For more information about Royal Holloway, please see this promotional video. To see a promotional video for the MA Consumption, Markets & Culture see here. To see a promotional video for the Royal Holloway School of Management, click here.

For more information about the Royal Holloway MA Marketing and MA Consumption, Culture & Marketing and the application process see here.

To get an understanding of the unique values that underly the MA Marketing and MA Consumption, Culture & Marketing programme please read these blog posts: Value of Scholarly Values, Importance of Reading and Morris Holbrook and Business Interest in Education.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Why Defend Education?

I will be addressing a Students' Union debate on the topic of Why Defend Education? on Thursday 29th September from 7:00 to 9:00. The event will take place in Rialto, in the main Students' Union Building. I will be speaking alongside Daniel Cooper (Students' Union Royal Holloway, University of London), Sean Rillo-Raczka (University of London Union) and Vicki Baars (National Union of Students Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender). The discussion will address the context of cuts being made to third level education. Come along and participate in wider questions of the university and society.

Social Media and Netnograhpy, by Andrew Whalley

Hello, my name is Andrew Whalley, I teach Marketing Metrics, Digital Marketing and Sports Marketing on the MA Marketing at Royal Holloway. I’m going to present a few thoughts on the changing face of social media and its impact on marketing, and in particular in an area of growing significance for businesses, using the internet as a source of competitive advantage through netnography.

A revolution in both marketing thought and practice is at hand; the new social world is online.

Internet penetration rates continue to rise, whilst the 'net isn't ubiquitous yet, within industrially developed and developing nations it is almost so. Reasonably, we can say that well over a billion people now participate in various forms of social media. Indeed  to the point that even non-capitalist societies are embracing its power; the Communist Party of China now offer training in social media to its members so strong has been the growth of social media within China.

It is no exaggeration to say that we are in the midst of a technology-led communal revolution. The need to understand this, to apply a PESTLE approach to marketing 
per se, continues to grow.  The implications for marketers, marketing researchers, and managers of all stripes are vast. Consumers are sharing all sorts of emotions and information with each other about an incredible panoply of products, retailers, and brands. Consumers are not just being 'positioned' by our marketing they are co-producing value in terms of the brands and their values; Burberry and its problems with 'Chavs' is a case in point.

The online environment offers us nearly unlimited access to consumer-to-consumer communications that are:
  • relevant and detailed
  • from a naturally-occurring context
  • unelicited
  • obtained in an unobtrusive way, and
  • obtainable in a timely, effective, and efficient manner

This data is raw, authentic, spontaneous, indigenous, unforced, unadorned, unfiltered, powerful, highly involved and often spectacularly creative. It has the potential to be a Marketer's dream source; valid, reliable, accessible and cheap!

Marketers are beginning to build social media into their marketing plans, their advertising and promotional campaigns. But in terms of consumer insight, marketing is dominated by the same old methods; Focus groups, Surveys, Data models. Whilst these are tried and trusted, reliance on them when we have also have social media sources is myopic, to paraphrase Ted Levitt.

The move to build rich understanding with the cornucopia of online consumer data is just beginning; it provides us with a range of overlapping opportunities. Applied to business and marketing needs, netnography builds deep consumer insights that provide:
  • All-embracing descriptions of the marketplace—segments, product groupings, attribute sets
  • Realistic comprehension of online communication—categories, trends, symbols, images
  • Social understandings of consumer choice—influencers, adopters, WOM properties
  • Natural views of brand meaning—decoding authentic consumer language and terms, as well as visual
  • and audiovisual analysis
  • Embedded discoveries of consumer innovation—based in lead user, inno-tribe, and prosumer creativity

Compare netnography to the focus group or survey data dominating the world of consumer insight research.
  • Focus groups offer detailed and relevant data. But they are elicited, obtrusive and completely artificial.
  • The one-time group dynamics are synthetic and strange.
  • Surveys are artificial, obtrusive, and elicited. We often have no way of knowing if our survey questions are relevant to the consumers’ world.
  • Both focus groups and surveys can be expensive. Consider that a national set of focus groups can easily run in the hundreds of thousands.

Recognizing the implications of the development of the internet as a socialising media, Lusch and Vargo (2006) argue that cocreation will increasingly induce firms to collaborate with customers to cocreate the entire marketing programme, indeed many are now running 'fan' sites for their products and brands. Such developments are also consistent with open-source innovation and 'crowd-sourcing' (Etgar 2008; Von Hippel 2005) and with emerging corporate practices that tap into brand communities. Good examples of this are LEGO, which explicitly sought and harnessed consumer innovation to refine the successful LEGO robotic kit Mindstorms (Koerner 2006), and skinnyCorp’s Threadless, which manufacturers consumer-designed and critiqued T-shirts.

