Some stuff we just can’t part with because it reflects who we are

By Sonya Padgett
Posted: Mar. 20, 2011

You know you love your stuff when you buy furniture for it.

Before he acquired an IKEA shelf in 2008, Brett Kasden kept his roughly 250 record albums in milk crates. But after a years’ long love affair with vinyl, he thought it was time to display them in a more respectable and visible way. After all, he loves his stuff.

“I consider myself a casual collector,” says Kasden, 27. “I put very little time into it, but I guess I take it seriously enough that I bought a shelf specifically for my albums. That’s kind of funny.”

Stuff: It can be anything. And it can be absolutely nothing. However it’s defined — material, substance, essence, even worthless objects — Americans seemingly can’t live without it. Nor can they stop acquiring it.

Take Apple’s launch of the iPad 2 on March 11. Thousands of people stood in line for hours hoping to be among the lucky few to buy the latest, greatest thing since last year, when the original iPad came out.

It has become a common sight in this country. Around the holidays or whenever a new product hits store shelves, Americans line up to buy more stuff.

“I do think Americans are defined by material possessions, sadly. And I ask myself all the time, why do things have such importance in our lives?” says Blaze Gusic, 45, a local pediatrician who collects Broadway handbills and posters.

Mohandas Gandhi, who supposedly could fit all of his worldly possessions into a shoe box, might wonder the same thing. But rest assured, there is a valid reason behind our drive to acquire and then acquire some more. And a reason why we have such a hard time parting with our stuff. At least, a valid American reason.

Research has shown that material possessions have become an extension of ourselves, says Angeline Close, a professor of marketing at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. So essentially, the stuff we have defines who we are. Or who we think we are and want to be.

“It’s called extension of the self, but really it’s extending the perceived self,” says Close, who studies consumer behavior. “For instance, if you perceive yourself as someone who is adventurous, you might be attracted more to something that is perceived as an adventurous brand, maybe something rugged or outdoors-related.”

As for all those enthusiastic Apple fans who stood in line to be among the first to own an iPad 2, they are the rarest of consumers: the hip and cool. The trendsetter. The tech savvy. Only about 13 percent of consumers are believed to be among those who must be the first to own something, Close says. But they’re still using the iPad 2 to define themselves.

“They benefit from a sense of satisfaction of being the first,” Close says. “But it can backfire because when something new comes out, it’s usually better to wait a bit for the kinks to get worked out. These first people are also risk takers in the sense that they don’t wait for the company to tweak the product.”

How you see yourself influences the things you buy and the possessions you value most. So it’s not surprising that consumer consumption is emotionally driven and even influenced by the people in our lives. Researchers have found that pleasure seeking centers in the brain are heightened when people buy stuff.

“Consumers don’t have the ability to step back and see underlying reasons or motivations for why we buy material goods. It’s shaped by culture, your family, your subculture. There’s evidence to suggest that your peer group strongly influences your buying behavior,” Close says. “Advertisers know this.”

When local Lori Nelson, 40, was a kid, her parents took her to see “Annie” on Broadway. That experience sparked a lifelong interest in live theater and music; to date, Nelson has seen dozens of plays, concerts and sporting events. About 25 years ago, she started saving the ticket stubs to every live event she attended. They serve as a tangible reminder of the good feelings she experienced at that time.

“Theater was something I was introduced to as a child by my mom,” Nelson recalls. “We were a middle class family, so going to a live event was a very special experience. And when I go, it’s not unusual for a play or concert to evoke strong emotions. So for me, (the stubs) are very personal.”

The antithesis of a collector, Nelson possesses an anti-collection of ticket stubs from George Michael concerts, Debbie Gibson performances and others. She decided on a whim to see what would happen if she started saving them.

“I thought this would be a really fun, nostalgic thing to document what I’ve done because sometimes you lose track of time, don’t remember when or where you were when you experienced something,” Nelson says.

Even though she stores them in a giant envelope and doesn’t look at them on a daily basis, Nelson wouldn’t want to part with them.

“I’ve never thought about that. I’d say giving them up would take a little piece of me away,” Nelson says. “I can replace a TV or a couch. But these tickets, to me, are my documentation of some important things I’ve done along the way.”

