ACR's 25Th Anniversary How It All Began

James F. Engel, Eastern College
[ to cite ]:
James F. Engel (1995) ,"ACR's 25Th Anniversary How It All Began", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, eds. Frank R. Kardes and Mita Sujan, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 548-549.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, 1995      Pages 548-549



James F. Engel, Eastern College

"WowCa review of our history. Just what I've been waiting for." I can hear your voices now! But, seriously, it's kind of interesting how, to use Kassarjian's favorite phrase, a "bunch of old farts pulled it off 25 years ago." So, as the leader of that bunch, I guess I'm nominated to set it all straight.

I'll bet very few remember that the American Marketing Association gave birth to ACR, a fact that some in those ranks soon began to regret. But more about that later. I have one of the few copies of a brown notebook with these immortal words on the cover: The American Marketing Association Consumer Behavior Research Workshop presented by Continuing Education Division, College of Administrative Science, Ohio State University, August 21-23, 1969. There are those voices againC"I've got to have one of those."

Anyway, Dick Cardozo from Minnesota somehow got himself in the position of power as head of an AMA Task Force on Marketing Methodology that was mandated to get smaller groups of specialists together to wrestle with latest developments. As head of the now legendary consumer behavior group at Ohio State (Engel, Kollat, Blackwell, and Talarzyk), I got Cardozo on the phone and said in my quiet and gentle way, "It's about time you had a good idea, and such a deal we have for you!" The upshot was that we were given the opportunity to host the first real professional gathering of consumer research types without the contamination of the marketing old guard.

What would you do if you were given that kind of ball? Of courseCinvite your cronies. And so we did, but we had a more serious purpose. We tried to identify those whom we felt were making the greatest contribution to the field and to give a platform to present what currently was most exciting to them. So, 12 outside presenters were recruited, and the four of us made 16. That left room for 23 others, some of whom we invited from business and related fields. The remaining slots in this opportunity to make history went to the first of the vast multitude who responded to an open AMA invitation.

Now I will reveal for the first time in decades just who those presenters were and the titles of their papers. Are you ready for this? Here goes:

Tom Robertson (with Jim Myers), "Dimensions of Opinion Leadership."

Doug Tigert, "A Psychographic Profile of Magazine Audiences: An Investigation of a Medium's Climate."

Hal Kassarjian, "The Negro and Mass Media: A Preliminary Analysis of 1969 Magazine Advertisements."

Paul Green (with Tom Morris), "Individual Difference Models in Multidimensional Scaling: An Empirical Comparison."

Don Granbois (with Ron Willett), "Correlates of Fulfillment of Brand and Store Intentions for Durable Goods."

Ven Venkatesan (with Jag Sheth), "Risk-Reduction Processes in Repetitive Consumer Behavior: A Further Experiment"

Jag Sheth, "Attitudes as a Function of Evaluative Beliefs."

Joel Cohen (with Marv Goldberg), "The Effects of Brand Familiarity and Performance Upon Post-Decision Product Evaluation."

Jim Stafford (with Al Birdwell and Charles Van Tassel), "Verbal versus Non-Verbal Measures of Attitudes: Use of the Pupillograph."

Al Martin (with Jim Engel and Larry Light), "An Exponential Model for Predicting Trial of a New Consumer Product."

Dick Cardozo, "The Buying Game: A Simulation of Industrial Purchasing Behavior."

Dave Kollat (with Jim Engel and Roger Blackwell), "Current Problems in Consumer Behavior Research." [you wouldn't expect us to exclude ourselves would you?]

But I have saved the most interesting paper for last. You won't believe this: Bill Wells, "It Is Very Important for People to Wash Their Hands Before Eating Each Meal." And wouldn't you know that this was the only one to get mentioned in the press?

Catch these words by Paul Swinehart in the Columbus Dispatch: "A University of Chicago researcher in consumer behavior warned advertisers that their emphasis on psychedelic art and rock music may not appeal to the customers who buy most of their products. 'Our findings confirm and define a wide gap between the bearded swinging youth and the mass market,' Dr. Wells said. The survey indicates that the typical consumer 'doesn't want to think that he or she is a bit of a swinger, places a high value on home and family life, thinks that all men should be clean shaven every day, and thinks that hippies should be drafted,' he said." How's that for a slice of history?

Okay, I've had some fun in describing the event so far, but those of us who were there still talk about this as a genuine highlight of our professional lives. First of all, realize that this was one of the very first times in which competent researchers in our field were gathered in one place for serious dialog. We had these papers in advance and were prepared to critique in a constructive way. And, even more amazing, everybody went to every session and contributed. The net result was professionalism at its very best.

