Saturday, 23 January 2016

Reduce, Re-use, Recycle or maybe don't consume in the first place

Just this week, when we were gathering up the garbage for our once-every-two-weeks chance to dispose of it, The Significant Other (TSO) noted that our 'pile' wasn't as impressive as that of our neighbours. Definitely a first world problem - when your pile of garbage pales in significance to those of your neighbours. I pointed out that: 1) we did not have diaper-aged children living with us; 2) we are a two-person household versus four or more; and 3) our recycle pile was holding its own compared with the neighbours. Since our city introduced a civic composting program, we've noticed a huge difference in the amount of non-recyclable garbage that we put out by the curb to be taken away. Like obedient Canadians everywhere, we dutifully sort paper from glass and take pride (well, one of us does) in the orderliness of our recycle bins. We set our empty (!) wine bottles aside to be re-used by the Sister-Who-Makes-Her-Own. And even if we are not adherents of Kon-Marie style decluttering, we do make regular deposits at Value Village.

That's why I was a bit shocked to realize that our efforts to live by the three Rs (Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle) could seem so pitiful when compared with those of Ottawa artist Mailyne Briggs. Briggs adheres to a 'zero waste' life style, which she says saves her a ton of money, even if adapting to it takes significant effort. The Ottawa Citizen ran an article featuring Briggs today, complete with video. Briggs gives new meaning to disposal as part of the consumption cycle! You can check out her blog at:

Thursday, 13 August 2015

What Kind of Fan are You?

As the summer winds down the Blue Jays are heating up. We’ve been watching a lot more baseball at our house and I find myself enjoying it. I don’t think of myself as a baseball fan. Yet I am objecting less and less when, as we switch channels from Rogers’ Cup tennis and the FIBA Americas Women’s Championships to a Blue Jays game, the television stays on baseball for longer.

This apparent change in my consumer behaviour got me thinking about an article called “How Consumers Consume” by Doug Holt. Holt attended baseball games at Chicago’s Wrigley Field for two years as part of his data collection for the paper. I guess that’s made me think of it. What he was trying to do was come up with a typology that would describe the various ways in which people consume.

One of the forms of consumption he identified is called ‘Appreciating’. According to Holt (1995, p. 5-6),

"Spectators appreciate professional baseball when they respond emotionally to its situations, people, action, and objects… Appreciating taps the full range of emotional responses: in addition to clearly positive emotions such as feelings of excitement and awe in reaction to a spectacular diving catch or the joy and relief felt when a clutch hit drives in the winning run in the ninth inning, appreciating may also include negative emotions—anger at a poor throw by an outfielder or feelings of disappointment and frustration when the Cubs fail to score with the bases loaded and no outs."

That sounds a lot like me. But the funny thing is, it sounds like how I have been enjoying all the sports we’ve been watching this summer. I’m a relatively new fan of tennis; I still have to ask my Significant Other about terminology from time to time. But I have now arrived at the point where I can say that I appreciate the seemingly effortless way that Roger Federer plays the game – he’s just such an elegant player. Nadal runs every ball down – I appreciate his determination. And Djokovic’s athleticism is truly inspiring. I am in awe of all three of them. Same thing with the Canadian Women’s basketball team – when Kia Nurse hits a three-pointer, it is a thing of beauty. So perhaps my baseball watching is just an extension of how I typically consume sports. But wait – maybe what I’m really doing is ‘evaluating.’

Holt discusses nine other ways that consumers consume and when I re-read the article I discovered that as a fan I consume in many different ways. Sometimes I even consume the same sport in many different ways. For example, I adopt an ‘Accounting’ perspective when I keep track of how many fouls each player on the Carleton Ravens basketball team has accumulated during a game (yes, I could check the score board, but what if they are wrong?!) I ‘Socialize’ at Ravens games too, but only during intermission. I’m too busy ‘Appreciating’ and ‘Evaluating’ and ‘Managing’ when the game is on!

