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.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Examples for your Assignments

Today's post is all about helping you with your assignments. The following three examples deal with different aspects of consumer behaviour and will hopefully spark your own imagination.

Consuming to Achieve Distinction

Check out this blog post by Henrik Killander in the Lund Business Review

(Photo credit: Lund Business Review)

Do you know the difference between a nerd, a snob and a connoisseur? 

Killander reports on research being conducted by a team of researchers at Lund University. As it turns out, nerds and connoisseurs are similar in one important respect: they have both accumulated a depth and breadth of knowledge about one specific consumer interest. The difference between the two groups "lies in the public perception of their object of interest. While connoisseurs are interested in high-culture areas, nerds are interested in newer trends such as coffee or beer, which have more often been regarded as low-culture. They love them despite the fact that they do not necessarily endow high-status, which is not the case with snobs."

So, who are the snobs? Well, as it turns out, snobs lack the depth of knowledge and passion of either the connoisseur or the nerd. Instead, they adopt a certain interest and learn just enough about it to pass themselves off as connoisseurs. Their behaviour is motivated by a search for social distinction, that is, as a means of setting themselves apart (and above) others.  Do you know a snob - someone who knows just enough to pass as someone really knowledgeable?

The blog post asks whether we are all becoming snobs as a result of the democratization of the market. As products and services once reserved for the elite (think works of art or spa services) become available to everyone, does that mean we are all now consuming as snobs? You may think that as students you don't have enough income to become a snob, but think again. I see lots of expensive laptops, tablets and smart phones in the hands of students. 

Is it possible that YOU are a snob? Take the test which ends the blog post and find out.

Are you a Victim of Fashion?

This video reports on an upcoming exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum called Killer Heels: The Art of the High Heeled Shoe.

Have you ever thought of shoes as a way of looking at international trade, gender or class? Why do we wear high heels? Sure, it's the fashion, but why is it the fashion? And why is it that high heels that used to be worn by men are now being worn by women? What's with that? Do you know someone with a shoe 'problem'? Why are so many women so nuts over shoes? Perhaps your group research project could help to answer this question.

The Dark Side of Consumption

One of the topics we'll cover during the course is consumption that leads to negative consequences. An area that is receiving a lot of attention from researchers is addiction to gambling. 

This video was produced by the Responsible Gambling Council for Problem Gambling Prevention Week. is a website that highlights one of the key signs of a gambling problem - chasing your losses. While the strategy of gambling more in order to win back your losses seems rational to the gambler, it appears foolhardy or even ridiculous to others, as the video highlights. 

Are there other negative aspects of consumption that your group might research? Could you blog about topics such as impulsive or compulsive purchasing? 

We'll talk more about this in class, but it doesn't hurt to start thinking about possible topics for your blog and your research project now. Remember to share ideas with the class through the cuLearn discussion group. You never know from where inspiration will strike! 

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Myth, Marketing and Motivation I: What really drives your consumer behaviour?


A traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining a natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events, e.g.,
ancient Celtic myths.
A fictitious or imaginary person or thing.
An exaggerated or idealized conception of a person or thing.


What drives your consumer behaviour? Is it a physical need such as hunger that drives you to purchase something to eat? Do you make rational choices, carefully calculating the calorie and vitamin content of your food? Or does some higher level motivation such as self esteem influence your purchase of that healthy spinach salad?

Can marketers create needs? Or, can we only shape and satisfy wants? As a consumer, do you always know what you want or need? Even more puzzling, are you always aware of the roots of your motivation(s) to consume?

Do you think it is possible that a myth might stimulate your consumption? If your experience was like mine, you had an English teacher in high school who taught Greek and Roman mythology. Keeping all those gods and goddesses straight may have seemed like an impossible task - why bother?  Well, in case you haven't noticed, mythology is making a big comeback. 

