Customer Engagement: Older Methods Make a Fresh Approach


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By Liza Persson

The American department store chain J.C. Penney is bringing back its’ mail order catalogue to increase its customer engagement (Reuters, 2014). My first thought was that mail order catalogues seem so quaint these days.

My second one was: it’s smart to bring it back. Without it, a swipe of customers would be lost, because for them the purchase is just one step in a much longer process preceding and following that transaction for which having an actual, physical, mail order book is indispensable, a process far more important than the product one ends up buying.

To use the classification scheme of B.J. Babin et al. in the article Work and/or fun: measuring hedonic and utilitarian shopping value (1994); this would qualify as hedonistic shopping. The purpose isn’t rational or utilitarian; shopping is a process providing psychological self -validation, -stimulation, and -comforting. At the same time it differs from a lot of comfort shopping in that the purchase is not impulsive, not a reaction to a situational cue or an immediate internal state of needing a “pick-me-up”. Rather it is more akin to a hobby.

The process is far more important than just the purchase or the product; it may span a considerable amount of time, maybe months, from first imagining making a certain purchase, to the physical extraction of the item from its’ package. During this time, the process provides for stimulation and gratification.

The different phases flow seamlessly into one another with each adding its own “spice” and affirming the individual as being both the his/her agent and the recipient of this pleasure; mentally preparing, considering, and anticipating; meticulously planning and scouting; the physical activity of filling out an order and then eventually opening the delivery.

This literal point of delivery does not end the process. It begins again deep in the psyche of the person where it always begin; not in some objective, external demand requiring or appealing for a purchase. At the center of this instance of self-stimulation and automatic reinforcement, i.e. is a behavior by which a person can produce a favorable outcome without the involvement of another person (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). It is the self-validating experience of it being all about one’s self – in one’s own control, intimate, personal. The intimacy of having your own copy of a catalogue of possibilities in your own hands; the tactile sensation of flicking the pages; the personality of making markings at interesting items; to be enjoyed at your own personal discretion at a time and place of your own choosing. These all make having a physical mail order book impossible to replace by digital content without losing potency.

It is not about what most efficient and rationally fulfills the purpose of selecting something that fills a desire, want, or need. The process is the means to fulfill a purpose; but the purpose is to have experiences that the process is a means to the end of inducing. So, it’s smart of J.C. Penney to not cut costs by excluding this format from the ways they display their assortment of wares to people. They will most likely make more by excepting that publishing cost; especially when other companies stop issuing them.


Cooper, J., Heron, T., & Heward, W. (2007). Applied Behaviour Analysis. New Jersey: Pearson Education.

Babin Barry J, William R. Darden, and Mitch Griffin (1994), “Work and/or Fun; Measuring. Hedonic and Utilitarian Shopping Value,” Journal of Consumer Research, 20 (March). 644- 656

Reuters. (2014). J.C. Penney to bring back a home Catalog: WSJ. Reuters. Retrieved from

Remembering Dr. Stuart Fischoff by Rachel Fischoff


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Stuart Fischoff, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Media Psychologist, American Psychological Association Fellow, writer, award-winning screenwriter, consultant, commentator and maybe the only person on the planet (besides Sondheim) who knew all of the words to all of the songs in Sondheim’s stage musical Company, including the ones cut from the show —

Stuart Fischoff, Stuart has died.

Stuart was born in New York City:  he often tussled with the neighborhood toughs who beat on him because he was born Jewish;  they learned it was in their best interest to curb that behavior.

He loved his parents; his sister hated him, he merely disliked her.  Stuart did not care for high school and was a lousy student, but he loved going to Penn State, loved getting his Masters and Doctorate at The New School for Social Research and became what he wanted to become: an intellectual who used really big words and pronounced them correctly — which is why I married him. I can’t pronounce anything over two syllables.

Breaking ranks with tweedy, clean-fingernail intellectuals, Stuart liked woodworking and built furniture for our home, he also crafted bird homes, squirrel homes, dining room tables for mice and big, outdoor wood sculptures in the mode of “rustic impulsive,” the name he made-up for his artistic style.

And even more rebellious, he played basketball with people two feet taller than he was and thirty years younger.

An early dream of Stuart’s was to be a screenwriter in Hollywood, own a custom convertible and have a woman with long, blonde-streaked hair next to him as he sped Ventura Freeway to the pounding score from Blade Runner.  He made it happen.  We shot out of the tunnel, flew down the freeway to Blade Runner many times.

We never endangered anyone or got a ticket for this reckless tradition because we did it at 2am on weeknights and in those days, there was no one on the L.A. freeways at 2am.

Teaching at California State University, Los Angeles came first in Stuart’s life.  He never took sick days, he never ducked department work or heading committees. We threw cool parties for his lab students.

