&Quot;All the World's a Stage&Quot;: Drama and Consumer Research Introduction


Barbara B. Stern (1992) ,"&Quot;All the World's a Stage&Quot;: Drama and Consumer Research Introduction", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, eds. John F. Sherry, Jr. and Brian Sternthal, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 450-451.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, 1992      Pages 450-451


Barbara B. Stern, Rutgers University

[This paper is the introduction to Special Session 6.4.]


The purpose of this session is to integrate various streams of research on drama in order to encourage synergy among a multiplicity of approaches. The session aims at facilitating better communication among diverse drama researchers in marketing, sales management, advertising, and promotion. By presenting diverse perspectives on drama in the context of consumer research, the session is designed to generate rich answers to the question, "How does drama affect consumer behavior?" Multiple approaches to a single question may help researchers ascertain what engenders consumer effects and why these effects occur. To this end, the goal of this session is to bring together researchers whose views may complement each other, conflict with each other, or simply go off in different directions, in order to stimulate lively interchange and a spurt of creative borrowing among all of those interested in the protean concept of drama.


Drama is a broadly defined category, for recent practitioner and academic research affixes the label to products, sales encounters, advertisements, and people. The session presents researchers representing humanistic, sociological, and psychological perspectives who locate the phenomenon of drama in different places. The humanistic tradition (Stern) is represented by qualitatively-oriented research that adapts Aristotelian language and concepts to study drama in advertising text. The sociological approach (Grove and Fisk) examines drama in service experiences in order to understand marketplace exchanges. The psychological approach is twofold, including a theoretical consideration of consumer "performance" in the marketing theatre (Deighton) and an information-processing model of consumer empathy (Boller and Olson). To date, these varied descriptive, analytical, and empirical perspectives have operated independantly of each other, thus forfeiting the opportunity for seeds sown in one area to blossom in another.


On a conceptual level, the session includes a range of perspectives spanning both traditional and innovative schools of drama criticism. The participants present dramaturgical concepts ranging chronologically from Aristotle's works on Greek tragedy (Stern) to modern cinematic theory (Boller and Olson), and conceptually from Bruner's psychological concept of meaning (Deighton) to Goffman's dramaturgical view of social behavior (Grove and Fisk).

Stern's presentation, "What's in a Name?" Aristotelian Criticism and Drama Research, begins by introducing terminology and concepts drawn from the Aristotelian tradition, the well-spring of dramaturgy and the foundation for later theories. Her presentation introduces basic Aristotelian elements such as "plot," "character," and "theme" as terms whose meanings provide a groundwork for coherent discussion. Her purpose is to provide a generally accepted vocabulary for discussing drama to ensure that multiple participants in the dialogue mean the same thing when they use these terms.

Next, Grove and Fisk's paper, The Service Experience as Theatre, presents a modern theory of drama as a metaphor of human behavior in the service experience. They draw from Goffman's dramaturgical theory to examine the traditional aspects of drama -- actors, setting, and performance. Their purpose is to study the service experience as a performance by analyzing the relationship of service characteristics to their theatrical counterparts.

Deighton's presentation, Sincerity, Sham, and Satisfaction in Marketplace Performance, proposes consideration of two aspects of marketplace performance - the concepts of "quality" and of consumer satisfaction. He employs Bruner's theory of dramatistics to address the paradox of consumer enjoyment of theatrical performance as authentic versus distrust of marketing performance as insincere. His purpose is to revise the model of consumer satisfaction by adding the element of satisfaction with performance.

Last, Boller and Olson's paper, Empathy and Vicarious Performances of Meaning During Exposure to Commercial Dramas, focuses on empathy as a consumer response to a dramatic advertisement. The paper defines empathy as a response to dramatic advertisements -- those that present a story about one or more characters' experience -- and examines empathy in terms of consumer identification with the characters. The purpose is to present a model of processing that focuses on empathy as the key to understanding the power of persuasion in drama advertising.

Wells's discussion adds practitioner/academic insights, for his research and practical experience permit a multi-faceted overview of the concepts presented by the panelists. He provides a summary of the session's eclectic view of drama research and an evaluation of drama concepts from the practitioner's point of view.

On a methodological level, the session represents a cross-section of multidisciplinary research by utilizing methods drawn from the humanities as well as from the social sciences. Stern uses humanities methodology adapted from literary criticism, and Boller and Olson borrow from cinematography to develop a model of consumer processing. Deighton turns to psychology and marketing science, and Grove and Fisk rely on social interaction theory to analyze drama as a performance/response phenomenon. In this way, the session encourages the free flow of communication among researchers unfettered by disciplinary boundaries so that knowledge generated in one field can become the property of all.

In sum, the session proposes that multiple perspectives on drama in products, personal sales, and promotion can shed light on its behavioral and attitudinal effects on consumers. Both managerial/advertising practitioners and academic researchers can benefit from greater understanding of the nature of drama and its unique ability to evoke consumer responses. To this end, the session's comprehensive outlook affords the ACR audience an opportunity to sample a variety of drama research products with one-stop shopping convenience.



Barbara B. Stern, Rutgers University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19 | 1992

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