If all of these ways of consuming sound strange to you – check out the article. It not only makes a lot of sense it reveals just how complex something like watching a ball game on TV really is from a consumer research point of view. Meanwhile, I'm counting down the days to the start of football season and can't wait to catch my first basketball home game.


Holt, Douglas B. (1995), “How Consumers Consume: A Typology of Consumption Practices,” Journal of Consumer Research, 22 (June), 1-16.

Friday, 7 August 2015

My New Love: WeHeartIt

I blogged previously about visual consumption and my love affair with Tumblr ( Well, this summer I have a new love – WeHeartIt ( I love the wide variety of images that Tumblr brings directly to my laptop and it has been fun ‘curating’ my own Tumblr feed around various themes. But although Tumblr provides an ‘archive’ feature, it doesn’t really let me sort and store images the way I want to. Enter WeHeartIt.

I am definitely *not* the typical WeHeartIt community member – I might be female but it’s been quite a while since I could put a check mark beside the 17 to 25 years age bracket. I’m not into nail art or One Direction. But I do love having the capability that WeHeartIt offers to sort and store images in ‘collections’ of my own making. And it is really amazing how supportive the community is – in less than 2 months I have almost 1200 followers who regularly ‘heart’ the images I post to my ‘canvas’ (WeHeartIt talk for my ‘news feed’).

Clicking back through some of my image collections has reminded me of how powerful images can be. Although they are visual in nature, and thus only really perceived via one human sense, they can trigger scent memory. Can you smell the cinnamon and raisins in the apple crisp?

How about the scent of leaves that have fallen in autumn? As I'm writing this, 483 people have already hearted this image - there are lots of autumn lovers out there!

Images can also make us recall feeling warm or cold. Check out the difference between the images below:

They are both just photographic images of doors, but the first one makes me feel cold, while the second one makes me think of warm, sunny days. I find it strange that the 'cold' image has been hearted 32 times, while the warm image has only been hearted twice. Obviously there is a lot more going on when people view images than just the sense of 'feeling good' - an important reminder for all marketers.

Concordia University Anthropology professor David Howes (2005, p. 286), building on the insights of Oliver Wendell Holmes, argues that the photographic reproduction of items in our everyday world is a act of ‘active appropriation’ and further, that the photographic image can actually become more powerful and influential than the object itself. I think the popularity of sites like Tumblr, Pinterest and WeHeartIt is proof of Dr. Howes’s argument. And from a consumer behaviour perspective, these are also sites of productive consumption. As I browse images posted by others, I can 'heart' or favorite them and make them part of my own canvas, collect them according to themes that mean something to me all the while making them available for consumption and enjoyment by others.


Howes, David. 2005. "Hyperesthesia, or, The Sensual Logic of Late Capitalism,." In Empire of the Senses: The Sensual Culture Reader, ed. David Howes, 281-303. Oxford and New York: Berg.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

A curated life?

It's Saturday morning. The weekend, and so I've decided that despite the number of emails eagerly awaiting my attention I'm going to take a couple of hours just for me. Usually, I'd spend this morning reading the Saturday newspapers in front of the fireplace with a good, strong cup of coffee. But today I'm indulging in my latest obsession instead, curating my Tumblr blog.

Tumblr is a god send for creative but decidedly non-artistic people like me. So much content to choose from, no need to be able to create it yourself. Just search and ye shall find. Oh, you'll find lots of stuff not suitable for family viewing as well. But in among the pornographic sites are many, many sites dedicated to beautiful images. For a visual junkie, it's a feast, perhaps even an overdose. Time becomes immaterial, to do lists vanish, all that matters is the next amazing image. Fashion, food, places I have visited and others on my 'someday' list, wine, books, music, art, romantic images of couples in love, all the things that constitute a 'good' life. You can find them on Tumblr.

At some point, actually quite early in the visual consumption feast, a desire to save the images for re-consumption later occurs. And so a blog is born. Naming is an issue; not due to lack of imagination, but because someone else got there first, so compromises have to be made. The software isn't exactly user friendly, but through persistence I trick it into doing what I want. And what is it I want? I want not only to horde images I find beautiful, memorable or thought-provoking. I want to display, to organize, to curate them into a whole. I want the mood to shift subtly, the colours to blend and merge, a narrative to emerge. Having satisfied that desire, I try inserting images which mark a sudden shift in direction through colour or subject matter - pointers to the viewer that things are about to change.

