Moralizing the market

Elif Izberk-BilginNestle is synonymous with chocolate candy bars and bottled water.

Kentucky Fried Chicken is known for its 11 herbs and spices.

And dentists often recommend Colgate to their patients to ensure a healthy smile.

These brands are household names in Western society, but attract quite a bit of criticism in some Muslim countries with Islamist sentiments, where they are perceived as “infidels.”

It appears that Islamists, those Muslims who view Islam not just as a matter of faith, but also as a political and social model, consider them threats to Muslim identity.

Elif Izberk-Bilgin wanted to learn more, so the University of Michigan-Dearborn associate professor of marketing focused her research on why Islamists boycott certain global brands associated with Western influence and politics.

“How do global brands like Coca-Cola and Disney get tangled up in a complex web of sociopolitical dynamics and become targets of religious-charged consumer activism?”

What she discovered is that religion and ideology play a prominent role in shaping consumerism. As part of her research, Izberk-Bilgin returned to her native country of Turkey to interview low-income Muslim consumers. She accompanied them on shopping trips and analyzed their perceptions of global brands.

“By boycotting these global brands, they’re forming what I call a ‘consumer jihad,’” said Izberk-Bilgin, who teaches in UM-Dearborn’s College of Business (COB). “In a sense, they’re trying to tame society’s capitalist values.”

Izberk-Bilgin concluded that Islamists engage in consumer activism as a way to “moralize the market,” while embracing products that reflect their values, like alcohol-free perfumes and gender-segregated resorts.

She included the research findings in her latest article, “Infidel Brands: Unveiling Alternative Meanings of Global Brands at the Nexus of Globalization, Consumer Culture, and Islamism,” which was published in the Journal of Consumer Research. The paper earned Izberk-Bilgin the Sidney J. Levy Award, which recognizes the best consumer culture theory-oriented dissertation article.

“College of Business faculty not only are devoted to student success, but they continue to pursue their passion for research outside the classroom,” said COB Dean Raju Balakrishnan. “Elif’s work is a perfect example of the innovative and relevant research on which the College of Business prides itself. It’s therefore no surprise that more than 70 percent of our faculty research has been published in journals ranked very highly by numerous ranking studies.”

Izberk-Bilgin, who joined UM-Dearborn in 2006, plans to continue her research involving consumer activism, Islamic marketing and branding, as well as sociological aspects of consumerism in emerging countries.

Her research has generated international attention and been featured in numerous publications, including TIME.

Before joining UM-Dearborn’s faculty, Izberk-Bilgin taught at University of Illinois-Chicago, where she earned a master’s degree in business administration with specializations in marketing and international business, as well as a doctoral degree in marketing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *