy the product).

Why should you read it?
The article is interesting  because it shows that the popular idea that marketers often implicitly have suggesting that not activating persuasion knowledge is a positive is not true for young children (or at least boys in this case). Rather the findings imply that children, even if they have activated persuasion knowledge, do not necessarily use this to critically evaluate the communication they receive.

Full Reference: van Reijmersdal, E. A., Rozendaal, E., & Buijzen, M. (2015). Boys’ responses to the integration of advertising and entertaining content. Young Consumers,16(3), 251-263.

Sales Promotion Giveaways: Fun or frolic?

IMG_3747One of the most fun things (in my humble opinion) you can do in marketing is Sales Promotions. I know, this is a contentious thing to say, but really, if you think about it, Sales Promotions can be so much more creative than other forms of marketing comms. It seems to get a bad rep from academics… although so many companies use it!

One particularly perplexing area of sales promotions to me are giveaways… and the immediate question of what makes a good giveaway. I remember having long discussions with students about what makes a good giveaway when I taught Sales Promotions over a decade ago. Thus, I find it funny to see what companies actually give away…

Intuitively I always assumed that giveaways should be somewhat linked to the product or brand originally purchased. So a restaurant meal with a “giveaway” wine seems like a logical connection. A sample mouthwash with toothpaste equally… However, often there seems no logical connection between the two (and arguably those giveaways are more memorable!). Like McDonalds in Hong Kong  recently gave a body wash sample (see above) when purchasing a breakfast meal… Another example, involved me buying toothpaste and I got Oyster Sauce for free.

I had a look on Google Scholar, and there seems to be really little research out there, what is out there is rather dated. So I can’t really find any information about product/promotion congruency… but I wonder which one makes for better giveaways?

Did you come across some remarkable giveaways? What do you think is more important… congruency or maybe the surprise effect?

Content Analysis of Television Food Advertising to Children

Cocoa KrispiesWhat does the article add to knowledge?

The article shows that marketers rely more on peripheral clues when advertising low-nutrition food to children (and potentially their guardians).

Which concepts are discussed in the article?

The article uses the Elaboration Likelihood Model as a basis to categorise claims made by food advertisers when advertising food of general and low nutritional value to children. Previous research has shown that children are particularly susceptible to peripheral clues in advertising, such as implying approval from adults or peers, mood alteration or suggestion of increase of speed or strength. In addition the researchers also coded for the presence pf special effects, animations etc., as these were found to be particularly persuasive for children in  previous research.

Where is the data from and what methodology is being used?

The data was derived by conducting a content analysis of adverts aired by four major children’s networks in the US, a total of nearly 800 commercials. The content was then coded to use either peripheral or central cues  based on a previous scheme developed by Weber et al (2008) and special effects present in the commercial.

What are the main outcomes?

Generally, the researchers claim that low nutrition food uses more peripheral cues. However, a close examination of the result shows that this is somewhat mixed: For example, low nutrition foods use more “value for money” and “quantity” appeals, linked to central processing. While general nutrition food emphasise more flavour and nutritional content. Similarly, amongst the peripheral clues, magic/fantasy was more used by commercials promoting “general” food, while “premium offers” was more linked to low nutrition food. Thus, the overall claim needs to be moderated somewhat.

Why should you read it?

The debate surrounding advertising of food to children, the link with obesity and the content of advertising is a highly controversial area and a very complex issue. While it is interesting to see that different tactics are used to promote different types of food, it is noteworthy that the tactics are actually surprisingly similar in some ways. Thus, the article could be the basis of an interesting discussion about claims and the link between advertising and childhood obesity (and suggested policy responses).

Full reference: Kim, H., Lee, D., Hong, Y., Ahn, J., & Lee, K. Y. (2015). A Content Analysis of Television Food Advertising to Children: Comparing Low and General‐Nutrition Food. International Journal of Consumer Studieshttps://doi.org/10.1111/ijcs.12243

Special issue on Latin America

International Journal of Advertising

Reminder: Call for papers: Special issue on Latin America Submission deadline:
15 November (abstracts)
1 March 2016 (full papers)

Over the next few years, Latin America has been predicted to be the fastest growing region of the world in terms of advertising spend (WARC 2014). Yet, despite rapid growth and change, only a few studies in general marketing, and even fewer specifically in marketing communications and advertising have examined this region or drawn upon data derived from Latin American countries (Fastoso and Whitelock 2011).

