Some Observations of a Developing Field


Joseph W. Newman (1992) ,"Some Observations of a Developing Field", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, eds. John F. Sherry, Jr. and Brian Sternthal, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 12-14.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, 1992      Pages 12-14


Joseph W. Newman, University of Arizona

Being named a Fellow of the Association for Consumer Research is indeed a high honor. Receiving it is a moving and humbling experience. I feel very humble as I remember the contributions of the earlier Fellows - and those of Paul Green with whom I have the privilege of sharing the platform today.

In my career, I have had the opportunity to do many things and I have learned much from many people - students, colleagues, business executives and professional researchers. I am indebted to them. I shall be able to name a few of these people in the course of my remarks which will give special attention to the provocative behavioral scientists who ventured into marketing research some 40 years ago.

At this point, though, I would like to insert a personal note by acknowledging the all-important support of my family - my wife, Susan, and my daughters, Amy and Jane. Needless to say, they, too, provided me with a learning experience - a very rewarding one.

My academic career has been in marketing in schools of management. As you know, their faculties are expected to teach and do research which will help organizations function and, as a result, benefit the publics the organizations serve. Marketing is particularly concerned with how well products and services and the activities associated with their distribution satisfy the wants of consumers. It was in this context that I became interested in something called "motivation research" which was attracting a great deal of attention in the mid-fifties.

At that time, thinking in marketing was heavily influenced by economics. It emphasized the objective features of products and services. Marketers were aware that emotional aspects were important but had no systematic way of determining their presence in a given situation. So while consumer wants were seen as basic to planning, knowledge of buying motives was very limited. Marketing research produced many facts which showed what had happened but typically not why.

Also at that time, developments in the behavioral sciences prompted some behavioral scientists to see promising applications of their concepts and methods to problems of buying and consumption. They promised answers to the "why" question. That intrigued me, so I proposed finding out more about what was going on. The Harvard Business School, with Ford Foundation help, supported me in what turned out to be a two-year project. It resulted in the book, Motivation Research and Marketing Management, published in 1957.

When I began my field study, only a few organizations were engaged in what then was referred to as "motivation research." Their orientations differed somewhat, but typically they were exploring consumer motivations by the use of relatively nonstructured, in-depth interviews, projective techniques and, in some cases, measures of personality.

The prominent pioneer research firms were Social Research, Inc., of Chicago, and the Institute for Motivational Research of Croton-on-Hudson, New York. Social Research was headed by Burleigh Gardner, an anthropologist. Its interdisciplinary staff included Sid Levy who is well known to you.

The Institute for Motivational Research was headed by Ernest Dichter, a psychologist.

There were pioneers in several advertising agencies, too. In New York, Herta Herzog, a psychologist, had become Director of Creative Research at McCann-Erickson. Peter Langhoff had an interdisciplinary group in his research department at Young & Rubicam. Benton and Bowles was receiving behavioral input from Bill Wells who then was on the Psychology Faculty at Rutgers University.

In Chicago, Steuart Henderson Britt, a psychologist, guided research at Needham, Louis, Brorby. Also in Chicago was an influential promoter of "motivation research." He was Pierre Martineau of the Chicago Tribune which supported several landmark motivational studies by Social Research. One reason the introduction of behavioral research into marketing was possible was the backing of certain research directors and business executives like Martineau who were willing to try something new.

Also at this time, research of interest to marketing was going on at the Bureau of Applied Social Research at Columbia University and the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan. The Survey Research Center was conducting surveys of consumer finances and other studies which provided data important to George Katona's development of the field of psychological economics.

For more insight on "motivation research," I refer you to Sid Levy's excellent President's Column in the March, 1991, ACR Newsletter.

By the early 1960s, other research organizations had moved in a behavioral direction and a few universities had begun to add behaviorally trained people to their marketing faculties.

