The Future of the Association For Consumer Research: Backward to the Past


Alan R. Andreasen (1993) ,"The Future of the Association For Consumer Research: Backward to the Past", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, eds. W. Fred Van Raaij and Gary J. Bamossy, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 1-4.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, 1993      Pages 1-4


Alan R. Andreasen, University of Connecticut, Storrs, U.S.A.


The roots of the Association for Consumer Research lie in a meeting held at the Ohio State University in 1969. At that time, the field of consumer behavior was in its infancy. The first comprehensive consumer behavior text had just been published [Engel, Kollat and Blackwell, 1968] and a small sampling of comprehensive models had begun to appear in print [Andreasen, 1966; Nicosia 1966; Howard and Sheth, 1967]. The attendees at the first ACR meeting comprised a cross-section of those interested in the field and included both academics and business representatives. Their major goal was to break free of traditional associations such as the American Marketing Association and the American Psychological Association and establish consumer behavior as a unique discipline with its own identity and its own theories and research traditions.

As described in its constitution, the Association for Consumer Research was established to pursue three major objectives;

1. To provide a forum for exchange of ideas among those interested in consumer behavior research in academic disciplines, in government at all levels from local through national, in private business, and in other sectors such as nonprofit organizations and foundations.

2. To stimulate research focusing on a better understanding of consumer behavior from a variety of perspectives.

3. To disseminate research findings and other contributions to the understanding of consumer behavior through professional seminars, conferences and publications. [Pratt 1974]

From very modest beginnings, ACR membership has grown to over 1600 in countries on every continent. It has elected 24 Presidents and Boards and chosen 12 Fellows for special recognition for their contributions to the field. It has held 21 formal conferences in the United States and 2 overseas, one in Singapore in 1985 and the present conference in Amsterdam in 1992. It has co-sponsored conferences on such topics as gender, symbolism, materialism and marketing in developing countries. It publishes conference proceedings, a quarterly newsletter and, now, a number of books representing collections of original papers.

The Association has matured in other, more subtle ways. It has weathered its own controversies. First, there was a debate between those who believe that consumer research ought to be purely academic, untainted by the need to be relevant and those who believe that consumer behavior is an applied discipline that will be strengthened by keeping its focus on an applicability criterion. More recently, there has been a debate about methods. On the one side are those who feel that consumer research is too heavily dominated by cognitive psychology and by "objective" tests of validity drawn from positivist philosophies. This group wants the consumer behavior discipline to expand to accommodate methods drawn from fields as diverse as anthropology and literature and "subjective" tests of validity that rely not on statistical standards but on standards of reasonableness and persuasiveness. This group has met resistance from traditionalists who believe that only "objective standards" can be used to "prove" theories and that post-positivists are unable to provide such "proof."

ACR IN 1992

Although ACR and the field of consumer behavior has grown in size and feistiness in the past 23 years, it can be argued that still remains intellectually and scientifically a "teenager" and has yet to decide what it wants to be when it grows up. Much of the early promise of the discipline remains unfilled. This claim is carefully articulated in a recent paper by William Wells [Wells 1992]. Wells carried out a careful review of the discipline and its literature and concluded that most of the early intellectual promise of the field remains unmet. Contrary to an early prediction by Jagdish Sheth [Sheth 1972], consumer behavior has not surpassed other disciplines "with respect to the richness of thinking, comprehensiveness of theorizing, and testing of theories in naturalistic and realistic settings." Wells concludes that:

1. Consumer research is still the copier. We have not established our own creative base;

2. Horizons have not expanded and may even have shrunk;

3. No replication tradition has developed;

4. No theories have been validated;

5. Longitudinal designs have seen little use; and

6. The Journal of Consumer Research has not become a thoroughly interdisciplinary journal.

His assessment also leads him to conclude that "ACR has not become the forum for exchange among researchers of all types" as was originally intended [Wells, 1992, p. 5].


My own review of the growth of the Association for Consumer Research over the last 23 years leads me to agree with Wells's indictment in several important ways. My concern here is with the question: WHAT DO WE DO NOW? In my opinion, ACR and the discipline need to develop along five major dimensions. We need to become more:

* intellectually diverse

* interdisciplinary

* international

* integrated ethnically and racially

* intentionally diverse

In many respects, achieving these goals would involve taking the association back to its roots in the late 1960s.


Wells [1992] makes a strong case for the fact that research in consumer behavior has tended to focus on (a) early stages of the consumer purchase decision process and (b) what Arndt [1976] referred to as "variant selection" (i.e. brand or outlet choices). I agree with Wells's analysis and would urge more diversity, particularly in two areas.