And in doing so, I realize that I am anticipating a viewer other than myself.

I am engaging in an act of consumption and production not only for my own pleasure but also for the pleasure of some unnamed other. When I think of that other, I imagine it being my closest girlfriend, who I anticipate would love the same images as I do. She may not have the same Sam Elliott fixation or love of Charles Bukowski's poetry that I do, but she would laugh gently and tell me it's "part of my charm." Beyond that, it gets kind of scary. There's a sense that you can broadcast to the world and yet remain anonymous, should you choose to do so, when you set up your Tumblr account. It's like you're curating an exhibition that will never open its doors to the public. It remains hidden, to be found only by chance or accident.

Why scary? Because curated sites like Tumblr, or the photo albums on your Facebook page, are projective devices. They allow us to say something without using words, to tell others what things really matter to us. Our subjective response to the world around us is on display for others to read and interpret.

This is one of the great changes social media has brought about. No longer are our photo albums, scrapbooks and journals intensely private things. They are now on display, and along with them our thoughts, passions and our curatorial skills. Likes, hearts, reblogs, reposts and even the odd comment tell us how well we are doing. Curating is no longer the prerogative of the highly educated and skilled; anyone can curate. And anyone can comment on the skills of the curator.

This is the argument David Balzar makes in his new book, "Curationism: How curating took over the art world and everything else." (Follow this link for an excerpt).  It's also the topic of Alexandra Molotkow's column in today's Globe and Mail. Both authors raise thought-provoking questions about the nature of consumption in everyday life. Are you 'curating' when you decide what to wear out into the world today? Do you simply place books on a shelf or stuff your clothes into whatever available space there is, or do you curate a display that says something about you and about your relationship to these objects?

Have we all become curators?

Saturday, 11 October 2014

To Create is to Destroy?

I was standing in line at a Chapters store a week or so ago, waiting to pay for this month's haul of magazines, when I noticed a book sitting on the cash counter. Just one book. I couldn't tell if someone had left it behind, rejected it, or if it was the last book in a stack strategically positioned (by a marketer, no doubt!) to act as a trigger for an impulse purchase.

Going with the last explanation, I sneaked a few peeks at its cover, but resisted the impulse to purchase it. I'm not about to get manipulated by such an obvious tactic! Or am I? Over the next few days I found myself thinking more and more about what the book might have been about. Was fate or serendipity or synchronicity trying to tell me something? I can usually come up with multiple excuses for the 'need' to return to a book store.

So what book was it? Well here is an image of the cover. Or, should I say covers. When I returned to the store, the book was no longer sitting on the cash counter, I had to ask the manager for help in finding it. As it turns out, he's used to this request. The book, by Keri Smith, has been a hot seller among teenage girls for some time. My first decision was which cover to purchase - talk about having too many choices! (I went with the one that looks like a brown paper bag.) As we discussed the book, the manager offered his opinion that the reason for its popularity is that it allows young women the chance to express their creativity. Do we need a book to tell us how to be creative?

Apparently, Keri Smith thinks so. She's a Canadian conceptual artist and writer (check out her website) who, according to her bio, focuses her work/research on creating “Open works”, pieces that are completed by the reader/user. The title for this week's post is the subtitle of the book Wreck This Journal. The whole idea seems to be that by following Smith's suggestions, you can colour outside the lines and unleash your own creativity. The instructions even tell you to experiment and work against your own better judgment. So, can we create by destroying?

I gave it a try, I really did. But I got stuck early on by a page that said simply, "Crack the Spine." Yikes! No way I could do that. Just *not*gonna*happen*! But other people seem to have wholeheartedly embraced the concept. A quick Google search provided these images:

Is this destructive? I can imagine a librarian, hair severely pulled back from her face into a bun, glasses perched on the end of her nose, telling me that stepping on any book is a disgraceful practice, to say nothing about poking holes or doodling in it! But aren't the pages more interesting now?

