The Consumption of Heroes and the Hero Hierarchy of Effects

Steve Vander Veen, Calvin College
[ to cite ]:
Steve Vander Veen (1994) ,"The Consumption of Heroes and the Hero Hierarchy of Effects", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, eds. Chris T. Allen and Deborah Roedder John, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 332-336.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, 1994      Pages 332-336


Steve Vander Veen, Calvin College

This paper utilizes the Jungian hero archetype to define a consumption archetype. A hero hierarchy of effects is suggested and applied introspectively.


Many marketing scholars make distinctions between and among cognitive learning (cognition-affect-conation), behavioral learning (cognition-conation-affect), hedonic consumption (affect-conation-cognition) and other effects hierarchies en route to an attitude (see, e.g., Solomon 1992 and Henderson and Rust 1987). Though Smith and Swinyard (1982) have attempted to integrate and distinguish between trial users and committed users (low order cognitionClow order affectCtrial purchaseChigh order cognitionChigh order affectCcommitment purchase) and Hirschman (1988) to compare consumer problem-solving behavior to the heroic quest, all hierarchies presume purchase behavior is the "end all" of conation. But is it? And what does it matter?

This paper utilizes the Jungian hero archetype to define a consumption archetype and a hero hierarchy of effects. This new hierarchy suggests that purchase behavior is not the epitome of conation and, because it is not, the role of promotion has to be looked at differently.


Stern proposed literary criticism as "a branch of humanistic inquiry that may provide an additional way of learning about consumers" (1989, p. 322). Others include Holbrook (1987) and Calder and Tybout (1987). One particular school is that of archetype or myth, which identifies and characterizes forms of text by defining "collective psychological, cultural, and literary thought patterns or archetypes" (Stern, ibid).

This particular school is indebted to Jung and, like Jung, appears to be gaining momentum in an age of postmodernism (Griffin 1989). Manifestations of the myth school can be seem in current discussions of archetypal psychology, process theology, and even consumer behavior, resuming work begun by McCracken and Pollay (as reported in Stern 1989), Olson (1981), Sherry (1987), Walle (1990), and others.


William Shakespeare wrote that all the world was a stage, transversed by actors in various stages of life. Thomas and Biddle (1979) went beyond Shakespeare and introduced the world to man's various roles intra-stage. Jung introduced the world to the author-director, actor-manager.

Thus, throughout the whole cycle of life, the archetype stands behind the scenes, as it were, as a kind of author-director or actor-manager, producing the tangible performance that proceeds on the public (and the private) stage (Stevens 1982, p. 52).

The theory of archetypes is said to have originated with Plato's belief in the soul (Nagy 1991, p. 157). But archetypes are more than spiritual, they are instinctive (biological) as well. Further, archetypes are collective as well as individual, objective as well as subjective.

Jung concluded that there are "certain collective unconscious conditions which act as regulators and stimulators of creative fantasy activity". Insofar, they act like instincts. But they also have a "distinctly numinous character" which can only be described as "spiritual" (Stevens 1982, p. 169).

Archetypes reside in the unconscious. However, they influence conscious behavior through an individuation process (cf. Maslow's self-actualization). Their mode of manifestation is active imagination, a mechanism for resolving conflict between the conscious and the unconscious, which can be tapped via dream analysis (Aziz 1990, p. 25).

A main difference between archetypes and the concept of schemata utilized in cognitive psychology is that archetypes reside in individuals from before the time individuals are born. In fact, it is "the essential role of personal develop what is already there" (Stevens 1982, p. 16).

Like schemata, archetypes are believed to contain emotions, images, and scripts for action: "Archetypes are systems of readiness for action, and at the same time images and emotions" (ibid, p. 62). Specifically, it may be archetypal complexes that are most closely associated with the cognitive processing concept of schemata (ibid, p. 65).

The archetypal system in toto was defined by Jung as "the Self," which "has programmed within it the complete scenario for individual life (ibid, p. 76).