This means marketing needs an edge - a tool to help understand how and what is being said in what context about brands, products, etc - that's where netnography comes in; as a Marketer’s secret weapon to customer understanding. This is also why this topic is highly relevant to those studying for business degrees – the internet is an immersive media where customers to talk to each other and to businesses, understanding this and building it into the marketing planning and strategy of businesses is fast becoming a core competence of the contemporary marketer.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Try Brazil, Try! by Rodrigo Ferreira

A piece by MA Marketing student, Rodrigo Ferreira, to mark the Rugby World Cup. 
Brazil is the real football nation. Ok, football was invented in England, but no other country has developed it into a so high level of results and entertainment. Five World Cup titles represent exactly the love Brazilians have for the game. As an evolving society, the attention given to football suppresses all other sport investments. All Brazil's top athletes have to count on their own talent and money to progress and make history, like Ayrton Senna on F1, Gustavo Kuerten on Tennis, Diego Hypóilito on Gymnastics and also the world swimming record holder César Cielo.  
Now, with Brazil on the sports spotlight having received the Olympic Games and the Football World Cup in 5 years from now, things are about to change. Some brands are facing the opportunity of becoming part of potential markets, expecting growth to bring a huge new wave of passionate fans. One of the leading sports on this race to growth is football's brother: rugby, a sport with massive support in almost all traditional football countries. Topper, a Brazilian sportswear and sports material brand, is now the official sponsor of the Brazilian Rugby Confederation, and as a campaign concept they decided to use exactly this evolution theme, but in a very ironic, funny and alternative way to attract an audience and make them friendly to this “new” sport. Check it out: 
Argentina Facts
- Nothing can stop our Rugby. In 2003, we were in the 5th place on the Southamerican Championshipe. While Argentina was the first.
- This year, we were 4th. And Argentina? First.
- This shows the spetacular progress of brazilian rugby. While Argentina remains … stuck.
- Do you want more? The sign of zodiac of the Brazilian left winger is the same of the best Irish player. Coincidence? Hmmm. No.
“Rugby. One day this will be great in Brazil”
“Topper. Official sponsor of Brazilian Rugby”
 Chile Facts

- Brazil walks firmly to the elite of world rugby. Compare the last two Southamerican championships. In 2009, we lost against Chile by 79-3. In 2010, we lost by 31-8.
- That’s it. Brazil has humbled Chile with a performance 70% better.
- Furthermore? Brazil has never lost against France or New Zealand. In a Southamerican Championship.
“Rugby. One day this will be great in Brazil”
“Topper. Official sponsor of Brazilian Rugby”
 Uruguay Facts

- Brazilian Rugby haunts the world. On 2009 Southamerican Championship, Brazil lost against Uruguay, 3-71. On the same Championship in 2010, Brazil 10, Uruguay only 26.
- If the result trends remains the same, in 2011 the score will show: Brazil 17, Uruguay -19.
- And more, guess where the best rugby player in the world was born… Hmm It doesn’t matter.
“Rugby. One day this will be great in Brazil”
“Topper. Official sponsor of Brazilian Rugby”

- Let’s begin the press conference. First question, please.
- I would like to know. Now, once your team has qualified to the next step of Brazilian Rugby Championship, will you change anything?
- No. The team players who quallified are the same until the end of the championship.
- Next Question….. You, please.
“Rugby. One day this will be great in Brazil”
“Topper. Official sponsor of Brazilian Rugby”

- Sir. Aren’t you that famous brazilian rugby player?
- Yes, that’s me.
- Oh, God. Can you give me your autograph?
- For sure.
- Thank you.
- You’re welcome.
- - -
- Thank you, love.
“Rugby. One day this will be great in Brazil”
“Topper. Official sponsor of Brazilian Rugby”

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Postmodernism Style & Subversion 1970-1990

This is the title of a new exhibition opening on 24th September at the V&A (see details here) which sounds exciting and very relevant for your Contemporary Issues module. I'm really looking forward to seeing it and hope some of you will go along too!

The idea of Postmodern Marketing (read Stephen Brown's seminal book on the topic!) permeates all the topic areas on this module so its important for you to understand. The postmodern era signalled a major change in Western thinking and philosophising and has influenced all disciplines but particularly the humanities and social sciences. As a cultural movement it overturns many of the key assumptions that have underpinned traditional thinking for several centuries. So postmodern marketing challenges many of our ideas about traditional marketing. However, there are now big debates as to whether postmodernism is dead (the exhibition seems to signal this!) - if so, what is replacing it and what does this mean for marketing? For more on these debates read this article.

Stephen Brown's seminal book Postmodern Marketing

The nature of this exhibition emphasises how cultural perspectives are relevant, not only for your Contemporary Issues module but also for the MA Marketing more generally. Remember too that philosophy is like plumbing (according to Mary Midgely, a famous English moral philosopher): it underpins the way we think and act in our daily lives but largely goes unnoticed!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Welcome to New MA Marketing Students

Welcome to all of the new MA Marketing students. For the benefit of those who missed yesterday's induction speech, I made three challenges for students.

First, be active students not passive consumers - despite the popular discourse, we reject the idea of students as consumers and prefer students as students. A consumer consumes the commodity of their choosing. However we do not want you to consume knowledge but rather to be part of our academy for a year and produce your learning outcomes. We do not wish to engage in the commodification of knowledge and reduce it to a series of easy-to-understand, easily digestible little sweet cakes for you to take home and enjoy later; we want you to get your hands dirty in the messy and difficult world of raw knowledge. Your learning outcomes will not be something that we give, but rather something that you must generate over the course of the programme. Being active entails reading constantly, participating and leading class discussion, taking extensive notes during lectures and working voluntarily with your comrades.

Two, do not think like a business leader, think like a philosopher - business thinking has a bottom-line focus on profitability however knowledge, in its broader sense, has a much wider remit and must also consider aspects relating to justice, freedom and beyond. We must never simplify knowledge in order to satisfy a short-term problem solving need, but rather constantly consider complex implications and broader consequences across political, ethical, economic, social, historical, cultural, technological domains. Therefore we want you to temporarily bracket the knowledge demands for your career aspirations and instead spend this year thinking about marketing philosophically. This entails not wanting to know how to do marketing, but rather seeking to understand life in the context of marketing. We are confident that your career aspirations will not be damaged but rather will be enhanced and that you will graduate as a more intellectually rounded person.