Can We Take the Idea of Creative Destruction Further?

Thinking about this book reminded me of a recent purchase made by the National Gallery of Canada (just imagine the associative network that linked those two thoughts in my brain!) Majestic is a sculpture by Canadian artist Michel de Broin,which is now installed on the grounds of the National Gallery. It was constructed from salvaged street lamps damaged when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. In this case, the destructive activity was carried out by nature, while the artist supplied the creativity. The result, which I've heard described variously as 'beautiful' and 'just about what you'd expect from salvage', may not be to the liking of all art lovers, gallery-goers or onlookers. But it is certainly a lot more 'productive' than dumping the posts in a landfill or perhaps melting them down as scrap iron. Even if it doesn't comply with your personal definition of 'beauty' it stimulates thought and discussion about salvaging what we can from disaster and the possibilities for re-birth.

Elite artists aren't the only people who can do this. The average scrapbooker does it all the time. Using things drawn from everyday life - a movie ticket, concert program, bit of lace or a photograph - scrapbookers create a new 'whole'. They tell a story that is meaningful to them and possibly to future generations. If you think scrapbooking isn't much for consumer researchers to be concerned with, I'd invite you to tour a Michael's store some time soon. I think you'll be as shocked as I was at the variety of scrapbooking supplies, tools and accessories being offered for sale. This is a big time business!

For consumer researchers, the idea of consumption as being something more than just destroying the 'use value' of something is part of the changes we observe in postmodern society. Accordingly to Firat and Venkatesh (1995, p. 245), under modernity, only "production was creation, because it added something of value to human lives." Consumption destroyed the value that was created through production. These authors go on to argue that today, in postmodern times, there is no distinction between production and consumption "they are one and the same, occurring simultaneously" (p. 254). Each act of consumption is also an act of production. Just as the scrapbooker 'consumes' materials produced by the market, and may even 'destroy' value in the sense of tearing, cutting or writing over photographs and ephemera, in order to 'produce' something that is more than the sum of its parts, so too do we in our everyday lives destroy in order to create.

So, is creation really just the flip side of destruction? What do you think?

Firat, A. Fuat and Alladi Venkatesh (1995), "Liberatory Postmodernism and the Reenchantment of Consumption," Journal of Consumer Research, 22 (Dec.), 239-267.

Web Sources: 

For further reading:
Baumeister, Roy F. (2002), “Yielding to Temptation: SelfControl Failure, Impulsive Purchasing, and Consumer Behavior, Journal of Consumer Research, 28 (March), 670-676.

Rook, Dennis (1987), "The Buying Impulse," Journal of Consumer Research, 14 (2): 189-199.      

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Visual Consumption?

For some time now I've been intrigued by the idea that we can consume not only with our mouths, but also with our eyes. As researcher Jonathan Schroeder (2002, p. 3) argues, "We live in a visual information culture. In no other time in history has there been such an explosion of visual images. And yet we seem to pay little attention to them, we do not always 'understand' them, and most of us are largely unaware of the power they have in our lives, in our society, and how they function to provide most of our information about the world."

With this concept of visual consumption for inspiration, I decided to conduct a simple experiment for this week's blog post. What are the iconic images of Ottawa? If strangers wanted to learn more about our city, what would they learn? I entered the phrase 'iconic images of Ottawa' into a Google search, clicked the 'images' tab and sat back to see what would happen.

The first image was a pretty traditional one featuring tulips and the the back of the Parliament buildings, which technically means it's an image taken from Gatineau, right? It's a perspective of Ottawa taken from beyond the technical city limits. Or, to push the point a little further, from 'outside.' The second image featured the War Memorial and the Chateau Laurier hotel. This is also somewhat to be expected, except that it made me wonder if perhaps it's appearance was linked to the fact that we aren't all that far away from Remembrance Day on November 11th. Could some Ottawa tourist promotions be using this image?

