Academic journal article Journal of Business Economics and Management

The Feelings of Consumer Guilt: A Phenomenological exploration/Vartotojo Kaltes Jausmas: Fenomenologijos Tyrinejimas

Academic journal article Journal of Business Economics and Management

The Feelings of Consumer Guilt: A Phenomenological exploration/Vartotojo Kaltes Jausmas: Fenomenologijos Tyrinejimas

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

As Miller (1995) argued, consumption has become the vanguard of history. Contemporary consumer culture, in which consumption objects and experiences play a key role in constructing a sense of self and community (Arnould and Price 2000), has been marked 'by a dialectic between asceticism (i.e., self-discipline as a moral responsibility) and the hedonic pursuit of gratification and pleasure (Thompson and Hirschman 1995)'. The individual, under the disciplinary gaze becomes his/her own agent of surveillance conforming to normative conventions (Thompson and Hirschman 1995), exerts self-control and simultaneously pursues gratification and pleasure in life. Especially, 'self-aware' consumers who are targeted by marketing practitioners through marketing communications live in paradoxes of contemporary consumer culture; through marketing communication some products are positioned as objects of desires or emancipation, yet some others refer to cultural values and norms, ideology of self-control and utilitarian consumption and appeal to guilt feelings.

Guilt, a discomforting, yet widespread emotion, has been frequently employed by advertisers. By evoking guilt through either guilt arousing or guilt decreasing marketing communications; marketing practitioners, especially advertisers, try to influence consumer behavior (Cotte and Ritchie 2005; Soscia et al. 2008). The use of guilt appeals in marketing communications, especially in advertisements, has received considerable attention by researchers as well (e.g. Ghingold 1981; Huhmann and Brotherton 1997; Cotte et al. 2005). Findings mostly reveal positive impact of guilt on purchase behavior, especially when some conditions are fulfilled, such as a certain level of sponsor credibility and consumer perception of fairness of the ad and the advertiser's motivations (Coulter et al. 1999). Consumer guilt is found to relate to impulsivity (Puri 1996; Rook 1987; Sengupta and Zhou 2007; Virvilaite et al. 2009) and compulsive consumption (Hassay and Smith 1996; O'Guinn and Faber 1989), hedonic consumption (Kivetz and Simonson 2002; Okada 2005), desire (Belk et al. 2003; Boujbel 2008) and indulgences (Ramanathan and Williams 2007; Xu and Schwarz 2009). It is also found to influence consumers' altruistic behavior and response to charity appeals (Chang 2008; Basil et al. 2008). One can say that, in general, these studies give some results with regard to consumer guilt, but it is not their primary focus.

On the other hand, there are a few studies that mainly researched consumer guilt. Several researches studied antecedents and/or consequences of consumer guilt (Bei et al. 2007; Lin and Xia 2009), anticipated and reactive guilt and regret (Bagozzi et al. 2000; Cooke et al. 2001; Meyvis and Cooke 2007; Tsiros and Mittal 2000) and consumers' coping mechanisms with it (Dahl et al. 2005; Yi and Baumgartner 2004). These studies generally tried to conceptualize consumer guilt and/or explain consumer guilt by taking self-control failure into account (Burnett and Lunsford 1994; Chun et al. 2007; Dahl et al. 2005; Keinan and Kivetz 2008; Lin and Xia 2009). Despite all of the great deal of research effort, there remains a dearth of research that examines the dimensions of consumer guilt by providing a more complete understanding. The present study represents an attempt to develop a phenomenological account of consumer guilt and broaden the understanding of the dimensions and dynamics of consumer guilt by using in-depth interviews and projective data. Pursuing the aim to explore the construct grounded in consumers' lived experiences, the present study differs from other studies by its phenomenological approach without any prior engagement in specific propositions.

Furthermore, to our best knowledge, this is the first study on consumer guilt in Turkey, a developing, yet less affluent country. Examining consumptionscapes of Turkey, Sandikci and Ger (2002) observed plurality and difference among different consumption styles (namely, spectacularists, nationalists, Islamists and historicists) and discuss that the Turkish case may be read as a case that provides support for the notion of multiple modernities, highlighting the fact that there are multiple routes to modernity. …

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