Marketing Students Head to the Movies to Learn about Consumer Behavior
By Catherine Probst
As you’re walking through the supermarket, loading up your cart with groceries for the week, have you ever stopped to think about why you buy that brand of milk or that flavor of cereal? In most cases, you’re probably not even aware of the variety of factors that go into your decision-making processes even though we spend more time buying and consuming than we do working or sleeping.
Marketers, however, spend billions of dollars trying to understand the behaviors associated with what, when, and how people consume products, services, and even entertainment.
In the course MKTG 312 Consumer Behavior, Mason marketing professor Laurie Meamber uses a special method to help students better understand consumer behavior–they watch movies.
According to Meamber, the primary goal of a consumer behavior course is for students to better understand consumer behavior to become more effective marketing managers. In addition, she notes that students will enhance their knowledge of consumer behavior so that they, as consumers, can consume wisely.
Based on this, Meamber divides her class into three distinct components, each focusing on a different aspect of consumer behavior–external influences, internal influences, and decision making. Wanting to tap into all three modules, she came up with the idea to use films as a way for students to analyze and fuse together all the concepts they learn throughout the semester.
“The idea to use films to demonstrate various marketing theories is not a new development, but what is innovative about this project is that students are using the films themselves to demonstrate their knowledge of consumer behavior concepts,” says Meamber.
“Most of the traditional exercises and projects used in consumer behavior courses focus mainly on demographics and lifestyles, which ultimately limits students’ ability to examine the entire range of internal, external, and situational influences on consumer behavior.”
At the beginning of the semester, students in groups of six are asked to choose a film to analyze. Some of the films chosen this semester include The Devil Wears Prada, New Year’s Eve, Just Go with It, and Heartbreakers.
Meamber notes that she normally advises students to stay away from fantasy-type genres (science fiction and cartoons) and instead focus on films that are anchored on what resembles real life. But she admits that students in past semesters have proven that they can successfully analyze movies in these genres such as I, Robot (science fiction) and Toy Story (cartoon).
As they work on the project throughout the semester, students are asked to complete a variety of tasks: write a brief plot summary, provide descriptions of four to six major characters as consumers, and analyze 10 to 15 consumer behavior concepts they learned in class that appear in the film.
Along the way, the students construct consumer profiles of the characters and examine reasons why and how they make decisions throughout the film. Specifically, students are looking for influences on consumer behavior based on attitudes, motivation, income level, and occupation.
According to Meamber, each film has its own particular set of consumers and consumer behavior concepts that are illustrated in it. For example, one film may demonstrate decision making by Generation Y consumers, and another film may include examples of how marketers use positive reinforcement in the form of promotions to motivate consumers to purchase more of their products.
“Professor Meamber provides students with exciting marketing projects throughout the semester. The film project especially challenged me and my group members to apply the course concepts and thus better understand them,” says Ben Coffinberger, a senior marketing major. “This project was by far one of the most enjoyable projects that I’ve worked on at Mason.”
At the end of the semester, each student group must write a paper on the film, as well as creatively present their findings to the class without using presentation software.
This semester there were a variety of creative approaches used in the presentations. Several student groups dressed up as the characters and described themselves as consumers. Other student groups used game show formats, quizzing the audience on the consumer decision making depicted in the film.
“Since I began using films in my marketing courses many years ago, it has proven to be a very successful method of engaging students in the consumer behavior process,” says Meamber. “Getting them involved and allowing them to use a film of their choosing to complete a class assignment is not what they typically expect from a marketing class.”
Watching movies isn’t the only method Meamber uses in her marketing course. This semester, students were tasked with visiting a toy store to practice conducting observational research. Some of the observations they are asked to make included what kinds of consumers they see, the atmosphere of the store, how the consumers are satisfying their needs, and what types of purchases the consumers are making.
“My ultimate goal is to make the class interesting and applicable to students’ lives even if they are not going to practice consumer marketing,” says Meamber. “It’s still important for them to understand the influences that contribute to their buying and consuming purchases so that they can make wise decisions.”