(To see the season 2 trailer. warning: graphic imagery)

We know that the Greeks, Romans, Celts, Vikings, Norse, and Icelandic peoples had myths. But what about closer to home and our own time period. Do myths still exist? And if they do, how do they work in the marketplace?

Consider this advertisement for Marlboro cigarettes. The man's clothing, his hat, and the rope or lariat over this shoulder tell us that he is a cowboy. Would you consider cowboys to be an aspiration group for today's smokers? How many cowboys do you know? Now take a closer look at his face and notice his skin. Do you want to have wrinkles like that? At a literal or surface level, we might conclude that this ad doesn't 'work'. That is, it doesn't motivate us to run out and purchase a package of Marlboro cigarettes. 

But according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (2014), Marlboro is the most popular cigarette brand in the United States, with sales greater than its four leading competitors combined (based on 2012 sales data). Furthermore, it is one of the top three brands preferred by young people (the others are Newport and Camel). Obviously, the ad 'works', but how?

The use of the cowboy was an intentional strategy employed by ad agency Leo Burnett as part of its efforts to re-position the brand. Previously, Marlboro had been positioned as a premium ladies' brand. The addition of filters reinforced the 'effeminate' personality of the brand. But the use of the cowboy, "an almost universal symbol of admired masculinity," contributed to a sales increase of over 3,000% (no, that's not a typo). That's because the cowboy in the advertisement acts as a symbol linked to American identity or origin myths.

The history of the United States includes many narratives about individuals with strong wills and equal personalities who helped settle the American West. The cowboy is a prototypical character - strong willed, fiercely independent and self-sufficient, made of strong moral fiber (Walle, 2000). Take another look at the ad. Notice how the cowboy is looking straight at you, making eye contact. This is not a man who would lie to you. He'll make his own decisions and stand by them. These idealized values resonate with many consumers, and although they may not aspire to wear cowboy hats and 'eat trail dust' everyday, they do aspire to live by values espoused in the ads and in the origin myths. The American frontier has been 'closed' for a century, but the myth lives on and it still motivates consumption. 

Think about some of the purchases you make and ask yourself if your motivation might be linked back to your own cultural myths.

If you are interested in learning more about the marketing strategy behind Philip Morris's use of the cowboy to sell cigarettes, check out this article in the Atlantic Monthly.

To read more about cultural branding strategies, check out Douglas Holt's book, How Brands Become Icons.

If you'd like to read more about cowboys and marketing, check out Alf Walle's book, The Cowboy Hero and Its Audience.

Sources: Walle, Alf H. (2000). The Cowboy Hero and Its Audience: Popular Culture as Market Derived Art. Madison, WI: Popular Press.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Do You Have an End of Summer Ritual?

With the start of the school year almost here, it's time to say good-bye to care-free summer days. Do you have an end of summer ritual? Perhaps a final weekend at the cottage or a last night out with friends?

Solomon, White and Dahl (2014, p. 432) define ritual as "a set of symbolic behaviours that occur in a fixed sequence and that tend to be repeated periodically." Rituals perform important functions in society and many of them are associated with consumption occasions. Some rituals remind us of the passing of time or the yearly cycle of events. For me, the smell of a new pair of leather shoes has always been connected with the start of the school year. That and the purchase of a brand new package of coloured pencils.  Other people talk about the smell of autumn leaves crunching under foot or the crack of new textbooks being opened. What sounds and smells are associated with going back to school for you? Do you have a 'back to school' ritual?

Marketers, of course, tap into our seasonal rituals and use them in promotional messages. In order for these messages to work, both the sender and the receiver have to share an understanding of the rituals being referenced. Here's a favorite example of a TV commercial that humorously inverted two seasonal rituals.

Consumption occasions can also be associated with rituals that mark important transitions in our lives. Some of these rituals might be considered 'sacred', such as a baby's baptism, child's first communion, or a marriage ceremony. Others, such as the bachelor party or tailgating at football games, might more appropriately fall under the heading 'profane' (Belk, Wallendorf and Sherry, 1989). Some rituals, like the annual fire at the Burning Man Festival, call upon the sacred to expunge the profane. As the sacred power of fire consumes the Burning Man, those in attendance celebrate the anti-consumption roots of the festival (Kozinets, 2002).

