Letter from the Director


- Steve Jobs

And great work and love of what they do has gotten recognition for two of our Carlson School marketing faculty as Professor Kathleen Vohs and Associate Professor Vladas Griskevicius were selected by Poets&Quants as two of the "40 Most Outstanding B-School Profs Under 40 in the World." To compile its list, Poets&Quants polled business school administration, faculty, students, and alumni for their top picks.

Poets&Quants said these professors "are influencers in their fields while having a meaningful impact on their students' lives. And arguably all of them are just getting started. If their previous successes are any indication, these top profs will be shaping business education and MBA futures for years to come."

Both Vohs and Griskevicius have extensive backgrounds in psychology and have found success applying these principles to business research.

Vohs, the Land O' Lakes Professor of Excellence in Marketing, studies consumer behavior and self-regulation, among other topics. She has published more than 150 scholarly articles and co-edited eight books. She was invited to write articles for Science and The New York Times and occasionally blogs for The Huffington Post and Scientific American.

Griskevicius, whose expertise lies in green marketing and the evolutionary roots of modern consumer behavior, hasreceived numerous research awards and is the author of The Rational Animal: How Evolution Made Us Smarter Than We Think.

The Carlson Institute for Research in Marketing and the Marketing Department are extremely proud of Kathleen and Vlad on this outstanding achievement that recognizes their prestigious body of research work. Their work is part of a body of excellent research done by our faculty which is highlighted below. Attracting world class research marketing professors here at the Carlson School is made possible by the outstanding support we receive year in and year out from you, our Institute Board members -- and we thank you.


Our board is our strength and provides a conduit between its corporate research needs and our faculty. It is a prestigious group of research and marketing executives from Fortune 500 corporations across many of the major industries. Some of these corporations include Augeo Affinity Marketing, Best Buy, Cargill, Ecolab, G&K Services, General Mills, Polaris Industries, The Schwan Food Company, Target, United Healthcare, and Wells Fargo.

Our Vision and Mission for the Institute Board continues to be the following:

The Institute for Research in Marketing leverages the expertise of the Carlson School's world-class marketing faculty and an advisory board of practitioners from leading corporations to foster rigorous and relevant research that improves the science and practice of marketing.

Through its many initiatives, the Institute provides a forum for dialogue among marketing scholars, industry practitioners, policymakers, and students.

Fostering joint research projects that deliver value to our practitioner Institute partners and our faculty should be our long-term goal.

Our marketing professors continue to be extremely productive in their research, which is reported on worldwide with the help of the Institute. This coverage enhances the brand image of each faculty member and at the same time, the name of the Carlson School of Management and the Marketing Department.

This faculty research is regularly updated on our Institute website and is accessible on the publications page.  Another great website feature is the expertise page, which is categorized by topical areas, making it easier to search for faculty expertise.

In the past six months, our faculty research has received outstanding media exposure in the following
CBS Minnesota
CNN Money
Consumer Affairs
Daily Mail
Financial Times
Fox Business
Harvard Business Review
Huffington Post (globally)
Indianapolis Star
Minnesota Public Radio 
Minnesota Daily
NBC News
New York Daily News
New York Magazine
Oprah Magazine
Pacific Standard
Pioneer Press
Poets & Quants
Presidential Daily Brief
Psychology Today
Science World Report
Scientific American
Slate (globally)
Star Tribune
The Atlantic
The New York Times
The New Yorker
The Wall Street Journal
US News
USA Today
Yahoo! (globally)
Additional and international media exposure include:
Business Insider
Business Standard
Card Hub
Hong Kong Daily News
Independent (Ireland)
London Free Press
Medical News Today
MSN (China)
Psych Central
Science Codex
Science Daily
The Globe and Mail
The Independent (UK)
The New Zealand Herald
The Telegraph
The Times of India
The Zimbabwean
Toronto Sun

Our faculty has also been recognized in the past six months with the following awards:

  • Associate Professor Tony Cui received a National Natural Science Foundation of China Grant
  • Associate Professor Carlos Torelli received the Carlson School Dean's Small Grant
  • Professor Kathleen Vohs received a Polish National Science Center Grant

Thank you to all of our Institute Board members for their dedication, continued support, and engagement with our faculty. Thank you also to Marketing Department Chair Barbara Loken and Associate Dean George John for their on-going support of the Institute. Continued best wishes in your marketing and research success!

