Track 1.10: Consumer Empowerment and External Influence: Implications for Transformative Consumer Research and Social Marketing

The term empowerment is ubiquitous in social marketing; often interventions aim to empower people to change to improve their lives and contribute to societal good. Yet, there is a dearth of research on how empowerment is conceptualized in social marketing interventions (Kamin et al., 2022). Understanding empowerment experiences can help policymakers to address structural barriers and disadvantages. Does framing social problems as structural reduce the role for consumer agency and empowerment? And what about groups with reduced agency, e.g. vulnerable people and people with intellectual disabilities (Makris and Kapetanaki, 2022); can they be expected to regain their agency through personal choice (Giesler and Veresiu, 2014)? If the consumer does not have a degree of freedom of choice and free will, then can interventions only be effectively applied to the external conditions and social factors that govern individual behavior? 

Traditional perspectives in marketing have focused on consumers as decision makers (Bachouche and Sabri, 2019) or as resistant in the marketplace (Arnould, 2007). Service perspectives conceptualize consumers as active co-creators of value, focusing on empowerment in the context of service relationships (Vargo and Lusch, 2004), and empirical work has examined empowerment in relation to consumer goals, service experience, and wellbeing (Harrison and Waite, 2015). The TCR focus on well-being has brought consumer empowerment to the fore (Varman et al., 2021). 

The conceptual discussion about consumer empowerment and external control is of great importance to many of the areas in which TCR is applied (Davis et al., 2016). For example, regarding obesity, the consensus view on agency has changed radically over the past two decades: public health professionals formerly thought of obesity as an individual problem solvable by influencing and empowering individuals to change behavior. Today, however, obesity is seen as a disease over which the individual often has limited control (De Lorenzo et al., 2019). By contrast, public health professionals often recommend self-care strategies empowering individuals to manage disparate conditions such as chronic pain and work-related stress (Wei et al., 2020; Devan et al., 2018). Interestingly, chronic pain management seems currently to be undergoing the same paradigm shift as obesity in terms of its re-defined as a disease (Clauw et al., 2019). Given this shift, it is important to investigate the implications of the reframing of agency and empowerment for marketing, behavior, and social change.    

Track Goals
The aim of this track is to discuss a foundational question underpinning transformative consumer research (TCR) (Davis et al., 2016) and social marketing (Luca et al., 2019): To what extent are consumers empowered to make informed decisions that have the potential to transform their lives for the better? At one level, this is philosophical and concerns the degree to which consumers are autonomous, self-determined agents making free choices based on a critical evaluation of self-interest (Anker, 2020; Wertenbroch et al., 2020). However, this is also a highly pragmatic question about the nature, development, and application of TCR and associated pro-social disciplines such as social marketing (Anker et al., 2022). If consumers are empowered agents with the capacity for free choice and self-determination, then TCR and social marketing interventions can aim to achieve social impact by working to foster individual motivation, beliefs, and assumptions. On the contrary, if we understand consumer activity to be shaped predominantly by external social influences and structures, culturally normative patterns of thinking and doing (Spotswood et al 2020), or internally governed by genetic dispositions (Zheng and Alba, 2021), then does it make much sense to organize social change activities by influencing the individual to change their patterns of consumption? 

The aim of this project is not to argue for or against any given position in the philosophical debate on free will and autonomy, but to bring together researchers and other stakeholders interested in social marketing interventions for behavior and social change to stimulate dialogue over the scope and limitations of individual consumer choice, empowerment and responsibility across the spectrum of social, environmental and health issues within the context of TCR. We will draw on multiple disciplines to explore new conceptualizations for interventions that support consumer and societal well-being and provide recommendations for practitioners and policymakers. We will invite one practitioner to take part in our track. We are keen to support early career scholars, so at least one place on the track will be allocated to someone near Ph.D. completion or within three years post Ph.D. As this work also seeks to advance conceptualizations of empowerment in the context of social marketing and TCR, one conceptual article will be written for a special TCR issue or in another high-impact journal. 

Tentative track structure

Pre-conference activities 

The track co-chairs will organize a meeting to agree on the reviews of the participant applications and to discuss the plan for research before the TCR conference. Once the track participants have been selected, track co-chairs will email them with an outline of the proposed activities, suggested times for a first meeting and a timeline. Each participant will be invited to suggest one or two key papers that all should read. The aim of pre-conference activities is to connect with the participants, share insights and key resources for the project (e.g. academic articles, reports, data sources etc).

Conference activities

  • Day 1- Morning Session: The track co-chairs will summarize the discussion and results of the pre-conference activities. In the first session, track members will present their ideas regarding empowerment in the context of social marketing interventions. The session should identify research gaps, research questions, and approaches.
    Day 1- Afternoon Session: The afternoon session will continue the discussion to draft an outline for a conceptual paper and identify opportunities for a second empirical paper.   
  • Day 2: The second day will focus on planning the research, developing a timeline for post-conference activities and allocating tasks. This will also involve discussions of and setting a foundation for further empirical research. 
  • Day 3 (optional): Track participants will be given the option to stay for an additional half a day and continue working on the paper. Track co-chairs will stay for the other half a day to finalise the planning post-conference.    

Post-conference activities
The track co-chairs will guide work and support the team to write and submit a conceptual article. Authorship will be decided by the team at the conference. Track co-chairs will ensure that the article reflects the views and objectives of the team. Opportunities for empirical research will be explored and track participants will be encouraged to explore other ideas and future collaborations together. 


