Special Session Summary Media/Consumer Relationships in the Production of Contemporary Fashion Systems


Margaret Rucker (1998) ,"Special Session Summary Media/Consumer Relationships in the Production of Contemporary Fashion Systems", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, eds. Basil G. Englis and Anna Olofsson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 96-97.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, 1994      Pages 87-90


M. Rucker, University of California

A. Freitas, University of California

A. Daw, University of California

R. Desai, University of California

S. Fox, University of California

E. Haugen, University of California

R. Karp, University of California

S. Lopez, University of California

E. Mize, University of California

L. Munster, University of California

P. Sammons, University of California

M. Sim, University of California

A. Yant, University of California


Direct questioning and projective items were used to investigate self-gift perceptions of respondents who self identified as Asian versus those who self identified as White. Regarding actual self gifts, respondents were more likely to report purchases as opposed to experiences such as watching TV, whereas the projectives elicited more reports of experiences. Context was found to have a significant effect on Asian, but not White, choices of experiences versus purchases. A comparison of preferences for monadic versus dyadic gift giving suggested, in contrast to previous hypotheses, Asians were not more opposed to self gifts than White respondents. In general, results supported previous findings that self gifts do make positive contributions to most consumers' well being.


Dyadic or interpersonal gift giving has been the object of extensive analysis by consumer researchers, especially during the last decade or so. In examining the gift giving process, a few scholars have raised questions regarding whether dyadic giving is the only, or even the best, form of gift acquisition. For example, Tournier (1966) enumerated several types of self gifts and functions each served. According to Tournier, the giving of "rewards or punishments . . . as prizes for our accomplishments" leads to completion of a task as well as acquiring the prize. He also noted that self gifts can lift the spirits after a disappointment and compensate for gifts not received from others. Schwartz (1967) expanded on this latter point by discussing the benefits of supporting oneself when one is in an impersonal or actively hostile environment.

As economists have pointed out, self gifts compare favorably to gifts from others in that they are less likely to be associated with economic loss. Camerer (1988) observed that the dyadic system is especially puzzling from an economic perspective in that the more efficient gifts such as cash or purchases in response to direct requests are generally considered to be lacking in propriety or at least sensitivity. More recently Waldfogel (1993) commented on the economic implications of Christmas gift giving. While acknowledging that holiday spending has a positive effect on the macro-economy, he estimated that mismatches between gifts and recipients' preferences causes economic losses of between 10 and 33 percent of the value of the gifts. As found by Rucker et al. (1991), with clothing as a possible exception, most inappropriate gift items are not returned to the store for a more appropriate gift or cash. Instead, they are often retained in some storage area, serving as an intermittent reminder of the failed gift exchange.

Recent empirical studies on gifts to self or monadic gift giving add to the list of positive outcomes of this type of gift acquisition. Early work by Mick and De Moss (1990a) indicated that common motivations for self-gifts included to reward oneself, to be nice to oneself, to cheer up oneself, to fill a need, to celebrate, to relieve stress, to maintain a good feeling, and to provide an incentive toward a goal. A subsequent paper by Mick and De Moss (1990b), while developing parallels between dyadic and monadic gift giving, extracted a variety of unique positive themes from reports about self gifts. Self gift experiences were found to be related to self-esteem, identity, perfect things, escape, discovery and being deserving.

In a study of products, qualities and socioeconomic correlates of self gifts, Mick and De Moss (1992) showed the benefits that different economic sectors could accrue from monadic giving. Across four different gift-giving contexts, clothing, food, upscale (non-fast-food) restaurants, music products, personal care services, recreational products and electronic equipment were popular gifts. Qualities that consumers typically associated with self gifts across the four contexts were exciting, fun and satisfying. Another study (Mick, De Moss and Faber 1992) using a projective story-telling technique, supported findings from the work using direct questions. That is, feelings about self-gifts were generally positive, with only a few indications of any guilt.