There is a common sense reason why people have a hard time getting rid of things, Close says. It’s because there’s a memory attached to something, even if it’s torn or stained or unusable.

However, the opposite also is true; when there’s a bad memory attached, people usually don’t have trouble parting with something.

Kasden can’t imagine losing an album, mostly because he would have to buy another one. But his collection also is a part of his identity. And it’s uniquely his.

Not surprising that he feels that way; Americans above any culture value individualism, Close says.

“When I first started collecting, it was fun, like discovering an entirely new world of things,” says Kasden, who prefers punk rock music. “No one in my family was into stuff like that so it seemed like something entirely my own.”

Women proving to be dedicated NFL fans

Women proving to be dedicated NFL fans

  • Duane Prokop/Las Vegas Review-Journal

    Veteran San Francisco 49ers fan Tina Ellison became a devout cheesehead after meeting her husband, Todd. Now, Ellison says she considers herself a die-hard fan of both the 49ers and the Green Bay Packers and will be rooting — enthusiastically — for the latter today. (enlarge to view more photos)

  • Jerry Henkel/Las Vegas Review-Journal

    Die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fans Carla Wilson, left, and Kim Keefer — accompanied by a cardboard cutout of Steelers stalwart Jerome Bettis — will be rooting for the black and gold when the Steelers play the Green Bay Packers today in Super Bowl XLV. (enlarge to view more photos)

  • Jerry Henkel/Las Vegas Review-Journal

    Die-hard Green Bay Packers fan Roxanne Wolf has collected her fair share of Packers paraphernalia over the years. She and her husband, Jeff, make it to Lambeau Field at least once each season to take in a Packers home game. (enlarge to view more photos)

  • Jerry Henkel/Las Vegas Review-Journal

    This blingy bulldog is part of Packers fan Roxanne Wolf’s collection. 

Duane Prokop/Las Vegas Review-Journal

Veteran San Francisco 49ers fan Tina Ellison became a devout cheesehead after meeting her husband, Todd. Now, Ellison says she considers herself a die-hard fan of both the 49ers and the Green Bay Packers and will be rooting — enthusiastically — for the latter today. (enlarge to view more photos)

By John Przybys
Feb. 6, 2011

It’d be fun to introduce Kim Keefer and Carla Wilson to Roxanne Wolf and Tina Ellison today, and maybe even buy them a drink or two while they got to know one another.

They’d probably have a lot in common. They’re nice, they have great senses of humor, they enjoy a good time and they’d probably get along really well.

But you would have to separate them at about 3:30 p.m. today. That’s roughly when Super Bowl XLV kicks off at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and it’s then that things might turn a bit, well, loud.

You see, Keefer and Wilson are avid, rabid fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers, while Wolf and Ellison are just as avid, just as rabid fans of the Green Bay Packers. And, for the odd Neanderthalish male fan who still argues that football is a man’s game, these women are gridiron-loving, jersey-wearing, allegiance-swearing proof to the contrary.

For more proof, scope out the crowd when you enter your favorite bar, sports book or Super Bowl party today. Odds are you’ll see plenty of women there, most of whom probably are as serious about the big game as you are.

Fact is, watching NFL games is one of American women’s favorite sporting pastimes. A recent national survey by Scarborough Sports Marketing asked women 18 and older to rank their interest in 31 sports, from NFL football to high school sports, on a four-point scale ranging from “very interested” to “not interested.”

According to the survey, the only two sports that more than half of American women say they have interest in are the Olympics and the NFL, with 55 percent and 51 percent respectively, notes Bill Nielsen, the company’s vice president of sales. (Major League Baseball, with 40 percent, was next.)

The survey also reveals that 42 percent of the NFL’s total fan base is made up of women.

The most-interested female football fans “are the group that’s going to games, they’re on or team websites,” Nielsen says. “They’re the engaged football fan, watching regular season games, maybe even watching pre-season games.”

That sounds right to lifelong Steelers fan Keefer, who says she has noticed more and more women watching games these days compared to even as recently as 10 years ago.