Thus, the hero archetype, as seen in dream and myth ("dream is the personalized myth, myth the depersonalized dream"CCampbell 1949, p. 19) and, for that matter, all of literature and life (in particular, sportsCWalle 1990), reflects the archetype of the self; i.e., the travails of the hero are the travails of the self.

The hero must conquer the same "dragon" to which the psychotic has fallen victim. He is the one who goes alone to seek it out when other, choosing to cling to their present level of security, remain behind. Finally, the hero is the one who undertakes the battle and ultimately is given, because of his sincerity, the strength tho overcome the dragon and take possession of the "treasure hard to attain." The winning of the "treasure hard to attain" is, of course, an allusion on the part of Jung to an experience of the archetype of total unity, the self, the goal of the process of individuation (Aziz 1990, p.29).

"The hero is the man of self-achieved submission" (Campbell 1949, p. 25), submission to the psyche (or self) and submission to the path of the psyche; i.e., death and rebirth, doing and sharing.

In a word, the first work of the hero is to retreat from the world scene of secondary effects to those causal zones of the psyche where the difficulties really reside, and there to clarify the difficulties, eradicate them in his own case...and break through to the undistorted, direct experience and assimilation of..."the archetypal images"...His second solemn task and to return then to us, transfigured, and teach the lesson he has learned of life renewed (ibid, pp. 17-20).


Symbolic of the self archetype is the hero archetype and the now proposed consumption archetype. The consumption archetype can be seen manifested in seemingly eclectic bits of consumer behavior literature and in disciplines as seemingly diverse as anthropology and theology, psychology and sociology via the following three propositions: (i) all consumption is ritualistic, (ii) all rituals have heroes, and (iii) all consumption is the consumption of heroes.

A. All Consumption is Ritualistic

The first proposition of the consumption archetype is that all consumption is ritualistic, meaning that the goal of consumption is some combination vertical and horizontal role shift leading to a unspecified role of roles, a combination of roles, where work=joy. This role shift occurs via the aid of "call finders," or goods which help consumers uncover their role or "calling" in life.

Goffman (1959), e.g., introduced the "dramaturgical perspective" which compared consumers to actors playing different roles with the help of scripts, props, and costumes, initiating the idea of role shift and power finding. Vance Packard spoke dramatically of role shift, saying that we "convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek spirit satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption (1960, p. 25). Wright and Snow, e.g., remarked that television commercials "portray nothing less than the transformation of the individual through consumption (1980, p. 3). Schudson noted that products say "buy me and everything will be easier for you"...(1984, p. 6). Levy (1981) reinforced the idea that products stand for something else and that products are consumed with scripts. Rook and Levy (1983) investigated the relation between consumer myths and their enactment in everyday ritualistic behavior. Rook defined ritual as:

a type of expressive, symbolic activity constructed of multiple behaviors that occur in fixed episodic sequence, and that tend to be repeated over time. Ritual behavior is dramatically scripted and acted out and is performed with formality, seriousness, and inner intensity (1985, p. 252).

Solomon and Anand (1985) connected ritualistic behavior to ritual artifacts (i.e., power finders) or products employed symbolically to operationalize the ritual. Solomon (1983) put forth the idea that products define social roles. Belk (1988) described how products could "extend" self.

Thus products are more than signs or containers of antecedent psychic contents. Products can and must be an expression of a purposeful course that "psychic energy follows," representative of a definite but not yet realized goal (Aziz 1990, p. 16).

Therefore, in defining (and in not defining) social roles, call finders give consumers the power to shape identities (see, e.g., Belk and Mehta 1991, Schouten 1991). When these call finders help provide "self-transcending, extraordinary experiences" (Belk, Wallendorf, and Sherry 1989), or peak-experiences (Maslow 1976), they are vertical in nature and are sacred. When these call finders result exclusively in "communitas," they are profane. In fact, when the

boon brought from the transcendent deep becomes quickly rationalized into nonentity, the need becomes great for another hero to refresh the word (Campbell 1949, p. 218).

