Trendsetting Consumers

Trendsetting Consumers: How has the influence of trendsetting consumer’s change during three different eras?

Project Team

Micah Hasegawa, Eugene Pascual, Saghar Tamaddon, Carlos Oroza



Based on the trendsetters of the 1800s, one might expect that the trendsetting customer of the 1990s is simply an extension of the trendsetting customer of the 1800s. By claiming such a statement, people who are rich and in the public spotlight are the modern day equivalent of the enviable aristocracy of the 1800s. However, a lot has changed in the dynamics of society between these two eras. Writers like Malcolm Gladwell, author of the “Tipping Point”, make the case that the 1990s was a time in which trends “trickled up” from the masses rather than a trickled down from the aristocracy. Gladwell argues that in the 1990s, trends evolve unpredictably from small groups of forward thinkers before they diffuse into society at large. He cites a specific instance: the unforeseen national craze for “hush puppies” as proof that companies do not control trends; that the best a company can do is latch on to a trend that is evolving.

So where does that leave us in terms of the trend setting customer? Clearly, the true trendsetters are impervious to advertising. For them, something being popular is, by definition, uncool. And, because they pop up in different industries and social settings all over the country, it is hard to pinpoint any specific group. Business advice books from the early 1990s seem to accept that it is difficult to advertise to trendsetters but claim that trendsetter share common values.  Companies can make products that appeal to the values and thus create a product that will advertise itself through the viral social network. We analyzed specific works that lead us to the understanding of marketing strategies that have had a major effort on the public.

The public normally considers sophisticated marketing and consumer production modern phenomena. Surprisingly, while conducting this research, we realized that the origin of these concepts lied in 18th century among savvy entrepreneurs like Josiah Wedgewood. These entrepreneurs exploited modern marketing aspects such as market segmentation and fashion superiority to sell their products and spread their own fashions into the wider society. They knew that fashion was superior to merit and employed this notion to serve a variety of customers. The 18th century was an era that people begin enjoying new experiences such as shopping. The social structure of the time led them to follow the Royals who were at the apex of the social pyramid as fashion legislators. It was the first age that the middle and lower classes could afford buying luxury items. Industrialization and colonialism helped provide goods at lower prices. Businessmen like Josiah Wedgewood and Mathew Boulton exploited advertising techniques like ‘instant status’ to encourage people to buy their products and upgrade their social placement. The way people shopped gradually has changed since they followed the fashion of buying luxury item from shops and showrooms rather than buying only daily needs in open farmers’ markets.
The most important topic when researching for present marketing trends was the trendsetting consumers and influencers. We wanted to also find the ways in which these individuals operated in the public sphere, either through word-of-mouth or the internet, and how much influence they had on the greater population of American consumers. For the present market, we found experts on social media networks such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and blogs whose opinions affect many subscribers. We would also like to follow up this research with further questions regarding easily influenced individuals, as seen in the Watts and Dodds paper. We would look at how these easily influenced individuals operate within their networks to figure out the new changing trends in public formation.


Bichler, Martin and Christine Kiss. “Identification of influencers – Measuring influence in customer networks.” Decision Support Systems Vol. 46, Issue 1 (2008): pp. 233-253. Business Source Complete. Web.

This paper sought to formulate measurements to identify influencers and spread viral marketing campaigns in a customer network. Their findings suggested, through computational experiments and artificial and on real networks, central customers – consumers with presumably stronger influence on other network members – gave message diffusion a significant lift. It also states that if using viral marketing, it is best to center your focus on influencers because of their “gained” authority that allows messages to be conveyed quickly and reliably through word-of-mouth techniques. This source is significant to our research because it supports the idea that trendsetters/influencers still exist today, and have a considerable amount of marketing persuasion.

Cooley, Charles Horton. Social Process. New York: Charles Scribner’s Son, 1918. Print.
This book I found to be interesting as it was written in the early 1900’s it promotes unity among all and not individualism. It claims that individualism is what causes envy among one another and that human may never progress if we are constantly trying to beat one another and compete against one another. Contrary to the ideals of Wedgwood this book promoted that all people should be the same so that we are one cohesive community.  “Let us hope that no theories may deter us from building up a national ideal of which love, beauty, and religion can be part. We need a collective life which, without repressing individuality, personal or local…A deeper community spirit is needed throughout our society. (Cooley, 419)”

Dodds, Peter Sheridan and Duncan J. Watts. “Influentials, Networks, and Public Opinion Formation.” The Journal of Consumer Research Vol. 34, No. 4 (2007): pp. 441-458. JSTOR. Web.

This paper suggests a slightly opposite value of influencers by stating that a critical mass of easily influenced individuals are important in the large cascade of influence, not the influentials. Their studies show that most social change is driven not by influentials but by easily influenced individuals influencing other easily influenced individuals. They also introduce the hyperinfluentials, which include media personalities who “have far greater visibility than ordinary individuals but whose influence is transmitted indirectly via media of various forms. This paper is significant to our research because is sheds light on another group that influences consumer trends. The paper does not totally discredit the phenomenon and power of influencers, but suggests that easily influenced individuals have considerable power in public opinion formation. There are two different type of trendsetters: the traditional 10% of the population, and the critical mass of easily influenced individuals.

Fullerton, Ronald A.. “How Modern is Modern Marketing? Marketing’s Evolution and the Myth of the “Production Era”.” The Journal of Marketing 52, no. 1 (1998): 108-125.

