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Commodifying love: value conflict in online dating

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We analyse 21 in-depth interviews with online dating service users to understand how consumerist market logic transforms human relationships, challenging the view in consumer research of market capitalism as empowering consumers by showing how neoliberal market ideology can hinder value creation in consumption experiences. Second, we develop the notion of value conflict as an active antecedent of value co-destruction in service settings that generates multiple forms of uncertainty, contributing to negative experiential outcomes. We explain the strategies consumers apply in pursuing romantic love in a shared marketplace while preserving their freedom of choice. Finally, we extend research on multiple value regimes in shared contexts by illustrating what happens when conflicting notions of value are not reconciled between actors.
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Commodifying love: value conflict in online dating
Alisa Minina, Stefania Masè & Jamie Smith
To cite this article: Alisa Minina, Stefania Masè & Jamie Smith (2022): Commodifying love: value
conflict in online dating, Journal of Marketing Management, DOI: 10.1080/0267257X.2022.2033815
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Published online: 07 Feb 2022.
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Commodifying love: value conict in online dating
Alisa Minina
, Stefania Masè
and Jamie Smith
Department of Marketing and Communication, Ipag Business School, Paris, France;
Department, ISC Paris, Paris, France
We analyse 21 in-depth interviews with online dating service users
to understand how consumerist market logic transforms human
relationships, challenging the view in consumer research of market
capitalism as empowering consumers by showing how neoliberal
market ideology can hinder value creation in consumption experi-
ences. Second, we develop the notion of value conict as an active
antecedent of value co-destruction in service settings that gener-
ates multiple forms of uncertainty, contributing to negative experi-
ential outcomes. We explain the strategies consumers apply in
pursuing romantic love in a shared marketplace while preserving
their freedom of choice. Finally, we extend research on multiple
value regimes in shared contexts by illustrating what happens
when conicting notions of value are not reconciled between
Received 10 November 2020
Accepted 26 November 2021
Value co-destruction; digital
consumption; online service
consumption; consumer
culture theory; value conflict
Freedom, though it has brought him [modern man] independence and rationality, has made
him isolated and, thereby, anxious and powerless (Fromm, 1969, p. viii)
As stated in the above quotation, freedom can be a powerful agent in transforming the
human condition. Freedom of choice can be seen as an empowering instrument of
consumer self-expression, fantasies, feelings and fun (Firat & Venkatesh, 1995; Holbrook
& Hirschman, 1982), or as an oppressive tool of market capitalism that lures individuals
into a trap of ‘endless and apparently inexhaustible wants’ (Campbell, 1997, p. 166; see,
also, 2005; Cronin & Fitchett, 2021; Illouz, 2007). This duality of empowering and con-
straining aspects of market freedom raises the question of whether the market ideology of
endless consumer choice is applicable to all aspects of human existence.
Consumer researchers have challenged the neoliberal premise of accepting unregu-
lated consumerism as a magic panacea for all societal troubles (Cronin & Fitchett, 2021;
Fitchett et al., 2014; Lambert, 2019). According to Illouz (2007, 2019) and Tadajewski
(2018), consumption is not only a liberatory pleasure, it poses the danger of becoming an
end in itself, distracting consumers from political and economic inequalities. As argued by
Illouz (1997, 2007, 2019), over the course of the last century the realm of human
CONTACT Alisa Minina Department of Marketing and Communication, Ipag Business School,
184 Bd Saint Germain, Paris 75006, France
© 2022 Westburn Publishers Ltd.
relationships has been inltrated by market ideology: the most representative example
happens to be the romantic love, where it has become dicult to disentangle romantic
feelings from consumer experiences. Emotional capitalism, as dened by Illouz (1997,
2007), expresses this interdependence between emotion and economic relationships in
that they do not stand alone but rather shape and inuence each other. In her analysis of
emotional capitalism as a cultural frame, Illouz argues that romantic relationships in
contemporary society follow the logic of economic exchange, while mass communication
and the Internet serve as active agents introducing the principles of mass consumption to
the realm of romantic encounters, turning love into an economic transaction. This shift
towards a market of love marks a signicant historical and sociological movement.
Theorising on this disentanglement, sociologists have compared human relationships to
market exchange (Bauman, 2003; Illouz, 2007, 2019).