Three, be inspired - the best performing students are not those who are naturally the most intelligent but rather are those who are the most curious about the topic. We have a library full of books, a city full of culture - we want you to explore and identify an intellectual point of interest that you will carry through the year and will keep you motivated and fascinated. We want you to find something marketing theory related and use it to drive you along throughout the programme. This means that you need to be engaged in self-directed reading  and constantly be looking to identify points of intersection and relevancy between your area of interest and modular content. This area of interest can later form the basis of your dissertation.

Click here to see Cornel West talking about why reading and thinking
 philosophically is courageous, inspirational and electrifying.

Finally some practical suggestions:

  • If you do not speak English as a first language then embed yourself in English. You must be spending the majority of your day living and learning through English in order to keep up. 
  • Bracket several hours a day, and at least one day a week, for the purpose of reading. Read physical books - do not scan material on computers screens - and go to beautiful libraries to read (such as Senate House Library, the British Library or the Founders Building Library). Do not take a laptop or phone but instead focus on your book and read it cover to cover. If you find the text difficult to understand do not give up. Remember the more you read the more familiar the ideas become and the easier reading becomes. Also remember, it is not supposed to be easy. 
  • Form reading groups with colleagues. Divide books into several chapters and every meeting a different person leads the discussion. This is a good way of meeting friends and also generating positive and productive peer pressure that will keep you focused. The more social you make your reading activities, the more likely you will both enjoy and sustain the task.
It is very easy to fall into a trap of feeling lonely, becoming stressed by the programme demands and frustrated with programme content. These challenges and pieces of advice are designed to help you enjoy the programme and perform well in your studies. We want you to enjoy your studies. Remember we are not here to serve you, but we are here to support you as you take leadership over your own learning outcomes.  

Sunday, 18 September 2011

JG Ballard's Consumer Culture

Six miles from Royal Holloway amongst London’s many suburban satellites lies Shepperton, where JG Ballard allowed his imagination to run wild. In his 1979 novel, The Unlimited Dream Company, the suburb undergoes messianic transformation as its residents learn to fly and transcend the limits of their humanity. Just a few short miles away in Heathrow Airport, Ballard imagined a gang of symphorophiliiasts -or car-crash sexual fetishists - wrecking havoc on the motorways whilst the nearby Kingston Shopping Centre inspired Ballard to imagine the mall dominating local live and organising a fascistic and violent consumer society. Across his scores of novels and short stories, JG Ballard created a psycho-geography of Royal Holloway’s vicinity and provides a unique critique of consumer culture.

JG Ballard who died in 2009 is best remembered for his novel Crash (adapted for cinema by David Kronenberg) and Empire of the Sun which became a Steven Spielberg epic movie and introduced Ballard to a mainstream international audience. Empire of the Sun was inspired by Ballard’s own childhood in a complacently opulent ex-pat community in China that was suddenly thrown into upheaval by the outbreak of the Second World War and resulting in his internment at a war camp in Lunghua, outside Shanghai. Ballard’s was a childhood transformed from a privileged upbringing surrounded by the poverty of Shanghai into a total breakdown of adult authority, a severe scarcity of food and a precarious world in which beatings regularly took place and a man was strangled to death before his very eyes. The insight – deeply woven into his psyche – that order and civilisation can suffer sudden severe ruptures and collapse into dystopia at any time fuelled his imagination and formed the basis of much of his literary output. Working close to the genre of science fiction, Ballard came to imagine a civilisation ravaged by dessert like conditions brought about by severe global warming (Hello America),a tropical world devastated by global flooding (Drowned World) and jungles that suddenly begin to crystalise (The Crystal World). Throughout Ballard remained fascinated by new forms of psychopathologies generated by modernity as the car crash became a site for sexual arousal (Atrocity Exhibition, Crash), claustrophobic conditions of urban living takes it mental toll (High Rise) whilst the total conditions of technologically equipped modern parenting causes children to murder their parents (Running Wild). In Millenium People, the squeezed middle classes of Chelsea Marina become so fed up of their living conditions that they seek revolution against themselves whilst in Supercannes high executive business leaders turn to episodic psychopathic beatings of immigrants in order to maintain their work focus and productivity.

Consumer culture held a particular fascination for Ballard, as his biographer, Baxter, recounted he had “the voice of a born advertiser, paradoxically preaching a jihad against commerce: the contradiction at the heart of Jim’s life”. Indeed Ballard remained amazed at how marketing sought to constantly juvenalise consumers and was fascinated with the consequent psychoses. Kingdom Come remains Ballard’s most explicit exploration of a psycho-politics of consumer culture and advertising mediated living yet the concern forms a thread that runs all the way through his oeuvre. For me, Ballard’s work forms a counter-part to critical theory – in contrast to despairing laments for a world of lost rationality, revolutionary call-for-arms and eschatological accounts of excessive accumulation, environmental destruction and marketing overload, Ballard also provides a nihilistic anticipation for disruptions to come. Speaking in the South Bank Show he imagined himself  standing on the side of the Motorway with a sign that says “danger ahead, slow down. But other times I see myself warning “danger ahead, speed up”.

