In Search of Aesthetics in Consumer Marketing: An Examination of Aesthetic Stimuli from the Philosophy of Art and the Psychology of Art

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Human society has marched into a postmodern era. Postmodernism is an artistic and cultural phenomenon beginning in the late-twentieth century that overthrows the role of traditional production economics (Firat and Venkatesh 1995). The postmodern consumer society is characterized by "hyper-reality", reality constructed on the basis of spectacles (Firat and Venkatesh 1995). Over the past several decades, the hedonic values that shape consumers' needs and preferences have been recognized and emphasized over the utilitarian values prized in previous decades (Babin, Darden, and Griffin 1994). For example, an eye-catching store atmosphere that is exhibited notably, touchingly, or extraordinarily can be more intriguing for shoppers than another "boring" store that helps to save dimes (Childers et al. 2001; Van der Heijden 2003; Fiore, Jin, and Kim 2005). Implied by the social background, the conceptualization of visual aesthetics in consumer behavior research deserves attention because of its meaningfulness in consumers' daily life.

Yet in the past decades, the aesthetics topic has received intensive debates and extensive exploration through semiotic investigation. From a production economics perspective, aesthetics was disfavored as a marketing object. Kotler and Levy (1969) and Bagozzi (1975) proposed the concept of marketing exchange, which holds that the marketing discipline includes activities conducted by organizations that have customers and products. Hirschman (1983) argued that the production of aesthetics is a self-oriented activity with an objective of self-expression, and the primary audience is one's self. Based on the concept of marketing exchange, she contended that the production of aesthetics disfavors commercial creativity that targets the public at large, and thus aesthetics produced by artists was not marketing artifact. This contention has been the dominant principle for understanding aesthetics in marketing for decades.

More recent thoughts in marketing have broadly defined marketing as a cultural production and consumption system (Venkatesh and Meamber 2006). Venkatesh and Meamber (2006) proposed that aesthetics is a key product in the marketing discipline because it is produced and consumed by the society in which marketing activities take place. They suggested that aesthetics should be considered a cultural product in the post-modern era.

Given the fact that the intellectual knowledge of aesthetics has long been limited to professionals in the arts, aesthetics communications in marketing remain preliminary. In order to understand the linkage between aesthetics and marketing, marketing researchers are in need of critical theoretical foundations on the nature of aesthetics, as well as a framework for understanding the impact of aesthetic stimuli on consumers' psychological and behavioral consequences in the marketplace. In order to exhibit the value of aesthetics in marketing communications, this paper attempts to achieve the following four objectives: (1) To illustrate in depth the concept of aesthetics on the basis of the philosophy of art and the psychology of art; (2) To examine the nature and dimensionality of aesthetics from the multi-disciplinary literature; (3) To describe the effects of aesthetic stimuli on consumers' psychological and behavioral responses in an integrated framework; and (4) To develop key propositions on the co-creation of aesthetic value in consumer marketing.

AESTHETICS AS STIMULI IN PHILOSOPHY AND PSYCHOLOGY

According to the American Heritage Dictionary of English Language (2006), the concept of aesthetics refers to "an artistically beautiful or pleasing appearance". As a subject of study, the term aesthetics refers to, "the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature and expression of beauty" in philosophy, and "the study of the psychological responses to beauty and artistic experiences" in psychology. …

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