Historical Development of Consumer Research in Germany


Hails Gunther Meissner (1985) ,"Historical Development of Consumer Research in Germany", in SV - Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives, eds. Jagdish N. Sheth and Chin Tiong Tan, Singapore : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 140-142.

Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives, 1985     Pages 140-142


Hails Gunther Meissner, University of Dortmund

Position of Consumers in Former Times

The development of consumer research in Gemany follows the lines of economic development from medieval times to the actual Situation of an extreme international division of labour of German trade, industry and banking. The medieval economic thinking was governed by farmers and craftsmen, since the nobility was not directly engaged and interested in economics. The nobility sought and found its identity in politics, religion and in the arts. They did not care much about the economic foundation of their politics, for instance during the crusades. A sense of neglect and disdain against commercial and banking activities, which is underlying political, religious, or artistic developments was developed by the nobility. Today the Deutsche Bundestag, the Bonn parliament is still substantially lacking industrialists or economists as members of parliament.

The economic field was therefore left to minorities throughout tire German history, especially to Jews or to French fugitives, the Hugenottes, who formed the economic nucleus of Prussia and later of the industrialized German confederation.

The attitude of craftsmen towards consumers was product- and quality-oriented. Their identity consisted of the price of their products and not of problem-solving capacity for the benefit of the consumers. The result was that consumer research or even an interest in consumer problems was a non-event for craftsmen. Still today German industrial companies - originated like Krupp or Siemens in small handcraft workshops -are more oriented in products and quality of products than in consumer benefit. Therefore, according to the craftsmen tradition, the fundamental German orientation is a typical engineers' behavior pattern.

This engineers' pattern was reinforced before and during the World Wars and again during the Nazi era with its typical neglect of human beings and human values.

Sources of Consumer Research in Germany

The interest in consumer research in Germany arises from two different sources: the one is the sociological and social psychology approach originating from Max Weber' s (13) analysis of ''Economy and Society" with special reference to the role of protestant ethics to "capitalistic" thinking. The calvinistic attitude again was directed against consuming and against consumers. So Max Weber reinforced the consumer-hostile atmosphere in the German economic thinking. Today sociological theory is still extreme1y critical towards consumption and consumers in a way that sociology understands itself as antagonistic to marketing and marketing theory.

The other source of consumer research is originated in the field of economics. The hypothetical figure of the ''homo oeconomicus" governed the model building process in economics and made a career from model condition to a normative pattern for realistic behavior.

Integration of Scientific Disciplines in Consumer Research

The first approach to integrate psychological and sociological perception in consumer behavior patterns was attempted by the University of Nurnberg, especially by its mental head Wilhelm Vershofer. One important result of the of efforts of the Nurnberg University was the foundation of the first German marketing research institute in 1919. The most successful Minister of Economic Affairs and less successful chancellor of the Federal Republic of Gemany, Ludwig Erhard, worked before his political career in this institution on market analysis and consumer research.

Although the performances of the Nurnberg University influenced the development in consumer research in a substantial way, the question of model isomorphia was not carried into the scientific discussion in Germany until the early fifties of our century. Then in Cologne University a group of economists and sociologtists joined to form a group concentrated on "Social-okonomische Verbalternsforschung" (Social economic research in behavior). The mentor and promotor of this group was Gunter Schmolders (10), a financial economist who from tax psychology started to look more deeply into the reality of economic behavior. Relying on the research of George Katon (4) of Ann Arbor, Michigan, the Cologne group proceeded from a macro-conception to achieve an empirical foundation of economical theories. On this way, the group contributed to a development which led to an intensive cooperation between economy and psychology, Nevertheless, it must be started that there were more economists interested in psychology than psychologists were in economics. Again we are facing the historical fact that philosophical - and psychological - thinking is sneezing on or neglecting economy.

An earlier breakthrough in economic theory of realistic behavior patterns was the work of Joseph Schumpeter (11) on economic development. He argued that the daring entrepreneur does play the dominant role for the economic development instead of the invisible hand of market mechanism.

Schumpter=s Theory had more impact on the theory of business administration than on economic theory. Business administration in Germany made an outstanding career after World War II becoming more and more independent from economics and outnumbering economics in students, professors and chairs. The dominant role of the entrepreneurs in the reconstruction process opened the doors for behavioral research in business administration.

Nevertheless, there was quite a confrontation in German business administration theory between researchers following more the model building micro-economic theory and those emphasizing on realistic consumer research in cooperation with sociologists and psychologists. The dominant micro-economic theory approach is associated with the scientific work of Erich Gutenberg (3) of Cologne University. He was one of the most successful economic thinkers and a whole generation of scientists in business administration was influenced by his personality and his work. Gutenberg focused on the functional relations of the firm and excluded the entrepreneurs (he called them the 'dispositive factor') and the consumers as being outside of the firm and therefore not to be included in the pure theory of business administration.