For queries related to this track please email: Dr Nadina Luca ( or Professor Thomas Anker (    

To apply to this track, please email a Research Vision to Dr Nadina Luca ( or Professor Thomas Anker (     


Anker T (2020) Autonomy as license to operate: Establishing the internal and external conditions of informed choice in marketing. Marketing Theory 20(4): 527-545.
Anker TB, Gordon R and Zainuddin N (2022) Consumer-dominant social marketing: a definition and explication. European Journal of Marketing 56(1): 159-183.
Arnould, E. J. (2007) Should consumer citizens escape the market? The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 611(1):96-111. 
Bachouche, H., Sabri, O. (2019) Empowerment in marketing: synthesis, critical review, and agenda for future research. AMS Rev 9: 304–323.
Clauw DJ, Essex MN, Pitman V, et al. (2019) Reframing chronic pain as a disease, not a symptom: rationale and implications for pain management. Postgraduate Medicine 131(3): 185-198.
Davis B, Ozanne JL and Hill RP (2016) The Transformative Consumer Research Movement. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing 35(2): 159-169.
De Lorenzo A, Gratteri S, Gualtieri P, et al. (2019) Why primary obesity is a disease? Journal of Translational Medicine 17(1): 169.
Devan H, Hale L, Hempel D, et al. (2018) What works and does not work in a self-management intervention for people with chronic pain? Qualitative systematic review and meta-synthesis. Physical Therapy 98(5): 381-397.
Giesler M and Veresiu E (2014) Creating the responsible consumer: Moralistic governance regimes and consumer subjectivity. Journal of Consumer Research 41(3): 840-857.
Makris A and Kapetanaki A (2022) Practice-based social marketing to improve well-being for people with intellectual disabilities. Journal of Marketing Management. 1-25.
Harrison, T. and Waite, K. (2015) Impact of co-production on consumer perception of empowerment. The Service Industries Journal, 35(10): 502-520 
Kamin, T., Kubacki. K. and Atanasova, S. (2022) Empowerment in social marketing: systematic review and critical reflection. Journal of Marketing Management, DOI: 10.1080/0267257X.2022.2078864
Luca, N. R., Hibbert, S. and McDonald, R. (2019) Understanding behaviour change in context: examining the role of midstream social marketing programmes. Sociology of Health & Illness, 41 (7): 1373-1395.
Spotswood, F., Shankar, A. and Piwek, L. (2020), Changing emotional engagement with running through communal self-tracking: the implications of ‘teleoaffective shaping’ for public health. Sociology of Health and Illness, 42(4), 772-788.
Varman, R., Vijay, D., & Skålén, P. (2021). The conflicting conventions of care: Transformative service as justice and agape. Journal of Service Research, 25 (1):  86-107.
Vargo, S. L. & Lusch, R. F. (2004) Evolving to a new dominant logic for marketing. Journal of Marketing, 68: 1-17.
Wei H, Kifner H, Dawes ME, et al. (2020) Self-care strategies to combat burnout among pediatric critical care nurses and physicians. Critical Care Nurse 40(2): 44-53.
Wertenbroch K, Schrift RY, Alba JW, et al. (2020) Autonomy in consumer choice. Marketing Letters 31(4): 429-439.
Zheng Y and Alba JW (2021) Consumer self-control and the biological sciences: Implications for marketing stakeholders. Journal of Marketing 85(4): 105-122.

Track Chair Bios

Professor Thomas Anker is Chair in Social Marketing at the University of Dundee School of Business. Thomas is elected board member and Vice Chair of the European Social Marketing Association. He has also been Associate Editor and Editor-in-Chief of the European Management Journal (2014-2018). His main research interests are in marketing for pro-social behaviour change and business ethics. He has published extensively on topics such as truth in marketing, consumer dominance, social marketing theory as well as social marketing and public health. His new research focuses on consumer autonomy and the preconditions of informed choice in the marketplace. 

Dr. Ariadne Beatrice Kapetanaki is Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the School for Business & Society, University of York, UK. Her research is interdisciplinary and focuses on social marketing, critical (social) marketing, consumer culture and vulnerable consumers, mainly in the context of food consumption, practices and policies. Her projects have received funding from the ESRC, the British Academy and the British Academy of Management. Ariadne’s work has appeared in journals such as The Lancet, Global Environmental Change, Journal of Marketing Management, Journal of Consumer Affairs, and Cambridge Journal of Education.

Dr. Nadina Luca is Lecturer in Marketing at the School for Business and Society, University of York, UK. She is Chair of the European Social Marketing Association. Her interdisciplinary research draws upon social marketing, community health, sociology and transformative consumer research and service scholarship. Research interests include health behaviour change, well-being, value co-creation, actor engagement and systems, food insecurity, participatory methods, and consumer vulnerability. Her research has been published in journals such as Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, Sociology of Health and Illness, Marketing Theory, Journal of Business Research, Journal of Marketing Management, and Journal of Health Communication. 

Dr. Fiona Spotswood is Senior Lecturer in Management at the School of Management, University of Bristol, UK. She is a consumption scholar interested in the role of marketing in creating inclusive conditions for active leisure. She is a qualitative researcher, and her work has been published in Journal of Marketing Management, Sociology of Health and Illness, Journal of Social Marketing, European Journal of Marketing, Social Science and Medicine. She is academic chair of the 2022 World and European Social Marketing Conferences. She has recently co-edited a special issue in Journal of Marketing Management dedicated to Critical Social Marketing.


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