The goal of ritualistic consumption could be described as self-actualization (Maslow 1954), meaning, spiritual consummation (Holbrook 1987, Hirschman 1985), a feeling of achieving the role general, which represents the sum total of all roles consumers play and determines what the consumer does for society and what s/he can expect from it (Thomas and Biddle 1979).

In effect, therefore, it is the role of the hero to help bring what is unconscious to consciousness. In fact, the hero's quest is a vertical ritual of one. Over time, this ritual becomes socialized (cf. Belk 1989, p. 7) via narrative, drama, and myth (Raglan 1936); the ritual becomes collective, horizontal, accepted as rational behavior, and something profane because it acts as a giant leveler. In other words, the ritual of one in the end becomes something very unheroic.

The stages of role shift, again which mimic the self and which are mimicked by the hero, consist of (i) separation, in which a person disengages from a social role or status, (ii) transition, a liminal state of social limbo (Turner 1982) in which a person eventually adapts to fit new roles, and (iii) incorporation, in which a person integrates the self with the new role or status (van Gennep 1908, as reported in Schouten 1991). Again, these stages resemble the stages of problem-solving (cf. Hirschman 1988).

B. All Rituals have Heroes (Because Heroes Start Them)

Lord Raglan (1936) explained that the ability of ritual to confer benefits on whom or on whose behalf the ritual was being performed was enhanced and perpetuated by narrative, drama, myth, and out of myth, heroes. According to Campbell (1949), heroes are personifications of myths, and myths the windows of culture.

Thus, it is the innovation and the socialization of that enacted dream that becomes the context for the hero; i.e., the hero originally separates himself from existing social roles, enters "uncharted territory," conquers it and returns. The hero returns because, as part of the individuation process, a hero "'does not shut one out from the world, but gathers the world to oneself'" (Aziz 1990, p. 41). For this reason, "relationships with objects are never two-way (person-thing), but always three way (person-thing-person)" (Belk 1988, p. 157).

McCracken also saw the connection of heroes to ritualistic behavior, describing North Americans as active consumers of the meaning made available by the celebrity world and admitting that "we have some general sense that rituals play an important part in the process" (1989, p. 317). Further, that "celebrities are seen to have created the clear, coherent, and powerful selves that everyone seeks" (ibid, p. 318).

Thus, a short version of the heroic hierarchy could be simply: dream-do-rationalize-share; i.e., affectCconation (trial)CcognitionCconation (share), for "no man is an island" and the utility of possession comes from a utility of sharing.

C. All Consumption is the Consumption of Heroes (to Locate the Self and be Heroic)

Therefore, if all consumption is ritualistic and if all rituals have heroes, all consumption is the consumption of heroes. This proposition parallels the psychological concepts of agency and identity (see Palus, Nasby, and Easton 1990).

Thus, consumers are agents seeking identity. Further, "we believe that a primary way in which people represent their identities is narratively, in the form of stories", and that "versions of the story are told to oneself and to others" (ibid, p. 505).


As stated above, the hero's journey broadly consists of separation (S), initiation (I), and return (R), but includes more specific adventures. These more specific adventures are outlined by Campbell.

Relative to Separation, first the hero receives the "call to adventure." Here the "familiar life horizon has been outgrown; the old concepts, ideals, and emotional patterns no longer fit" (Campbell 1949, p. 51). It is a time when "destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity form within the pale of society to a zone unknown" (ibid, p. 58). Second, the hero may refuse the call. Third, for those who have not refused the call,

the first encounter of the hero-journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass (ibid, p. 67).

Fourth, the hero crosses the first threshold. The little old crone or old man represent personifications of the hero's own destiny; in fact, they represent personifications of the hero's own psyche.Finally, the last event of Separation is within "the belly of the whale." It is period of rebirth for the hero, or, as Ursinus and Olevianus (1563) state in the Heidelberg Catechism, "the mortification of the old man, and the quickening of the new" (Q&A 88).