First, the discipline needs to increase its attention to what may be called "macro" consumer behavior issues. This topic was of considerable interest in the discipline's early years. In the 1960s and 1970s, macro consumer behavior research focused on broad decisions about allocations across household budget categories. We investigated how much people saved and why and what differences there were across ethnic, racial and social class categories in allocations to broad consumption categories (e.g. food, clothing, transportation and so on) [e.g. Alexis, Simon and Smith 1969]. We were interested in what happened to spending behavior as households moved up or down in income (e.g. secured a windfall or became unemployed). We worried about substitution effects as prices in certain sectors (e.g. health care) shifted relative to others.

These issues have again become extremely relevant. For example, we are now seeing great political and economic changes in Eastern Europe, Latin America and Southeast Asia. In these countries, both consumer incomes and relative prices are changing dramatically as is the availability of many kinds of goods (and many brands). Yet, a cursory glance at many papers and proposals for consumer behavior studies in these countries indicates a strong predisposition to focus on traditional micro issues. These include studies of reactions to new brands or outlets in newly emerging countries; country-of-origin effects; uses of advertising information by recently liberated consumers; and so on.

If our discipline continues to focus on these issues, we will find ourselves looking at ripples on what are profound sea changes in consumer behavior. We may provide some useful insights to particular marketers, but we will not be in any position to understand which consumption categories will expand or contract in turbulent markets, which industries will grow or shrink, which consumers will be better off and which worse off. We simply will not be major players in analyzing, predicting and making recommendations about "the new world order."

This is not to say that our only macro interest should be in strictly economic issues involving income allocations. Since the late 1960s, we have developed an elaborate methodology that allows us to look at consumer lifestyles. Traditionally, this research has focused on segmentation issues C i.e. which lifestyle segments are the best prospects for which kinds of products or brands. The macro issues that we have neglected C but which are particularly germane in these times C involve how consumers acquire lifestyles. We are now presented with an unparalleled opportunity to look at "lifestyle learning" as Eastern Europeans and consumers in other newly emerging economies become westernized. Longitudinal studies could shed strong light on processes that are often obscured in complex advanced economies.

Lifestyle learning is, of course, not simply an issue in developing markets. It is of considerable interest to traditional marketers who would like to understand how people become skiers or travelers or health food fanatics! Social marketers also need to know more about how some people become part of the drug culture or become anorexics so that they can be deterred from adopting such lifestyles. On the other extreme, knowing how other consumers "get into" socially desirable lifestyles such as attending the performing arts may help us accelerate the growth of culturally important institutions.


It is undeniable that the consumer behavior profession has become more diversified in recent years as scholars trained in anthropology and sociology have joined those from more traditional disciplines such as marketing and cognitive and social psychology. However, the discipline continues to be significantly unrepresented by participants trained in economics, family economics, mass communication, behavioral psychology, political science, linguistics, and literature. The narrowness of the field is well reflected in the Journal of Consumer Research. JCR was originally intended to be consciously interdisciplinary. As noted in the first issue, it was to be "the first journal in which professionals sharing an interest in consumer behavior across disciplines send their material" [Frank 1974; emphasis added]. At the outset, JCR established a Policy Board comprised of representatives of 12 different associations, only one of which was the Association for Consumer Research.

However, despite early intentions, over the years, the range of disciplines contributing to the field has narrowed increasingly. Leong's recent analysis of JCR references makes the point dramatically [Leong 1989]. Leong analyzed the citations in selected JCR volumes from 1974-1988. He found not only that three traditional areas, psychology, marketing and consumer research, dominate the entries, their domination has increased dramatically since the late 1970s. In volumes 4 and 7, approximately 55 percent of all citations were from these three disciplines. In volumes 11 and 14, this figure had risen to 70 percent!

The field has also narrowed from the standpoint of the institutional affiliations of its participants. In the early days, ACR had considerable involvement by researchers and policymakers in government, especially in the regulatory agencies, and by business researchers and managers [Wells 1992]. Over the years, participation from both these constituencies has declined significantly, although there is some evidence government participation may have revived somewhat in the last two years.

There are two ways in which participation by other disciplines and other institutions in consumer research can be increased in future. One is to increase the supply of opportunities for involvement in ACR conferences and journals by non-traditional participants. Stimuli can be provided by calls for nontraditional papers by the JCR editor and the creation of special sessions at annual ACR meetings that must involve nontraditional participants. At the same time, leaders in the discipline can attempt to increase the interest on the part of nontradionalists in consumer behavior research by going out to other disciplines (e.g. at other conferences or other academic departments) and demonstrating the potential excitement and intellectual growth that would accrue to those who venture into the world of consumer behavior. Such propaganda efforts, of course, would need to spend considerable energy overcoming the wide-spread prejudice that holds that the study of consumer behavior is trivial and/or somehow demeaning and/or intellectually contaminating.