Best wishes,

Wayne Mueller's signature

Wayne G. Mueller
Director, Institute for Research in Marketing

Highlighted Media Coverage of Faculty Research

TIME logoWomen Hate Sexy Ads, Unless They're for Something Expensive

Professor Kathleen Vohs
Star Tribune logoFood Firms Scramble to Embrace Latest Fads

Associate Dean George John
Oprah.com logo5 Ways You'll Be Seduced Into Buying More This Year

Professor Joan Meyers-Levy
Scientific American logoTouching Boxer Shorts Makes Women Think Differently

Professor Kathleen Vohs
CNN Money logoThe 40 Best B-School Professors Under 40

Associate Professor Vladas Griskevicius and Professor Kathleen Vohs
PsychCentral logoWomen Are More Competitive During a Certain Time of the Month

Associate Professor Vladas Griskevicius
NASA logoFactors Contributing to Food Acceptability and Consumption, Mood and Stress on Long-Term Space Missions (Astro Palate)

Assistant Professor Joseph Redden
Fox Business logoNegative, But Polite, Online Reviews Aren't So Bad for Business

Professor Kathleen Vohs

Brand Identity Issues

Deborah John


PhD, 1980

Northwestern University - Kellogg Graduate School of Management

MBA, 1975

Kent State University

BSBA, 1974

St. Louis University

How consumers relate to not only a brand, but other brand users

For over 20 years, Professor Deborah Roedder John has focused on issues related to consumer branding. She is an expert on how consumers respond to certain types of brand strategies and how firms can use branding strategies to achieve their goals.

One of her recent projects examines how consumers who strongly identify themselves with a particular brand respond when people very different from them begin using the same brand. For example, Coach is a well-known brand of women's handbags, traditionally purchased by professional women who identify with the high quality and tailored look of the handbags. Over the last decade, Coach has courted a new set of younger customers (teenagers and young adults) with different fashion forward styles and cloth fabrications. Although this has been a successful move for Coach, the company faces the question of how to keep its traditional base of consumers who may switch to other brands because the Coach brand no longer reflects their personal identity.

In her research, John finds that consumers with strong personal connections to brands are not quick to abandon the brand. This is good news indeed, since consumers with strong brand connections are typically the most loyal and committed segment. However, there is also a bit of bad news--John finds that consumers with strong personal connections feel threatened by the presence of very different consumer groups using the brand.

Fortunately, John's research shows there are several things that companies can do to alleviate these feelings of threat for customers with strong connections to the brand. One is to offer special editions of its products, which strongly connected customers can purchase to distance themselves from other dissimilar groups of brand users. Continuing with the Coach example, a special edition could be a special product line that is more exclusive and higher priced, which would probably be most appealing to the core set of strongly connected consumers. Along these lines, another strategy would be to launch a new sub-brand of special products, which would be specifically aimed at the most strongly connected customers. In fact, the most connected and committed customers find these special products much more attractive when dissimilar people are also using the brand. Finally, a new sub-brand of products aimed at the newer dissimilar customers could also be a strategy to consider.

These findings are relevant to companies that find themselves juggling a traditional customer base that is highly connected and committed to their brand with a new customer base that is helping to grow the brand but is very different from the traditional customer. More companies find themselves in the midst of this dilemma, and using branding strategies is an answer to this dilemma. A good example is Victoria's Secret. Its target demographic is women in their 20s and 30s, yet the retail stores started being overrun by pre-teens as young as 10 or 11 years old. To protect its core customer base, Victoria's Secret created a separate brand and product line, called Pink, to appeal to the younger market. Thus, Pink engaged the new younger customers without alienating the traditional customers of Victoria's Secret.

