Historical Perspectives on Funding Opportunities in Consumer Research

Paul N. Bloom, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
George R. Milne, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
ABSTRACT - The history of how consumer research has been funded is examined. Data are presented that show the sources of financial support for published articles over the last twenty-five years, and additional thoughts about research funding are offered based on the authors' personal observations. Several ideas for improving the availability of funds to consumer researchers are also presented.
[ to cite ]:
Paul N. Bloom and George R. Milne (1991) ,"Historical Perspectives on Funding Opportunities in Consumer Research", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, eds. Rebecca H. Holman and Michael R. Solomon, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 255-261.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, 1991      Pages 255-261

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES ON FUNDING OPPORTUNITIES IN CONSUMER RESEARCH

Paul N. Bloom, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

George R. Milne, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

ABSTRACT -

The history of how consumer research has been funded is examined. Data are presented that show the sources of financial support for published articles over the last twenty-five years, and additional thoughts about research funding are offered based on the authors' personal observations. Several ideas for improving the availability of funds to consumer researchers are also presented.

INTRODUCTION

The relatively young discipline of consumer research has grown and advanced without the benefit of significant amounts of funding to support research activity. The vast majority of the studies in the field have been paid for out of either researchers' own pockets or their school's limited research funds. Big government or foundation grants to support programmatic research efforts have played a minor role.

This paper attempts to document this situation, drawing primarily on the results of a small empirical study. Specifically, the following questions are addressed here:

1. Where have the funds come from to support consumer research?

2. How has funding influenced the types of studies that have been done?

3. What are the historical reasons for low levels of funding for consumer research?

4. What can we learn from the past to improve the situation in the future?

The empirical study completed to address these questions consisted of a content analysis of the funding acknowledgements provided by authors at the beginning of articles appearing in four different outlets. In addition to this study, answers to the questions were formulated by drawing on the lead author's experience as (1) a long-time member of ACR (since 1972), (2) the author of a book that recounts the history of the Marketing Science Institute (Bloom 1987), and (3) a member of the American Marketing Association's "Development of Marketing Thought" Task Force, which spent considerable time addressing the topic of obtaining more funds for basic research in marketing (Monroe et al. 1988).

SOURCES OF FUNDS

In order to make a more accurate assessment of where funds have come from to support consumer research, a content analysis was conducted of the footnotes or acknowledgements found at the beginning of the following articles:

1. All of the articles that have appeared in Advances in Consumer Research from 1973 through 1989.

2. All of the articles that have appeared in the Journal of Consumer Research from 1974 through 1989.

3. All of the articles that were indexed under the headings "Consumer Behavior" and "Consumer Analysis" in the Journal of Marketing from 1964 through 1989.

4. All of the articles that were indexed under the headings "Buyer Behavior" and "Information Processing" in the Journal of Marketing research from 1964 through

The information found in these acknowledgments was used to place each article in one or more of the following categories:

1. No funding source acknowledged.

2. Funding acknowledged from the school(s) of the author(s).

3. Funding acknowledged from the National Science Foundation.

4. Funding acknowledged from another Federal government agency (e.g., the Federal Trade Commission or Food and Drug Administration).

5. Funding acknowledged from the Canadian government.

6. Funding acknowledged from other governments.

7. Funding acknowledged from the Marketing Science Institute.

8. Funding acknowledged from another private, nonprofit organization.

9. Funding acknowledged from a private corporation.

No attempt was made to record anything about an article other than its source of funding. Clearly, future research could look at additional information such as the types of methods employed in the research, the topics studied, or the citations a work received from other researchers. In addition, while we attempted to be thorough in our content analysis, we recognize it is possible that some research efforts might not have acknowledged funding in a footnote.

TABLE 1

TOTAL CONSUMER RESEARCH FUNDING IN ALL OUTLETS 1964-1989

The results of the content analysis are reported in Tables 1 through 5. Table 1 shows how many articles in all four outlets received one of the eight types of funding. Tables 2 through 5 show how many funded articles appeared in each outlet, starting with Advances in Consumer Research.

