Expert Pitch

In the Journal of Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction and Complaining Behavior, NYIT School of Management Associate Professor Deborah Y. Cohn, an expert on gift buying and its effects on brands, shows that people who give bad gifts often do so intentionally. Gift-buying in the U.S. is a billion-dollar business with implications for brands, retailers, marketers, and consumers. Cohn is available to discuss gift-giving and associated marketing practices.

Prior gift-giving research assumed that bad gifts result from mistakes, but Cohn’s study, using in-depth interviews as well as data available via online message boards, describes five categories of intentional bad gift-giving:

Threats to Self-Concept. These gifts make the recipient feel unacceptable to the giver, such as when a mother-in-law gives a pregnancy test to a childless daughter-in-law. Cohn divides this large category into five subcategories.

To You—For Me. These gifts principally benefit the giver, often a member of the recipient’s household.

Aggression. These gifts are meant to offend and are evidence of a deteriorating relationship.

Ritual and Obligation. Bad gifts are often given out of obligation, such as for group gift-giving occasions when the giver doesn’t know who the recipient will be.

Bragging. Gifts in this category allow the giver to brag or “out gift” another.

The five categories are not mutually exclusive.

According to Cohn, marketers who want to protect their brands from negativity associated with receiving a hurtful gift have two principal options: 1) encourage the purchase of gifts that recipients will appreciate, and 2) create positive experiences out of the gift return process.

Cohn advises marketers to train frontline salespeople to investigate the purchaser’s reasons for buying and the potential recipient’s interests. Retailers can also provide “gift experts” to counsel shoppers on their gift choices.

In addition to preventing intentional bad gifts, marketers should try to create positive experiences to help recipients recover from bad gifts. For example, a promotion ran last year inviting people to bring unwanted gifts to their local Burger Kings. In exchange for their gifts, which were donated to charity, participants received a Whopper.

Overall, marketers who encourage buying gifts that will not be returned, or who assist gift recipients in doing something positive with unwanted gifts, will be the winners in the retail gift-buying season.

About Expert Deborah Y. Cohn, associate professor of marketing and director of professional enrichment on NYIT’s New York campuses

Deborah Y. Cohn’s research topics include diffusion of innovation theory, green marketing strategy, consumer perceptions, and consumer gift-giving. Her research employs a variety of qualitative methods, most notably the new method of netnography. She has published in the Journal of Business ResearchInternational Journal of Business Research, and International Journal of Internet Marketing and Advertising, among others. She also acts as a reviewer for the prestigious Journal of Business Research, and as director of professional enrichment on NYIT’s New York campuses, she provides programming that helps students prepare for their careers.

Cohn earned her Ph.D. in marketing from The City University of New York in 1997 after earning an M.B.A. from NYIT (1989). Her prior academic degrees in business and interdisciplinary studies of religion reflect Cohn’s ability to strengthen existing academic programs and span multiple cultures. Contact Cohn at 516.686.7710, dcohn02@nyit.edu.

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