Brands, Consumers, Symbols, & Research


Sidney J. Levy & Dennis W. Rook

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  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Part I: A Life in the Marketplace

    Part II: Marketing

    Part III: Products and Brands

    Part IV: The Symbolic Nature of Marketing

    Part V: Consumer Analyses and Observations

    Part VI: Qualitative Methods of Marketing Study

  • Dedication

    —For Bobette, Joyce, Chris, and Leslie Ann—

    —In memory of Bruce—


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    Now and then, master craftsmen enter a domain, and it is never the same again. They cast a new habit of mind on a field that can't be ignored. Master craftsmen are very interesting people. They dare to be different, and the difference in their thinking is not in their taking sides so much as it is in creating a new one. To be a master of any craft, marketing included, requires a seamless blending of science and art. Master craftsmen know better than to even make such a distinction. Impressionist painters, for instance, made very sophisticated use of a science of color vision that was ahead of its time. Similarly, there is considerable poetry and artistic vision in the works of great scientists. Indeed, the drafting of anything involves advancing and exploiting tacit and explicit understandings of the basic nature of things and the ability to represent them in ways others can appreciate.

    Another quality of master craftsmen is that they produce masterpieces. A number of widely shared defining characteristics of masterpieces are worth noting here. First, it is a critical audience (usually a sizable one) rather than the producer of a work that judges something a masterpiece. Once produced, the craftsman has little or no control over the ultimate pronouncements made about his or her opus. Masterpiece status is conferred by a public audience. Second, these judgments are usually made over successive generations of professional and lay critics whose criteria and historical perspectives may differ. The test of time is not inherently friendly, and few works survive it. Third, to stand a chance of being a masterpiece, a work—be it a play, novel, theory, or experiment; a visual, gustatory, or auditory representation; or whater—has to meet two conditions. The first condition is that everything that is necessary is present. The second condition, as stringent as the first, is that everything that is unnecessary is absent. These are the qualities a craftsman can control. If there is anything magical about creating a masterpiece, it is to be found in how a master meets these two conditions.

    Another reason master craftsmen are interesting lies beyond what they do and how they do it. They can be interesting because of who they are as spouses, parents, and friends, as well as the roles they play in the lives of others in their trade. Here, the history of science and art is illuminating. People who produce masterpieces can be, for lack of a better term, jerks. They may even have more of a knack for this than those producing lesser works. But sometimes, too, master craftsmen can be wonderfully human and enriching of the lives of those around them. They provide what loved ones and colleagues need while being careful to not provide what isn't needed. Moreover, they do this by nature, not by plan.

    So, being a master craftsman, especially one whose personal values and sensitivity to others create another set of high standards, is no easy thing. Which beings me to Sidney J. Levy. The 54 collected works in this volume provide an opportunity for the reader to determine whether Sidney's works, individually and/or collectively, qualify as a masterpiece. For me, Sidney has created more individual pieces of work that merit this status than any other marketing scholar I know. Collectively, the work in this volume is a masterpiece of insight into the social enterprise that is marketing. Again, I don't know anyone whose careerlong program of thought is so extraordinarily rich in imagination and practical value. He challenges, provokes, excites, soothes, and supports us with one or another of his writings. Does he walk on water? No. (After all, he once convinced me to fly with him in a tiny plane in Costa Rica in which we nearly met the Grim Reaper.) Does he come close? As close as anyone could. Professional life is very personal, too, and it is rare that people who are so adept in the creation of master works can forge a professional life that also expresses who they are in the more private world as mate, parent, and friend.

    This volume contains two feasts: the ideas themselves and the style of mind that has produced them. The first feast requires less of the reader's energy. The second should encourage those who don't know Sidney Levy to do some sleuthing to figure out what blend of intellectual spices a mind must have to produce such provocative ideas. Bon appetit!

    GeraldZaltmanHarvard Business School

    Introduction: Ideas of a Major Marketing Man

    To the best of my knowledge, this book is a first of its kind in the marketing field. More than a few corporate marketing and advertising executives have provided biographical and philosophical perspectives on their marketplace successes and failures. This volume is a different breed of book. Specifically, it is the first comprehensive collection of significant scholarly essays and studies in the field of marketing by a single author—Sidney J. Levy—and his collaborators. And what a compendium this is. Sidney Levy is a prolific, seminal, internationally recognized, award-winning writer whose ideas began to influence marketing executives in the late 1940s and today continue to have an impact on how we think about marketing's role in management, how managers develop products and brands, how they understand their consumers, and how corporate and academic researchers investigate marketplace concerns. The breadth, longevity, and influence of Sidney Levy's thinking are unique. His contribution to marketing thought and practice is extraordinary, and his stature among his colleagues today, to Sidney's embarrassment, verges on that of a venerated guru. In addition to the general dissemination of his ideas throughout the field of marketing, his 36-year teaching career at Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management has directly influenced several generations of marketing managers. Although fewer in number, Sidney Levy's Ph.D. students are faculty at the world's leading business schools today.