Relative to Initiation, the first phase is one of "the road to trials." These trials might include crossing mountains, ditches, or desserts. In fairy tales it is the prince slaying the dragon. A second phase is "the meeting with the goddess."

This is the crisis at the nadir, the zenith, or at the uttermost edge of the earth, at the central point of the cosmos, in the tabernacle of the temple, or within the darkness of the deepest chamber of the heart (Campbell 1949, p. 109)....Woman, in the picture language of mythology, represents the totality of what can be known. The hero is the one who comes to know (ibid, p. 116).

The third, fourth, and fifth phases of initiation (i.e., "woman as temptress," "atonement with the father," and "apotheosis") are the ones where the hero learns that he and the woman and the father are, in essence, the same. In Jungian terms, all belong to the Psyche. In Christendom, a parallel structure is the Trinity, except that the hero is an "image-bearer" versus God himself.

The final phase is "the ultimate boon." The boon is "simply a symbol of life energy stepped down to the requirements of a certain specific case" (ibid, p. 189).

The agony of breaking through personal limitations is the agony of spiritual growth. Art, literature, myth and cult, philosophy, and ascetic disciplines are instruments to help the individual past his limiting horizons into spheres of ever-expanding realization (ibid, p. 190).

Regarding Return, the hero brings the "runes of wisdom, the Golden Fleece, or his sleeping princess, back into the kingdom of humanity (ibid, p. 193). But the responsibility is frequently refused. It is Moses refusing to deal with the people Israel after coming down from Mount Sinai. The second phase is "the magic flight." Phase three a rescue from without, if necessary. To finish the monomyth, the hero must

re-enter with his boon the long-forgotten atmosphere where men who are fractions imagine themselves to be complete. He has yet to confront society with his ego-shattering, life-redeeming elixir, and take the return blow of reasonable queries, hard resentment, and good people at a loss to comprehend (ibid, p. 216).


A. Separation

1. The Call to Adventure: Jill and Steve see TV advertisements for minivans. They also notice their friends drive them. Steve is also aware that if the family buys a camper-trailer in the next two years, they have nothing to pull it with. Further, Jill and Steve plan to be youth leaders at their churchCa van would be convenient for social activities. Is being a youth director and a family man part of that magical role of roles? In what proportion?

2. Refusal of the Call: Steve balks at the idea of buying a minivan because it is expensive. Jill does not like how "boxy" they look. Minivans would be so hard to clean.

3. Supernatural Aid: But friends convince them that minivans are great for travelingCthey keep the kids far apart so there is much less commotion and fighting. Is this a good reason? Is this being a good parent? Would this be fulfilling? But with this in mind, the next trip to grandmother's is unbearableCall three kids seem to be fighting continuously. Jill buys Car and Driver and Consumer Reports. Jill and Steve start driving through car dealerships on off-hours.

4. The Crossing of the First Threshold: Jill and Steve finally visit a dealer. They visit the dealer and salesperson who sold them their last car, a Sentra. "He's a nice guy and he's not pushy," says Steve. "And he sells a great productCNissan." Again, the salesperson, Gerrit, is not pushy. He's suggestive. He asks a lot of questions. He seems orientated toward the future. He convinces them to test drive a Quest XE. He gets the keys from the manager.

5. In the Belly of the Whale: Alone for a drive, Jill and Steve attempt to confirm all Jill has read about Nissan minivans. All is confirmed. They are strong believers. But Jill has a little of "doubting Thomas" in her and wants to check out other vehicles. The salesperson at the Plymouth dealership is unfamiliar with the Nissan Quest and compares it with a station wagon! Steve, already satisfied with the Nissan and with Gerrit, is particularly upset. The test drive is also not particularly impressive. Steve has all the ammunition he needs. The salesperson at the Mercury dealership notes that he has never been inside of a Quest, and does not really know how the Quest and the Villager compare. Again, Jill knows more about competitor's minivans than the salesperson. Steve has more ammunition. The salesperson at another Nissan dealership has not seen the Mercury Villager. Ironically, both vehicles were designed by Nissan and built by Ford! The last salesperson of the day "cut to the chase." A seller of Mercury Villagers, this man was all price and stated he was only interested in getting his inventory out-the-door. "This guy ought to work at K-Mart," thought Steve. "Over the next five years what he is saving me is squat. Is he interested in how this vehicle will fulfill my needs? I doubt it."