This current research project is typical of John's work in consumer branding. "I was drawn to the branding area because, for me, I think it's the perfect mix of being able to study important aspects of consumer behavior within a context that's important for companies," she said. "So, when I do my research, I find out interesting things about how consumers respond to brands and branding situations. And much of this can be applicable to problems that companies face."

Other areas of John's research include understanding consumer response to brand extensions, especially with respect to how far brands can be extended in different countries and cultures. She's also studied brand dilution, examining actions that companies take that can hurt their brand in the eyes of their customers, such as launching brand extensions that do not fit with the brand's image. And a third area is brand equity measurement, where she has developed techniques to measure how consumers perceive a brand and what its sources of equity are.

A newer area for John is looking at luxury branding. Along with two PhD students, Yajin Wang and Jennifer Stoner, she is working on research to better understand how consumers feel when they use counterfeit luxury products and what companies might be able to do to decrease counterfeit use. For now, several luxury firms are running ads that say, "Don't buy fakes, it'll make you feel like a fake" or "If you buy counterfeits, you're supporting organized crime and terrorist groups." Cities and countries are also instituting fines for anyone caught purchasing counterfeit goods.

John's project does something different. It looks into the reasons why a person purchases and continues to use a counterfeit product when these products are viewed negatively by most people. Using those insights, her research team developed new advertising appeals that decrease people's willingness to use counterfeit products. These ads stress the social sanctions that might occur if a consumer is caught wearing a counterfeit luxury product, using ads that say: "When it's fake, we all know it's fake. Fake purses are easy for others to spot. Don't take the chance. Buy real."

"That seems to be more effective than telling people that they just personally won't feel good about using it, because that's not true," John said. "They don't feel bad about it. They only feel bad if they think other people are going to be able to figure out that the image they're presenting is fake."

Invisible Influences

Joan Meyers-Levy


PhD, 1986

Marketing And Psychology
Northwestern Univ.

BA, 1972

Univ. of Wisconsin

Investigating the mysteries of advertising, gender differences in marketing, the retail environment, and business ethics

To some extent Professor Joan Meyers-Levy has come full circle with her research. Over the years she has delved into many research topics, from aspects of advertising to understanding how aesthetics (e.g., music, color, or graphic design) communicate to the impact of the retail environment on consumer behavior. However, her initial dissertation investigated gender differences, and that's a topic she's reexamining again today, decades after receiving her doctorate, for a paper that revisits and aims to integrate the current literature on gender differences.

"It's interesting to come back to gender differences now, and see what changes and new discoveries have occurred," Meyers-Levy said. "I chose it as my dissertation topic because it was something I experienced."

Meyers-Levy surmised that, as people go through life, particularly when they're young, they feel they have a great deal of control over their destinies. But the deeper she got into the gender literature, the more she realized that people have a lot less control than they think.

"I found the study of gender differences intriguing because it was this idea that I am influenced by these factors that I don't have control over," Meyers-Levy said. "They're imposed on me, whether it's externally, from our culture, or internally, from my own biology. I have always found that aspect of gender differences fascinating."

She moved away from gender differences as a research focus because, when she started out, it was a very politically charged topic. That meant it was extremely hard to get published. Research is never easy, but at least in terms of review processes, it was a lot more civilized when she moved away from the topic of gender. Meyers-Levy also never wanted to feel compartmentalized. She was interested in many different topics which prompted her to branch out into other areas.

One of those areas was advertising; for example, whether an ad is more verbal or visual, how do both the structuring and the content of the components affect persuasion? Recognizing that ads are just one factor that can influence consumers, she then moved onto the consumer environment.

"I guess what interested me there was the same thing that interested me in gender, in that it's all happening without us knowing, without us realizing it, even though its right in front of our eyes," Meyers-Levy said.