Verbatims from an ethnography of two gift shops (Sherry and McGrath 1989) suggested a little more ambivalence about self gifts. For example, one woman talked about feeling guilty over non-practical self gifts. Another commented that she would not purchase items for herself in the shopCthey were too extravagant. A follow-up study (Sherry, McGrath and Levy, in review) using both direct questioning and projective devices, also gives indications of some ambivalence being associated with monadic gift-giving. As the authors suggest in connection with their respondents' dream scenarios, while joy may be prevalent, pure joy is rare.

In discussing their findings on self-gifts, both Mick and De Moss (1990b) and Sherry, McGrath and Levy (in review) cautioned against generalizing results of their research to other cultures and ethnic groups, especially consumers from non-Western societies. Both sets of authors felt that the group-centered view of self associated with Asian cultures might be related to unacceptability of self-gifts, especially in support of individual achievements. Some previous research on dyadic gift giving by respondents who self identified as Asian versus those who self identified as White lends credence to this cautionary advice (cf Rucker, Freitas and Dolstra, 1994). However, other work on dyadic gift giving found no cultural differences, at least in terms of amount of giving and gift selection effort, in data reported by U.S. students and Asian students (Beatty, Kahle, and Homer 1991).



The purpose of the present study was to expand our understanding of self-gift phenomenology by comparing self-gift giving data from a group of respondents who self identified as Asian with a group of respondents who self identified as White. It was understood that the Asian-American population is not a homogeneous block, but still may exhibit some general overarching similarities in selected areas of consumer behavior such as gift giving. Questions for this study were designed to elicit information on types of self-gifts seen as appropriate for different types of situations, the hedonic states associated with self gifts, and motivations for preferring either monadic or dyadic gift giving experiences.


As part of a larger project on gift-giving, 136 students from a large Western university were asked to participate in a study of self gifts and gifts from others. These students were selected from volunteers who responded to an announcement on a campus bulletin board.

Respondents were asked to complete a background questionnaire which included questions about ethnic identity and country where they had resided longest. They were also presented with seven sentence stems and asked to provide self-paced written endings. All of the stems used first person referents since the intent was to elicit references to self (Sacks 1965). Drawing on the work of Mick and De Moss (1990a), the first three items concerned gifts in common self-gift situations, i.e., stressful situations, unhappy situations and following hard work. The fourth item dealt with feelings following the act of giving oneself a gift. Next respondents were asked about giving a gift to oneself and giving a gift to another person as related to their self-identified ethnic group. The last question asked about choosing between getting a gift for oneself and receiving a gift from another person.

In addition to completing background items and the seven sentence stems, respondents were interviewed about their most recent self-gift experience. Questions included what the self gift was, how they felt at the time, and how they felt later.


Separate content analyses were conducted for responses to each of the personal experience and projective items. The responses were read independently by the first and second authors to ascertain emergent categories. These categories were then compared with classification systems developed by Mick (1991), Mick and De Moss (1992) and Sherry, McGrath and Levy (under review) in a form of "interpretive tacking" (Geertz 1983; Hirschman and Holbrook 1992). That is, concepts and propositions developed by these investigators in other contexts were applied to the new set of consumer responses. Once the senior authors agreed on a set of categories, they independently coded the questionnaires and interview transcripts. Average interrater agreement across items was 94.4% with a range from 91% to 98.2%. The discrepancies in coding were reviewed and discussed in order to reach consensus.


The ethnic composition of the sample was 35% Asian (N=48), 51% White (N=69), and 14% other (N=19). Since the intent of this study was to focus on Asian and White respondents, the other respondents were excluded from subsequent analyses.

Descriptions of most recent self-gift experiences provided some support for the Mick and De Moss (1992) findings regarding overall popularity of certain types of gifts. Clothing was a clear favorite with music products being among the top five in both studies. The present set of respondents appeared to differ, however, in reporting a relatively high number of experiences, as opposed to goods or services, as self gifts. Examples of experiences included sleeping, watching TV or listening to music, exercise, contact with friends and even extra study. When the Asian and White respondents were compared regarding experiences versus products and services as self gifts, it was found that a higher percentage of the Whites reported buying a product or service as a self gift (see Table 1). Although this difference is not significant (x2=.72), it suggested further consideration of factors affecting disposition toward or away from looking to the marketplace for self gifts.

