Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Consumers, Play and Communitas-An Anthropological View on Building Consumer Involvement on a Mass Scale

Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Consumers, Play and Communitas-An Anthropological View on Building Consumer Involvement on a Mass Scale

Article excerpt

Abstract: There is an increasing interest in effective methods for building consumer involvement on a mass scale. This paper offers an interdisciplinary theoretical framework for consumer involvement analysis and forwards an anthropological approach to this issue. It uses categories of play and communitas to examine cultural dynamics underlying consumer involvement. It summarizes and extends theoretical understanding of the topic and provides numerous examples from contemporary marketplace such as Heineken Open'er Festival and Volkswagen 'Fun Theory' initiative. Several research propositions are formulated for future empirical endeavors and implications for practice are defined.

Keywords: Communitas, consumer involvement, Heineken Open'er Festival, marketing events, play, the Fun Theory


In March 2013 Skittles brand page on Facebook attracted over 24,644,384 visitors, but only 0.83% of them were actually involved in the interaction with this brand as indicated by the People Talking About This index (a measure of fan involvement on Facebook). And such a proportion is not at all unusual for other brands. For years consumer researchers have been struggling to capture the problem of inducing involvement of mass number of people in a long-term perspective. How to encourage crowds of consumers to act upon certain marketing ideas? How to counteract their apathy and involve in specific branding actions? How to activate them in different marketing communication channels and situations e.g. on Facebook, in a store, or while on vacations? Not only is this a marketing dilemma, but also a predicament to the general economic and cultural discussion. Tax evasion, traffic rules ignorance, unsafe driving, encouraging to recycle, increasing the turnout at the elections, participating in branding events and occasions-these are contemporary issues often confronted by companies, but also governments, ecological organizations, non-profit institutions and other entities. By and large, it is hard to involve mass number of people in certain activities, encourage them to follow certain rules and regulations, and make them act upon specific ideas.

To explain the phenomena of mass non-involvement one might use the arguments about the downfall of social capital, lowering levels of public participation, over-whelming laziness of consumers and their cynicism, skepticism, lack of interest, or simply apathy to the most of marketing efforts. From the academic point of view, another explanation might be found in the free riding theory or public choice theory which offers a concept of rational ignorance. It states that people (could be citizens or consumers) mostly behave as utility maximizers and decide to ignore acting upon such situations that require more effort input than the benefits obtained (Buchanan and Tullock 1962; Gunning 2002). The free riding theory describes selected crowd members as free-riders who decide to take a free ride on the actions of others, rather than act themselves (Albanese and Van Fleet 1985). Both concepts, however, assume rationality of crowds, which has been-to certain extent-disclaimed (Banerjee 2011; Le Bon 1980). Neither theory helps fully address the problem of how to overcome mass abstention, and unwillingness to involve on consumers' part.

In order to find a practical solution to the above problem, this paper submits an interdisciplinary framework to discuss the possibilities of involving people in certain activities and events on a large scale. It does not search for the origins of consumers' decisions but looks at involvement mechanisms from an anthropological viewpoint. While much attention has been devoted to consumer involvement from cognitive perspective (Petty, Cacioppo and Schumann 1983; Zaichkowsky 1986; Celsi and Olson 1988), and to the impacts of cognitive, behavioral and social factors on consumer communities (Algesheimer et al. 2005; Muniz and O'Guinn 2001; Schouten et al. …

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