For incoming students to Royal Holloway, Ballard’s novels provide a fascinating psycho-geography of the locale, accounts of the consumer society that range from the nihilistic to the critical and a sphere of imagination that brings much course content to all-too-terrifying life.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Towards a More Inter-Disciplinary Understanding of Consumption, Ethics and Politics

Yesterday my colleagues Andreas Chatzidakis, Pauline Maclaran and Laura Spence organised an excellent workshop on Inter-disciplinary Perspectives on Consumption, Ethics & Sustainability as part of Royal Holloway’s Centre for Research in Sustainability. I participated in a panel roundtable discussion on the topic "Towards a More Inter-Disciplinary Understanding of Consumption, Ethics and Politics" chaired by Robert Caruana from University of Nottingham and including Rob Harrison from Ethical Consumer Magazine. I here post my comments.

I sought to make four observations about the nature of business scholarly interest on the subject of sustainability borne from interdisciplinary perspectives. This is not to say that the insights are absent from sustainable business discourse (though very often they are), but rather to re-emphasise what I think are four important points.
Firstly, I believe it is important not to bracket capital from discussions. Drawing on David Harvey’s recent book Crises of Capital, it is useful to think of capital as an active and objective agent that is extraordinarily determinate and principally concerned with multiplying itself. As Harvey states, the history of capitalism post-Industrial Revolution demonstrates an almost consistent compound growth rate of 3%. Should this continue, as it almost certainly will, we will have a doubling of global capital within twenty years – meaning that there may well be twice as much consumption and production. There is absolutely nothing sustainable about this and whilst sustainable practices may emerge, the growth and trajectory of capital and its ecological impact is fundamentally non-sustainable.
Second, I detect over-emphasis on nexuses of production and consumption as analysis very often follows process links between consumers and producers that feedback on itself and are often (or at least have the potential to be) mediated by ecological concerns and ethics. However such a focus is to miss what the political economists are telling us: that we live in the age of financialisation which has alternative focal agents. The vast majority of consumer expenditure does not take place in the ordinary realm of exchange which consumer behaviourists observe, but rather on servicing finance – for example rent, mortgages, interest rates, insurance and so on. Typically consumers have almost zero agency and limited awareness over these financial transactions that define the vast majority of our expenditure and the scope for mediating financialisation by ethical or ecological concerns is far less than in production-consumption nexuses. The danger is that financialisation is not submitted to the lens of sustainable business practice and the subject does not engage with the focal point of capital accumulation.
Third, in as much as capital functions hegemonically, it appropriates critical discourse and re-packages and re-directs it according to its own logic and needs (the classic example is the Che Guevara t-shirt widely sold by the Gap and through this mass commodification, the image loses its revolutionary political signification). Business schools are particularly vulnerable to this ideological appropriation. Where and how do we conceptually and strategically draw the line between analysis that is progressive and that which reproduces this ideological trick? How do we apply a reflexivity, critically engage with sustainable scholarship and maintain a necessary distinction between a good and bad politics? Is there a risk that in seeking to expand the subject area, that an anything goes spirit prevails that provides fertile ground for ideological appropriation?

Fourth, to what extent do we suffer from temporal delusion? The prevailing liberal logic maintains that markets, left to their own devices, will eventually act rationally with reference to global warming and that a series of innovations must be experimented before the solution is achieved. However with global warming it is important to note that we do not get this second chance and, as Zizek insists with his penchant for using extreme statements to shock people into realising what is at stake, the logic that would rescue us is not liberal patience but rather authoritarian terror. Alternatively, as Zizek argues in his most recent book Living in the End Of Times, we have already crossed the precipice: the destruction of our ecology is irreversible and we are now in the end game. Assuming eschatological times, Zizek suggests that a lot of the discourse contains disavowed knowledge, erasure and is typically defined by denial and bargaining rather than acceptance of our reality and a belief in the possibility, let alone inevitability, of catastrophe. Leonard Cohen, as per usual, puts it best: "I don't consider myself a pessimist. I think of a pessimist as someone who is waiting for it to rain. And I feel soaked to the skin".

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

UNICEF Criticises Advertising to Children

A recent study by children's charity UNICEF has suggested that British children are less happy than those of other European countries. They have said that a ban on advertising to children might help to reduce their materialistic outlook, and that it also might encourage British families to spend more time with each other. The study claims that British parents sometimes buy their children too much stuff, to compensate for not spending time with them. UNICEF point out that in some countries there are restrictions on advertising to children, and in Sweden it is banned on TV. The BBC report can be seen on

I have recently visited some East Asian countries, and it strikes me that Asian students on the MA Marketing might find such a view pretty strange. Materialism is alive and well among the aspiring classes in many Asian countries, yet to me it often seems to exist alongside strong values of family and education. Indeed, it reinforces them, in the sense that giving gifts or shopping together is strengthens relationship bonds. What is more, UNICEF claim that the British culture of long working hours and a long school day means that parents don't spend enough leisure time with their kids, yet many Asian parents and kids would work far longer hours.

Are UNICEF mis-reading the data on children in the UK, and is advertising just an easy target for criticism?

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Milena Citton - A Student Describes Her Dissertation

As a topic for my Master’s dissertation, I decided to investigate the realm of iconic brands with regards to a specific brand, Bialetti, a world-famous moka pot which I believe is a cultural icon for Italians. I tackled the research question using an integrated approach, which merged Holt’s Cultural Branding Model, Stern’s Deconstructive Strategy and Miller’s Materiality. As the CBM is concerned mainly with the analysis of advertising by examining how advertisements engage with consumers, I used it to determine how Bialetti addressed Italy’s postwar feelings and desires with their commercials from 1958 through 1968. Bialetti’s postwar commercials were structured in such a way as to help men and women live in a world of modernity, which was new to them after twenty years under Mussolini’s dictatorship, and each episode featured the main character, the Omino con i baffi (“Mustachioed Little Man”), teaching the audience how to perform everyday tasks such as DIY plumbing or cooking.