The new research significantly broadened thinking in marketing. There were efforts to gain insight into the roles and meanings of products and services in the lives of people. The concepts of culture, social class, basic needs, life style, attitudes, self-image, brand image and others entered the scene. Psychological and social factors supplemented demographics. The concepts of less-than-conscious motivation, projection and free association impacted research methodology. More research was being undertaken to get ideas as well as to test them. So there was excitement and promise for the future.

By the mid-sixties, it seemed appropriate to take stock of just how much had come from the new research. A variety of approaches had been tried which drew on both the behavioral and quantitative sciences. Most of the research was private so findings typically were not published. And the researchers had been working independently. Stanford University, with the financial assistance of Metromedia, made it possible to bring together researchers I mentioned earlier plus other leaders in the field. They met for a three-day symposium on the Stanford campus in October, 1964. The proceedings gave rise to the book, On Knowing the Consumer, published in 1966.

Before coming to the symposium, the participants were asked to review their work of the past decade or so to identify what could be offered as supportable knowledge of consumer behavior. At the symposium, they examined the nature of buying decisions, influences on consumer choice, market segmentation and consumer-brand relationships. They discussed the advantages of various behavioral concepts and mathematical models.

They did not claim many supportable general propositions about consumer behavior. However, there were a number of interesting findings. And there was agreement on an essential notion: that to understand consumer behavior, we have to understand human beings in toto and call on resources of all related disciplines to do the job.

Gary Steiner of the University of Chicago summarized the discussions. I can not go into detail here on his insightful commentary. But I will tell you that he concluded by giving three propositions he was sure all would agree were true in consumer behavior. Here they are:

1. "Some do, some don't"

2. "The differences are not very large"

3. "It is not as simple as that"

Those propositions, of course, still hold today. As Steiner pointed out, they also still hold for the older behavioral sciences.

While I was examining the behavioral research, I also was studying problems of relating research and management decision making. So I spent time not only with researchers but also with some of their clients.

My interest in consumer information search came in the late 1960s at the University of Michigan in response to encouragement by George Katona. Studies were undertaken with his valuable counsel and the partnership of Rick Staelin. They were supported by the Educational Foundation of the American Association of Advertising Agencies. That work led into research on consumer satisfaction with Bob Westbrook who went on to contribute much more in that area.

In 1973, I accepted the opportunity to lead development of the marketing faculty at the University of Arizona. We have enjoyed exciting years of growth. It has been very satisfying to have had a hand in attracting to the faculty an exceptional group of bright, well trained people and to see them contribute through their own research. My successor as department head, Dipankar Chakravarti, deserves special mention. He is an amazing individual who can manage a department, teach and provide research counsel to colleagues while concurrently maintaining his own high level of scholarship. Looking at consumer research today, one can not help but be impressed by the tremendous growth. It came slowly at first, then accelerated. My earlier remarks focused on work in the 1950s which had begun even earlier. Interest in the academic community followed. The first Engle, Kollat, Blackwell consumer behavior text and the early theory books by Nicosia and by Howard and Sheth appeared in the late 1960s. The early 1970s brought the first ACR conference and the Journal of Consumer Research. Since then, there have been major advances in the quantity, quality and scope of research in the field.

A look back over the years prompts several observations.

First, an additional word about "motivation research." For some, the term has meant simply the use of certain techniques. While techniques are important, I view the early activity more broadly as the start of a development - that of interdisciplinary research coming into marketing in a major way. The real contribution has been that of furthering conceptual development. Progress in a discipline consists of evolving conceptual schemes - something Jerry Zaltman so ably emphasized in his presidential address a few years ago. We now have richer ways of thinking about consumers, products, brands, prices and communications.

Behavioral research was introduced into marketing by persons working in the business community. Their research addressed questions of concern to managements. Managers benefitted but so did the researchers. They found that working in applied contexts and seeing findings translated into action enriched their own thinking. Interdisciplinary efforts are important but they often are difficult to implement. People of different backgrounds do not automatically mesh well. In fact, they often clash. Significant findings are more likely to result when researchers become more interested in the issues being addressed than in their own disciplinary identities and bags of tools. It often takes a problem focus to encourage new ideas and willingness to go wherever the problem seems to lead.

