Marchlewski, Thomas (2007). I Die Therefore I Buy . Applications of Terror Management Theory to Consumer Behavior. PhD thesis, Universität zu Köln.


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Terror Management Theory, which deals with the consequences of human mortality concerns, has in recent years become a very promising area of research in social psychology. Essentially, the theory suggests that mortality salience motivates people to (1) uphold and protect their cultural worldview and (2) strive for self-esteem. It is only recently, however, that these implications have been acknowledged in the disciplines of consumer research and consumer psychology. After introducing the reader to the theoretical framework of existential theory, Chapter 2 will thus provide and discuss first empirical evidence and adaptations of Terror Management Theory in the domain of consumer research. This dissertation aims to further apply Terror Management Theory to consumer behavior and to extend the current standard of knowledge. To this end, Chapter 3 attempts to expand previous research by linking Terror Management Theory to the field of nostalgia. It has been argued that nostalgia serves the function of buffering the fear of one�s own death, with nostalgic reflections helping people to overcome feelings of personal meaninglessness under mortality salience. Hence, a series of five studies are presented, investigating participants� reactions towards either nostalgic or contemporary cars under mortality salience or control conditions. In Study 1, students were asked to evaluate a classic VW Beetle under mortality salience versus control conditions. A significant effect of condition was found, indicating a stronger preference towards the classic car under mortality salience. Study 2 then investigated participants� evaluation of a contemporary VW New Beetle, again under mortality salience versus control conditions. In this experiment a marginal but opposite priming effect was found. The contemporary beetle was evaluated less positively under mortality salience conditions. Studies 3-5 replicated these results employing a different priming procedure and a more complex study design and extended these to different brands (i.e., VW Golf and Mercedes SL) and a more heterogeneous study population (i.e., consumers). These studies were further able to demonstrate that the influence of mortality salience on preferences for nostalgic objects and antipathy towards contemporary objects was influenced neither by initial car preferences nor by their status appeal. As the results in Chapter 3 show, mortality salient individuals tend to prefer (nostalgic) products or brands that are culturally meaningful to them and to refrain from those (contemporary) products or brands that are not, on account of one crucial attribute (i.e., product age). Chapter 4 aims to investigate whether consumers also gain cultural meaningfulness via a further important product attribute, namely local origin, and whether this is used as a source for their worldview protection efforts. In this context, previous research has revealed that mortality salience increases national consumer ethnocentrism. However, this chapter was designed to investigate whether a corresponding reaction is also evident at a local level. The investigations presented therefore aimed to determine whether this ethnocentrism effect was also to be found in preferences for products with a strong regional significance. In three studies, participants were asked to evaluate, categorize, and taste varieties of beer that came either from their hometown or from a rival city. Study 1 provided the very first evidence that only local beer � as compared to a foreign regional beer � acts as a cultural symbol that may support our local worldview. Study 2 tested whether people are actually able to identify �their� local beer, in order to establish whether this home-region-bias is due to taste differences or taste stereotypes. Results indicated that the preference for a local beer does not seem to have a gustatory basis, but is rather predominantly due to cultural stereotypes. Finally, Study 3 � in which participants were actually able to taste and rate one of the two beers built upon the results of Study 1, expanded the findings to actual tastes and to people from both of the respective cities, and provided evidence that mortality salience does indeed influence preferences towards regional and foreign-regional marketing stimuli. By summarizing the results of Chapters 3 and 4, Chapter 5 attempts to draw general conclusions concerning the applicability of Terror Management Theory to the field of consumer behavior, research, and marketing. Finally, recommendations for further conceptual as well as applied research are provided.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD thesis)
Translated title:
Ich sterbe also kauf� ich . Übertragung der Terror-Management-Theorie auf das KonsumentenverhaltenGerman
CreatorsEmailORCIDORCID Put Code
Marchlewski, Thomasthomas.marchlewski@uni-koeln.deUNSPECIFIEDUNSPECIFIED
URN: urn:nbn:de:hbz:38-19546
Date: 2007
Language: English
Faculty: Faculty of Management, Economy and Social Sciences
Divisions: Faculty of Management, Economics and Social Sciences > Social Sciences > Sociology and Social Psychology > Department of Economic and Social Psychology
Subjects: Management and auxiliary services
Uncontrolled Keywords:
Terror-Management-Theorie , Theorie der Sozialen Identität , Mortalitätssalienz , Branding , NostalgieGerman
Terror Management Theory , Social Identity Theory , Mortality Salience , Branding , NostalgiaEnglish
Date of oral exam: 31 January 2007
NameAcademic Title
Fetchenhauer, DetlefUniv.-Prof. Dr.
Refereed: Yes


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