In line with the call to resist the domination of market ideology over all spheres of
social action (Illouz, 2007; Lambert, 2019; Saren, 2015), we adopt a critical perspective,
investigating the negative impact of market ideology on value creation through the
theoretical lens of emotional capitalism. We build upon insights from Consumer Culture
Theory (CCT) and Service-Dominant Logic (SDL) in our investigation of consumer experi-
ences in the service domain, focusing on the role of value conict in perpetuating – and in
being inuenced by – the commodication of love in online dating. We identify and
dene dimensions constituting the recently introduced concept of value conict (Minina
et al., 2020) describing a possibility of misalignment of elements and practices in the
interactive value formation space which conduce into value co-destruction, or ‘the
diminishment of value during interactions between actors’ (Echeverri & Skålén, 2021,
p. 228). In this space between value co-creation and value co-destruction, actors are active
in a service ecosystem where they seek a beloved partner while experiencing fun and
freedom at the same time, rationalising and nding strategies to resolve the conicting
values in their personal and interpersonal relationships.
While our work is grounded in the CCT research tradition, allowing us to decipher the
way personal judgements and preferences are negotiated within the context of social
norms, the SDL perspective gives a narrow denition of the context of analysis through
the concept of service ecosystem (Akaka et al., 2015). This central notion in SDL, dened as
a ‘relatively self-contained self-adjusting system of resource integrating actors connected
by shared institutional logics and mutual value creation through service exchange’ (Lusch
& Vargo, 2014, p. 24), highlights the contextual nature of value. It is exactly on this point
that CCT and SDL can be observed as ‘natural allies’ (Arnould, 2007, p. 57), the rst oering
a valuable lens to profoundly investigate how consumers perform in those contexts and
how they use and co-create value in the service ecosystem. The deeper analysis of CCT
into consumption meaning and practices can oer SDL a valuable perspective to deepen
and clarify some of the fundamentals of this approach. On the other hand, CCT can
expand its borders by incorporating the strategic-oriented analysis of SDL.
In our investigation we address the following research question: How does value
conict contribute to the commodication of love? Building upon extant CCT research
on multiple value regimes dened as ‘dierent conceptions of what is valuable and of
what types of value outcomes should be prioritized’ (Scaraboto & Figueiredo, 2017,
p. 180), we dene value conict as a struggle between competing value regimes in
a shared marketplace that can lead to ambivalent meanings in the consumption process.
We draw upon 21 semi-structured depth interviews with online date seekers, engaging
with consumers’ narratives of their online dating experiences. In our analysis we follow
the social constructionist approach (Berger & Luckmann, 1967), broadening our unit of
analysis beyond consumer subjectivity (Askegaard & Linnet, 2011; Fitchett et al., 2014;
Jones et al., 2020; Penaloza & Venkatesh, 2006). We examine the actors within the service
ecosystem, subject-subject relationships, habitualised actions, and consumer meanings in
the marketplace of love – online dating services. Specically, we document the conicts
that arise when market ideology pushes consumers to treat each other like market
objects, conicting with social and cultural values of love, altruism, and reciprocity,
which traditionally provided a normative framework for human relationships (Illouz,
In our discussion of value creation and destruction in online dating, we respond to the
call for CCT researchers to consider the ‘intersections of market-based progress with
aspects of contemporary life beyond consumption’ (Cronin & Fitchett, 2021, p. 18) and
to develop new reexive approaches that problematise the origins of existing preconcep-
tions (Rokka, 2021). We analyse the micro-social experiences of online date seekers within
the normative framework of the ideology of emotional capitalism (Illouz, 2007), high-
lighting the macro-forces that provide the normative structure of consumer meanings
and condition consumption practices in relational service contexts (Askegaard & Linnet,
2011). This analysis helps us understand the sources of the rules, norms, and values
negotiated by consumers and the struggles consumers go through in their attempts to
reconcile conicting notions of value.
With this work we aim to advance the critical understanding of consumer agency and
the role of the market as a resource structuring social relationships (Arnould et al., 2019;
Arnould & Thompson, 2015; Rome & Lambert, 2020). We problematise the agentic view of
consumers as empowered market actors and illustrate how neoliberal market ideology
can be detrimental to value creation.
