Consumption and social life are intertwined. People join consumption collectives in order to feel connected and to share consumption practices and objects with others. Several concepts have been developed in consumer research to characterize collective consumption phenomena, such as subcultures of consumption, brand communities, and consumption tribes. However, differences between the concepts are often unclear, and each concept highlights some features while obscuring others. Regarding the collective consumption of brands, the literature has emphasized the commercial nature and hierarchical structure of brand communities, simultaneously overlooking other kinds of collectives. More research is thus needed to integrate the literature and to extend it. Specifically the heterogeneity and complexity of collective consumption needs to be recognized.
The purpose of this research is to extend the view of the collective consumption of brands. The purpose is divided into three interconnected research objectives that focus on building a categorization scheme for heterogeneous consumption collectives around one brand, analyzing their characteristics in detail as well as understanding their role in cultural brand revitalization. In particular, the findings yield insights on the interaction between consumption collectives and the revitalization of a brand that was disappearing from the market. Qualitative case study research was conducted on the Finnish footwear brand Reino & Aino. Research data was generated through multiple methods including interviews, observations, and gathering cultural data. The research process was iterative and based on abductive logic incorporating both inductive and deductive phases.
The conceptual framework for the study is built from the stream of literature on marketplace cultures and communities. This literature is integrated and critically evaluated in order to build a categorization scheme of heterogeneous consumption collectives around one brand with which to initially analyze the empirical data. Five different kinds of consumption collectives are identified: place-focused, brand-focused, activity-focused, idea-focused and social relations-focused collectives. They are also characterized as more or less integrated versus dispersed and the role of the brand is either more central or more peripheral in the consumption collective. A practice theoretical interpretive framework is used to further analyze the elements of practices within the consumption collectives. Practice theory focuses on the performative aspects of everyday social life. The analysis identifies elements of practice including materials, meanings, and competences that intersect and form socially shared practices in consumption collectives. Finally, the research provides an interpretation of cultural brand revitalization where the heterogeneous consumption collectives are seen as important social sites that facilitate it.
The research contributes to consumer research first by integrating the literature on collective consumption, second by offering a new way of categorizing consumption collectives; and third, by yielding insights into the role of consumption collectives in cultural brand revitalization. The complexity and heterogeneity of collective consumption phenomena in the market are recognized. The research also has implications for marketing practitioners who wish to build and maintain the viability of their brands in the market. These implications help them to adopt a new supportive and encouraging role in relation to different consumption collectives.