She began examining aspects of the environment and how they can affect consumers. Factors like ceiling height, the texture of the flooring, or the composition of the retail shelves. Consumers aren't purchasing these items, they just happen to be in the store or marketplace. Most people would think it's irrelevant if a product is on a glass shelf versus a plastic one, but that can have a significant influence on how consumers perceive the product and whether they buy it.

Although the marketer may control and use external elements, the choice of which specific elements they use is usually based on intuitions of how these environmental factors affect consumers (i.e., 'a fireplace will make the showroom cozy'). Meyers-Levy's research goes beyond that, using theory and deductions to test new ideas in a systematic, rigorous, and deeper way. Intuition also often drives the creative team in advertising. "This will sell better with women," or, "this is going to do better with teens," for instance. But a researcher's job is to move beyond those intuitions, to develop a theory and hypotheses, collect data, and find out what's really happening. And the researcher's predictions aren't always correct.

"It's not that I'm all knowing, none of us are. We may write our papers as if we are, but the reality is we aren't, and so with a lot of my research I have my hypothesis, my logic that I think is going to explain what will actually happen. But low and behold, I collect the data and find that something entirely different is happening. That's really the exciting part of my job -- finding these outcomes that you didn't expect at all," Meyers-Levy said. "You then become a detective trying to figure out what's really going on, and it takes you on a whole different and often even more provocative tangent."

One of her current projects is with a former doctoral student, Dr. Noelle Nelson. It looks at differences in modality or the format through which marketers communicate. For example, if a marketer wants to communicate something, to what extent does it matter if it's communicated in a more visual mode via text in an ad versus if it's communicated orally in a radio ad?

A project with another former doctoral student, Dr. Nelson Amaral, looks at factors that affect people's ethical behavior in business and consumer contexts. If, for example, someone buys a product and wants to return it, but the store has a no return policy or the consumer lost the receipt. This can turn into an ethical situation if the consumer knows they can return the good at a different store that has a more lenient return policy. Or, in another instance, if someone works for a company that's polluting at night when nobody sees it, what do they do? If they tell the authorities, they're probably out of a job. Those are the types of situations the researchers examine, but their work extends beyond this by identifying subtle, seemingly immaterial factors that can influence whether or not the consumer will behave in a more ethical manner.

While Meyers-Levy's research has spanned many topics, her curiosity to explore and solve the mysteries of consumer behavior has always been the driving factor.

"Research is about more than just getting published," she said. "It is the internal motivation to solve the complex puzzles of what drives consumers to behave as they do. There needs to be a passion for exploring such matters."

Marketplace Phenomenon

Akshay Rao


PhD, 1986

Virginia Tech

MBA, 1980

Xavier Institute

BA, 1978

Economics (Honors)
Madras University

How People Make Decisions Drives Professor's Research

Unlike many academics, Professor Akshay Rao worked in the corporate world after receiving his MBA. From managing sales people to making pricing, branding, and technology decisions, Rao was left feeling they often did a poor job -- operating out of instinct and industry lore, rather than "science." That's when he began his PhD program and took an interest in pricing.

"Why pricing? Well it was what bugged me the most when I was working," Rao said. "It's a practical problem, and it turns out that the underlying theories are very interesting and complex. And managers would benefit from understanding them."

When Rao first started his PhD, he didn't see much value in academic research. It struck him as odd that people would spend so much time, effort, and energy asking and answering what seemed to be a pretty simple question, then fight to get it published in a journal. And then he did his own project. He still remembers the excitement of collecting data, analyzing it, and waiting to find out if his hypothesis was right or wrong.

"The sheer feeling of exhilaration," Rao said. "I confronted reality, and I won. So that kind of curiosity, 'I wonder why, I wonder if, I wonder what would happen if' is what keeps me going right now."

