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!