Bialetti set its image in the breadwinner identity myth, using the omino as the symbol for modern men, who wanted to achieve a higher status and were more keen on succeeding in their career than they were on parenting; in this sense the omino is portrayed as a white-collar middle-aged man who is not capable of basic DIY tasks (suggesting he is more intellectual than handy) and is never associated with fatherhood.

Holt’s CBM was integrated with Stern’s Deconstructive Strategy which examines binaries in the advertising messages and argues that they are levers that enhance the persuasiveness of commercials. In Bialetti’s case, I have argued that the funny and cartoon-like voice of the omino is put in opposition with the voice of a woman speaking at the end of the commercial because this juxtaposition enhances the utopian world of Bialetti. This utopian world is the world designed for modern men whose desire was to live a carefree life after almost fifty years of warfare. Furthermore, there exists a Human/Object opposition is Bialetti’s commercials, because the omino is depicted halfway between a moka pot and a man. Leaving his figure undefined enhances the impact of the advertising message on the audience. Finally, I have identified a Male/Female juxtaposition due to the presence of the omino and a look-a-like female counterpart, Aunt Betty. This, I have speculated, is a device that highlights the masculinity of the male character because his female version is portrayed as being more idiotic than him. My integrated approach also included the analysis of Bialetti from a material standpoint, following Miller’s assumptions on materiality. Using Miller’s studies allowed me to see Bialetti as a member of the family, rather than mere object. Thanks to an ethnographic research I conducted amongst Italian families, I have realized that many people share a number of habits. For instance, many informants do not wash their moka pot and many of them place it close to the hob ready for the next brew rather than putting it in the cupboard as they do with other items. Thanks to these shared rules I have witnessed a phenomenon Miller terms humility of things; the ability of possessions to shape and influence us when they are so embedded in our life that we cannot see them anymore. Furthermore, I have argued that a Bialetti moka pot can be considered an objectified companion, an object imbued with person-like qualities. As a matter of fact, it has come to represent a member of the family for the people who use it, keeping it by our side at times of distress, when studying hard for exams and even refer to it using feminine pronouns.

Taking the results of the application of the integrated approach into consideration, I have argued that objects can be analyzed using a triangular model that explains how possessions are imbued with social meaning. I have speculated that objects have an external appearance (shape, color, etc.) and a function and these two elements work in tandem to create the third angle of the triangle, meaning the immaterial condition, because no meaning would exist without a shape or a usage. I have argued that the social meaning of possessions is dynamic and static at the same time. It is static because (in my case) Bialetti will always be associated with iconicity, modernity and good coffee but the brand’s personality evolves and changes, making it dynamic.

This thesis has allowed me to conclude that Bialetti is, indeed, an iconic brand for Italians and it is an indelible part of this nation’s culture. The application of the framework I have employed can be useful for future analysis of iconic brand as well as for structuring an advertising campaign. The integrated approach makes it possible to build the brand image addressing a country’s feelings and anxieties, it makes it possible to understand the levers to use to enhance the effect of commercials and it allows marketers to see how the product becomes part of a family’s life.

Saturday, 10 September 2011


September  11 marks an important anniversary for on this day, 1903, the seminal critical theorist Theodor Adorno was born in Frankfurt. In addition to being a music reviewer and composer, Adorno has emerged as one of the key exponents of critical theory and a central figure of the so-called Frankfurt School, comprising of scholars associated with the Frankfurt Institute of Social Research that included Max Horkheimer, Walter Banjamin and Erich Fromm.

Whilst Adorno’s output contains several philosophic masterworks, such as Negative Dialectics and Philosophy of Modern Music, the Dialectic of the Enlightenment which he co-authored with Max Horkheimer during the 1940s, has become an exceptionally influential text that continues to cast a large shadow over how we understand consumption, markets and culture. Primarily concerned with understanding barbarity as entangled with enlightenment, the book’s chapter on Culture as Mass Deception analyses how mass culture results in a downward spiral of alienation that integrates people into a dominating system of production. Against a backdrop of rising fascism, Adorno’s work is constantly concerned with the idea of an imposed mass culture and how consequentially imagination, free-time and personalities become regulated in a routinised world. Essential to such a process is the willingness to participate and opt out of critically engaging with the world, a toxic ideology that discourages reflexive thinking and generates anesthetised being. Throughout Adorno’s work a model of an isolated intellect engaged in a constant process of hard work is marshalled against the world of de-concentration and mass culture whilst he presented a framework for analysing art and life in terms of how it could resist its own commodity structure and break an all but hegemony of discourse that has internalised a logic of production.

Adorno has attracted severe criticism for being elitist, for detesting jazz, for failing to recognise the subcultural possibilities in popular culture and for treating consumers as passive dupes who lack the necessary intelligence to live a meaningful life. Yet such critiques miss the mark: Adorno was the first major thinker to take seriously popular culture and subject it to philosophical questions and submit it to the same politico-aesthetic expectations that he would with classical music. Indeed to do any less would be the truly elitist act. An accusation of treating consumers as passive dupes neglects the central emphasis in Adorno’s work on how critical faculty is something which we are actively encouraged to switch off; lack of intelligence is not the issue rather our willingness to go along with a world where it is more rational to live irrationally. When the smoke of such critiques clear, Adorno leaves us with an analysis of consumer culture that not only pulls together various analyses such as Marxism and Freudianism but also helps to locate consumer culture within a broader schema that includes warfare and hatred and recognises many of the theoretical coordinates that attended the rise of fascism in Germany as also existing within mainstream popular consumer culture. Adorno’s voice, therefore, comes to us a warning against “advancing brutality”.