While he continues to work on pricing issues, his interests have expanded greatly. He is currently part of a project that analyzes people's reactions to faces. If a person looks at themselves in the mirror, they're looking at a lateral inversion (mirror image) of their face, not their true image. People tend to like their mirror image more than their true image, because they see it so often. But they tend to prefer their spouse's true image compared to their mirror image because that's what they are used to seeing. Taking that finding, the researchers are predicting that if they take someone's mirror image and morph it into a political candidate's face, that person will like that candidate better than if they morph that person's true image into the candidate's face. Whether that's true or not is an important question for political candidates and advertisers. Rao is curious to see if it works out how he predicted.

One of Rao's papers now under review looks at how different physical experiences affect people's feelings about a product. For example, in Hong Kong, they list subway maps vertically. The researchers asked people to count the stops from Station A, which is at the bottom, to Station B at top. With another group, Station A was on top and Station B on bottom. So one group moved their heads upward and another group moved their heads downwards. After performing other tasks and under the pretense of testing stimuli for another experiment, participants were then asked what they thought about a product that either descended or ascended on a computer screen.

It turned out that people who had counted subway stations from top to bottom liked the coffee mug more when it descended. People who counted the subway stations from bottom to top liked the coffee cup more when it ascended. The researchers found the same effect for other conditions, such as people moving their eyes left to right, right to left, fast, slow, or while listening to fast music. So, if a company is selling a product online, and the product appears from left to the right, the odds of getting consumers to like it increase if, just before that, they're shown animation that has them moving their eyes from left to right. If there is a pair of shoes at the end of an aisle at a store, if the shoes are pointing in the same direction in which customers are walking, they're more likely to buy them. How a product is displayed should be consistent with what is called the "embodied cognition of prior experiences," or the physical experience the consumer just had by moving their eyes, heads, or bodies.

In another paper, researchers analyzed the conditions in which "pay what you want" pricing schemes work. For example, Radiohead's digital album In Rainbows allowed fans to "pay what you want" for it, and wound up a surprise success. This raises the question, under what conditions, and for what kind of firms, will "pay what you want" work? The researchers found that there has to be a dedicated, loyal fan group that really cares about the product's continued existence and there also has to be a casually interested group. The fan group urges the casual group to spend a little bit and the fan group pays more because they're worried that the product's firm will not make enough money and will then go back to a higher fixed price. If the fans get enough people to pay, the firm makes the same profit, and everyone wins.

"The consumer wants to pay less, and they want the firm to not charge a price that is beyond what is called their reservation price, or the maximum they're willing to pay," Rao said. "So now suddenly the consumer has an incentive to help the firm because they care about the outcome."

In general terms, Rao is interested in marketplace phenomenon -- pricing, branding, channels of distribution, and looking into what goes on inside the human brain as people confront pieces of information and make decisions.

"If something is interesting, I pursue it. If I don't know anything about it, I try to figure it out," Rao said. "Most importantly, I'm influenced greatly by my PhD students, who teach me a whole lot more than I teach them."

New Advisory Board Member

Carmen JohnsonCarmen Johnson

Carmen Johnson, Director of Global Consumer Insights, is currently responsible for providing insight and inspiration about consumers and operators to fuel category growth in the Convenience & Foodservice division. Carmen has been with General Mills since 2002 driving growth and innovation across the US retail divisions, Latin America in the International division, and in the central consumer insights organization.

Prior to joining General Mills, Carmen worked at Procter & Gamble in marketing and sales. Carmen is originally from St. Paul and holds a BS and MBA from the Carlson School at the University of Minnesota.


David Hopkins
George John
Akshay Rao


Wayne G. Mueller Director
Ashley F. Dziuk Program Coordinator

Advisory Board Members

Thank you for your continued support of the Institute for Research in Marketing.

Dave Euson

G & K Services logo

Shadee Kazemi Carlson

Target logo

Brent Sherwin

Schwan's logo

Paul Hillen

Cargill logo

Julie Moore

Ecolab logo

David Mucha

United Healthcare logo

Kari Kaytor

Best Buy logo

Carmen Johnson

General Mills logo

James S. Henney

Wells Fargo logo

David Kristal

Augeo logo b/w

Tim Larson

Polaris logo