Keefer’s dad was born in Pittsburgh and moved with his parents to California when he was about 6. However, he took with him on his westward move his love of the Steelers and, when the time came, passed it along to his daughter.

“I grew up a Steelers fan,” Keefer says. “It’s in the genes. I can’t help it.”

Now, Keefer — whose husband is from Pittsburgh and who thus is, of course, another Steelers fan — is passing on her love of the black-and-gold to her own kids.

“My daughter is a Steelers fan. She kind of jumped on the bandwagon,” Keefer says. “And my grandson is 3½ and he’s a huge Steelers fan. He can pronounce ‘Polamalu’ without a problem.”

Packers fan Ellison also was born a fan, but of the San Francisco 49ers. Her dad was a 49ers fan, she explains, and “once they built Candlestick (Park), he became a season ticket holder. My parents would do the whole tailgate thing, and … I can remember probably at the age of 4 going to games.”

Then Ellison met her husband, Todd, and became a devout cheesehead.

“I knew of (the Packers), but I wasn’t really a fan until I met my husband,” she says. “That was in the mid-’80s.”

Now, she says, “I’m a die-hard 49ers fan, but I’m also a die-hard Packer fan, too. I follow both teams.”

Wolf, a native of Madison, Wis., became a die-hard Packer fan about the age of 5, “in the late ’60s when the Packers were going to the first Super Bowls.

“I have memories of my dad putting the couch in front of the TV — TVs were very small back then — and … everybody going crazy. It’s one of my earliest memories of football.”

Wolf’s ardor for the Packers didn’t dim when she and the family moved to California when she was about 11.

“I was just born with it,” Wolf adds. “It’s just something that is, and it’s always been part of who I am.”

In contrast, there’s Steelers die-hard and Indiana native Wilson, who admits that she “never was into football growing up.”

“My dad used to watch it on TV, and I couldn’t stand it,” she says.

Then, when she was 21, Wilson met her husband, who grew up outside of Pittsburgh and who, Wilson says, “was born a fan.”

They’ve been together for 27 years and married for the past 14. Yet, when her husband and, maybe, a few friends would sit in the living room to watch the Steelers play on TV, “I would be cooking for the game — Buffalo wings or chicken fingers or homemade pizza.”

Then she began to listen to the game from the kitchen. Then she began to peek in on it. Then she began to sit down and watch it with them.

Wilson says she has been a “serious — real serious” Steelers fan since 2003 or 2004. And, of her three kids, “two of them are die-hard Steelers fans, and my oldest is a Vikings fan. His second team is the Steelers.”

Angeline Close, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas who studies consumer behavior and sports marketing, notes that, often, “culture and family shape consumers’ behavior.”

“It’s just kind of subconscious, learned behavior,” she says, that “you kind of do what your parents do when it comes to consuming a brand. And that brand can be a product, but it can also be an experience or entertainment brand like a football team.”

Nor is the notion that a woman can be as fanatical as a man about a football team sound as odd as it might have even a generation ago. Close — who also is editor of the recently published book “Consumer Behavior Knowledge for Effective Sports and Event Marketing” — has done research that reveals that “leisure time activities are becoming more gender-neutral.”

“We found, for example, that men are more interested in ballet than in years past,” she explains, “and women are getting more interested in things like football and things that are (traditionally) more male-oriented.”

Consequently, Close adds, “the way that marketers are branding leisure and entertainment brands has been much more gender-neutral.”

In the end, however, those crazed, jersey-wearing women you’ll be seeing at Super Bowl events today probably are football fans for the same reason as the crazed, jersey-wearing guys.

“It’s just such an exciting sport,” Ellison says.

“It’s fast-paced, and the guys can do some amazing things.”

Source:   Zinkhan, George M., Penelope Prenshaw, and Angeline G. Close (2004). “Sex-Typing of Leisure Activities,” Advances in Consumer Research, 31, 412-419.

Some capitalizing on opportunities of presidential race

Some capitalizing on opportunities of presidential race

  • Photo by Jason Bean/Review-Journal

    A 7-Eleven at Rancho Drive and Charleston Boulevard invites people to buy coffee based on their presidential preference. In Nevada, Obama cups are outpacing McCain cups 64 percent to 36 percent. 