The third image I didn't associate with Ottawa at all - a rather nondescript looking apartment tower that could be located anywhere in the world. The fourth showed the new Convention Centre, fair enough, and the fifth? A glass of beer. Really? That's an iconic image of Ottawa? So I scrolled quickly through the first 20 or so images and recognized one of the Banff Springs Hotel. On the other side of the country. Yo, Google! What's up with that algorithm?

What else did I find? Lots of images of the Peace Tower, of course. And one of Maman, Louise Bourgeois' truly iconic sculpture in front of the National Art Gallery. That thing really creeps me out. I have yet to go within 15 feet of it, much less stand under it for the now 'mandatory' iconic tourist photo. Just looking at it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Yikes! Look at the size of that thing.


I noticed that almost all of the images were taken during daylight, even though the Parliament buildings look beautiful when lit with spotlights at night. What does this say about our city? Could that old saying about Ottawa really be true? Do we roll up the sidewalks at 10 p.m.?

What did I notice was missing? Well, for starters there were no images of the Central Experimental Farm. Ottawa is my hometown and I've grown up visiting and travelling through the Farm. I'm never so busy that I can't take a relaxing drive through the lane of trees with their branches forming a canopy over the road. How could it not be iconic of Ottawa? 

There were also no images of the Museum of Nature. The 'sinking museum' as we used to call it, after a rumour circulated that it was built on quick sand and was gradually, year by year, sinking. As kids that was part of the fascination, would it be gone by the next time we visited? As you can see, it is still very much here. In fact, it has a beautiful new addition. 

Notice anything else missing? Almost all of the images were taken during the summer! Is this some kind of plot to attract tourists, or are we as a group just putting our best face forward? Where's the snow? What about our so-called World's Longest Outdoor Skating Rink?? Just to even the score, I found a couple of those images to share with you. 

Ah yes, mushy snow and skating on the Canal. That's Ottawa!

But notice something else about my choice of iconic images? Finally, there are people in Ottawa! I guess we truly are a Northern people - we only come out in winter. Or at least that's what you might think if you relied on the images in Google for your information. 

Is there something to this idea of visual consumption? What do you think? If the idea intrigues you, check out Schroeder's book. It's in our library!

And, now, to leave you with one of my favorite iconic images of Ottawa. That's right people, it's all about the food! And here, in Canada, we queue up to eat the tails of our iconic national animal...


Schroeder, Jonathan E. (2002), Visual Consumption. London and New York: Routledge.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Fandom: What's It All About?

Why do people become fans? Why do they stay fans, even when the team they cheer for is losing or the star they 'worship' behaves poorly? Are fans just really, really loyal customers? And if so, does our customer loyalty theory cover off the whole topic of fandom? 

Let Me Tell You a Story

I love Canadian football - high school, university or the CFL. I know the rules, I can tell when a blocking assignment is missed (duh!) or when the quarterback and the receiver get their signals mixed up. I love watching a play unfold. So because I love the game, I love watching the Laval Rouge et Or play. They play the game like it was meant to be played.  

Does that mean I don't support our Carleton Ravens? Of course not! I've been hoping and praying for the day football would return to Carleton. I remember Panda games very fondly (or at least I'm fond of the parts of the game I remember). I've got season tickets - come say hello if you see me at a home game. But I figure we're a few years away yet from building a tradition of winning like Laval has. So, in the mean time, I'm a two team kind of fan (ok, three teams if Queen's makes it into the final!)

I don't remember when I first started to love football. I suspect it's like hockey, I learned to love it by watching it on TV with my Dad. Back in the day (we're talking the pre-Glieberman era) I was a proud Riders fan. Had the 1971 Riders roster memorized - numbers, positions, etc. It probably helped that Coach Brancato's daughter was in my Math class. Now, I cheer for what I stubbornly insist on calling the Green Riders. I really, really want a watermelon helmet. I love the atmosphere at a Saskatchewan home game - they put the fanatic back into fan.