The most notable result in Table 1 is the low percentage of articles that contained any type of acknowledgement of funding. Over the examined time period in all four outlets, only 602 of the 2,805 published articles (21%) contained an acknowledgement of having received funding from at least one source. The table also shows who was acknowledged for providing funding, and this indicates that the most common acknowledgements cited the authors' schools. Among the 708 sources acknowledged -- which is higher than the 602 articles containing funding acknowledgements, since several articles acknowledged multiple funding sources -- 331 were school sources (47%). The next most frequently mentioned sources were "Nonprofit organizations" (13%), "Another Federal agency" (10%), "private corporations" (10%), the National Science Foundation (9%), and the Marketing Science Institute (6%). The Canadian and other foreign governments were the least represented of the funding sources.

It should be stressed that none of these non-school sources of funds were acknowledged in more than ten articles in all the outlets in any given year. It should also be noted that several of the funding sources are not known for giving out very large awards. For example, the typical MSI award has only been a few thousand dollars.

TABLE 2

CONSUMER RESEARCH FUNDING FOR ADVANCES 1973-1989

Looking at the data in Table 1 over time, a few patterns seem to emerge. It appears that NSF funding was much more prevalent in the 1970s than the 1980s, with the exception of the year 1984. Funding from other Federal government agencies also seemed more prevalent in the 1970s, with acknowledgements peaking in articles appearing in 1980 and 1981 (although 1989 was a relatively high year with 7 acknowledgements). Similarly, the funding from other private nonprofits seemed to peak in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Some of the slack in funding opportunities during the late 1980s seemed to be picked up by MSI and private corporations, as their number of acknowledgements increased over the last few years.

Table 2 shows the history of acknowledgements in Advances in Consumer Research. Overall, only 11% of the articles contained acknowledgements of funding from at least one source, and 48% of the sources mentioned were school-related. There were too few mentions of any individual non-school source to detect any interesting patterns.

In contrast, the Journal of Consumer Research, as shown in Table 3, did have 43% of its articles containing acknowledgements to one or more funding sources. Still, 47% of the acknowledgements mentioned the authors' schools. Additionally, the historical pattern for the non-school funding was essentially the same as that described in discussing Table 1. Indeed, JCR articles produced a high proportion of all the non-school acknowledgements that were identified.

The fact that JCR articles seemed to receive more funding raises a provocative cause-and-effect question: Did funding play a major role in creating y the higher quality work -- that JCR articles tend to f represent -- or did the higher quality work (or the promise of it) attract more funding? Although we cannot answer this question definitively, we have some thoughts to share about this issue in the next section of this paper.

The most noteworthy pieces of information in Tables 4 and 5 are the larger relative numbers for acknowledgements of private corporations. Otherwise, there are no discernible patterns to the support given to a portion of the consumer research articles that appeared in JM and JMR.

FUNDING'S INFLUENCE ON STUDIES

Since we did not code anything about the content of articles, we cannot use empirical results to guide our comments about how funding has influenced the types of studies that have been done. Our views on this subject are based on our personal observations and on what we gleaned as a by-product of coding the acknowledgements. Our comments are focused on how the availability of funding has influenced (1) the topics that have been studied, (2) the methods and scope of projects, and (3) the quality of the research.

TABLE 3

CONSUMER RESEARCH FUNDING FOR JCR 1974-1989

We do think it is possible for funding to influence the types of topics that are studied in a discipline. In the interviews conducted by Bloom (1987) with researchers who had received funding from MSI, the availability of funding was one of the five most frequently offered explanations -- in responses to both unprompted and prompted questions -- of what first sparked their interest in a particular topic. The availability of funding was also one of the six most frequently mentioned reasons why they chose to invest time studying a topic. Indeed, the recent impressive response MSI received for its Brand Equity Competition illustrates how funding can lure researchers to investigate a given topic.

However, we do not feel that enough funding has been available in the consumer research field to have had a significant influence on what topics have been studied in the past. In a sense, the discipline has remained "pure," with the researchers deciding for themselves what are the important topics to investigate, avoiding being even slightly "corrupted" by the lure of money to study topics that they probably would not have studied otherwise.

On the other hand, we feel that the methods and scope of consumer research projects have definitely been influenced by funding. Overall low funding levels clearly deserve some of the blame for frequently-lamented shortcomings such as the overuse of student subjects, the tendency to do "quick-and-dirty" small experiments or surveys, the limited use of multi-disciplinary perspectives, and the failure to sustain programmatic research efforts.