Adorno with his co-author Horkheimer

With the rise of the Nazis, Adorno fled to England and eventually to USA where the mostly Jewish Frankfurt School re-convened minus familiar faces, most notably Walter Benjamin who committed suicide in Spain just before the Gestapo could arrest him.  The sad life of the refugee and the conditions of mortification imposed upon he and his colleagues inform his personably written text Minima Moralia, an infamously difficult read but a text nonetheless loaded with reflections and insights from a gaze that shifts from the macro conditions of life under capitalism’s mass culture towards the everyday minutia where glances between metro passengers carry a deep poignancy and bear witness to profound alienation.

Returning to Germany, Adorno eventually found himself amidst the rise of 60s counterculture where his idealised form of the disengaged yet radical intellectual jarred with the impatient student insurrectionary zeitgeist. His relationships with students became increasingly strained and contentious and, arguably, the stress of the hostile encounters brought about his death following a heart attack in 1969, aged 65. There is always the temptation to romanticise Adorno’s life and death as a tragedy in which he was fated to perpetually suffer for delivering deeply unpopular messages yet such a simplified and clichéd reading would no doubt have been rejected by this committed philosopher and scholar.

- An excellent text which explores the impact of Adorno & Horkheimer's analysis for branding and consumer culture is provided in Lash & Lury's Global Culture Industry.

Friday, 9 September 2011

“We Do Not Want to Be One of Those Neighbourhoods Where Starbucks Moves In...”

The popularity of ethical, green and political consumption and forms of consumer activism and resistance have grown considerably in recent years. Session 8 of the Marketing Ethics module (2nd term elective) discusses the phenomenon as it relates to: environmental degradation, the recent economic crises, questions of persistent economic growth, well-being and political projects that switch responsibility for social and environmental welfare away from governments and other institutional actors towards “consumer-citizens”.

Andreas Chatzidakis teaches Marketing Ethics on the MA Marketing

However, although the intersection of consumption, ethics and politics has been of interest to a variety of disciplines for quite some time (such as geography, sociology and cultural studies), it is only recently that marketing academics have approached these issues from a broader and more contextualised perspective. Not surprisingly, marketing studies that examine topics such as Fair Trade consumption, sustainability and so on, tend to follow the dominant paradigm of marketing research. Typically, “ethical consumers” are assumed to be rational decision-makers who differ from other consumers (“unethical”?) only to the extent that they factor in social and environmental causes to their otherwise utilitarian, day-to-day purchases.

In an attempt to redress this somewhat de-contextualised understanding of ethical consumption, we (Andreas Chatzidakis, Pauline Maclaran and Alan Bradshaw) conducted an ethnographic project that investigates how space and place, typically overlooked contextual factors, affect consumer-related movements. As part of this project, we recently had an article accepted for publication in the Journal of Marketing Management’s special issue on “Green and Ethical Marketing”. In the article we draw on data collected over a two-year period in Exarcheia, a neighborhood of Athens renowned for anti-capitalist and anti-commercial ethos, and we probe its consumer-related movements.

For instance, we found an anti-consumerist bazaar, where people could come and give goods, or take goods, or give and take goods, or share their skills and knowledge in a variety of weekly organized seminars. We found a collective whose mission is to contribute to an economy of solidarity by importing coffee from the Zapatistas in Mexico, squats that provide free legal advice and educational services to illegal immigrants, several community cooking events, and a guerrilla park: a space earmarked for a leased car park that was occupied and bulldozed by the locals and transformed into a very impressive park that operates on the basis of a gift economy and self-management.

From a more theoretical perspective, we observed that despite this variety of (ethical and green consumption-related) social movements operating in Exarcheia and their diverse political aims, they remain spatialised. For example, living in the same place made an emotional impact: as an informant put it, “the air that someone breathes when entering Exarcheia” and a more cognitive impact in terms of being aware and cultivated into the political norms and traditions of the area. In addition, space/place acts as a destination and as a supportive environment that allows similar initiatives and movements to emerge. According to several of our informants, a sense of operating in the same area and having a related place identity felt, in many cases, to be a source of community and identity that paved the way for collective action. For instance, the widespread use of graffiti, insertions of artwork and table games in public spaces and the creation of guerrilla parks are not only acts of civil disobedience that encapsulate residents’ actions against the commodification and private appropriation of public space but also mark their ongoing attempts to live more communal and anti-consumerist lifestyles.

