Peace, Love and Happiness: An Introduction to My Blog

Some years ago, I was speaking at an industrial design conference. One of the participants recognized me from my photo as “that marketing professor” and asked me what my talk was going to be about. I told him that I would be speaking about love. Since love was not what he expected to be on the agenda he thought I was joking and played along by saying “ahh yes. . . peace, love and happiness. ” It struck me that although he meant it as a joke, he was actually spot on. Despite my being a marketing professor, my research career could pretty well be summarized by the phrase “peace, love and happiness.” Let’s look at each, in reverse order.

Happiness. To say we live in a consumer society is a bit of an understatement. Earning money, shopping, seeing ads, talking with friends about our purchases, evaluating the things we own — in these and many other ways, being a consumer is a big part of our lives. So, it stands to reason that the way we go about, and think about, being consumers will impact our happiness. Questions about how to lead a happy and meaningful life in a consumer culture have been a long-time interest of mine.

These topics first caught my attention in my studies of philosophy. I started studying philosophy at the University of Michigan while still in high school and later got my undergrad degree in philosophy there as well. Later, when I was recruited to join the Ph.D. program in marketing at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, I was a bit hesitant, since — to put it tactfully — I did not see marketing as a fully positive influence on our culture. But I also understood that people would, inevitably, produce and sell products that we need (and some we do not). As a marketing professor, I could perhaps nudge things in a slightly more positive direction. And I’d have an inside view of the whole system, which I could never have gotten in a philosophy department. As a researcher, I’ve followed these interests by studying the relationships between materialism, consumption, and happiness, and I’ll share the most interesting findings in this area through this blog. I also take a critical, balanced and honest look at the role of marketing in our society.

Love. In 1988, I had recently started the Ph.D. program in Marketing at Northwestern (AKA Kellogg) and was fortunate enough to take a course with marketing legend Professor Philip Kotler. (He is so well known that once, when I was giving a lecture in Kazakhstan, an amazing 300 people showed up… not to hear me, but to hear a lecture by a mere “student of the famous Phil Kotler”!) Kotler explained that marketing was not just for businesses, it was for everyone. Nonprofits needed marketing, politicians needed marketing, and even singles looking for romance were essentially marketing themselves, too.

I was in my twenties and single at the time. So, while marketing was interesting, dating was a lot more interesting. Professor Kotler agreed that I could write my term paper on the similarities between marketing and dating. At that time dating services were just starting to take off. Kotler told me about another Professor, Mara Adelman in Communications Studies, who shared my interest. Together, she and I published a string of papers on how dating services were influencing romantic relationships. These papers attracted a lot of media attention, and I even ended up on the Oprah Winfrey show.

That was great fun, but when it came time for me to pick a dissertation topic, I knew I needed to write something that would get me hired as a marketing professor. Dating services were good for Oprah but would not help me get a job. I had, however, invested years of work in becoming an expert on the psychology of love. Was there some way I could take advantage of all that knowledge?

Then it hit me. People talk about loving things all the time. Should we take all that talk of love literally, or is it just another overwrought metaphor? And if people really do love things, what can the research on interpersonal love tell us about that? I was hardly the first person to notice that people love things. But to my good fortune, I was the first person to collect scientific data specifically on this kind of love. My research covers all sorts of things people love including objects, hobbies, places, or anything else that is not a person. But as a marketing professor, I paid special attention to people’s love of products and brands, and in 2006, along with Barbara Carroll, published the paper that popularized the term “brand love” and launched it as an important concept in marketing. In this blog, I’ll share interesting and useful tidbits related to marketing, consumer behavior, and the psychology of love.

Peace. One of the most important marketing skills is the ability to understand the desires and beliefs of people who are different from ourselves. As I often remind my students, other people often see things quite differently from you, that’s why they’re other people. I’ve found that these skills of really hearing, seeing, and understanding other people can also improve relationships between groups. This has led me to be extensively involved with working for peace in the Middle East, working on citizen-to-citizen public diplomacy initiatives between Americans and people living in the Middle East and North Africa, and working to reduce political polarization in the US. At times, this blog will also reflect that side of my work by delving into political psychology and related political issues.

If “peace, love and happiness” sounds like a lot of different topics for one blog, I freely admit that it is. This blog will be a fairly eclectic space. So, if one post is on a topic that does not interest you, I hope you’ll stick around to see if any of the others are more to your liking. Every post will be a good faith, critical and open-minded attempt, based in science and evidence, to bring a little more love and happiness into your life and a little more peace into our world.

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