Touched By an Angel (Being a Hagiography of H. Keith Hunt’S Role in ACR’S History on the Occasion of His Retirement As Its Executive Secretary)

Jerome B. Kernan, George Mason University
[ to cite ]:
Jerome B. Kernan (2001) ,"Touched By an Angel (Being a Hagiography of H. Keith Hunt’S Role in ACR’S History on the Occasion of His Retirement As Its Executive Secretary)", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, eds. Mary C. Gilly and Joan Meyers-Levy, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 7-9.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, 2001     Pages 7-9

TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL

(Being a Hagiography of H. Keith Hunt’s Role in ACR’s History on the Occasion of His Retirement as Its Executive Secretary)

Jerome B. Kernan, George Mason University

(presented, at the request of the absent author, by Harold H. Kassarjian)

Keith Hunt was born 3,250 weeks ago, on April 16, 1938, the direct result of events the day before. To reconstruct...

"Earth to God; Earth to God; Come in, God."

Yes, what is it? Another of your petty supplications?

"Sorry, God, but this is serious."

Listen, in case you hadn’t noticed, I’ve got a worldwide depression on my hands. That Hitler guy is acting up againCcould bust out into World War II any time. And Lucifer thinks he can unionize Hell now, just because your Congress passed that Wagner Act. So what have YOU got that’s so serious?

"We realize all that stuff is terribly important, Lord, butwell, the Cardinals just traded Dizzy Dean to the Cubs for three no-name players and chump change."

Say what? Jerome Dean shipped off to Wrigley? Why Harry Carey isn’t there yet. Neither is Ernie Banks. George W still needs to let loose of Sammy Sosa. And everybody knows, they NEVER win. Earth DOES have serious problems.

"Can you help us?"

Actually, the angel market is pretty tight these days. But maybe I could spare you a novice. You know, one without a Ph.D., who would have to be born and all that stuff. That’s the best I can do.

"Wow! Thanks a lot, God, we’ll be grateful for any help you can send. When might we expect this angel? And where should we look for him?" (You’re not sending us a girl angel, are you?)"

(I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that last crack.) our angel will be there tomorrow and don’t bother looking for himChe’ll know how to take care of business.

KEITH !!! Get over here. They need you on Earth.

"Here I am, Lord. Did I understand You to say I was about to travel?"

Yes, Keith. And before you ask, that’s my final answer.

"As You wish, but do You realize I don’t yet have my wings? And I don’t know whether I’m Cherubim, Seraphim, or one of those Guardian Angels who protects little girls and boys. [Editor’s Note: In a recent poll, Keith was voted CherubimC1,000 to 0.]

Oh ye of little faith! Report to the hangar for your wings. Tell them to fit you with one of those sets we’ve been holding for the Boeing 747Cyou’ll be growing into a stout fellow. And don’t worry about Cherus and SerasCI’m inventing a new category for you.

"But I have to be born, grow up, and all that stuff. How will I manage this? Do You have a cover story for me? And how do I go about bringing peace and common sense to the world? You know how much I like to make people happy."

Relax, Keith, I’m way ahead of you. I’ve decided to invent something called consumer behavior. You just report to Earth and work your way into consumer behavior.

"Very well, anything You say. But if I’m to work my way into consumer behavior, I’d better know what it is. Can you give me clue? Animal, vegetable, mineral? Is it bigger than a bread box?"

Not to worry, Keith. It will be a discipline. An interdisciplinary discipline. Look for a guy called Holbrook. He’ll tell youCconsumer behavior is anything and everything. Sleeping, listening to Mozart or Woody Guthrie, eating a Big Mac, getting tattooed, climbing mountains, having sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky, playing your banjo, anything. It’s all consumer behavior.

"Gee. All that stuff is consumer behavior. But why do people do it?"

They’re trying to find happiness.

"Really. Well, how do they know whether they’re succeeding?"

Consumer researchers will tell them.

"Huh? What’s a consumer researcher?"