Photo by Jason Bean/Review-Journal

A 7-Eleven at Rancho Drive and Charleston Boulevard invites people to buy coffee based on their presidential preference. In Nevada, Obama cups are outpacing McCain cups 64 percent to 36 percent.

Nov. 1, 2008

Despite what you may have heard, capitalism is not yet dead.

As proof, we offer condoms, coffee and cat poop, brought to you by way of Barack Obama and John McCain.

Seriously. Read on.

Is there any event in contemporary America we share as deeply, as broadly, as a presidential election? Americans might disagree on the specifics, but we love us some votin’!

Which means it’s an unparalleled opportunity to sell stuff to people because they’re actually paying attention.

The election isn’t sponsored yet — November 2012, brought to you by Levitra! — in the style of sports stadiums or NASCAR, but the day might come.

For now, though, we have the above mentioned goodies. And lots of others.

“The Obama masks sold out first,” said Jan Misch, who manages the Party Pro Halloween store on Flamingo near I-215. “About three weeks ago.”

She said there was intense interest in presidential characters this year. McCain masks went almost as fast as Obama’s. The George Bush masks are long gone, too.

And while no one cared enough to ask for a Joe Biden outfit, the other vice presidential candidate was popular.

“We never did have Sarah Palin masks, but everybody and their brother asks about stuff for her,” Misch said. “Glasses, pins, wigs, whatever.”

And speaking of Palin, the newest marketing ploy to use her face is condoms.

A New York company, Practice Safe Policy, recently added a condom wrapped in Palin’s image to its lineup of existing prophylactics featuring McCain and Obama.

There are also coffee mugs, T-shirts, candy, bobblehead dolls, and even election ringtones for sale out there.

UNLV marketing professor Angeline Close said that sort of thing is normal business.

There’s even an academic term for it: affect transfer.

That means folks who get enjoyment out of one thing can transfer that enjoyment to things associated with it.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans, for example, might like Budweiser and Mountain Dew because they’ve sponsored his race cars.

Interested voters might associate good thoughts with a convenience store that’s paying special attention to them.

“That’s why 7-Eleven is doing that,” Close said. “You think, ‘I love politics. They love politics. I love 7-Eleven.’ ”

The chain has long had a promotion tied to elections featuring red or blue coffee cups — blue for Obama Democrats, red for McCain Republicans.

The chain, which has stores in 30 states, says Obama is leading nationwide in coffee cup sales 60 percent to 40 percent. The results in Nevada are similar, 64 to 36.

These kind of mock polls are a popular way of getting a business’ name out there.

Internet retailer has a red vs. blue tracking map on its Web site noting which political books are selling best. The map indicates right-leaning books are outselling lefty books. Obama’s book, however, is outselling McCain’s, the retailer says.

Halloween retailer claims sales of its presidential masks have predicted the past two elections. This year, Obama masks outsold McCain’s 55 percent to 45 percent.

Travel Web site is offering discounts to folks who choose a candidate while booking hotel rooms. Their polling has Obama up 42 percent to 38 percent over McCain.

A local bakery that’s selling red and blue cookies reported that Obama had a slight lead earlier this week.

A less tasty poll is being taken at an Ohio animal shelter. The shelter partnered with a radio station and outfitted the cat area with a red litter box and a blue litter box. The results so far for the “kitty caucus,” according news reports earlier this week, had McCain up by one, um, “vote.”

Source:  Close, Angeline G., Anjala Krishen, and Michael S. LaTour (2009). “This Event is Me!: How Consumer-Event Congruity Leverages Sponsorship,” Journal of Advertising Research, 49 (3), 271-284.

LOVE SICK: UNLV researcher finds consumers are rejecting Valentine’s Day materialism

LOVE SICK: UNLV researcher finds consumers are rejecting Valentine’s Day materialism

Source: Close, Angeline G. and George M. Zinkhan (2009), “Market Resistance and Valentine’s Day Events,” Journal of Business Research, (62) 2 (Feb), 200-207.
A version of this article appeared in print of the Las Vegas Review-Journal on February 14, 2009, front page.