Stuart twitched when people called him a pioneer in the field of Media Psychology, but what do you call the person who:

  • was the founding President of the American Psychological Association’s Media Psychology Division
  • founded the first Media Psychology Lab  in the world at CSULA
  • who co-founded the first journal, the Journal of Media Psychology
  • started the nation’s first Masters level graduate program in Media Psychology
  • helped develop the first Media Psychology Doctoral Program at the Fielding Institute in Santa Barbara.

Yes, Stuart was a Pioneer in the field of Media Psychology.

He was quoted thousands of times in the Media. And they never stopped asking his for his input:

  • From: XX Sent: Tuesday, August 12, 2014 12:55:21 PM (UTC-06:00) Central Time (US & Canada) To: Fischoff, Stuart Subject: Story for TIME Hi Dr. Fischoff, I’m working on a story for TIME on the public’s reaction to the death of Robin Williams. I’m emailing to see if you have a minute to talk this afternoon. Please let me know. Thanks, Justin

Among the accomplishments he smiled about:

  • CNN commentator after the Oklahoma City Bombing.
  • His Psychology Today interviews with Oliver Stone, John Malkovich and Clint Eastwood.
  • His Psychology Today blog, The Media Zone,
  • His nomination for a Humanitas Prize (90 minute teleplay) and his nomination for a Writers Guild of America award. (Because of the Humanitas nomination, Stuart was invited to meet the Pope.)
  • Stuart was joyed the day a wrongly-convicted black youth was released from prison because of a second trial which featured Stuart’s research. (that same research was recently mentioned in a NPR piece.)
  • Fifteen years on the Judges Panel for the Writers Guild of America Awards
  • A hand-holding, young couple —  he Hispanic, she Black — came to our restaurant table to thank Stuart for his analysis and supportive comments on the Montel Williams Show, a segment that highlighted the prejudice experienced by mixed couples.
  • Stuart flirted with Oprah. On air.  Me watching the TV: “Jeeze, look at that, my husband’s flirting with Oprah, shit, she’s flirting back.
  • A sixth grader interviewed Stuart for her school paper. She asked 37 questions, he answered all of them.

Stuart helped every student who ever contacted him.

His recent smiles included the establishment of The Stuart Fischoff Excellence in Musical Theater Award at SIU and his donation of his library and papers to SIU’s Global Media Research Center.

I can’t list everything Stuart did.  He did so much.

There will be no religious or spiritual services, no funeral or reception and no “Celebration of Life” event.  Stuart didn’t want that.  There will be a salon, a party and a Sunday walk — dates to be announced.

And a Friday Morning Guy breakfast (limited to the regulars) and a poker game (limited to the regulars) — dates to be announced.

Per Stuart’s request, there will be no obituary listed in the primary, local newspaper.  He hated that newspaper for many reasons — among them, that they didn’t bother to spell-check their headlines. A recent example is the 11/9/14 announcement of the winner of the Stuart Fischoff Excellence in Musical Theater Award:

Schulz recieves musical theater award

In these first days, I ask that you do not call or stop by (please use email and snailmail, thank you.). I’m not going to make it through a conversation this soon…don’t expect much out of me for awhile.

And to those generous people who are casserole-prone in bad times,  I thank you for your thoughtfulness, but I eat only organic weeds and seeds.

At the moment when Stuart left us at 2:14AM on November 21st, the music he last heard as I kissed his fingers was

A full-hearted thank you to you for being Stuart’s friends, colleagues, and raucous people who played poker with him.

Instead of flowers and fruit baskets, donations may be made to Stuart’s favorites:

—SIU Department of Theater Undergraduate Scholarship Program

You can make your gift by phone by calling the department directly at 618-453-5741, or you can send your support to the department at the address below. Please make sure to designate the intended fund for your contribution, and make checks payable to the SIU Foundation.

Department of TheaterMail Code 6608 | Southern Illinois University |1100 Lincoln Drive | Comm. 1033 | Carbondale, IL 62901 office: 618-453-5741 | box office: 618-453-6000

—Southern Illinois Symphony Orchestra

—SIU University Museum

—SIU Global Media Research Center

wife to widow,


Remembering September 11th


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On the eve of this September 11th, I can’t help but pause and reflect on the day that changed the course of American history (therein changing world history). I remember many of the details, most with strong emotion attached to them – calling my husband to make sure he was all right, waking my brother to watch the news with me, gathering with my friends and colleagues to continue to collect any and all information we could. There was a near-palpable collective confusion, fear, anger and sadness that pervaded my personal environment, as well as throughout the nation. There are some memories from that day that are crystalline in their clarity. This memory acuity is known as a flashbulb memory – a memory created from intense emotional arousal at the moment of a significant and, often times, traumatic event. Do you have a flashbulb memory of that day? If so, you’re not alone. Continue reading

McLuhan and the Notion of Retribalization


Recently I was introduced to the first season of the A&E television show, Longmire, which is currently streaming on Netflix. I have only had the privilege of watching several episodes (I’m afraid my schedule just doesn’t allow for regular television viewing) and what I’ve seen so far is quite compelling. Alas- although the show is excellent, I’m not writing today to provide a program review but rather to revisit a segment I wrote and presented at the Western States Humanities Conference last year.