Nobody really knows, but it helps to have a Ph.D.

"Let’s see if I have this right. Persons with a Ph.D. can be consumer researchers and tell other persons whether they’re happy. And I guess they can still be consumers, besides. But who tells THEM whether they’re happy? I suppose other consumer researchers."

You’re catching on fast, Keith. These consumer researchers will amuse themselves by talking and writing notes to one another at conferences. They’ll paste their ideas into journals and this will create another special world of happiness for them. Each researcher will get to corner the market on a particular kind of happiness. Or maybe on a few catchwords or phrasesCkind of like a brand name for each person’s work.

"Now I understand. If I get a Ph.D., I can pose as a consumer researcher and do my good works from that cover."

Right on all counts, Keith. I just knew you were the one for this job. So don’t forget about the Ph.D. See a guy called Levy. He’ll be hanging out at Northwestern University by the time you’re ready.

"I guess I shouldn’t be getting ahead of myself, but I think the way to measure happiness is by whether people are satisfied or not."

Seems reasonable to me.

"So could my special happiness words be consumer satisfaction and dissatisfaction?"

Consider them yours, Keith. And when you grow up, you can even have your own journal. (Actually, more than one. But watch out for those advertising professors.)

"That’s just wonderful. I’m very excited about my life ahead! Anything else before I get ready to go?"

As a matter of fact, yes, Keith. When you get to Earth, remain obscureClead a normal, human existence. Grow up, marry, and have lots of children, because this organization of researchersCit will be called the Association for Consumer ResearchCwill need all the help you can give. Build a big house for your family, because ACR will need a warehouse to hold all its stuff. And get your real life established, because all of a sudden you won’t have time for a real life.

" I understand."

And so it came to pass that Keith arrived in 1938 and did as the Lord had instructed. In time, he found the Levy guy and got his Ph.D. We first encountered him that same year of 1972, when he sauntered into the Continuing Education Center at the University of Chicago and proceeded to wow the ACR academic and regulatory audience with his understanding of corrective advertising (which is taking back the lies you told consumers so they can be happy again).

The rest, as the saying goes, is history, so following are just some highlights of Keith’s angelic beneficence, organized around a conceit of the seven deadly sinsCaround anger, avarice, envy, gluttony, lust, pride and sloth. But even these shards will demonstrate that Keith’s association with ACR has been marked by a consistent thread of caring, fair play, and common sense. He has been called the soul of ACR and that is no hyperbole. Consider...

Anger, which is threatening our civilization. It’s not something one associates with Keith. He does not lose his cool (as in rage) or try to get even (as in wrath), but that does not mean he never expresses displeasure. He gets very upset in the face of injustice, rudeness, or anything short of fair play, and he never hesitated to display his concern to us in the face of those things. However, he always stood as the great mediator, never thinking about wins or losses, only equity, when he found it necessary to remind a few of usCever so gentlyCto behave like adults.

Avarice is a vice with which each of us must struggle, particularly as we are immersed in consumption. Keith, too. But his take on the temptation is so wonderful. Remember, this is the person who held all ACR’s money. Unattended. Yet he never encouraged us to raise membership dues or conference fees, and every request for funding was answered affirmatively. Recall any of his annual reports on the state of ACR’s finances. "This past year we spent some money and we took in a little more. Our financial picture is fine." [Editor’s Note: There is no evidence that actual numbers ever appeared in Keith’s reports.] This shoebox mentality drove accountants crazy, but it exempted us for years from all concerns about money. Perhaps because Keith’s methods had nothing to do with AICPA standards. His celestial bookkeeping seemed to be based loosely on the principles found in the parable of the loaves and fishes.

Envy runs rampant in our society and ACR has not been above it. We scratch and claw over intellectual property and invent metrics by which to assess status competition. (What else accounts for the tortured explanations of name ordering in author footnotes?) We fret over who gets credit for this and for that. Not Keith. A complete set of Advances in Consumer Research displayed on one’s library shelf will reveal that one (and only one) of the volumes has a spine left blank. That volume is 5, edited by H. Keith Hunt. Keith replaced Kernan as ACR president (1979) and Kinnear as executive secretary (1982). After each job was finished, all he did was heap gratitude on the membership for allowing him to be a contributing part of ACR. GratitudeCfrom a person who ran ACR longer than FDR ran the USA.

