Not many professors
can say they coined a phrase that revolutionized their field of study. DePaul University Marketing Professor Al
Muñiz introduced the
concept of “brand community” in
an article of the same name that was published in the Journal
of Consumer Research in March 2001.
Co-written with University of Wisconsin Marketing Professor Thomas
C. O’Guinn, the article described the
emergence of non-geographically bound groups of people, who, united by their
loyalty to a particular brand, feel a responsibility to share brand
narratives and offer support and solutions associated with the brand.
of such brand communities include fans of Apple and LEGO products and devotees
of Saab and Volkswagen vehicles.
The article changed the way the marketing discipline,
industry and even other social sciences thought about brands.
This fall, in recognition of their pioneering work, Muñiz and O’Guinn were chosen to receive
Foundation/Journal of Consumer Research Long-Term Contribution award. Presented once every three
years, the award honors the lasting contribution of an article that has
appeared in the Journal of Consumer Research.
“It was the first paper to explicitly
acknowledge the social nature of certain consumer brands,” explains Muñiz, who
began formulating the research as part of his doctoral dissertation at the
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. “Prior to that, the field of consumer research
viewed brands rather narrowly as summations of attitudes and conceived brands
and their consumers as a simple consumer-brand dyad. Our work called attention to
the consumer-to-consumer relationships centered around the brand and showed
that these relationships were just as important. It made the social aspect of
The work had an impact even beyond business schools and
businesses. “A lot of cultural criticism has lamented the loss of community
associated with modernity and the advancement of the marketplace,” Muñiz
says. “Our work demonstrates that
humans, as social beings, find and create community where they will. Sometimes,
they will find it around a shared brand. Such a community form is a testament
to the durability, resilience and centrality of community to human existence.”
The great irony, says coauthor O’Guinn, “is that the very
thing that supposedly laid waste to ‘real’ community—consumer culture, market
capitalism, the brand—is at the center of a form of community. You may or may
not like that reality, but it is a reality.”
The research is widely referenced. Google scholar lists
the article as having nearly 3,000 citations, while the Web of Science research
index lists 705 citations. In 2007, the article was recognized by Thompson
Scientific as one of the most frequently cited articles in the business and
economics disciplines. The Philadelphia-based firm tracks research trends in
11,000 academic journals and issues a bi-monthly list of the most cited papers
in 22 disciplines.
Muñiz continues to build on the work. He is currently
researching brand co-creation in the LEGO brand community.
“Consumers, particularly those ensconced in cohesive
brand communities, can be quite proficient in their production of brand-related
content,” he says. “They are capable of brand innovation, support and
promotion, often challenging the marketer in terms of success and
Learn more about marketing degrees at DePaul.