One of the more notable elements of the show is the immersive depiction of modern American Indians (the show is specific to the Cheyenne). This leads me to consider media’s influence portraying marginalized, indigenous communities. Interestingly, Marshall McLuhan, the visionary educator of communications, media, technology and humanity provided a powerful framework in which to analyze media. He wrote on media’s influence in constructing a “global village” and of the powerful process of “retribalization.” This post briefly defines McLuhan’s retribalization, while posing additional questions of the concept’s application. Continue reading

McLuhan and the Global Membrane of Communication


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“We remake the world through our technologies, and these in turn remake and extend us, in ever spiraling lattices of complexity. McLuhan uncannily foresaw the future, where electronic technology would shape and expand cultures and societies into a global membrane of communications.” – B.W. Powe, York University



Media Psychology: What IS engagement?



Media Psychology: What is engagement?What is engagement? Despite the fact that I work with clients everyday to track ENGAGEMENT metrics, I haven’t taken the time to reflect on a working definition. There appears to be two distinct camps approaching this question; 1) psychologists and 2) marketing professionals and academics. As a disclaimer, I have worked for almost a decade as a digital marketing strategist and therefore the latter approach to defining engagement is more familiar to me.

These dual approaches are outlined by Gambetti, R. and Graffigna, G. in their work entitled ‘The Concept of Engagement’. Psychologists have defined engagement as a ‘sort of ongoing emotional, cognitive and behavioral activation state in individuals’, whereas advertising professionals ‘see it as the turning on of a prospect to a brand idea enhanced by the surrounding context’ (Gambetti, R. and Graffigna, G., 2010, p. 4). Their work goes further to uncover contradictory definitions for the term ‘engagement’ and confusion around its actual meaning (Gambetti, R. and Graffigna, G., 2010). Continue reading

Does Facebook Make You Feel Like a Guinea Pig?


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Guest post by Liza Persson.

Recently Facebook conducted an experimental study exploring online “emotional contagion”; the emotional bias or “tone” (negative or positive) of the content of what people see online and whether it affects the emotional “tone” of content they create online afterwards. Emotional bias or tone of content was inferred using an algorithm developed for this purpose, which in itself is a good tool for analyzing content (Kramer, Guillory, & Hancock, 2014).

What Facebook was doing was not psychology or science in any other area though. Facebook violated procedures and principles in regard to conducting research scientifically. It didn’t live up to the ethical safeguards of protecting those participating in the study, although it did get consent via its terms and services policy which is probably sufficient enough to protect itself in the case of lawsuits (American Psychological Association, 2010). The goal of raising ad revenue is not the rationale for scientific research; serving the good of humanity is (Riley, 2014; Nisen, 2014).
Continue reading

Personalized Pricing Brought to You by the Internet and now Facebook!


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Discrimination deemed legal, product pricing based on data collected about an individual is slowly coming to the public’s attention, although the practice came into being long before the Internet did. It appears that corporations are regularly using what they know about their customers – their income and personal purchasing habits – to make adjustments to the price points for items that appear on computer screens (Fertik, 2013; Shpanya, 2013; Valentino-DeVries, Singer-Vine, & Soltani, 2012). In effect, what you are charged for an item may not be what your friend sitting next to you is being asked to pay while shopping at the same online store for the same product. According to an unidentified programmer most of these alterations are based on your location, browsing history and your preferred operating system (Shpanya, 2013). Computer cookies pick up this information and transmit them to the store fronts (Potter, 2013). So what’s new? Do you use Facebook? If so, your preferences are about to be sold globally to enhance your mobile advertising experience using the Facebook Audience Network (FAN) (Beer, 2014).
Continue reading

Beyond Advertisement: RePinning for Safety


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As the newest team member that contributes to this blog, I join with a slightly different background. Before working with media psychology, specifically, I worked with crime victims. Needless to say, headlines like this one –

“Police reunite stolen items with owners using Pinterest”

– definitely catch my eye. The advent of law enforcement using social networking sites as an extension of enforcement efforts is not necessarily new. The emergence of Pinterest as a key player in that paradigm, however, is fascinating, to be sure.

Continue reading


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