When funding has been available, we think that it has facilitated the completion of higher quality research studies, such as those that have appeared in JCR. But we do not feel that the causation runs primarily from funding to higher quality. Instead, we think the stronger effect has been in the other direction, with higher quality research stimulating higher levels of funding. We think more accomplished, higher quality researchers, who formulate and propose higher quality studies, have shown greater ability to persuade their schools (primarily) and other funding agencies to support their research endeavors. Thus, we feel this entrepreneurial activity of researchers has had much more to do with advancing funding, quality, and knowledge in consumer research than any enlightened generosity of funding agencies.

REASONS FOR LIMITED FUNDING

Consistent with what we have just said about the value of entrepreneurial activity by researchers, we must place much of the blame for the limited amount of funding of consumer research on the researchers in the field themselves. We feel that systematic, sustained, and well-packaged efforts by consumer researchers to "sell" their research ideas to funding agencies have been infrequent. Frankly, business school professors -- who still make up the bulk of the ACR membership -- do not have the set of incentives and pressures that researchers in other disciplines have for going out and "getting money." The market value of professors in business schools is not as affected by their "grant-winning" ability as it is for professors in the hard sciences or some of the social sciences. Moreover, business school professors can frequently turn to consulting to provide them with added wealth, travel opportunities, and feelings of being influential -things that professors in other disciplines may only be able to acquire by building little "empires" for themselves through their grant-winning prowess.

TABLE 4

CONSUMER RESEARCH FUNDING FOR JM 1964-1989

With lower incentives and pressures to "get money," even many of those business-school-based consumer researchers who have had some success in obtaining grants have failed to sustain their grant-getting activities. Therefore, the opportunity to pass on some of their know-how about grant-getting to younger colleagues or students has often not been capitalized upon. Moreover, these experienced grant-getters have frequently not stayed visible with the funding agencies, missing the chance to pave the way for other consumer researchers through being "gray-haired," credible spokespersons for the merits of funding consumer research.

It might also be possible to blame consumer researchers for being too "in-between" in their approach to research problems. It could be argued that the field tends to be too basic to appeal to the business community -- which wants results that can be easily and quickly applied to real-life problems -and too applied to appeal to the basic research advocates in some of the government agencies and foundations.

Other factors that we feel have contributed to a shortage in research funds include the relative youth of the field of consumer research and the overall decline in funding of research of any type during the Reagan Administration (which spanned a major portion of the history of consumer research). In a sense, the field is starting to gain the respectability to fight for funding against the other mature disciplines, only to find that the absolute size of funding is smaller.

TABLE 5

CONSUMER RESEARCH FUNDING FOR JMR 1964-1989

LESSONS FOR THE FUTURE

Our examination of the past leads us to believe that a few actions and developments might serve to increase the amount of funding made available for consumer research. First and foremost, we think that consumer researchers need to develop the skills and the will needed to become more successful at marketing their studies to funding agencies. Additional conference sessions like the one at which this paper was presented can help to develop the necessary skills, but developing the will to seek funding is much more problematical. Leadership of ACR officers and thought-leaders (e.g., Fellows) could help to popularize grant-seeking, as could leadership from Deans and department chairs. However, changes in the performance appraisal and compensation systems of academic departments might be the most needed development.

Additional conference sessions encouraging joint research between consumer-research academics and practitioners could help, as could sessions encouraging more multi-disciplinary research efforts. The former could lead to projects that are viewed as more applied, making them potentially more acceptable to private corporations and MSI. The latter could lead to projects that are viewed as more basic and interdisciplinary, making them potentially more acceptable to NSF and certain foundations. At the same time, we think it would be helpful if ACR officers and thought-leaders engaged in a systematic effort to educate and inform funding agencies about the merits and value of consumer research.

ACR could go a step further and actually organize a foundation to fund high-quality, programmatic research efforts. Financing might be provided from a number of sources, including membership dues, ACR commercial ventures, donations from publishers, and corporate donations. We recognize that ACR has resisted getting in the funding business for a variety of reasons, including a short-lived bad experience with having a dissertation proposal contest. We are especially concerned about the problems of avoiding too much donor influence over what projects get supported. But we think that it is possible to create appropriate safeguards to avoid ethical conflicts and compromises, and we would like to see a foundation receive serious discussion. We feel that continued reliance on the sources of funding currently available to consumer researchers may not be adequate for advancing knowledge in this field at a desirable rate.

REFERENCES

Bloom, Paul N. (1987), Knowledge Development in Marketing: The MSI Experience, Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

Monroe, Kent et al. (1988), "Developing, Disseminating, and Utilizing Marketing Knowledge," Journal of Marketing, 52(October), 1-25.

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