    In November 1997, Sid Levy was inducted as the first “Living Legend of Marketing” at the HEC-Montreal School of Business in Montreal, Canada. In the parlance of my Southern California subculture, Sid is a big star whose gentle and generous brilliance has defined marketing's professional borders, content, technology, and ethos for over 50 years. The 54 articles in this volume document the emergence and evolution of many core marketing concepts, and they also illuminate compelling, contemporary topics such as brand-image equity, product symbolism, consumer motivation, marketing ethics, sex appeal, focus groups, and global marketing. Levy's writings span five decades, and they reveal his fascinating perspective on marketing's fertile mix of products, companies, and consumers. Together, this material constitutes a remarkable and exciting intellectual history of the field of marketing. Serious marketing students, managers, marketing researchers, and academic scholars should all find many interesting and useful ideas in this volume.

    Prospective Readers

    From the late 1940s on, Sid Levy has shared his ideas and observations throughout the world in classrooms and boardrooms and at academic symposia and governmental conferences. Sidney is a Gemini, so naturally his professional life has multiple aspects and audiences, for whom this volume likely offers different benefits. From 1961 to 1997, Sid Levy taught thousands of budding managers at Northwestern University (and he now heads the marketing department at the University of Arizona); his past students might value this book as an indepth refresher course whose relevance is enhanced by their own professional experiences. For the larger population of today's marketing managers, this collection of articles represents an invigorating educational opportunity to understand marketing and consumer behavior at an advanced, sophisticated level. A cursory examination of the contents reveals that this is not a Crown Book flavor of the month. Rather, it includes serious and lively discussions of important and enduring marketing issues.

    From my own observations, academics tend to think of Sid Levy as a professor and as a consumer behavior theorist. True enough, but relatively few grasp his long and distinguished career in marketing research and consulting or its relationship to his academic writings. Many of the articles in this collection provide excellent examples of how his mind abstracts from particular commercial needs, for example, to sell more milk or wine, to a general theory of beverage behavior (see Chapter 39, “Synchrony and Diachrony in Product Perceptions”). Levy's theories and their practical applications should inform the recurring and often contentious academic debate about the merits of particular versus universal research in marketing.

    Finally, marketing researchers should find the section on qualitative research methods fascinating, useful, and perhaps even inspiring. Today, there is much misunderstanding and misuse of qualitative research, and the material in this section presents key issues and historical facts in perspective. These readings should assist both marketing managers and researchers in designing and fielding qualitative studies with more confidence and creativity.

    Marketing Topics

    The articles in this volume are organized into six sections. The first includes Sid Levy's most recent contribution to the Journal of Consumer Research, the field's premier scholarly journal. Not only is this Levy's most recent publication, it is his most autobiographical, which makes it a great place to begin. Accompanying this 1996 publication is a talk—“The Exemplary Research”—that then Ph.D. student Sidney Levy gave to the faculty and students of the Committee on Human Development at the University of Chicago in January 1953. Together, these two articles will help ground the reader in Levy's intellectual origins, orientation, and style. Following these introductory essays, the remaining articles concentrate on these five topics:


    Products and brands

    The symbolic nature of marketing

    Consumer analyses and observations

    Qualitative methods of marketing study

    Clearly, these are among the most important issues in marketing today, and each section contains articles that suggest how to think about and cope with them. Also, each begins with a historically significant lead article that introduces Levy's intellectual breakthroughs and provides a useful entry point to relevant topics. The accompanying articles appear in chronological order, but the reader may want to explore things differently and pursue particular interests. To facilitate this, in each of the volume's major sections, I have written an introduction that provides information about the origins, applications, evolution, and contribution of Levy's main ideas.