Altogether, what our research has so far shown is that there is scope for deeper conceptualisations of the (anti-)consumption of public space/place and the relationship between space/place and various public and private consumption settings. There is need to reconsider both the (ethical and green) consumption of space and place as, for instance, where residents reclaim public spaces and demand that ones’ neighbourhood does not become “ of those where Starbucks moves in...” (in an informants’ words). The study also demonstrates that we should consider that ethical and green consumption occurs within specific spaces and that these spaces frame understandings of ethical and green consumption. For example, engaging in solidarity trading with Zapatistas in Exarcheia is a choice quite different from buying Fair Trade coffee in a big supermarket chain – let alone buying a Fair Trade frappucino from Starbucks.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Morris Holbrook's Latest Book

Morris Holbrook is a hugely influential consumer researcher mostly associated with the rise of interest in experientialist consumer research. His new book Music, Movies, Meanings, and Markets has just been published by Routledge. For any students with an interest in jazz and film, this will be a fascinating book to read. I wrote the below short review, which appears on the back of the book:

‘At a time when so much marketing literature carries the weight of formulaic standardization, Morris Holbrook yet again reminds us of the creative possibilities within marketing theory. This book beautifully explores decades of jazz and film in order to explore meta-narratives at the level of the tragic and the sublime within marketing, consumer culture and life in general. Rich, personable and beautifully written, this culmination of a lifetime of rumination and love of music is maybe his finest work yet; a wonderful book from a great scholar.’ – Alan Bradshaw, Royal Holloway, University of London

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Marketing- A Critical Introduction, Chris Hackley

I’d like to welcome the new MA Marketing blog with a few comments for our new students about studying marketing. These are personal comments, but I think they reflect some common themes across our courses on the MA Marketing programme. One recurring theme is that we like to encourage students to engage with scholarship which explores fundamental questions about marketing practice and its implications.

In the module I lead, Marketing- A Critical Introduction, we review topics that are common to most marketing courses, but we try to do so from a critical viewpoint. I’ll try to explain what I mean by this.

You might be thinking, “well, every marketing text book claims to be’ critical’, and every university marketing course claims to take a ‘critical’ viewpoint. It’s all just rhetoric to market the idea of marketing”. If you were indeed thinking this very thought, then you are already thinking critically about marketing.

For me, doing marketing critically means, simply, treating it as a university subject with the values of scholarship and critical thinking that implies, and not simply as a list of management axioms to be learned by rote and applied without discrimination.

The important thing to remember about thinking critically, is that it does not simply mean dismissing ideas as irrelevant or empty. Take, for example, the idea of market segmentation.

It’s a common idea in marketing that it can be useful to know who the actual and potential customers might be. This knowledge means that marketing effort (direct mail letters, sales phone calls, advertising, discount offers etc.) can be aimed at the very people who should be most likely to buy the product or service that is being offered. Segmenting markets into groups of relevant consumers should improve the efficiency of marketing expenditure and help to generate a stronger ROI (return on investment) on marketing. Why waste effort and time trying to communicate with people who are not interested in buying? Doesn’t it make sense to try to ensure that the marketing expenditure is being directed at potential customers?

If marketing organisations did not segment their markets, what could happen? Advertising and other marketing initiatives might be targeted at people who have not and might never be in the market for that brand. But does that mean marketing effort which is not directed by a segmentation strategy is always wasted?

It is easy to think of a lot of marketing phenomena which seem to defy conventional ideas on segmentation. In fact, ignoring the logic of segmentation seems to be part of the success story of some notable brands. Facebook was initially designed for American Ivy League college students: Nike running shoes were originally made for elite dedicated track athletes: Blackberry phones were marketed to business users, but according to British newspaper reports they were the most popular phone used by rioters in the recent looting and arson spree. Long before it became a global brand, Guinness was the preferred alcoholic beverage of poor Irish manual workers: Burberry, once a conservative and quintessentially British overcoat brand became the most cherished design for British football hooligans in the 1980s, and is now one of the fastest growing designer brands in China. Who’d have thought that Starbucks would succeed in widening the market for artisan coffee drinking on such a scale?

So brands can sometimes thrive by defying, or ignoring, the logic of segmentation. What is more, knowing that others know about a brand but don’t own it is one of the attractions of ownership. Brands have become a symbolic vocabulary signifying (and simulating) social status and group membership. Their currency as a brand depends on large numbers of people recognising the symbolism of the brand even though they may not and might never own it. Narrow segmentation could, then, damage a brand's cultural presence. Why would anyone want Prada branded luggage unless they knew that some of their fellow travellers (with their cheap scruffy-looking luggage) recognised it?

A further difficulty is that segmentation variables may not be stable. Marketing theorists have borrowed most of these sociologists. Concepts such as lifestyle, social class, socio-economic groups and demographic groups (perhaps that was one from the geographers) are well-used in segmentation. But how stable is, say the idea of social class today? Arguably, in Britain, working class is now a contradiction as a self-description, because there is another large group beneath it which has no concept either of ‘working’ or of ‘class’ as a collective noun. In other words, if you think you’re working class, then you’re middle class. Class is relative, historically and culturally. Football in Britain was once known as a ‘working class’ leisure pursuit, but today tickets for some games cost hundreds of pounds and footballers drive cars that cost £250,000. Many otherwise highly intellectual university academics are dedicated football fans. So much for cultural capital.

Once, this would all have seemed hugely improbable. Football in Britain was cheap and trivial entertainment for the ‘working man’. Today, sport is arguably the biggest draw in marketing, because sporting clubs and events can deliver such a huge volume of engaged and affluent consumers for sponsors. As I write, the American football end-of-season climax, the Superbowl, has almost sold out its NBC TV advertising slots at $3.5 million each for 30 seconds, even before the season has officially started. With viewing figures approaching 100,000,000, advertisers think these slots are worth every penny.

Social mobility, employment patterns, access to education and relative income differentials can all change, sometimes within years rather than decades, changing patterns of consumption with them. Marketing in general is often at the centre of such sweeping cultural changes. Consumption is dynamic, while market segment categories tend to be static. Arguably, lifestyles are now often too fluid and consumer interests too eclectic to categorise in terms of consumption, and the socio-economic classification invented by the British civil service has long lost its salience.