Some rituals are enacted in a public forum. Think about the laying of wreaths at the National War Memorial in Ottawa on Remembrance Day or even your eventual (let's hope!) university graduation ceremony. Other rituals can be quite private, like praying or visiting the grave of a loved one. 

Rituals can change over time, but typically they do so quite slowly. Whether we choose to adhere to the old or change with the new may say something about us, our beliefs and the society we live in. For example, asking for the bride's father's permission to marry seems to be something that most contemporary couples have decided to skip. Sometimes, change can be contested and the subject of heated, public debate. What you see in the image below may depend on how you think about the institution of marriage and marriage rituals.

As our rituals change, businesses that depend upon those rituals for their livelihood need to be aware of the changes. There may even be a strategic advantage to being the first to recognize the change and serve that segment of the market.

Belk, Russell W., Melanie Wallendorf, and John F. Sherry, Jr. (1989), "The Sacred and the Profane in Consumer Behavior: Theodicy on the Odyssey," Journal of Consumer Research, 16 (June), 1-38.

Kozinets, Robert V. (2002), "Can consumers escape the market? Emancipatory Illuminations from Burning Man," Journal of Consumer Research, 29(1), 20-38.

Solomon, Michael, Katherine White and Darren W. Dahl (2014), Consumer Behaviour: Buying, Having, Being, 6th Canadian edition. Toronto: ON: Pearson.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Why Study Genealogy?

I have been conducting research into my family
My paternal grandfather's Landing Card
history since 2006. I have traced my lines of descent back to Scotland (Gordon), Ireland (Scharf), England (Whitehorne), Germany (Flegel) and Denmark (Nielsen). I'm very interested in the social history of the Ottawa Valley and how events like the Great Fire of 1870 affected my family and the communities in which they lived.

I joined the British Isles Family History Society of Great Ottawa (BIFHSGO) to learn more about doing genealogical research. There, I found many people whose interests were similar to mine. The big joke in family history circles is that the best part and the worst part of doing genealogy research is that it's never done. 

Grandfather Neilson's passport photo
Thinking about my own family history got me thinking about why so many people today are interested in doing family history. It has been estimated that family history research is the second largest (after gardening) and among the fastest-growing hobbies in the US  (Harmon 2007) and the fastest growing leisure-time pursuit in Canada (Wilson 2003)., which promotes itself as "the world's largest online resources for family history," now has in excess of 2.7 million subscribers, who have created over 55 million family trees, profiling more than 5 billion family members ( Their adjusted EBITDA for the second quarter of 2014 was $55.4 million US. That's a lot of people checking out what their ancestors were up to!

In 2011, in collaboration with Professor D.A. Muise from Carleton's history department, I conducted an online survey of genealogists. Over 2,700 people responded, almost 2,000 of which were from Canada. When we asked them why they started doing family history research, 22% said it was to learn about their family, their ancestors and themselves. A further 13% said it was because a family member influenced them. Most often, it was a parent who asked for their help or wanted to pass along the materials they had collected.The third most frequent response, given by 7.5% of Canadian respondents, was that they were 'just curious.' 

My grandfather's business card
So how does this relate to a course in consumer behaviour? Well, one of the topics we're going to study this year is the influence of other people on our consumer behaviour. Our family members are a major source of influence, and I think it's really interesting to observe that they continue to influence us even after they have passed away. 

Is there anyone in your family who is conducting research on your family tree? How much do you think your family members influence what you purchase or how you choose to 'spend' your time? 

Harmon, Amy (2007), “Stalking Strangers‟ DNA to Fill in the Family Tree,” The New York Times, April 2.

Wilson, Ian (2003), “First person, singular…first person, plural: making Canada‟s past accessible," Canadian Issues, October.