This special issue aims to address the scarcity of region-specific research. The explicit objective is to increase our understanding and identify unique characteristics of marketing communications in the region. In line with the scope of the journal, empirical and concep- tual papers in relation to all aspects of advertising and marketing communication from a Latin American perspective are welcome. As such, papers could focus on, but are by no means limited to, examining the following topics:

  •   Views of marketing communications by practitioners, academics and policy makers in Latin America.
  •   Social media and (electronic) Word-of-Mouth in Latin America.
  •   Cross-cultural and comparative studies, e.g., across Latin American countries, or incomparison to other countries/cultures.
  •   Unique forms of advertising or promotional practices originating from or in thecontext of Latin America.
  •   Regulatory and ethical concerns and responses regarding marketing communicationpractices in Latin America.
  •   Symbiotic relationships between Latin America and expatriate communities inother parts of the world in terms of marketing communications.
  •   The state of cause-related advertising, green/environmental and social marketing-related advertising and marketing communications.
  •   Social identity, stereotypes, sex and gender, portrayal of other groups, values,culture or appeals in Latin American advertising.Other topics are also welcome. All submissions should be explicit about their applica- tion to, or drawing upon data derived from Latin America.In line with the journal policy, all submitted papers will be double-blind peer- reviewed. Submission is electronic through http://www.editormanager.com/i-j-a.Please follow the style guidelines available here http://bit.ly/17L6Pxm. All manu- scripts must be in English. For all queries related to this special issue, please contact the guest editor directly.

The time path of the special issue is as follows:

  •   15 November 2015, submission of 500 words abstract for screening by the guest editor.
  •   20 November 2015, decision on the development of full paper.
  •   31 January 2016, submission of full paper and review.
  •   1 April 2016, reviews and editorial decision communicated to authors.
  •   31 July 2016, submission of revised papers.
  •   1 October 2016, final decision on papers.


  • Fastoso, F., and J. Whitelock. 2011. Why is so little marketing research on Latin America published in high quality journals and what can we do about it?: Lessons from a Delphi study of authors who have succeeded. International Marketing Review 28, no. 4: 43549. doi:10.1108/ 02651331111149967
  • WARC. 2014. Latin America gains ad share. http://www.warc.com/LatestNews/News/Latin_Ameri ca_gains_ad_share.news?IDD33662 (accessed March 2, 2015)

Flow, Persuasion Knowledge and Emotions

gameWhat current assumptions does the article challenge?

The article provides details of a study that challenges some of the well established and frequently quoted theories about how advergames influence children. Specifically, in the study, a state of flow, generally seen as an optimum state for gameplay, resulted in higher persuasion knowledge (e.g. children recognised the commercial intent of the advergame) – contrary to previous studies. The study also discussed specific emotional dimensions which have a positive effect on flow.

What does the article examine?

The article sets out to examine the influence of three different types of emotional dimensions (pleasure, arousal and dominance) onto achieving the state of flow (optimum game experience) and the resultant persuasion knowledge. This in itself is an interesting study, though, I find the finding that achieving flow results in higher persuasion knowledge more compelling.

Which concepts are discussed in the article?

The  article discusses a variety of existing research into advergames, and how these games work (which makes the article a pretty neat review article to read!). Specifically it discusses a few key concepts which the results of this study challenge: specifically, it discusses the idea that an advergame consists of a primary task (gameplay) and a secondary task (the commercial message).  Moreover, it discusses different emotional dimensions, the concept of flow – and the assumed link to persuasion knowledge.

Where is the data from and what methodology is being used?

The data used for the article is based on self-reported scores of children, aged 10-12, recruited from two schools in Belgium. The children were asked to play a game, which included brand placement in the form of a logo and a product.

What are the main outcomes?

The state of flow is achieved when children perceive arousal and pleasure during gameplay.  Dominance (or control) is, however, not linked to achieving a state of flow, which may be because advergames are routinely easy to play (at least in comparison to full scale ‘video games’).

The other main outcome is that, at least in this particular case, a state of flow was linked with increased persuasion knowledge. The researchers suggest that this may be the case because the commercial message is actually part of the gameplay itself – thus challenging the more conventional idea that gameplay is a primary task and recognising and activating persuasion knowledge in relation to commercial messages present in the games are secondary tasks.

Why should you read it?

In addition to a well written general review of existing theories linked to advergames, the article puts forward some interesting points and explanations for the results.

Full Reference: Vanwesenbeeck, I., Ponnet, K., & Walrave, M. (2015). Go with the flow: How children’s persuasion knowledge is associated with their state of flow and emotions during advergame play. Journal of Consumer Behaviour.  https://doi.org/10.1002/cb.1529

Marketing Ethics & Society – out now!

My latest book, Marketing Ethics & Society, edited together with Lynne Eagle and published by Sage has just been published. Aiming to provide insights into the important ethical challenges faced by marketers, the book starts by discussing the various challenges facing marketers from a general ethics and general marketing perspective, including a discussion of criticisms of marketing and cross-cultural/contrasting perspectives on a wide variety of different issues linked to marketing and promotional activities – and their influence on society. The book then focuses on particular areas, such as marketing to children, ethical issues surrounding medical marketing and regulatory and policy responses to potential negative effects of marketing on society.