Consumer behavior is, of course, present in all cultures. Over the years we have had increasing involvement of U.S. researchers in studies in non-U.S. environments. And, we have always had foreign researchers involved in U.S. conferences and publications. However, there have been two major deficiencies in this participation. First, involvement by foreign scholars in U.S. conferences and publications has been restricted to a relatively small number of countries, primarily from Canada, Australasia, and parts of Western Europe. Many countries in Western Europe, such as Italy, Spain, and Greece are rarely represented. Even more serious is the absence of researchers from Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Second, until this year, there has been only one occasion on which the U.S. consumer behavior "establishment" has sought to venture off the continent. The first occasion was the conference in Singapore in 1985. The second, of course, was this conference.

It is my intention as President of ACR to insure that the present conference is only the first of a long series of European conferences. Initially, these would take place every other year, provided that explicit sponsorship and management is provided by European consumer behaviorists. If these conferences prove successful and well attended, they can be held annually. In addition, I would propose that we consider holding a second conference in Asia in three or four years time, again only if appropriate sponsorship and local management can be obtained.

Clearly, there are significant benefits to the discipline and to the participating countries from internationalizing the field. In a recent study of participation in the European Marketing Academy (EMAC) conference, Fabien and Turgeon found "a significant increase in the number of authors representing [the host] country in subsequent years [after an EMAC conference], with the exception of Belgium and France [Fabien and Turgeon 1992, p. 383].


A recent report in Advertising Age indicates that, despite promises in the early 1970s, the marketing and advertising professions have been particularly unsuccessful in increasing the number of blacks in their work forces. This charge is undoubtedly equally true for Hispanics and, probably, Asians as well. Blacks comprise 10.2% of the labor force but only 6.6% of salespeople and only 2.1% of marketing, advertising, and public relations managers. The academic community has not done appreciably better: only 4.8% of college and university teachers are black. [Winski, 1992]. In the case of ACR, simple observation offers ample evidence of our own abysmal performance in diversifying our membership. It is rare to see more than a handful of black or Hispanic faces at any U.S. ACR conference. (Indeed, I suspect that there are fewer today than in the 1970s.)

Increasing the number of minority participants in ACR is not only sound social policy, it is also critical to the organization's intellectual maturation. Clearly, one of the most important trends worldwide is the extent to which minorities are becoming extremely important consumers. This is certainly true in the United States where intercultural migration is increasingly prevalent, especially in major metropolises. Twenty years ago, Los Angeles had two dominant minorities, blacks and Mexican-Americans. Today, its Anglo-white population is about to become a minority, while its nonwhite cultural mix has shifted dramatically and now contains significant numbers from a diverse array of countries in Asia (especially Japan and Korea) and Central and South America (especially Guatemala and El Salvador). Similar migration trends will also make profound differences in the Central and Eastern European cultural landscape in the next decade.

If our profession is to understand these important population shifts and their impact on consumption, we must attract a significant number of experts from these cultures to our midst. This means more minority participation. Such participation can be achieved in part through active recruitment of minority participants in ACR conferences and seminars (e.g. through "special topics" sessions on minority issues). The association may also wish to pursue the possibility of sponsoring minority fellowships in the discipline, perhaps with the co-sponsorship of marketers with a major stake in minority marketing. The latter is one approach being taken by the advertising industry.


The Association for Consumer Research has always had research and scholarship as its core interest. The single motivation that ACR members all share is an interest in understanding consumer behavior better than we do now. And, many of our colleagues would be quite content to stop at that point. That is, a significant number of ACR members have as their major career research objective simply understanding consumer behavior for its own sake. They are the classical "pure scholars."

However, even in its earliest days, ACR has had a significant segment of its memberships which is committed to doing consumer research because such research will help make things happen. That is, they are concerned about applications. The majority of these are concerned with applications in the commercial sector where there is a continual enriching interplay between consulting and business needs and the needs of scholarly science.

This interaction, in my opinion, is extremely healthy. One reason is that it keeps our science grounded in reality. The need to provide answers that help managers do things requires that we not be too "ivory tower" and that we provide answers that are linked directly to levers at the control of the implementers of our findings. Such an orientation is healthy for a second reason. It forces us to recognize that it is consumer behavior that is the bottom line concern of the discipline. Many in our field have an interest in the mental processes involved in consumer behavior and are content to understand preferences and decisions. They focus on attitudes toward behaviors, attitudes toward ads, involvement, memory, and so on. While such a focus is important to the advancement of the discipline, it always remains one or two steps short of what we are really interested inBbehavior. We need to keep in mind the reason we study these topics, namely, to understand what makes consumers do what they do. The challenge to be applied, in my opinion, is extremely healthy because it forces us to take that last step or two more often than we would otherwise. This, I would argue, presents us with an exacting challenge that can only strengthen our science.

