From Communal Resistance to Tribal Value Creation

In the following post I’ll outline some of the more important information for me from the material we were given “From Communal Resistance to Tribal Value Creation”, excerpts from Bernard Cova’s and Daniele Dalli’s works.

Marketing expertise is no longer a tool exclusively in the hands of companies. Today, consumers
create services, goods, and experiences, and they participate in the design of many of them, update
them, and reconfigure them. Consumers are not mere receivers of companies’ offerings but are said
to be active participants in the co-creation, if not hijacking, of company’s strategies. Companies
often exploit consumer made resources (e.g. new product ideas, improvements, new styles and
trends, etc.), but it also happens that consumers are able to protect the value they have created from

Consumers have recently been given a new and more active role in the process of value creation. In
a sense, consumers are not only mere consumers of goods and services provided by other economic
agents. Consumers are more and more integrated in the market process and they contribute directly
and explicitly to market value creation, still remaining consumers in the sense that they buy and use
the goods and services they contribute to develop. Consumer resistance can be seen as one of the
ways in which consumers contribute to the market process: in a very few cases this means that they
refuse market ideology, market resources (goods and services) and the market as such. In the vast
majority of cases, resistant consumers interact with the market in a critical way and they are able to
co-create new market ideologies, new goods and services and new forms of exchange, transforming
the market.

two streams are of particular interest because they do not take
for granted that companies could capture the value created by consumers and that they hypothesize
the possible re-appropriation of value by communities of resisting consumers: consumer resistance
and consumer tribes.

Consumer resistance
Today consumers are more apt to resist corporate marketing actions and possess greater expertise in
terms of their consumption and in regards to the products and brands they consume: “Consumers
are wise to the wiles of marketers. They possess a ‘marketing reflex’, an inbuilt early warning
system that detects incoming commercial messages, no matter how subtle, and automatically
neutralizes them” (Brown, 2003, p. 37). This ‘marketing reflex’ rose against the backdrop of
consumers’ renewed resistance to marketing: “the new anti-marketers are not against the free
market as such… The anti-marketers today argue that the process has gone too far, the system is out
of whack, and our consumer paradise has turned into a quagmire of commercialism, consumption,
and materialism” (Johansson, 2004, p. 41).

From one point of view, resistance can also be seen as a source of innovation and change that the
market is – sometimes – able to control and exploit (Holt 2002; Kozinets and Handelman 2004;
Thompson 2004). From this perspective, resistant consumers represent an effort made by
individuals to distance themselves from the oppressive control exerted by marketing and
communication: sometimes it works properly, that is, liberating consumers and giving them
legitimate power to influence the market processes. In other cases it opens new room for cultural
engineering and commercial exploitation. In both cases, resistance operates for market evolution
and development (Carducci 2006).

Consumer tribes
The tribal perspective to consumption holds that people like to gather together in tribes and that
such social, proximate communities are more affective and influential on people’s behaviour than
either marketing institutions or other formal cultural authorities (Cova and Cova, 2002). The
consuming individual as a tribe member “exists beyond the emotional and narcissistic project
described in the consumer research category. The tribe members still have some of the tourist’s
emotional aspects, but the individual is no longer viewed as an independent self who is trying to
collect ever more experiences. Instead of being based on personal emotions, the consuming
individual is a member of a tribe where the product symbolism creates a universe for the tribe”
(Ostergaard and Jantzen, 2000, p. 18).

Furthermore, this brand hijack phenomenon is even more accentuated when the interactions with
the brand tribe take place on-line (Kozinets, 2002; O’Guinn and Muniz, 2005). Recent research has
highlighted the many problems a company can have when interacting with this type of hard-tocontrol
collective actor whom the Net has spontaneously helped to emerge and bolster (Broderick
and al., 2003; McWilliam, 2000). On-line consumers would appear to be more active, participative,
resistant, militant, playful, social and communitarian than ever before (Kozinets, 1999). They want
to become influential participants in the construction of experiences (Firat and Shultz, 1997).

The presence of tribes of impassioned, united and expert fans has led to a re-balancing of power in
company-consumer relations (Cova and Pace, 2006). Examples abound in modern marketing
literature: Ducati, Harley-Davidson, Mercedes, Mini, Saab, Star Trek, Star Wars, etc. Passionate
and geeky Star Wars enthusiasts are so loyal to the brand that they literally make and exchange their
own Star Wars movies, using digital camcorders and laptop computers. Rather than try to fight
these brand devotees, Lucasfilm, the official owner of Star Wars, acts as an enabler on their behalf
by distributing online ‘reference’, Star Wars sounds and visual effects that devotees can insert into
their DIY fan films.

The Burning Man convention

The oppositional nature of Burning Man is instantiated in some of its most important
rules: the No Vending rule and its Mask the Brand Names extension are intimately related to the
antagonistic nature of this event and show how strongly its participants explicitly assert their
criticism of the market.

Even file sharing and its related systems and processes can be seen from this perspective: peer-topeer
systems are based on the willingness of their members to exchange goods without employing
the market exchange process. They do not want to pay for music and so they exchange it for free:
gift systems can be seen as alternative exchange systems and are explicitly designed to counteract
market forces (Giesler 2006; Giesler and Pohlmann 2003).

These activities include radical and purposeful resistance (e.g. boycotting), but extend
to more moderate, creative forms of emancipation: “the emphasis is not primarily on attacking or
destroying products, ads, and established market structures, but to radically alter and introduce new
elements to it” (Hemetsberger 2006, 495).

Value is created by consumers. Many authors support the idea that consumers “produce”: they give
actual value to the goods and services that they consume (Firat and Dholakia, 2006, p. 138).
Consumers contribute to the creation of goods and services by not only reacting, sometimes
critically, against companies’ modes of providing, but – more fundamentally – by constructing their
consumption objects, both physically and culturally (Keat et al., 1994). Consumers develop the
primary components of a consumption culture (knowledge, meanings, and affect) and contribute to
its development, regardless of the market. This process is based on direct, inter-personal
interactions, that is, primary sociality (Godbout and Caillé, 1992).

The second case – community as creator of business – is the core of a tribal entrepreneurship
phenomenon. Bookcrossing (Dalli and Corciolani, 2007), for instance, is a grass-roots type of
initiative that creates and exchanges value without any help by publishers, which are kept outside
the project.

As a conclusion, the case of vintage car collecting (Leigh et al., 2006) can be employed in order to
better understand the role of the community in the process of market value creation, with
implications at both the primary and the secondary levels of sociality.


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