Here is a brief review of the book:

Thank you to Jeff French for this review!

Writing and editing the book has been a lot of fun, and I hope this is reflected in the wide variety of different perspectives and cases. Co-writing chapters with some amazing scholars in the field has been insightful and I’m really grateful that they contributed their views. Overall, I think the book manages to explore the complexity of ethical issues facing marketers today while avoiding giving simplistic answers – especially in complex areas where there should be more open debate. In my experience marketing ethics is often a difficult subject to teach. Current students (and future marketers) are sadly often reluctant to discuss criticisms of their discipline. Hopefully the approach in the book encourages discussion of these important challenges of marketing in class, and I think the wide variety of cases and perspectives can help to make in-class discussions interesting and engaging.

For full details, including a listing of all chapters, please visit the publisher website from Sage here. Or you can buy it at… Waterstones, Foyles, Amazon (UK, DE, US ) – or find more sources

Beer, Wine or Spirit? Advertising impact on Alcohol Sales

wineWhat is new about the article?

The article examines the evidence how advertising influences sales of different categories of alcoholic drinks – or rather, how little effect (if any) advertising actually has on people purchasing the advertised product.

Which concepts/theories are discussed in the article?

The theoretical background of the article draws on Albion and Farris’ (1981) Market Power and Advertising as Information models. Market Power asserts that advertising doesn’t get people to purchase products they don’t need, but rather that it affects peoples’ brand choice and loyalty. Conversely, Advertising as Information asserts that consumers obtain information from advertising and gain knowledge about new products from advertising. Consequently, as previously established, in markets that are expanding (and/or in relatively new product categories) advertising may have a positive effect on overall consumption. However, in markets for established products, advertising is more likely to make people switch between similar products or brands in the market.

Where is the data from and what methodology is being used?

The article uses a variety of official and industry statistics to look at the relation of advertising expenditure and other items with consumption of beer, wine and distilled spirits from 1971 until 2012. The other items include demographic details, personal income, taxes levied on alcoholic beverages etc.

What are the main outcomes?

The main finding is that, against a backdrop of relatively steady alcohol consumption in the US, shifts have occurred between different types of alcoholic drinks. However, these shifts appear to be mostly related to shifts in demographics and price – but are largely unrelated to advertising.

Why should you read it?

The article adds more evidence to the argument that, while policy makers, the media and popular perception often blames advertising for “social ills” (such as obesity or alcohol consumption), making such a link is not easy – and the data doesn’t really support a direct link. In fact, a growing body of advertising literature suggests that the effect of advertising alone is very small in relation to aggregate consumption. It can, however, lead to shifts in brand choices. The potential policy implications are that focusing on banning advertising is unlikely to be effective: thus “scapegoating” advertising may be counterproductive and lead to a false sense of security for policy makers currently discussing such bans. Rather, policymakers must take a much wider look at consumption of potentially problematic products (such as alcoholic drinks) if they want to reduce consumption effectively.

Full text link: 
Wilcox, G. B., Kang, E. Y., & Chilek, L. A. (2015). Beer, wine, or spirits? Advertising’s impact on four decades of category sales. International Journal of Advertising, doi: 10.1080/02650487.2015.1019961

CFP: Special Issue on Marketing and the LGBT Community

germanyA reminder … deadline for submissions is the
1 December 2015

Call for Papers: “Marketing and the LGBT Community: Twenty Years On

Twenty years ago the Journal of Homosexuality published a seminal special issue looking at marketing and consumer behaviour amongst gay and lesbian consumers (published simultaneously as a book by Routledge). After two decades it is timely to publish a second special issue, focussing on the developments and advancements in marketing and consumer research and reflecting the changed socio-political environment of consumption behaviour of and marketing practices targeting LGBT individuals.

In the ‘90s LGBT consumers emerged as an allegedly near mystical consumer group: educated, urban consumers with sophisticated taste, high disposable incomes and were generally regarded as opinion leaders for desirable consumer goods. Many welcomed targeting, and increased visibility, of the LGBT community as a sign of growing political and social acceptance and validation. However, commercialisation has also been contentious and critical voices warned about the influence it would have on the LGBT community. E.g. some academics feared commercial interests would result in “a privatized, depoliticized gay culture anchored in domesticity and consumption.” (Duggan, 2002).