When we were planning this whole thing, Dave Kollat had an idea which intrigued us. Occasionally I let him speak at meetings but not often. This time I'm glad I did, because he was the one who suggested that we present the idea of forming our own professional association. Okay, the truth is finally out. I've been taking credit for this all along, and now my conscience is clear. Kollat is the real "father of our field," not me.

Actually we didn't even need to plant this suggestion, because there was real unanimity that we all longed for this kind of high-level professional interchange to continue in the future. Frankly we weren't getting this kind of benefit from AMA at that point; most of us went to AMA sessions only for personal visibility and to fish in the slave market for young faculty. Furthermore, we were being strangled by a lack of avenues for publication.

Somehow the notion of an Association for Consumer Research made it to the floor.

There was such strong support that the following things happened:

! We agreed to set up a steering group with me as chair along with Kassarjian and Cohen. Little did they know what they were unleashing when they made us into a troika with such power.

! The group expressed such confidence in us that they passed the hat and raised a kitty of about $500 for our treasury. Would you still express such confidence us? I don't think I would.

! We agreed to meet in 1970 at U. Mass immediately prior to AMA meetings in Boston with invitations extended to a much wider group.

So the baby was conceived and most of us left for the AMA meetings in Cincinnati with a notable lack of enthusiasm. Somehow Kassarjian, Cohen, and I found strength to have dinner on Sunday night to discuss this whole thing. As I remember, the only place we could get a drink was in Kentucky, and we went to the only joint we could find open.

Through some miracle the three of us managed to stop dominating and interrupting each other long enough to come up with the rough structure of what was to emerge a year later as ACR. Here were some of the main building blocks:

! A platform for those who are engaged in consumer research from a variety of applied perspectivesCgovernment, business, home economics and consumer interests, consumer psychology. No postmodern stuff at that point. If I remember right, Holbrook and Hirschmann might still have been in diapers (or graduate schoolCwhat's the difference?)

! A commitment to build a high level of conceptual and methodological professionalism in a field which still was pretty much in its infancy. We particularly wanted to see an end to the "theory of the month club" in which poorly conceptualized borrowing from behavioral sciences was creeping into our discipline.

! Pursuit of diverse avenues of research in which there is genuine theoretical and practical relevance.

So we divvied up the assignments. I took on creation of a constitution. This was done by borrowing what seemed to be good from AAPOR and other organizations. There were a few unique wrinkles such as formation of an Advisory Council as a means of accountability beyond our own ranks. This was finally ratified at the 1971 meeting at University of Maryland in a meeting I chaired. Inspite of some grumbling and discontent, it managed to pass pretty much intact. By the way, does that constitution still exist? I haven't seen or heard anything of it since that time.

Cohen more or less took on the assignment of building the membership. I don't remember what Kassarjian did. Does he ever do anything?

Back to my narrativeCthe best story of all about ACR really demonstrates the uniqueness of Joel. Maybe you've heard it before, but here at the facts.

It seems that Bob Ferber and the old guard at AMA got mighty scared when they heard that we were forming our own association. Gasp! Competition for the mighty AMA. Joel called Hal and me up and suggested the darndest bluff you have every heard, and of course we went along. He suggested that we float the rumor that we were about to start our own publicationCThe Journal of Consumer Research. That was about as likely given our treasury as Hal Kassarjian becoming an introvert.

But Joel demonstrated how to manipulate the opinion leadership channels, and Chicago erupted. How dare we? So they conceived the counter strategy of starting this journal themselves and asking other associations such as ACR to join as partners. Of course that's what we wanted all along. AMA took the bait and we got our own professional journal in 1974 without having to bankroll it.

We held our next meeting at U. Mass in 1970 with at least a 500% increase in our numbers. This meeting, of course, was the real launch of ACR as we know it. As yet we were not a formal association, so an operating committee continued to govern until the 1971 meeting when the constitution was ratified. Bob Perloff succeeded me as chair, and the baby began to take the form of a reasonably healthy, somewhat unruly infant. And on the story goes, but I'll let others fill in the rest.

It has been enormously gratifying to me to see this dream come true, and I'm grateful to have had some role in helping that to happen. No one ever could have envisioned in 1969 how important our professional field would become. And I always have considered it to be a real honor to have been elected as one of the first two Fellows in Consumer Research along with John Howard. That really makes it all worthwhile.

I have teased my two colleagues, Joel Cohen and Hal Kassarjian, somewhat unmercifully here. I fully expect retaliation, but always remember that I alone have given you the unbiased, genuine truth. Seriously, we worked together very well as a team, and I will always respect them as genuine pioneers, true professionals, and great friends.