B. Initiation

1. The Road of Trials: Jill and Steve decide to buy. The next problem is financing. Will Gerrit stand behind them? Jill and Steve wonder what their parents, siblings, friends, and fellow church-members will say. Will the kids be hindered from fighting on long trips? Will the vehicle help Jill and Steve be "successful" youth leaders? Will the vehicle be able to pull a camper through the mountains and hold enough luggage for a "successful" vacation (i.e., will this vehicle not make Steve a better family man but show him he is a good one?)? Will this vehicle help Jill and Steve find their role of roles?

C. Return

How will Jill and Steve tell their story and to whom?


With Smith and Swinyard, the hero hierarchy makes heavy emphasis on trial purchase for high involvement products, such as automobiles. Trial purchase is, in effect, the period in which the new car buyer is in the "belly of the whale." Here the buyer is and should be "cut-off" from the dealer, the salesperson, from friends, and from advertising for it is here the buyer must decide for himself.

But the hero hierarchy goes further, emphasizing in particular the importance of the "protective figure...who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass." The car dealer and Consumer Reports have to give the consumer reasons for rationalizing the purchase. In addition, the car dealer has to entice the buyer to get into the "belly of the whale." In other words, someone needs to say "Just do it" and someone else need to say "This is whyCto be 'like Mike.'" In other words, the Share is emphasized. If marketers are providing consumers with an experience, they also have to provide them some semantics for sharing.

In addition, there are other notables. The car dealership, e.g., represents the "threshold guardian" which can be passed via keys given by the car salesperson. Here must be where the salesperson vs. manager "game" originated in consumer buying situations.

Advertising would seem to play a dual role, either serving as "the call to adventure" or the "gentle divinity" carrying the consumer back across the threshold. Thus, advertising has a particularly difficult role. As caller to the adventure, it would seem to have to be emotionally awakening, an imagination-prompter. Here the spokesperson would be the "little old man or crone." As a gentle divinity, advertising would likely have to be more cognitive, preparing the hero as God prepared Moses to face the people Israel and Pharoah of the Egyptians.

Finally, the hero hierarchy suggests that involvement is highest right after trial purchase. Here the consumer is not only experiencing the product with nearly all of his senses but he is also thinking up reasons to defend his purchase (or non-purchase). This, again, would have implications for advertising: advertising has to enhance involvement at the "call to adventure" and has to assume respondents are already high involved in the initial stages of return. Also, advertising needs to be emotional at the "call" and more rational at "return."

In addition, there are some "macro" implications. The hero hierarchy of effects suggests that in terms of Product Life Cycle, the stages of Maturity and Decline could be characterized by profane and meaningless product use. Also, in terms of the Diffusion of Innovations, late Majority and Laggards would be rational versus "hedonic" users.


So who is this masked man, the hero? The hero is someone who dreams, acts on those dreams, rationalizes his action, and shares the means to his fulfillment. He is heroic for helping others uncover their selves.

Further, few heroes fit all, because self-actualization (cf. the Christian concept of Sanctification) is as much a subjective as an objective process, and there may be as many roads to self-actualization as their are people. Aquinas once wrote that humans are made in the image of God but that since God is infinite He may be mirrored only through a virtually infinite number of humans (cf. Jung's concept of Synchronicity).

Finally, few heroes are forever. When the power of one hero becomes completely rationalized, the sheep seek a new shepherd. Yet without a shepherd, all sheep are astray (cf. Isaiah 53:6).


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