Others have argued that since the 1990s, Western societies transited into a Post-Gay phase, where diverse sexual orientations are no longer relevant, and LGBT individuals have “moved beyond the gay-only ghetto (…) [and into] a world where we are free, equal and safe to live our lives” (Collard, 1998). Thus, traditional consumption spaces and practices linked to lesbian and gay consumers, such as gay neighbourhoods, have been claimed to have lost their meaning (Ghaziani, 2010), and gay consumers have been assimilated into the mainstream. Simultaneously, marketers have become more comfortable with displaying LGBT characters in mainstream marketing campaigns, and overtly supporting LGBT activities (such as pride parades).

It is evident that LGBT consumption behaviour and marketing towards, or involving LGBT consumers, has significantly changed since the 1990s, and has evolved into multifaceted behaviours, spheres and spaces.

This special issue aims to bring together currently fragmented and disparate strands of research, The aim of the special issue is to advance our knowledge of the multifaceted contemporary consumption practices and stimulate debate across disciplines about the effects of, among others, commercialised gay spaces, alternative consumption practices linked to LGBT identity construction, anti-consumerist behaviour in and marketization of LGBT spaces, assimilation of the “gay community”, pinkwashing and other relevant topics.

Anticipated themes cover a wide variety of different topic areas, and include, but are not restricted to:

  • Contemporary LGBT identity construction through consumption
  • Consumption practices, including anti-consumption movements linked to the wider LGBT context
  • Alternative forms of LGBT identity expression and diversity of the LGBT “community”
  • LGBT identity in marketing and corporate social reasonability campaigns
  • Acceptance, Assimilation and Discrimination in the market place
  • International and cross-cultural comparisons of LGBT consumption behaviour
  • Social Marketing and health-related marketing aimed at LGBT individuals
  • Influence of social media on LGBT consumption and identity

To submit to the special issue, please send completed articles, of 6000-8000 words to me directly (sd@dahl.at) by 1 December 2015. Manuscripts should follow APA Publication Manual, 6th edition, and the style guidelines of the journal available here.
If you have any questions about the special issue, please just get in contact with me!

The Abject Single …

singleWhat does the article examine?

The article examines how singleness is experienced in the context of consumption and the “market place”.

Which concepts are discussed in the article?

The article draws on a wide range of mainly sociological sources to set out the context of the study: it discusses, amongst other things, how the marketplace enforces cultural stereotypes of singles – and embeds them into the lived experience of study participants: particularly of that of female singles, who are seen as “failed subjects” (p.1563).

Where is the data from and what methodology is being used?

The researchers used “active interviewing” (Holstein & Gubrium, 1995). Active interviewing encourages both parties to interact and be active participants in the interview process. It is thus in contrast to traditional forms of interviewing, where static questions are asked and/or one party is seen as the source of all knowledge.

The sample were 14 single adults, aged 22-56 from the UK. Recruitment was made using “gatekeepers”, i.e. people suggested other people for the interview because they believed the potential participants were suitable for the study.

As this is a qualitative study, the study looks in-depth into the lived experiences of the participants. This means that a lot of meaning can be derived from the interviews and presented excerpts, yet the experiences presented in the study should not be seen as representative. Rather they are personal to the study participants. Nevertheless, they can give insights into the varied lived experiences of the market place by singles.

What are the main outcomes?

The study reveals how singles experience social and psychological isolation reinforced through market place imagery and practices. For example, marketing surrounding Christmas emphasises “family” and “living as a couple”, thus reinforces the perceptions of singles as somewhat “failed” individuals. In other scenarios, the market penalised singles for being single: For example, explicitly by charging a single supplement for hotels, or implicitly by having “2-for-1” offers on products. In other words, the informants felt that marketplace practices persistently celebrated “coupledom” as a desirable and rewarding life, while rendering single consumers invisible.

Why should you read it?

As the authors point out, 51% of households in the UK are actually single households. Yet, despite this large proportion of single consumers, both marketers and academics have rarely looked at single consumers. Where they have done so, marketers are experienced as penalising singles, for examples by charging a “single premium”. The article discusses singleness in-depth, including the different experiences from male and female singles. However, although the article points out that the marketplace emphasises heterosexual couples and heteronormative practices, the article does not feature non-heterosexual consumers, which is an avenue for future research.

For both academics and marketers, understanding lived experiences is important and useful, and often surprising. Thus, nuanced and deep-insights, like the ones generated in this article, open up a variety of different research possibilities. The article further can be the basis of an interesting discussion how marketing reinforces existing cultural norms – and excludes people living outside of these “idealised consumer images”.

Ai-Ling Lai, Ming Lim & Matthew Higgins (2015) The abject single: exploring the gendered experience of singleness in Britain, Journal of Marketing Management, 31:15-16, 1559-1582, DOI: 10.1080/0267257X.2015.1073170