    Themes and Qualities in SJL'S Writing

    Ultimately, readers will make their own decisions about these issues, but as editor of this compendium, I would like to point out several qualities that characterize and span Sid Levy's writings. First, whereas his scholarship in marketing is nonpareil, his writing is highly accessible; and it is always interesting, engaging, provocative, and fun to read. A second important element that distinguishes his work from most others is its interdisciplinary nature. Levy's thinking eclectically dances and weaves across behavioral disciplines, and by mixing things up, he offers original, polyfocal perspectives to marketing situations that are commonly construed much too narrowly. Another enduring quality of his work is an emphasis on the role of interpretive analysis in marketing management. This idea materialized in his 1950s landmark Harvard Business Review articles about products, brands, and symbols, and it is forcefully reiterated in this volume's opening article, “Stalking the Amphisbaena.”

    Looking at Sid Levy's achievements from the perspective of 1997, the reader might erroneously conclude that his accomplishments were akin to anointments. This is historically incorrect, as another key quality of his work is the intellectual conflict it had to overcome. This aspect is prominent in Part II (Marketing), but it also applies to his work on symbols, consumers, and qualitative research. In each arena, Sidney had to confront literal minded and sometimes mean-spirited critics who derided his nuanced analyses, his emphasis on noneconomic variables, and his use of “touchy-feely” research methods. Yet, one advantage of a 1999 retrospective is the opportunity to observe how his ideas have prevailed.

    Finally, Sid Levy's work is characterized by both prescience and timelessness. Reading several of the articles in this collection, I am struck by how many developments that Levy predicted years ago have come true. A particularly striking example of this visionary quality can be found in “Cigarette Smoking and the Public Interest,” which was published in 1963 and which anticipates many of the specific developments that have occurred in this controversial arena. Not only prescient, Sid Levy's writings have a timeless quality. As an example, I would refer the reader to “Symbols for Sale,” the lead article to Part IV. Except for minor details (e.g., now defunct brands), this material is strikingly contemporary, despite its publication date, 1959. This timelessness, I believe, is a measure of work that has enduring impact and utility.

    Quite a few of Sid Levy's articles have been anthologized in various marketing “classics” collections. Thus, in some cases, readers will note that he has added comments to original articles at the request of a particular collection editor. For the present volume, he has added reminiscences about the genesis of certain articles. The materials in this volume are not the complete collected works of Sidney J. Levy. Some early writings have been, as Sidney describes it, “lost in the mists of time;” not represented are the five books that he has written. The first, Living With Television (with Ira O. Glick), was published in 1961. In its Foreword, W. Lloyd Warner describes this work as “an exciting contribution to our body of knowledge about the meanings and function of the symbol systems commonly shared by most Americans.”

    Levy has published two books about marketing communications and promotion: Promotion: A Behavioral View (with Harper W. Boyd, Jr.) in 1967 and his own Promotional Behavior in 1971. In response to the social turmoil of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and its inevitable spillover into the marketing arena, Levy collaborated with Gerald Zaltman on Marketing, Society, and Conflict, which appeared in 1975. His fifth book, a consumer behavior text titled Marketplace Behavior: Its Meaning for Management, was published in 1978.

    A Personal Note

    I hope the reader is now eager to “get on with it” and begin reading. Let me end this introduction with a few comments about how I came to know Sidney Levy, and to study and work with him. I first met him in his Northwestern University office in the Spring of 1979. I was a burned-out social services administrator in Evanston, Illinois, who in my community activities had met a few Northwestern faculty wives. Outstanding among them was Bobette Adler Levy, who encouraged me to talk with her husband about Northwestern's MBA program as an escape route from the welfare office and an entree to a more gratifying and creative career … possibly in “marketing.” I made an appointment with Dr. Levy and approached his office with trepidation and some ambivalence about going back to school. He couldn't have been nicer. We talked about a lot of different things, and an hour passed in what seemed like minutes.

    I was really enjoying the meeting until Sidney suggested that, in his opinion, I was not an ideal candidate for an MBA. My psyche crashed, and I thought, “Oh well, back to the welfare office.” In my gloom, I barely heard his follow-up recommendation that I might consider Northwestern's doctoral program in marketing. Within 6 months I began graduate studies there and completed my dissertation, The Ritual Dimension of Consumer Behavior, under Sid Levy's supervision, in 1983. Along the way, I learned a huge amount from Sidney about marketing, brands, consumers, and research; I am still learning from him; and I use the ideas and tools he taught me daily in my professional life as a professor and management consultant.

    I am lucky that much of my learning from Sidney Levy was in person, in class, through collaborative research and writing, at formal academic occasions, and in casual talk at his home or mine. Obviously, this volume provides a vicarious Levy experience, yet, it is very much alive with Sidney's compelling ideas and lively presentation. I hope readers will enjoy this intellectual adventure as much as I have, and take away learning that will enhance their professional lives.

