Marketing Heretics: Resistance Is/Is Not Futile

Mark Ritson, University of Minnesota
Susan Dobscha, Bentley College
[ to cite ]:
Mark Ritson and Susan Dobscha (1999) ,"Marketing Heretics: Resistance Is/Is Not Futile", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, eds. Eric J. Arnould and Linda M. Scott, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 159.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, 1999      Page 159


Mark Ritson, University of Minnesota

Susan Dobscha, Bentley College


This presentation introduced and described the concept of "marketing heretics" to the consumer behavior discipline and outlined the heretical acts of a group of gay and lesbian consumers as one possible example of marketing heresy. Consumer rejection of or rebellion against marketing dogma and practices is not a new phenomenon. For as long as there has been marketing activities, consumers have been rebelling against it (Friedman 1985). When an individual or group rejects a particular aspect of a marketing campaign or strategy three strategies are usually invoked. In the mildest form of consumer rejection the individual or group complains to the sponsoring organization (Hunt 1991). Alternatively, the individual or group can boycott a specific manufacturer or retailer by completely withdrawing participation within a specific market (Garrett 1987). Finally, in the most extreme mode of consumer rejection, the individual or group can actively engage in some form of consumer resistance which directly communicates their overt resistance and rejection of a particular marketing organization (Gabriel and Lang 1995).

Those consumers who engage in these overt acts of resistance can be labeled as "marketing heretics." Marketing heretics are defined here as, individuals who, operating on their own or as part of a larger group, choose to oppose a particular marketing phenomenon through overt acts of consumer resistance. The method through which marketing heretics signify their opposition is the focus of this paper The presentation explored one group of marketing heretics, a group of gay and lesbian consumers and the way that they actively take brand logos and advertising slogans and alter their presentation in order to create oppositional messages which resonate with alternative meanings.

This activity then provided the basis for a discussion relating to whether this activity could accurately be defined as being truly heretical or whether it was simply an example of an alternative but not rejectionary use of brands. Are these consumers actually evading the system? Does their act of resistance really allow them to reject the total marketing system or are they simply creating their identities from consumption


After analyzing the acts of appropriation undertaken by some members of the gay and lesbian community, is it accurate to label their actions as resistant? Creating "anti-brands" and practicing acts of "anti-brand equity" (the more money the manufacturer spends on advertising and brand building, the less likely I am to purchase the product) (Dobscha 1997) signify dissent from the traditional marketing system. This dissension can take the form of rejection as well. By rejecting the images that have rejected them, the community gives some voice to its alienation. Another means of resistance in this consumption bricolage is the reappropriation of signs and language that was originally designed to inflict pain or shame. Much like "fag" and "queer" were appropriated by the gay community in order to reduce the negative effects of their use by the heterosexual community, brands are being taken back to reduce the alienation stemming from the manufacturers failure or unwillingness to notice their needs. Finally, resistance is not futile if a counter-cultural solidarity takes form ("I’m resisting, are you?"). This mentality allows the slighted community to find strength in their acts of marketing heresy.


Yet, is this form of bricolage really opposition? Can an act of consumption really be a rebellious act against consumption? Fiske’s notion of appellation, that if you respond at all to the system, even negatively, you are still contributing to it, may serve to cast doubt on the validity of the resistance interpretation. Mothers everywhere say to their children, "if you just ignore the bullies then they’ll leave you alone." Maybe, it is the ultimate act of rebellion to ignore the bullies and as Dobscha (1997) and others have argued, to consume less. In fact, Gabriel and Lang (1995) state:

Consume less may become the final frontier of the consumer rebel, the consumer who does not merely seek living space within the present system or use the products of the system to express disaffection and protest, but decides that "enough is enough." Anything less than a frontal assault on the core of assumption of consumerism is inadequate. Any threat to the equation of "more" with "better" would be deeply subversive.

Thus, the acts of resistance used here may in fact be less heretical than the simple but sublime act of not acting. By consuming less, consumers take power away from the marketers. Less, not merely different, interaction with the market system may in fact lead marketing’s heretics to the reclamation of power they are currently seeking.


Friedman, Monroe (1985), "Consumer Boycotts in the United States, 1970-1980: Contemporary Events in Historical Perspective," The Journal of Consumer Affairs, 19 (Summer), 98-117.

Gabriel, Yiannis and Tim Lang (1995), The Unmanageable Consumer: Contemporary Consumption and its Fragmentations, London: Sage Publications.

Garrett, Dennis E. (1987), "The Effectiveness of Marketing Policy Boycotts: Environmental Opposition to Marketing," Journal of Marketing, 51 (April), 46-57.

Hunt, H. Keith (1991), "Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction, and Complaining Behavior," Journal of Social Issues, 47 (1), 107.117.