Gluttony would seem almost trivial in our weight-obsessed cultureCuntil we recall some of our conferees, who each year invade the banquet rooms for lunch before 11 AM, hoping to claim the perfect escape chair or to eat all the rolls at a satellite table. Of course, Keith’s firm, no-badge-no-meal rule (meant only to protect us from ourselves) intercepted many of us attempting to storm these banquet rooms. But his consummate fat-fighter over the years was the chickenCOrem Borealis, I think he calls itCwhich was revealed initially in Kernan (1995). ACR lunches always featured chicken, because Keith was concerned that we might, well, put on a pound or two. So many years ago he discovered this faux chicken, which was served each year at the conference. (The same chicken. After the conference, the Hunt kids would gather it up and return it to Uta, where it was kept until the following year.) It was some space-age material, but looked just like real chicken. And perfectly harmless, because it couldn’t be cut (we tried laser beams, hatchets, and Ginsu knivesCall to no avail) and therefore couldn’t be swallowed. People would just push it around on their plates, trying to act real adult about it, and experiencing terrific aerobics in the process. Conversing with our colleagues about important stuff distracted our attention from the chicken that wasn’t, and we’re all healthier today as a result. Thank you, Keith, for saving us from ourselves.

Lust is not something one imagines Keith being in charge of. But here’s how it happened. And I’m not making this up. There was this thing called the ACR football game. Each year at the conference. Atlanta’s Grant Park in 1976, Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium the year before. But now it was 1977 and we were at the O’Hare Hilton, with Keith as conference chair. Anyone who’s seen that hotel understands that it is no exaggeration to say that certain adjustments needed to be made in order to produce a playing gridiron there. So while adjustments were being made, it seemed reasonable to add a fewClike making the teams coed. Well, this really put Keith on the spotCuntil it occurred to him that these guys are intellectual before they’re ludic. So without any hectoring he reminded them that ACR conferences are supposed to be about consuming and that while a football game surely qualifies as sports consumption, experiential consumption had not yet been invented, that Beth Hirschman and Morris Holbrook needed another five years to publish the papers that would introduce that topic to our canon.

PrideCin his family, in his association with ACR, and over accomplishments. Keith has self-respect in abundance. What he does not have is the ugly sort of pride we see in pretentiousness or superciliousnessCvices that corrupt the soul and stand, as Thomas Aquinas saw it, at the root of evil. Here is a person who dodges recognition because he finds it embarrassing. (If humility has an avatar, surely it is Keith.) Yet Hal Kassarjian could confirm that H. KEITH HUNT constitutes a category unto itself in any content analysis of the Association for Consumer Research. Who among us is better known? (What was that story about King Solomon and the lilies of the field?)

Sloth or, in ACR parlance, "I’m too busy," is something Keith heard frequently from us during the many years of his service. Imagine how he must have feltCthis professor, editor, husband, father, grandfather, religious and civic leader, who also found time to run ACRCwhen we begged off (or bagged) things that were to the organization’s benefit. So he did those jobs himself, although it’s difficult to understand why. Perhaps it was the huge salary we paid him. Or all the fringe benefits we provided. Or maybe he just saw a job that needed doing and did it, in his yeoman fashion. Shame on us.

If Keith Hunt seems larger than life it’s because he is. No fancy packaging here and nothing to deconstructChe is exactly what he seems to be. We in ACR are better people for having been touched by his presence. So thank you, Keith. And Carolyn. And all you Hunt kids. We owe this professional largesse to your quiet, unselfish, and rarely-recognized work over these many years.

To say that Keith will be remembered is quite insufficient. He will be missed. Godspeed, dear friend.

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