Finally, let me note that there are other applications of our knowledge besides those in the commercial sector. Much of the consulting work I do these days involves the application of consumer behavior and other marketing concepts to such critical world health problems as AIDS, infant mortality, family planning, juvenile delinquency, drug usage and so on. While some of this effort involves attacking what Hirschman calls the "dark side" of marketing [Hirschman 1991], the majority involves extremely rewarding efforts to increase positive behaviors. Thus, social marketers seek to influence the behavior of mothers to get their children inoculated, of volunteers to induce them to work for the Untied Way or the American Cancer Society, of couples to have them practice "safe sex" and so on and on.

Some of my motivation in trying to make consumer behavior research more relevant to social marketing is that it will help make the world a better place, for example, by keeping children in developing countries from dying from diseases we know how to cure. But, it is also true that some of my motivation has been to improve the science of consumer behavior itself. I have found time and again that my attempts to apply the basic concepts of the field to new behaviors in new cultures, both foreign and domestic, is an extremely "stretching" activity. For example, much of my "purely scientific" work on the phenomenon of "readiness to change" [Andreasen 1992] has been driven by a need to find low cost segmentation strategies for cash-strapped social marketers.

I believe that it is crucial to the growth of the field of consumer behavior that we encourage more of our colleagues to become involved in real-world applications of their research in both commercial and social marketing settings. ACR is working to create more such opportunities by exposing academics and practitioners to each other at ACR conferences. At the 1992 Vancouver conference, "Presidential Sessions" have been created to bring social marketers and ACR researchers together to discuss mutual interests. I can confirm from personal experience that involvement in social marketing applications not only helps us to understand consumer behavior better but also helps make the world a better place for consumers. Such involvement is personally very satisfying, a reward that as ACR President I hope to share with many other consumer behavior researchers.


Alexis, Marcus, Leonard S. Simon, and Kenneth M. Smith (1969), "Some Determinants of Food Buying Behavior," in Marcus Alexis, Robert J. Holloway, and Robert S. Hancock (eds.) Empirical Foundations of Marketing: Research Findings in the Behavioral and Applied Sciences (Chicago: Markham)

Andreasen, Alan R. (1966), "Attitudes and Consumer Behavior: A Decision Model," in Lee E. Preston (ed.) New Research in Marketing (Berkeley, CA: The Institute of Business and Economic Research, University of California), 1-16.

Andreasen, Alan R. (1992), "Readiness to Change," in Gerrit Antonides, Rik Pieters, and Wil Arts (eds.), The Consumption of Time and the Timing of Consumption (Amsterdam: North Holland Publishing Co.)

Arndt, Johan (1976), "Reflections on Research in Consumer Behavior," in Beverlee B. Anderson (ed.) Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 3, (Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research), 213-221.

Engel, James, David T. Kollat, and Roger D. Blackwell (1968), Consumer Behavior.

Frank, Ronald E. (1974), "The Journal of Consumer Research: An Introduction," Journal of Consumer Research, 1 (June), pp. 1-11.

Hirschman, Elizabeth C. (1991), "Secular Morality and the Dark Side of Consumer Behavior: Or How Semiotics Saved My Life," in Rebecca H. Holman and Michael R. Solomon (eds.) Advances in Consumer Research Vol. 18, (Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research) 1-6

Howard, John A. and Jagdish N. Sheth (1969), The Theory of Consumer Behavior (New York: John Wiley).

Leong, Siew M. (1989), "A Citation Analysis of the Journal of Consumer Research", Journal of Consumer Research ,15 (March), 492-497.

Nicosia, Francesco M. (1966), Consumer Decision Processes: Marketing and Advertising Implications (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall).

Pratt, Robert W. Jr. (1974), "ACR: A Perspective," in Scott Ward and Peter Wright (eds.), Advances in Consumer Research Vol. 1, (Urbana, IL: Association for Consumer Research),1-8.

Sheth, Jagdish (1972), "The Future of Buyer Behavior Theory, " in M. Venkatesan, Proceedings of the Third Annual Conference of the Association for Consumer Research, 562-575.

Wells, William D. (1992), "Discovery-Oriented Consumer Research", paper delivered at the Thirteenth Paul D. Converse Marketing Symposium, University of Illinois, May 4, 1992.

Winski, Joseph M. (1992), "The Ad Industry's 'Dirty Little Secret'" Advertising Age (June 15, 1992), p. 16.



Alan R. Andreasen, University of Connecticut, Storrs, U.S.A.


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