The hedonic measures were consistent with the results reported by Mick and De Moss (1990a) and Mick, De Moss and Faber (1992). That is, both the immediate and long-term effects of self gifts were positive for most of the respondents. Only eight of the respondents reported negative feelings at the time of the gift and another five reported mixed emotions. Twelve respondents reported having negative feelings later on, and another three described a combination of positive and negative feelings. Most often, the negative reports associated with purchases involved guilt or financial pressure stemming from the cost of the gift. For experiential self gifts, the negative affect often came about from recognition that taking a break at one point in time often meant a heavier work load later.

Responses to the first three sentence completion items, dealing with self-gifts in response to stressful situations and unhappy situations as well as for hard work, showed some support for Asians being more favorably disposed toward giving themselves experiences as opposed to products or services (refer to Tables 2, 3, and 4), although again these differences were not significant (x2s=1.75, .20 and .31, respectively). In examining responses across situations, however, analyses of differences between proportions for correlated data showed situational effects on self gift selection that were significant for the Asian sample. The greatest amount of change in type of self gift mentioned occurred between the stressful situation and the hard work situation (z=3.15, p<.01). The difference in choices listed for the unhappy situation and the hard work situation was also significant (z=2.06, p<.05). The Asian respondents were more likely to mention experiential self gifts in the stressful and unhappy situations (84% and 77%) than in the hard work situation (56%). The pattern of response changes was similar for the White sample but the differences were not significant.







A comparison of perceived cultural values regarding self gifts indicated that both the Asian and White subjects felt their cultures were generally positive about gifts to others. Respondents used phrases such as "a way to show love," "is satisfying," and "a very pleasurable thing." Some differences were observed in the types of positive comments, however. For example, Asian respondents were more likely to talk about gifts from another person in terms of showing respect whereas White respondents were more likely to mention thoughtfulness. Comments about self gifts were also generally positive. Self gifts were often seen as "a form of reward," "something that keeps me going to strive for my next goal," and as "satisfying." From both Asian and White respondents, however, there were also occasional negative phrases such as "would be seen as being a little self centered" or "indulgent" or "somewhat selfish."

Finally, analysis of responses to the sentence stem that called for a direct choice between dyadic and monadic gift giving did not support previous suggestions that self gifts would be viewed as less acceptable by those with an Asian cultural heritage than those who grew up in a Western culture. In fact, 41% of the Asians who responded to this question preferred self gifts whereas only 33% of their White counterparts chose self gifts over gifts from others. Most frequent reasons given for preferring self gifts to gifts from others were getting exactly what one wants, and not needing to worry about the obligation to return a gift that characterizes most dyadic situations.


The results of this study reinforce concerns raised by Sherry, McGrath and Levy (in review) and Mick and De Moss (1990b) that research findings on self gift giving not be generalized from one ethnic group to others. The findings do not, however, support the specific proposition that the group-centered view of self associated with Asian cultures would lead to unacceptability of self-gifts, especially in support of individual achievements. In other cases, results were more consistent with generally acknowledged characteristics of the two ethnic groups. For example, the tendency found in this study of Asians to rely more on no-cost experiences rather than commodities as self gifts might have been predicted from general demographic data on the tendencies of Asian-Americans to save more and spend less, and their relative reluctance to shop in order to celebrate or on the spur of the moment (cf Paskowski 1986).

The findings also support the advice to consider consumer behavior in context. For example, both Asians and Whites were more prone to engage in no-cost experiences in stressful and unhappy situations than when they had worked hard at a task and these differences were significant for the Asian sample.

Finally, the results have obvious implications for advertising appeals to the two ethnic groups. For example, appeals to show respect are apt to be more successful than appeals to demonstrate thoughtfulness for Asian-American consumers while the reverse should be true for self-identified White consumers.