The paradigma of Gutenberg's business administration theory impeded the evaluation of a behavioral consumer research in Germany for a long time, since his model did not give way to an analysis of individual and social psychological determinants of consumers behavior.

Evaluation of an Independent Consumer Research in Germany

In the late sixties, the scientific discussion about model isomorphia reached its highest point. In this process, the traditional German "Absatzwirtschaft" was detached from the concepts of marketing theory in the United States.

The reception of marketing theory, in Germany especially influenced by the work of Philip Kotler (5), changed the focus of German business administration from internal problems to the market relations of the firm and to its Sociopolitical, cultural and economic environment.

Werner Kroeber-Riel (6) from the Saarbrucken University was the most involved of all German marketing scientists to focus on consumer behavior. Beginning his research in the early seventies, he redefined his chair of marketing into a chair of consumer research and methodology. Kroeber-Riel took over the methodology and the instruments of the psychobiological research from the United States, limiting himself to the neobehavioristic approach. In addition he was the author of the first German textbook on consumer behavior, which is a classic in this field in Germany and now in its 3rd printing. Kroeber-Riel and some members of his school (esp. Trommsdorff, Weinberg, Behrens, Kaas) produced an impressive stream of consumer research and advertising research in Germany, adopting US methods and concepts in Germany and Europe.

The author of this article specialized in the late fifties on export performance of companies. Especially motivated by a research stage ill Japan, he realized the necessity for understanding the behavior and the context of this behavior in a given cultural pattern of foreign consumers. Associated to the Schmolders group in Cologne and now holding the chair of marketing in Dortmund University, Meissner (8) started to integrate consumer behavior theory into marketing theory, especially in the theory of international marketing.

This field does play a major role for many of the big industrial companies in Germany because of their export activities. The research methodology is more obliged to the holistic cultural and anthropological approach than to the neobehavioristic modelling. Together with Kroeber-Riel, Meissner founded the German-Society for Advertising Research (DWG), which principal aim is the transfer of ideas, problems and theories between the firms and organizations and the university researchers. Meanwhile this DWG has developed into an important forum of consumer research in Germany.

Actual Trends in German Consumer Research

Another aspect of consumer research has developed in Germany concerning consumer policy, consumerism and the social responsibility of companies towards the consumers (1,3). This field of research is more attractive for economists and f o r political scientists than for business administrators. The process of change in value systems of consumers (12) towards more quality of life, protection of the natural environment and health consciousness leads now to new impulses for research on the patterns of consumer behavior in Germany. This applies as well to the research on the differences of these patterns in the principal export markets of German industry.

Outlook on Consumer Research

Consumer research in Germany is attracting more attention and arouses more discussion than ever before. In this context consumer research poses the question for the leading paradigmas of business administration theory and of economic theory. Both subjects are passing through a process of radical change under the impact of consumer theory and consumer research. A more effective integration of economics and business administration on the one hand and the social sciences on the other hand is under way because of this specific problem configuration. It is clearly understood in Germany that this process of change needs a strong international cooperation. I am sure that this Singapore conference contributes to this aim in a substantial way.


(1) Biervert, Bernd, Fischer-Winkelmann, Wolf F., Rock, Reinhard, urundlagen der Verbraucher-politik, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1977.

(2) Gutenberg, Erich, Grundlagen der BeLriebswirLschalLslehre, 1. Band: Die Produktion 2. Band: Der Absatz 3. Band: Die Finanzen Berlin, Gottingen, Heidelberg 1951, fortlfde. Auf lag-en .

(3) Hansen, Martin, Stuttgart Ursula, Stauss, Bernd, Riemer, Marketing und VerbraucherpoliLik, 1982.

(4) Katona, George, Das Verhalten der Verbraucher und Unternehmer, Tubingen 1960.

(5) Kotler, Philip, Marketing Management, 4. Augl., Suttgart 1982.

(6) Kroeber-Riel, Werner, Konsumentenverhalten, 3. Autl., Munchen 1984-

(7) Meffert, Heribert, Steffenhagen, H., Freter, it., KonsumenLenverhalten und Information, Wiesbaden 1979.

(8) Heissner, Hans Gunther, Anthropologische Grundlagen der ExportmarkLforschung, Berlin 1959.

(9) Scherhorn, Berlin 1959 Gerhard, Bedurfnis und Bedarf,

(10) Schmolders, Gunter, Psychologie des Geldes, Reinbek bei Hamburg 19bb.

(11) Schumpeter, Joseph, Theorie der wirLschafLlichen Enticklung, (a. Aull., Berlin 1964.

(12) Tietz, Bruno, Die Wertedynamik der Konsument6n und Unternehmer in ihren Konsequenzen auf das Marketing, in: Marketing, ZPF, ileft 2, 1982, S. 91 ff.

(13) Weber, Max, WirLschaft und Gesellschaft 2 Bande, Tubingen 1956,



Hails Gunther Meissner, University of Dortmund


SV - Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives | 1985

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