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An End To Snobbery? Ordinary People Have Surprisingly ‘Good Taste’

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Previous studies have shown that there is a very weak correlation between experts’ judgments of cultural entertainment, such as movies, and popular judgments. These findings have been taken to mean that ordinary people don’t have “good taste.”

However, a new study by researchers at Columbia University and Boccini University, Italy, argues that when controlling for marketing campaigns, regular consumers show more “good taste” than previously thought. Or, perhaps the nouveau riche are judging as poorly as they did when they were still regular consumers, and among the latter there are more victims of “new poverty”?

The most common working definition of “good taste” utilizes the judgment of experts, who have honed their understanding of a particular cultural field through a long period of training. Empirical studies using this standard of taste have tended to find statistically significant but rather weak associations between expert judgment and market success with a mass audience.

However, instead of looking at box-office success, which can be contaminated by marketing campaigns as well as sharp drop-offs after opening weekend, Morris B. Holbrook (Columbia University) and Michela Addis (Bocconi University, Italy) analyze reviews of movies done by non-professionals, including those on the popular Web site They find a close association between expert opinion and the opinions of ordinary people.

“When using sequential and independent measures and when controlling for marketing-related aspects of a film’s commercial impact — our findings support the conclusion that ordinary consumers show “good taste” to a degree not hitherto recognized,” the authors write. With proper controls for the contaminating influences of market success they find that “Films of the sort that win favorable evaluations of excellence from expert reviewers also tend to win approval from ordinary consumers and that films of the kind that ordinary consumers consider excellent tend to elicit liking and word-of-mouth or click-of-mouse recommendations.”

JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH, Inc. · Vol. 34 · October 2007
Taste versus the Market: An Extension of Research on the Consumption of Popular Culture


Previous studies of cultural consumption have found a significant but weak relationship between expert judgment (EJ) and popular appeal (PA) and have suggested that this “little taste” phenomenon reflects a mediating role played by ordinary evaluation (OE) in diluting the association between EJ and PA. However, various weaknesses in this work have involved problems with sequential timing, nonindependence of measurements, and contamination by market(ing)-related influences. The present investigation of new data on motion pictures addresses these concerns to show that, when controlling for market success, consumers display aspects of “good taste” via indirect links from EJ to OE to PA.


* Morris B. Holbrook is the W. T. Dillard Professor of Marketing, Graduate School of Business, 504 Uris Hall, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027 ( Michela Addis is associate professor, Management and Law Department, University of Rome III, Rome, 00145, Italy ( The authors gratefully acknowledge the support of the Columbia Business School’s Faculty Research Fund and of Bocconi University, as well as the helpful comments on previous drafts by the reviewers, associate editor, and editor.

Written by huehueteotl

August 30, 2007 at 12:16 pm

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