    Dennis W.Rook

    Critics customarily characterize qualitative and introspective works as self-indulgent, so let me be the first to say it. This collection is a gracious compliment to me from my friends Dennis Rook, Gerry Zaltman, editor Harry Briggs, and the Editorial Board of Sage Publications, Inc. I appreciate their indulging me by putting together these 54 pieces of my writing (alone and with colleagues) from 1953 to 1996. These articles will show that, as part of the marketing scene from 1948 to the present, I have consistently built on my excellent University of Chicago liberal arts education, my experience as a research worker at Social Research, Inc., and my work as an educator at Northwestern University. Although still active as head of the marketing department at the University of Arizona, I see this book as a summing up of what I have offered the marketing field and hope that it may afford readers useful food for thought.

    Sidney J.Levy
  • About the Author and Editor

    Dennis Rook is Professor of Clinical Marketing at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He received his Ph.D. in marketing in 1983 from Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management, where he specialized in studying consumer behavior using qualitative research methods. He then joined the marketing faculty of the University of Southern California. In 1987, he left the academic environment for the Strategic Planning Department of DDB Needham Worldwide Advertising in Chicago. Subsequently, he served as director of qualitative research services at Conway/Milliken & Associates, a Chicago marketing research and consulting company.

    He rejoined the USC marketing faculty in 1991. His published research has investigated consumer impulse buying, “solo” consumption behavior, and consumers’ buying rituals and fantasies. These and other studies have appeared in the Journal of Consumer Research, Advances in Consumer Research, Symbolic Consumer Behavior, and Research in Consumer Behavior. In 1985, his dissertation research was honored by the Association for Consumer Research, and in 1988, he was appointed to the Editorial Board of the Journal of Consumer Research. His current research focuses on the theory, design, and conduct of focus groups.

    He has served as a research and marketing consultant for companies in the consumer packaged goods, financial services, communications, and entertainment industries. The bulk of his consulting research involves the use of customized qualitative research tools to develop new product opportunities, identify brands’ equities, discover consumer motivations, and develop brand positioning possibilities.

    Sidney J. Levy is the Coca-Cola Professor of Marketing and Head of the Department of Marketing, College of Business and Public Administration, University of Arizona, as of September 1997. He is a psychologist, having earned his Ph.D. from the Committee on Human Development, University of Chicago. He is a licensed psychologist in the State of Illinois and a member of the American Marketing Association. He joined the faculty of the School of Business, Northwestern University in 1961 and taught there for 36 years. In 1982, he was honored as a Fellow by the Association for Consumer Research and named a life member. In 1988, he was named AMA/Irwin Distinguished Marketing Educator. In 1997, HEC-University of Montreal named him a Living Legend of Marketing. He was elected president of the Association for Consumer Research for 1991. He was chairman of the Kellogg School marketing department from 1980 to 1992.

    His central interest is in studying human behavior in everyday life activities, exploring interpersonal relations, work activities, consumer behavior, communications, and public response. His research examines social memberships, cultural influences, symbolic interaction, and complex motivation in personality. Discussion of these explorations with their theoretical and practical consequences have appeared in the Harvard Business Review, California Management Review, Public Administration Review, Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, Business Horizons, Journal of Marketing, Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Retailing, Journal of Business Research, and Personnel Journal.

    His articles have been widely anthologized; those of special interest to marketers include “The Product and the Brand,” “Symbols for Sale,” “Social Class and Life Style,” and “Broadening the Concept of Marketing.” For the latter, he and Philip Kotler received the Alpha Kappa Sigma award for best article in the Journal of Marketing. “Interpreting Consumer Mythology” received the Maynard Award for the best theoretical article in the Journal of Marketing in 1981. He wrote Living With Television (1962), Promotion: A Behavioral View (1967), Promotional Behavior (1971), Marketing, Society, and Conflict (1975), and Marketplace Behavior—Its Meaning for Management (1978). Recent articles include “Autodriving: A Photoelicitation Technique,” Journal of Consumer Research (1991); “The Disposition of the Gift and Many Unhappy Returns,” Journal of Retailing (1992); “Giving Voice to the Gift: The Use of Projective Techniques to Recover Lost Meanings,” Journal of Consumer Psychology, (1993); and “Stalking the Amphisbaena,” Journal of Consumer Research, (1996).

    As a principal in Social Research, Inc., for many years, he directed and participated in research investigations on behalf of numerous organizations, including major corporations, media, and various public and private agencies.

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