Limitations of this study include the small sample size and fact that respondents were all college students. Furthermore, it is likely that more extensive and detailed measures of identification and acculturation versus enculturation would bring ethnic differences into sharper focus. However, the results do support themes that have emerged from other work, such as the generally positive contributions self-gifts can make to consumers' life situations. It also gives at least some initial indications of how self-gifts may fit into broader perspectives on ethnic diversity.


Beatty, S. E., L. R. Kahle and P. Homer (1991), "Personal Values and Gift-Giving Behaviors: A Study Across Cultures," Journal of Business Research, 22, 149-157.

Camerer, C. (1988), "Gifts as Economic Signals and Social Symbols," The American Journal of Sociology, 94, 180-214.

Geertz, C. (1983), Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology, New York: Basic Books.

Hirschman, E. C. and M. B. Holbrook (1992), Postmodern Consumer Research: The Study of Consumption as Text, Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Mick, D. G. (1991), "Giving Gifts to Ourselves: A Greimassian Analysis Leading to Testable Propositions," in Marketing and Semiotics: The Copenhagen Symposium, eds. Hanne Hartvig Larsen, David Glen Mick, and Christian Alsted, Copenhagen: Handelshojskolens Forlag, 142-159.

Mick, D. G. and M. De Moss (1990a), "To Me from Me: A Descriptive Phenomenology of Self Gifts," in Advances in Consumer Research, Vol XVII, eds. M. E. Goldberg, G. Gorn, and R. W. Pollay, Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, 677-682.

Mick, D. G. and M. De Moss (1990b), "Self-Gifts: Phenomenological Insights from Four Contexts," Journal of Consumer Research, 17, 322-332.

Mick, D. G. and M. De Moss (1992), "Further Findings on Self-Gifts: Products, Qualities, and Socioeconomic Correlates," in Advances in Consumer Research, Vol XIX, eds. J. F. Sherry, Jr. and B. Sternthal, Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, 140-146.

Mick, D. G., M. De Moss and R. J. Faber (1992), "A Projective Study of Motivations and Meanings of Self-Gifts: Implications for Retail Management," Journal of Retailing, 68, 122-144.

Paskowski, M. (1986), "Trailblazing in Asian America," Marketing and Media Decisions, 21(11), 75-80.

Rucker, M., A. Freitas and J. Dolstra (1994), "A Toast for the Host? The Male Perspective on Gifts that Say Thank you," in Advances in Consumer Research, Vol XX1, eds. C. T. Allen and D. R. John, Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, 165-168.

Rucker, M., L. Leckliter, S. Kivel, M. Dinkel, T. Freitas, M. Wynes, and H. Prato (1991), "When the Thought Counts: Friendship, Love, Gift Exchanges and Gift Returns," in Advances in Consumer Research, ed. R. H. Holman and M. R. Solomon, XVIII, Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, 528-531.

Schwartz, B. (1967), "The Social Psychology of the Gift," The American Journal of Sociology, 3, 1-11.

Sacks, J. M. (1965), "The Relative Effect on Projective Responses of Stimuli Referring to Other Persons," in Handbook of Projective Techniques, ed. B. Murstein, New York: Basic Books, 823-834.

Sherry, J. F., Jr. and M. A. McGrath (1989), "Unpacking the Holiday Presence: A Comparative Ethnography of Two Gift Stores," in Interpretive Consumer Research, ed. E. C. Hirschman, Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, 148-167.

Sherry, J. F., Jr., M. A. McGrath and S. J. Levy (in review), "Monadic Giving: Anatomy of Gifts Given to the Self," Journal of Consumer Research.

Tournier, P. (1966), The Meaning of Gifts, Richmond, VA: John Knox Press.

Waldfogel, J. (1993), "The Deadweight Loss of Christmas," American Economic Review, 83, 1328-1336.



Margaret Rucker, University of California, Davis, U.S.A.


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3 | 1998

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