Fullerton’s article shows the origins of the production era and sophisticated marketing notions and whether they are really modern and contemporary phenomena. According to him, the public belief has been that serious marketing is unnecessary under the simple economic conditions which prevailed until the twentieth century. But he claims that the marketing breakthrough came with the start of the industrial revolution in Britain in the 1770s and it referred to McKendrick and Plumb’s book that shows the revolution succeeded because production and marketing worked together. Josiah Wedgewood is considered a pioneer of modern marketing in that era.

Gladwell, Malcom. “The Coolhunt” The New Yorker March 17, 1997.

This is one of the articles that Malcom Gladwell integrated into his book “The Tipping Point.” The article introduces the idea (based on research in “diffusion studies”) that trends evolve from small groups at the fringes of society and explains how companies pay “coolhunters” large sums of money to try to find emerging trends. Once the trends are found, companies can intercept them by making products that are in line with the current standards of cool. Furthermore, coolhunters constantly are interacting with customers to determine if companies are making “cool” products. The story includes some historical examples such as the Hush Puppies craze of the mid nineties—a trend that struck the industry by surprise and cemented the idea that advertisers do not control cool.

Hebdige, D., (1988), Hiding in the Light: On Images and Things. London: Routledge.
This book was a great source to review it explores the various ideas of the mass dominant twentieth-century thought. It explores the rise of popular culture and mass access to information. “The word ‘glamour’ means attractiveness. ‘Glamorous’ also means enchanting, bewitching. (Lee, 184) The glamorous are able to cast a spell over others, and by keeping this in mind we are challenged as consumers: How is one to be the focus of others’ gaze and simultaneously protect oneself from any negative assessment? This was a great question of consider because we as the mass spend out time worrying about others that are in the public eye however we don’t consider what is going on within our own aura of being.  “Reality is as thin as the paper it is printed on. There is nothing underneath or behind the image and hence there is no hidden truth to be revealed. (Hebdige, 1988: 159)”

Mackiewicz, Susan. “Review of The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-Century England by Neil McKendrick; John Brewer ; J. H. Plumb.” Winterthur Portfolio 18, no. 4 (1983): 303-305.

This is a review of McKendrick’s book which addresses the transformations that occurred in 18th century in England that during which luxuries of the royal and the rich became popular in the middle and lower classes. Mackiewicz’s review argues the book from two viewpoints: “Commercialization and the Economy” and “Commercialization and Politics”. Mackiewicz summarizes that entrepreneurs like Wedgewood and Boulton employed social emulation of aristocracy to secure their market shares. She mentions that some selling techniques like product differentiation, market segmentation, and trademark image were employed in this era. Businessmen like Wedgewood and Boulton knew that if a product was made fashionable at the apex of the social pyramid, it would quickly spread through the society and lower levels of the pyramid.

Olsen,Kirstin. Daily life in 18th-century England. First ed. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1999.
This is a marvelous book about an age during which people could afford “marvelous stuff”. It explores the daily life of the British people in 18th century, from politics, economy, and law, to housing, religion, and entertainment. In the economics section, Olsen talks about different daily activities like shopping. 18th century was the first time Britain came to ‘experience’ shops rather than daily/weekly farmers markets, and the middle class started shopping for luxury “stuff”. People learned that they can buy their needs from shops at anytime rather than periodically from wholesale shopping. Olsen calls this era the first era of marvelous products, caused mainly by colonialism and industrialism as well as savvy shopkeepers. Entrepreneurs like Wedgewood exploited the tactic of “instant status” to encourage the middle class to buy luxury products. Olsen mentions that this is an era during which the fashion for acquiring piles and piles of stuff emerged and gradually changed the way the nation did its shopping.

Zandl, Irma. “Targeting the trendsetting consumer” Homewood, Ill.: Business One Irwin, c1992.
This is essentially a business manual from 1992. Based on extensive research in focus groups, the author claims to understand the general characteristics of the trendsetting or “Alpha” consumers and offers advice on how to market to them. The book begins with a profile of a few trendsetters—people out of the public eye who are generally well educated, well traveled, and appreciate quality and individuality. Based on these shared characteristics, the book offers advice for making products that appeal to trendsetters. It also includes many examples of products that have successfully appealed to the trendsetting consumer (such as Levis Jeans, the Masda Miata, and Ben and Jerrys).

Bichler, Martin and Christine Kiss. “Identification of influencers – Measuring influence in customer networks.” Decision Support Systems Vol. 46, Issue 1 (2008): pp. 233-253. Business Source Complete. Web. 1 August 2009. <>

Dodds, Peter Sheridan and Duncan J. Watts. “Influentials, Networks, and Public Opinion Formation.” The Journal of Consumer Research Vol. 34, No. 4 (2007): pp. 441-458. JSTOR. Web. 1 August 2009. <>

Furness, Victoria. Revolution (2008): pp. 46-47. Business Source Complete. Web. 1 August 2009. <>

Keller, Ed and Jon Berry. The Influentials. New York: The Free Press, 2002. Web. <>

Lee Nick, Munro Rolland. The Consumption of the Mass. Oxford and Malden: Blackwell Publishers, 2001. Print.

Nutley, Michael. Marketing Week Vol. 32 Issue 25 (2009): pp. 34. Business Source Complete. Web. 31 July 2009. <>

Shah, Raoul. Brand Strategy. Issue 228 (2008/2009): pp. 44-45. Business Source Complete. Web 1 August 2009. <>

Ronald Savitt. “Historical Research in Marketing.” The Journal of American Marketing Association Vol. 44, No. 4 (Autumn 1980): pp. 52-58. JSTOR. Web. 27 July 2009. <>

John Styles. “Design for Large-Scale Production in Eighteenth-Century Britain.” The Journal of Oxford Art Vol. 11, No. 2 (1988): pp. 10-16. JSTOR. Web. 29 July 2009. <>

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