Virginia Tech marketing faculty examine trends in consumer behavior


Julie Ozanne Julie Ozanne

Being a consumer has become a major part of life in a modern society, according to Julie Ozanne, a professor of marketing, in the Pamplin College of Business

“Living, flourishing, suffering, and dying are more interdependently related to acquiring, owning, and disposing than at any other historical time,” she said.

In a forthcoming book, Transformative Consumer Research for Personal and Collective Well-Being, Ozanne and her co-editors note that serious problems have resulted from the process of consuming — but so have opportunities for remedial action. Consequently, Ozanne said, “There is a great need for consumer scholars to collaborate and communicate their most important insights in order to aid consumers, policy makers and administrators, business executives, non-profit groups, as well as other researchers.”

To address the problems and opportunities more directly and effectively, the Association for Consumer Research has launched an initiative called “transformative consumer research,” defined as “rigorous and applied consumer research for improving human and earthly welfare.”

In June 2009, Ozanne co-chaired a conference on this research area that explored such topics as poverty, materialism, sustainable consumption, food and health, social justice, at-risk groups, immigration, culture, and ethnicity.

Ozanne is among several faculty members focusing on consumer research in Pamplin’s marketing department.


Kent Nakamoto Kent Nakamoto

“We have in recent years built up our expertise in this field,” said department head Kent Nakamoto. “Many of our faculty are working on issues that are at the intersection of consumer decision making, technology, and public and social policy.” 

Some examples of topics that marketing faculty have examined include individual and group decision-making, low-income consumption, impact of consumer illiteracy on wellbeing, vacation travel and quality of life, effective advertising formats, and the social psychology of food-related behavior.

Transformative consumer research

The problems and challenges related to consumer behavior today, Ozanne said, include unhealthy eating habits and obesity, poor savings rates and financial planning, ineffective and unsafe use of the Internet, substance abuse, aging, disabilities, poverty and illiteracy, “socialization” of child and adolescent consumers, sexually transmitted diseases, discrimination, and ecological deterioration.

At the same time, Ozanne said many types of consumer behavior “successfully support and enhance life.” These include consumer activism, conservation and sustainable consumption behavior, creative uses of products among the poor and homeless, donations and communal consumption, gift exchange, exercise, hobbies, and festivals and celebrations.

Product claims


Elise Chandon Elise Chandon

Assistant professor Elise Chandon’s research investigates the effectiveness of different argument formats for advertising a product’s benefits. Her research, she said, uses psychological principles to understand how consumers’ beliefs form and the ways in which they can be influenced.

“Advertisers select a slogan or phrase they believe will most convincingly communicate the product claim,” she said.

For example, in “Crest fights cavities,” Crest wants consumers to infer that using its toothpaste will prevent cavities, Chandon said. “Yet, there are other ways this information could have been conveyed.” It could have been claimed that people without cavities regularly use Crest, that failing to use Crest leads to more cavities, or that people with cavities did not use Crest.

Chandon said her research can help marketers determine what types of claims are more effective in different situations. She said it can also help consumers understand why they find some claims more convincing than others.

Chandon's work may have public policy implications. “Convincing people to get vaccinated, for example, is an important government health care concern,” she said.

Though the Food and Drug Administration launched many advertising campaigns urging people to be vaccinated, she said, “a review of the different slogans adopted revealed that most did not use the most effective format.”

Vacation and quality of life

Professor Joe Sirgy has conducted research on how vacation travel affects people’s sense of well-being and happiness. His results “contradict the general belief that leisure travel affects an individual’s life satisfaction through positive emotions related to health and safety,” Sirgy said. His study found that satisfaction was “strongly influenced by travelers’ not feeling too tired and exhausted, not getting sick, not gaining weight, and not worrying about catching a disease” on their vacation — that is, an absence of negative emotions related to health and safety.”

Consumption avoidance


Jane Machin Jane Machin

Assistant professor Jane Machin said her research in “consumption avoidance” shows that “under certain circumstances, consumers who reach a decision by rejecting disliked options are more satisfied than consumers who reach a decision by selecting the most liked option.”

Consumers who use such a rejection-based decision strategy make healthier food and drink choices, she said. “Whether it is from a fast-food menu or a drink vending machine, asking consumers to decide by rejecting items makes them spontaneously focus on negative information such as the high calorie or fat content, leading them to reject those less healthy items in favor of a relatively healthier option."

  • For more information on this topic, contact Sookhan Ho at (540) 231-5071.

Center for Marketing and Consumer Health

Pamplin's marketing department has formed a Center for Marketing and Consumer Health to focus on applying marketing theories and methods to improve consumer health. Its objectives are

  • To provide a forum for researchers in the area social marketing and consumer health to collaborate on joint projects
  • To foster research on the content, process, and delivery of health-related messages
  • To create a speakers series featuring prominent academic researchers and health practitioners
  • To support faculty and graduate student exchange programs with Institute for Communications and Health at the University of Lugano

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