I don’t think these points mean that segmentation is irrelevant to marketing. Far from it. It can hardly be denied that consumer markets of millions of people can be resolved into patterns or sorted into categories, and that sometimes these can be very useful for directing and designing marketing initiatives. Segmentation has become highly refined as art and science: every page you look at while browsing the internet is recorded, every transaction you make with your credit card is logged, even your physical movements can be tracked through your mobile phone. Consumer attitudes and behaviours are closely monitored by an industry of marketing and consumer researchers. These data sets are sold on to interested parties who cut and slice the data to find groups they can access with (supposedly) relevant offers. The aim, overall, is to improve marketing efficiency.

Sometimes we even volunteer to be segmented, when we opt in to loyalty schemes, brand communities or fan clubs. Latent consumer segments can be activated by such schemes, and we do the marketer’s work for them, offering ourselves up as targets. In some contexts consumers have even agreed to have a microchip implanted under their skin, so that they can pay for drinks in a club by waving their arm over the scanner. Many more of us are agreeing to make payments in a similar way through our mobile phones. We have seen that segmentation has limitations as a marketing technique, but is there a more sinister side to segmentation as an aspect of social control?

The issue of electronic data storage in segmentation brings us to ethical considerations surrounding segmentation. Do you mind the fact that your personal information is tracked and traded without your knowledge? Or would it be even worse to be excluded from a segment because you don’t fit the profile? Would be ethically right, say, to raise public transport prices because the segment served has no alternative means of transport? Is it acceptable that money lending at interest rates of 1000’s of percent has become a big legitimate business in Britain, with huge marketing resources aimed at people who can't get credit by any other means? Is it right that many adult brands prime future market segments by advertising on children’s TV channels? Or that segmentation technology facilities blacklists of people who are excluded from marketing. For example, if a company mistakenly lists an unpaid debt against your name, the adverse effect on your credit history can make it impossible to get a loan or credit terms, and the mistake can be extremely difficult to put right.

I hope these conversational comments on a typical marketing topic give you a small flavour of what I mean by engaging critically with marketing. In the course itself, as well as discussing marketing issues of the day, we will also look at some techniques of scholarship and theoretical perspectives which can help to frame, structure and extend our critical thinking around marketing.

Chris Hackley

Radio Broadcast

I spoke briefly on the BBC Radio 4 programme The Philosopher's Arms which was broadcast yesterday. You can hear it on the below link (I come in after about 9 minutes and talk about the cost of bliss):

Monday, 5 September 2011

Mediterraneamente with Estrella Damn

Estrella Damn's latest epic in-cinema lifestyle advertisement in their long-running Mediterraneamente campaign features interns amidst the sun-kissed skinny-dip beach parties and glamour of Catalan’s recently shut El Bulli restaurant and also the maestro chef Ferran Adria himself. Along the way the advert presents a Summer romance and branded lifestyle with images of food, good music and themes previously developed in the brewer’s campaign.

The spot’s song, I Wish That I Could See You Soon, is performed by the French duo Herman Düne and previously the campaigns have included groups like The Triangles, Billie the Vision and the Dancers. Interestingly the annual campaign features the musicians performing live providing another instance of advertising agencies as cultural intermediaries bringing interesting alternative sounds to the attention of wider audiences. At a time when music recording sales continue to decline and FM Radio stations maintain their commitment to inane chatter and conservative play-lists, this advert continues the well established tradition of advertisements being the best place to encounter new music.

The ménage à trois-less 2009 spot in the same campaign.

The entire advertisement stays mostly true to the now established structure of Estrella Damn’s Mediterraneamente campaign, though the deviations are intriguing. Unlike the weird sexual undertone of the 2009 advert where a ménage à trois seems likely to explode any second but somehow never does, the latest has a Facebook-lifestyle edge which sees the protagonists' free-time spent moving from one photo opportunity to another. In some cases they pose and contrive amusingly fait shots for photographs, yet mostly there are no cameras in the scenes. Hence the advert, where our heroes march Beatles-like across the beach, feels like an odd blur between abandoned social realism and all-too real lifestyles where the external eye of the Facebook follower has been internalised, for whom they are always “on show” and for whom they re-package their lifestyle as an object for third-party visual consumption, even if this third-party is a figment of their imagination. Hence the entire Summer feels like one big social media photo event where the photos are not actually taken.  

As the advert moves into its final section we are left with the suspicion that the couple are destined to have a Summer of yearning glances across a busy kitchen amidst a social dynamic that prohibits its members; a world of parasexuality where intimacy is consumed yet never consummated. As recently described by Brown in Inside Marketing (previously reviewed in this blog), parasexuality refers to a deployed yet contained sexuality that is carefully channelled but not fully discharged; a sexuality that straddles public and private and has emerged as a preferred model for marketing’s endorsed lifestyles. This is the age in which, as Zizek likes to remind us, James Bond no longer has sex with "the Bond Girl" and genuine intimacy is in danger of becoming re-imagined as a toxic intrusion. However, this is still a Spanish advert and eventually our two heroes manage to sneak away for a clandestine but nonetheless spot-lit snog on the beach and romance is finally allowed to blossom, at which stage the other two friends disappear from the narrative. Given that the golden rule of beer advertising is that there must be three men in the ad – after all, a solitary drinker would be an alcoholic and two men would be gay – the withdrawal of one into romance leaves the other two cast into an advertising nowhere land where they suddenly cease to exist.