I'm also a basketball fan, but in this case I'm just learning the game. I started attending a few years ago to watch Sprott students Stu Turnbull and Aaron Doornekamp (need it say it? They were Marketing majors. Woo hoo!) I don't always understand why the referee calls fouls on the Ravens. But I've been to enough games now that I know quality and heart when I see it. That's why when the Ravens defeated the Lakehead Thunderwolves at the CIS Final 8 in 2013, I proudly stood and applauded their players as well as ours. Playing with heart deserves to be recognized.

While I'm still trying to learn more about the game, my lack of knowledge doesn't stop me from having a near heart attack watching plays like this!

And then we come to wrestling. I became a fan of pro wrestling in spite of the fact that my Dad wouldn't watch it. I don't watch it much myself any more, but I still admit to being a fan. Is that possible? Can you still be a fan if you don't watch? 

What I really love is talking with other fans about the wrestlers of old: Edouard Carpentier, Maurice Mad Dog Vachon, Brett Hart, Billy Two Rivers, Killer Kowalski, Gorgeous George, George Hackenschmidt and, yes, even Hulk Hogan (although I agree that the man can't wrestle). I love making up plot lines for the Match of the Century - the match that can never happen because the wrestlers come from different generations.  

I'll assume you recognize the Mad Dog, who sadly is no longer with us. The fellow on the left is George Hackenschmidt. Over the years I've become a bit of a wrestling historian, so I can tell you that in the early 1900s Hack fought a number of matches against American Frank Gotch. Gotch cheated (yes, I recognize the irony of saying that about a pro wrestler) and beat Hack. That kind of poor sportsmanship annoys me. That's why, over 100 years later, Gotch doesn't get his photo in my blog post. And I'm not the only one who 'remembers' something that happened before they were born (see the video below). Are we crazy or just 'true' fans?

And the moral of the story is...?

From the research I conducted with pro wrestling fans, I learned that consumers become fans for many reasons. Sometimes it's because a parent, older sibling or friend influences them, or sometimes it's in spite of what others say. Often times, it is out of patriotism or loyalty to a country or home town. As our expertise as fans grows, we see new dimensions and learn to appreciate a truly gifted performance. We may deepen our connection by learning the history of our favorite consumption pastime. And many times, we stay fans because of the social connections we've made with other fans.

Why Should Consumer Researchers Care?

In his 1995 article called "How Consumers Consume", researcher Doug Holt developed a four-part typology of consumption based on his observations at professional baseball games (nice job if you can get it!) My fan experiences related above highlight many of the dimensions identified by Holt. 

Holt calls it 'accounting' when fans use an interpretive framework to make sense of what they see. That's how I can say Gotch 'cheated', because using the conventions of pro wrestling, a fan can distinguish between 'cheating' and typical actions carried out in the ring. Fans 'evaluate' when they compare what they are seeing with examples from the depth of their experiences. So I can say that Laval 'plays the game like it should be played' or that I recognize 'heart' in the way a losing team played. We 'appreciate' when we have an emotional reaction -- like when I thought my heart would stop when Stu hit that shot. 

Check out Holt's typology. His contribution was to use the fan experience to help us understand the linkage between the emotions we experience, the ways in which our understanding and appreciation of 'the game' are structured by institutional frameworks (e.g., the explicit and unspoken 'rules') and our interactions with others (family, friends, other fans). This applies to many situations beyond the arena of fandom.

Are fans just really loyal customers? Does existing customer loyalty theory cover all the dimensions of fandom? Perhaps a group will take that topic on for their winter semester project.


Holt, Douglas B. (1995), "How Consumers Consume: A Typology of Consumption Practices," Journal of Consumer Research, 22 (1), 1-16.

If you are interested in fans and fandom, check out these books:

Austin, Dan (2005) True Fans: A Basketball Odyssey. Guilford, Connecticut: The Lyons Press.

Hills, Matt (2002) Fan Cultures. NY: Routledge.

Jenkins, Henry (1992) Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. NY: Routledge.

Queenan, Joe (2003) True Believers: The Tragic Inner Life of Sports Fans. NY: Henry Holt & Co.