Special Session Summary Giving, Receiving and Having: Contextualizing Multiplicities of Meanings


Margaret Rucker and Janet Wagner (1998) ,"Special Session Summary Giving, Receiving and Having: Contextualizing Multiplicities of Meanings", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, eds. Kineta Hung and Kent B. Monroe, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 154.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, 1998      Page 154



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

Janet Wagner, University of Maryland at College Park, U.S.A.

Although consumer researchers have been calling for greater explicit recognition of situational influences on consumer behavior for some time now, there is still only limited empirical data on what products and consumer activities mean in different contexts. Instead, the focus of previous research has been on determining consumer characteristics and purchasing behavior patterns associated with different purchasing situations. The latter approach has increased our understanding of what may occur under a particular set of circumstances but not why it is occurring. The present study was designed to gain a better understanding of why certain activities occur in some situations and not others by examining how meanings associated with giving, receiving and having change with changes in both personal and situational contexts.

The first paper by Chuchinprakarn, Greer and Wagner explores the meanings of giving to religious organizations as a function of level of religious commitment. Results indicate that for those high in religious involvement, giving has a spiritual meaning whereas for those low in religious involvement it has a social meaning. This paper is important, not only for contributing to the understanding of how personal factors can be related to meaning shifts but also to the limited literature on religious donations. The second paper by Rucker, Kangas and Nathan moves from analysis of meanings associated with the gift giving process to analysis of the gift giving products. This work demonstrates how both quantitative evaluations and qualitative interpretations of products change with changes in the occasion. Finally,the study by Corrigan shows how objects can differ in their meanings depending on whether one has them or only aspires to have them.



Margaret Rucker, April Kangas, and Michelle Nathan

University of California, Davis

Previous researchers have sought to define the properties of the perfect gift, or, at the very least, determine what characteristics distinguish good gifts from bad gifts (cf Belk, 1996; Burgoyne and Routh, 1991; Rucker, Huidor and Prato, 1991). However, these studies have either focused on one particular holiday or attempted to average across all types of gift-giving occasions. Furthermore, when a specific holiday was the focus of the study, it was usually an annual event such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day or a birthday.

Recent research on gift giving for rites of passage suggests that acceptability of different types of gifts may vary with the occasion (cf Englis and McGrath, 1996; Socarras, Rucker, Kangas and Dolenga, 1996). However, comparisons across gift-giving studies have been questioned because of differences in types of subjects and time frames. In one case in which there was a direct comparison across occasions, the emphasis was on determining whether money was a generally unacceptable gift, as previously reported, or might actually be preferred over a product under certain circumstances (Rucker, Kangas, Daw, Gee, Lee and Snodgrass, 1997).

The present study was designed to provide a direct comparison of the appropriateness of three types of products across occasions. The occasions selected for study were Christmas, Valentine’s Day and graduation from college. The products were a pen and pencil set, an engraved watch, and flowers. These items were chosen from lists of products commonly exchanged by young adults across various occasions (Rucker et al., 1991). Ninety-five university students rated each gift for each occasion and then gave reasons for their ratings in individual interview sessions. Half of the sample was told to think about males giving to females and the other half about females giving to males. Analysis of variance was used to analyze the ratings and content analysis was used to extract themes from the qualitative data.

The quantitative analysis indicated that there was a main effect for item; flowers were rated as the most appropriate present and the pen and pencil set as the least appropriate across occasions. However, there was also an interaction effect between item and occasion, indicating that the acceptability of items did vary by occasion. Furthermore, both the average ratings and the symbolic meanings of each product changed markedly across situations. For example, flowers were perceived to be very appropriate for Valentine’s Day but barely appropriate for Christmas. In discussions of the ratings, it was noted that flowers seemed gender-inappropriate for males at Christmas but acceptable for Valentine’s Day and graduation. Another issue was whether flowers alone would be sufficient as a gift for either males or females. For Christmas and to some extent for graduation, flowers were viewed as a supplementary gift. Similar symbolic redefinitions were found across occasions for the other two products.

Results of this study add support to the argument that both overall evaluations and meanings of gifts must be considered in context. Implications for the marketing of gifts will be discussed.


Belk, R. W. (1996). "The perfect gift." In C. Otnes and R. F. Beltramini (Eds.), Gift Giving: A Research Anthology (pp. 59-84). Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press.

Burgoyne, C. B. & Routh, D. A. (1991). "Constraints on the use of money as a gift at Christmas: The role of status and intimacy." Journal of Economic Psychology, 12, 47-69.

Englis, B. & McGrath, M. A. (1996). "An analysis of the framing of women as marriage partners through subcultural patterns of wedding gift giving." Paper presented at the Third Conference on Gender, Marketing and Consumer Behavior, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Rucker, M. Huidor, O. and Prato, H. (1991). "The good, the bad and the ugly: An analysis of successful and failed gift-giving situations." Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Popular Culture Association, San Antonio, TX.

Rucker, M., Kangas, A., Daw, A., Gee, J., Lee, J. and Snodgrass, A. (1997). "Gift norms: A comparison of clothing, cash and gift certificates across three occasions." Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Textile and Apparel Association, Knoxville, TN.

Socarras, K., Rucker, M., Kangas, A., & Dolenga, K. (1996). "The newlywed’s new clothes: Situational effects on acceptability of apparel and money as gifts." Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Textile and Apparel Association, Banff, Canada.



Margaret Rucker, University of California at Davis, U.S.A.
Janet Wagner, University of Maryland at College Park, U.S.A.


AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3 | 1998

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