Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The real value of fakes: Dynamic symbolic boundaries in socially embedded consumption
by Gosline, Renee Ann Richardson, D.B.A., Harvard University, 2009, 120; 3371273
Abstract (Summary)

The consumption of counterfeit luxury brands provides fertile ground for analyzing how symbolic status boundaries both impact, and are reinforced by, consumer behavior. Three multi-method essays examine symbolic boundary destruction and maintenance, using this consumption context.

For the first essay, I employ a grounded-theory approach, utilizing data from a two-and-a-half year longitudinal study. I analyze consumer behavior in two types of counterfeit market structures: socially embedded “purse party” networks, and atomistic street booths. I find that social networks enable counterfeit consumers to develop relationships with the authentic brand. By analyzing the meaning that these consumers attach to their behavior, I show that Distinction, Democratization and Omnivorism effects are not mutually exclusive.

In the second essay, I examine the impact of pervasive counterfeit consumption on consumers of the authentic product. Respondents were exposed to images of counterfeit and authentic versions of luxury brands, and then given the judgment task of identifying which ones were “real” and which were “fake.” In the condition where the brands were “in use,” consumers' confidence in their abilities to accurately judge authenticity, and their willingness to pay, were preserved. Follow-up interviews revealed that, in the face of band adoption by dissociative groups, consumers redefine symbolic boundaries such that legitimate consumption is based upon specialized knowledge and usage style, regardless of whether the item is authentic or not.

In the third essay, I examine the consumers who are able to distinguish themselves via “omnivore” behavior. The extant literature has argued that high status people engage in omnivore behavior to facilitate coordination with, and domination of, lower status groups. Nevertheless, the meanings that these consumers attach to their omnivore behavior remain underexamined. Qualitative research reveals 4 different meanings that omnivore consumption holds for high status consumers: domination, coordination, indexical authenticity, and adventure. In regards to intrusion by counterfeit imitators, I find that omnivorism serves a double function of boundary spanning and boundary maintenance. Omnivore skill, combined with specialized knowledge of imitated brands, allows high status consumers to achieve distinction in the face of illegal brand appropriations.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Deshpande, Rohit
School: Harvard University
School Location: United States -- Massachusetts
Source: DAI-A 70/08, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Marketing, Social research
Keywords: Branding, Consumer behavior, Counterfeits, Distinction, Luxury, Omnivore, Socially embedded consumption, Symbolic boundaries
Publication Number: 3371273
ISBN: 978-1-109-33868-3
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