We have learned that benefitting from other disciplines is not simply a matter of transplanting concepts and techniques, but of creatively adapting them in ways appropriate to the behavior under study.

Fortunately, the earlier thinking in terms of a dichotomy of behavioral vs. quantitative has largely disappeared with recognition that both are needed, often in combination. The training requirements for significant research have multiplied as scholarship in our field has evolved. Doctoral programs of today bear only faint resemblance to those of not very many years ago.

New thinking is not popular. It will be resisted because it typically threatens vested interests - either intellectual or financial or both. The early "motivation researchers" faced intense hostility, especially from survey firms whose clients had begun buying motivational studies. Hostility may be too strong a word for the receptions given the first behaviorists to join marketing faculties but it is safe to say that some of the newcomers were kept at a safe distance by their established colleagues. Fortunately, times have changed. One of the more important contributions of the "motivation researchers" was their demonstration of the value of exploratory research. I refer to research which, at the outset, does not pretend to know what questions are worth asking - or, at least, not all of them. Instead, qualitative interviews can allow consumers to identify what is important to them and say how they feel about it. Such exploration can be valuable prior to drafting a questionnaire or deciding on research design, although it is too often omitted.

My last observation is the most important. It is that research efforts have not always been well directed. My biggest complaint over many years of reviewing manuscripts has been that many of them left me wondering why the research was undertaken in the first place. I am well aware of the strong, if not unreasonable, pressure for publication. Unfortunately, it often has promoted the expedient rather than efforts to make a difference. But I do not think it need do so.

You have heard pleas for greater relevance before. Yet I am adding another. Research on issues that really matter can result from different starting points. One is to identify an ongoing stream of inquiry which needs more work. Implications of future findings may not be clear but there must be some reason to believe that they will emerge and be important to someone.

Relevant research also can result from addressing issues of concern to managements of organizations. I refer to basic research which, in turn, will lead to better management and public policy decisions and, as a consequence, improve consumer welfare. For guidance to important streams of research, I cite two excellent references: the Quadrennial Review of Consumer Psychology by Joel Cohen and Dipankar Chakravarti published in 1990 and the 1991 Handbook of Consumer Behavior, edited by Tom Robertson and Hal Kassarjian. It is apparent from the coverage and depth of thought of these works that many scholars devoted much time to them and they deserve our thanks.

Another important source of guidance is the Marketing Science Institute's periodic listing of Research Priorities. MSI has contributed much to our field by stimulating and supporting research that advances basic knowledge needed for developing important practical applications.

The field of consumer behavior still is young and growing. It has produced many findings that we may tentatively accept as "knowledge." In addition, it has kept many faculty members employed. Hopefully, the results also are making life a little better for people in their role as consumers.

I have enjoyed being a small part of the consumer behavior scene. I thank you for the high recognition you have given me today.


Cohen, Joel B. and Dipankar Chakravarti (1990), "Consumer Psychology," Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 41, Palo Alto, CA: Annual Reviews, Inc., 243-88.

Engel, James F., David T. Kollat and Roger D. Blackwell (1968), Consumer Behavior, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.

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

Levy, Sidney J. (March, 1991), "President's Column," ACR Newsletter, Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, 2-6.

Marketing Science Institute (1990), Research Priorities, 1988-1990, Cambridge, MA.

Newman, Joseph W. (1957), Motivation Research and Marketing Management, Boston: Harvard Business School Division of Research.

Newman, Joseph W. ed., (1966), On Knowing the Consumer, New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Nicosia, Francesco M., (1966), Consumer Decision Processes, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Robertson, Thomas S. and Harold H. Kassarjian, (eds.), (1991), Handbook of Consumer Behavior, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Zaltman, Gerald (1982), "Presidential Address," Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. X, Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, 1-5.



Joseph W. Newman, University of Arizona


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19 | 1992

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