UA Researchers Say Irony is the New Black

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What is Eller College of Management up to these days? Figuring out if you are wearing that Justin Bieber t-shirt because you are a legitimate Belieber or because you are being ironic. Trucker hats, are they really cool? PBR, is it actually good? Or is it all in the name of irony?

New research by Assistant Professor of Marketing at Eller, Caleb Warren and his research partner Gina Mohr, Associate Professor of Marketing at Colorado State University, indicates that consuming brands ironically is a way to secretly signal our identity and beliefs to those that know us.

The researchers define this phenomenon as ironic consumption. The term includes using a brand or adopting a behavior as an attempt to signal identity, trait or belief opposite from their perceived conventional meaning of the product, according to a UA press release.



"Throughout history, consumers have re-appropriated products to make a statement," Warren said in the press release. "For example, trucker hats were at one time low-status products and originally came into fashion through rural workers. They've since been revalued by young urban consumers."

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Ironic consumption allows for an in-group and and out-group. Those who get it, and those who don't.



Another way that ironic consumption is used is to signal status. Researchers use the example of Bruno Mars eating at a Waffle House. It wouldn't be ironic if the star ate at a mid-level restaurant, but the contrast of an extremely rich celebrity and the humble walls of a Waffle House are where the irony comes in.

Warren and Mohr also found that ironic consumption can offend some audiences, for example those who like Justin Bieber might be offended at a hard rocker wearing Bieber's shirt in a way that makes fun of him or his fans.

Those that are wearing a Bieber shirt ironically, however, probably like the idea of offending his fans. It's all part of the irony.

Ironic consumption can also safeguard those who might actually like the subject of their consumption, researchers found.

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  • Valerie Hinojosa
"Consuming something ironically is also a security measure," Warren said in the press release. "No one wants to be mocked for watching, say, Jersey Shore. But if you so do with a behavior that suggests you're watching ironically, you won't suffer any stigma related to the product."

So, to those hard rockers out there in Bieber shirts, is it too late now to say sorry?

Why is this relevant to professors of marketing you ask? Ironic consumption can often lead to a new and desired brand identity. According to the press release, Pabst Blue Ribbon is an example of a product with an uncool legacy and known to be not the best product, that through ironic consumption has become the chosen brew of many-a-hipster.

The newest ironic consumption trend? Remember when big white ugly sneakers used to be just for dads? Think again. 

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