Edited by Russell W. Belk
Chapter 8: Researching Brands Ethnographically: An Interpretive Community Approach
Steven M. Kates Researching brands ethnographically Brands are co-created by the eﬀorts of both consumers and marketers, for consumers process brands and promotions for meaning as well as for information (Fournier, 1998; Kates and Shaw-Garlock, 1999; McCracken, 1987; Mick and Buhl, 1992; Ritson and Elliott, 1999; Scott, 1994). Yet, in postmodern conditions of fragmentation, decentering and ambiguity (see Firat and Venkatesh, 1995; Firat and Shultz, 1997), interpretation of brands and marketing promotions is a problematic issue for both consumers and marketers. Consumers construct diﬀerent meanings from what brand sponsors may have intended, and diﬀerent social types of consumers construct multiple meanings, depending on personal background, contexts of consumption and multiple frames of reference (e.g., see Elliot and Ritson, 1997; Grier and Brumbaugh, 1999; Kates and Shaw-Garlock, 1999; Ritson and Elliott, 1999). This issue of brands possessing several potential meanings – what we might label the ‘problem of polysemy’ (see Gottdiener, 1995) – has signiﬁcant implications for consumer theory. Traditionally, positioning has been conceptualized as a relatively stable set of intended consumer perceptions (or meanings) toward a brand, in relation to competitive alternatives. However, in postmodern social conditions characterized by a plenitude of meaning, and in everyday social practice, brands may often come to signify associations other than the dominant (or preferred) meaning or intended positioning desired by marketers (see Hall, 1980, 1997). Further, segmenting a market into non-overlapping groups of consumers vis-à-vis diﬀerential responses to promotional eﬀorts becomes an increasingly problematic task in a commercial...
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