Special Session Summary Magic and Consumer Behavior

Cele Otnes, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
[ to cite ]:
Cele Otnes (1996) ,"Special Session Summary Magic and Consumer Behavior", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, eds. Kim P. Corfman and John G. Lynch Jr., Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 353.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, 1996      Page 353



Cele Otnes, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Many topics of recent interest to consumer researchersCsuch as hedonic consumption, the consumption of "sacred" goods and services and ritualistic consumptionCimply, but have not directly addressed, the assumption that consumer behavior may possess a magical dimension. The three papers presented in this session, and the comments made by the discussant, explored this issue of magic and consumer behavior.

The first paper presented, "Natural Magic: Packaging the Transformative Power of Nature," was by Eric J. Arnould and Linda L. Price, of the University of South Florida. The authors argue that transformative experiences are increasingly in demand by consumers. However, an issue that is widely overlooked is the resemblance of such activities to magical rites. This presentation offered new research that extends our understanding of "river magic," and contributes to understanding the role of magic in consumer behavior. River magic, like all magic, depends for its effects on three phenomena: 1) the condition of the participants; 2) the conduct of a rite, and 3) a verbal formula. The qualitative research presented shows how river magic effects emotional transformations by evoking the transcendent powers that are immanent in the natural landscape through ritualized performance and rhetoric.

The second paper presented was "The Magic of the Makers: The Witches Behind American Cosmetics Advertising," by Linda M. Scott of The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Scott began her presentation by observing that most of the famous-name cosmetics in American consumer culture have been produced and marketed by women. These women established successful commercial enterprises on the promise of potions that could transform female consumers into vamps, princesses, celebrities, socialites, or any of a number of other attractive personae. Before modern mass production and advertising, there were conjurers, healers, and voodoo queens who claimed to work magic through products they made themselves. In this presentation, the tradition of the "American witch" was examined in the contexts of contemporary cosmetics marketing and consumption.

The final paper presented was "The Transformative Power of Products," by Cele Otnes, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This presentation examined whether and how consumers experience transformations through product use. Ninety-two undergraduate advertising majors were asked to write about a time a product had "transformed [them] in any significant manner." The directions were purposely vague so that respondents would articulate how they defined the nature of transformative experiences with products. All but four wrote about transformative experiences, and products from 23 different categories were mentionedCranging from macaroni and cheese to a Rolex watch. In addition, 13 different types of transformations (including physical transformations, confidence, comfort, rite-of-passage, and sexual transformations) were mentioned more than once. Excerpts from the essays reveal that products do indeed have transformative powers that are very real to consumers, and consumers are able to articulate the types of transformations that occur when using various products or services.

The discussant for this session was John F. Sherry Jr. of Northwestern University, who reaffirmed the importance of studying magic in consumer contexts, and who offered salient suggestions for further pursuit of study in this area.