The Heroes of Consumption and the Consumption of Heroes

Steve Vander Veen, Calvin College
[ to cite ]:
Steve Vander Veen (1994) ,"The Heroes of Consumption and the Consumption of Heroes", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, eds. Chris T. Allen and Deborah Roedder John, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 331.

Advances in  Consumer Research Volume 21, 1994      Page 331


Steve Vander Veen, Calvin College

The archetypal hero, according to Jungian analysis, manifests itself in human behavior. The objective of this session was to show how the archetypal hero manifests itself in consumer behavior and what this might imply for marketing managers.

The first paper by Steve Vander Veen attempted to show that all consumption is ritualistic, all rituals have heroes, and all consumption is the consumption of heroes. Ritualistic behavior has three stages: separation, transition, and incorporation; yet, it also has elements of the heroic adventure: separation, initiation, return. In terms of hierarchy of effects, it is helpful to think of the decision-making process as "dream-do-rationalize-share." However, different consumers emphasize different aspects of the hierarchy of effects at different times. Some consumers may be more "hedonic" and others more rational. Those more rational rely more on heroes outside of themselves (horizontal role shift) and seek "communitas," while those more hedonic rely more on the hero within (vertical role shift) and seek a "peak-experience." Products then become either horizontal or vertical "power enhancers," to either help one "be like Mike" or "just do it" C "it" remaining undefined. Yet, to be heroic, a consumer has to both "do" and "share."

The second paper by Mary Ann McGrath and Cele Otnes reported the findings of a series of qualitative studies. Common to the studies of Christmas shopping, gift-giving, wedding arrangements, etc. was a storytelling format in which the consumer emerged as hero. This paper elaborated and exemplified three shopping scenarios enriched by phenomenological descriptions in which informants conceptualized themselves as victorious protagonists. One scenario described the consumer as a valorous gift-shopper involved in a treasure hunt for the perfect gift. A second scenario described the consumer as vanquishing the retail institution, possessing enhanced powers of observation, discrimination, taste, and judgement. The consumer scans and comparison shops and in the end emerges victorious with the perfect object, frequently at a bargain price. A third scenario described the consumer as a liberator of defenseless objects enslaved in a retail setting. In this context, the object becomes animated, invested with status and significance, and becomes elevated, sacralized, and transformed. Without the shopper, the object would have languished in mundane obscurity.

The third paper by Jolita Kisielius and Joseph Cherian reported on findings of an experiment in which an endorser was personified as a hero by manipulating the endorser's biography. In this experiment, two biographies were compared. In one, the biography was manipulated to represent a credible source. In the second, this same biography was given the added dimension of having periods of separation, initiation, and return. A second independent variable manipulated the relevance of the brand being endorsed; i.e., did the hero endorser utilize the brand pre-separation or post-separation? A third independent variable manipulated the type of endorsement, making it either "rational" or "global." The experiment hypothesized that (i) the more dramatic hero would garner more positive affect, and (ii) the dramatic hero would improve respondents' attitudes toward the product. In terms of interactions, the (iii) influence of the power enhancer was expected be most positive post-separation in conjunction with the more dramatic hero, and (iv) global endorsements used in conjunction with the more dramatic hero were expected to most improve respondents' attitudes toward the product. The more dramatic hero was found to significantly garner more positive affect.

The comments by discussant Sidney Levy pointed out why some consumer behaviorists may not be naturally enamored with myth and meaning in marketing. For one, consumer behaviorists may ask: "What is it?" or "I don't understand it!" Second, they may claim: "Well, I already knew that!" Yet, we all should! Some of the ideas presented were first discussed by Plato. Levy has been discussing myth and meaning in marketing for the last twenty years! Third, they may ask: "Why do we need it?" The answer is that the myths we hear and read about are the things we all feel. Myths tap into the fundamental and pragmatic issues of life. Finally, they may ask: "Is it true? Do I believe it?" Of course, this is what all knowledge ultimately comes down to.

To conclude, consumers are potentially the heroes of consumption if they do and share. For marketing managers, it can be informative to think of consumers as potential heroes, shopping as heroic quest, products as "power enhancers" (either describing or creating roles) or as "damsels in distress," retail institutions as "villains" or "dragons," endorsers as heroes or as "little old men or old crones," etc.