Business was lousy Friday at this roadside stand selling Valentine’s Day wares along Decatur Boulevard, says proprietor Gary Huff. He blames the economy, mostly, but also what he sees as a takeover of the holiday by large chain stores. A UNLV professor’s academic study says there’s a growing backlash against the consumerism inherent in Valentine’s Day.
People are sick of the ugly mess that Valentine’s Day has become. They’re sick of the consumerism, sick of the pressure to buy-buy-buy, sick of being told by the corporate masters of the universe that the only equation that matters is Cash = Love. So says a UNLV researcher who’s just published a paper on the topic. The study by marketing prof Angeline Close and a colleague from the University of Georgia spanned several years and featured hundreds of surveys, diaries and interviews. It was published in the February issue of the Journal of Business Research.Close says excessive consumerism has spawned guilt, which forces people to buy stuff, which has led to a nasty backlash against retailers and the entire You Can Buy Love! industry.“They feel it’s taking advantage of people who are in love,” she says.

What she means is this: Everybody knows V-Day is supposed to be about sunny smiles and glorious rainbows and fluffy puppy dogs, but it has somehow morphed into a buy-me-a-trinket-with-diamonds-on-it-and-I’ll-love-you-forever day filled with pressure.

People blame big business.

“Some people feel it was invented by marketers or certain retailers,” she says.

This is true for lots of holidays, of course. Christmas. Mother’s Day. Baby’s First Birthday.

But none of them, Close says, spark the kind of animosity that Valentine’s Day does.

“I’ve never seen an anti-Mother’s Day group,” she says.

But there are plenty of anti-Valentine’s Day groups.

Gary Huff feels that backlash.

Huff runs a roadside stand for lots of holidays: Christmas trees for Christmas; a carnival for Halloween; teddy bears and flowers for Valentine’s Day.

“It’s crazy. It’s ridiculous,” Huff says. “I can’t believe it.”

He was operating his stand Friday on Decatur Boulevard across the street from a shuttered Chevrolet dealership.

It was lunchtime. He’d had three customers all day.

“Used to be, we had a line of people at the cash register all day long,” he says.

Sure, it’s the lousy economy. Christmas tree sales were half of what they should have been last year. The spooky carnival’s attendance was down two-thirds.

But this Valentine’s Day chasm is about more than that, he says: MegaGiantConglomerateCorporations have taken over the world.

“You go to Walgreens, they can give you a dozen for a dollar,” he says. “We can’t have a dollar a dozen.”

And so he waits. In the cold. Beside the road. With tables full of cute bears and colorful flowers that no one wants.

Close, the UNLV researcher, says not buying stuff is just one reaction from the anti-Valentine’s Day crowd.

Some people boycott certain retailers. Some avoid spending lots of money, opting instead for a more personal approach to gift-giving.

They make their own gifts. Or they do something special for their partner, rather than give something special.

Ben Harris, who was buying a heart-shaped box of chocolate Friday for his wife of 28 years, says he and his wife never feel pressure to buy stuff just for buying-stuff’s sake.

“I don’t think gifts are absolutely necessary,” he says. “But when it comes to things like chocolate, it kind of sweetens things up.”

He says the most special Valentine’s Day gift he ever gave his wife didn’t cost a penny. He made it himself.

“I expressed my own feelings about our relationship over the years,” he says. “She was more than happy about it.”

Close says that’s the lesson to take away from her research: That people who reject the overhyped nature of V-Day are forcing themselves to focus on its real meaning.

They’re avoiding excess. They’re professing their love every day, not just on the holiday. The backlash, in short, is having a positive effect.

“Consumers love the meaning of the day,” Close says. “They’re just against the materialism.”

Of course, that’s not true for everybody.

She says research shows that nearly two-thirds of consumers still spend money on Valentine’s Day, despite their general disgust. Spending on the holiday this year is expected to top $14 billion.

Bobby Smith puts the finishing touches on a Valentine’s Day bouquet Friday at a roadside gift stand on Decatur Boulevard, where business was slow compared to last year. (Photo credit: Jason Bean/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Source: Close, Angeline G. and George M. Zinkhan (2009), “Market Resistance and Valentine’s Day Events,”
Journal of Business Research,
(62) 2 (Feb), 200-207.