Graduation Year

2003

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

Mass Communications

Major Professor

Ph.D, Ken Killebrew

Keywords

ritualistic behavior, marketing, fandom, branding, consumer loyalty

Abstract

This is a qualitative case study conducted to investigate the relationship between consumers who are brand loyal to a certain product and the groups that are formed to bring these enthusiasts together, using the Chevrolet Corvette and its community as a model. Qualitative research lends itself to studying relationships and social situations, in being able to observe and participate in a social context, rather than analyzing it from the outside looking in. By approaching this subject as a case study, an element of flexibility was allowed. This study primarily focuses on one main phenomena, the social groups formed by loyal consumers. The specific context studied is the Chevrolet Corvette's community.

By using in-depth interviews of Corvette enthusiasts, owners and company employees, a deeper understanding of why people are loyal to a product and how they use enthusiast clubs to sustain their loyalty will be uncovered. Those interviewed were asked open-ended questions pertaining to their feelings about the community they are a part of, and the brand they are loyal to. A qualitative, ethnographic approach was taken, and interviews were conducted more as conversations than as formal, structured interviews. Through participant observation at various Corvette events, the researcher compared what participants said and what they were observed doing. Participants are from varying backgrounds, ages and genders as to provide a broad base of information. Data gathered were analyzed using grounded theory, a research method that seeks to develop theory that is grounded in data systematically gathered.

Grounded theory allows for a continuous interplay between data collection and analysis. Three overarching themes were constructed to organize the data, with various sub-categories to further explain the findings. The results of this study have shown that the object of enthusiasm, in this case the Chevrolet Corvette, is the basis for social interaction between owners and those involved with the car. While the physical car must uphold a superior standard, the consumer loyalty shown in this community is reinforced through interpersonal relationships formed with others sharing a common interest of enthusiasm for the automobile. The research has shown that there is a linkage between media efforts, automobile purchase, and social interaction. A cycle is formed from company executives releasing information and marketing to the public, inspiring consumers to purchase the car, and the community reinforces their purchase decision and fosters their brand loyalty.

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