On a more specic level, we rst contribute to CCT research on multiple value
regimes in shared contexts by illustrating the multiple elds of conict that arise
when competing notions of value are not reconciled by fostering value hybridity –
that is, a mixture of multiple value regimes facilitated by the institutional actors
(Figueiredo & Scaraboto, 2016; Scaraboto & Figueiredo, 2017; Türe, 2014). Second, this
work advances the current understanding of interactive value formation (Cabiddu et al.,
2019; Echeverri & Skålen, 2011; Echeverri & Skålén, 2021; Plé & Cáceres, 2010; Smith,
2013) by dening the notion of value conict as an antecedent of value co-destruction
in service settings. Value conict contributes to the misalignment of procedures, under-
standings and engagements that constitute practices in interactive value formation,
resulting in value co-destruction (Echeverri & Skålén, 2021). Third, we further the current
understanding of value co-destruction as a result of misuse of resources in interactions
between a customer and a rm (Plé & Cáceres, 2010) to include instances of resource
misuse in customers’ interacting with each other. Finally, we build upon critical CCT
accounts of value creation (Hietanen et al., 2017; Karababa & Kjeldgaard, 2014; Penaloza
& Mish, 2011; Venkatesh & Peñaloza, 2014) to problematise the neoliberal normalisation
of use-value in SDL research. Specically, we show how macro-level forces of market
ideology play out in a context where dierent parties have dierent conceptions of
value (Gummerus, 2013).
In the following sections we provide the conceptual foundations for our analysis by
introducing the main tenets of the theory of emotional capitalism and by putting forward
the view of markets as complex constructs involving many dierent actors and spheres of
interaction. We then provide an overview of our research context and methodology. Next,
we present our empirical analysis, developing the notion of value conict, describing the
mechanisms of value co-destruction that it generates, and discussing its role in the
commodication of love. Finally, we discuss the importance of our ndings for under-
standing consumer agency, market ideology, and value creation in consumer research.
Theoretical framework: emotional capitalism
In the context of this study, capitalism is conceptualised as a cultural frame that shapes
and denes norms, values, and practices structuring social life (Illouz, 1997, 2007). The
intermingling of capitalism and emotions is not an obvious one. Emotion, such as love, is
often considered spontaneous and irrational, whereas the capitalist mindset is based on
self-interested transactions. The work of sociologist Eva Illouz elucidates this apparent
oxymoron. Together with art and religion, love is a transcendental feeling impossible to
control or even understand by rationality (Illouz, 1997). Our study focuses on romantic
love, characterised by passion and sexual desire. While romantic love involves eeting
feelings, it is also a practice modelled by the cultural frame of capitalism, that is,
individuality, freedom, and self-armation. The initial stage of romantic love, a peculiar
moment when romantic emotions are at their apex, has been redened by web dating
apps, threatening the sense of irreplaceability of the beloved person and aecting the
perception of potential lovers as more like commodities.
In the context of this work, we analyse individual consumer experiences through the
lens of the ideology of emotional capitalism (Illouz, 2007, 2019), which provides the
normative framework for consumer meanings and consumption practices. Specically, it
allows us to connect micro-social consumer experiences with macro-historical processes
by highlighting the ‘context of context’ (Askegaard & Linnet, 2011, p. 381) that conditions
the consumption practices and phenomena within which consumers operate in the
marketplace, such as the commodication of love in online dating. The theory of emo-
tional capitalism (Illouz, 1997, 2007) thus becomes a source of critical contextual knowl-
edge (Rokka, 2021) through which we can recognise the forces that condition the
meanings that consumers take for granted.
In modern societies the bond between economic rationality and romantic love was
normally accepted and acceptable, marriages were considered a good investment, and
dating activities were organised and managed by families. Romantic love started to be
thought of as a form of self-expression in post-modern societies, termed dating and
increasingly associated with leisure activities (Illouz, 1997). The real starting point for
this transformation was the emergence of psychoanalysis at the beginning of the 1900s
in the US when emotions came to occupy the fulcrum of cultural exchange, coinciding
with the spread of techniques and professional advice to better understand and so
manage emotional life (Illouz, 2007). This was especially true for dating, whose absorp-
tion into the sphere of mass communication and leisure opened the way to a series of
consumption practices concerning how to correctly date, dress, and behave (Illouz,
2007; Patterson & Hodgson, 2006). The communication of these emotions via
advertising and other media opened up a dierent view of romantic life, also impacting
interpersonal communications via the rational understanding of one’s own emotional
life. This passage from collective to personal choice, from the private to the public
sphere of action, led romantic love to be idealised, rather than associated with real
relationships (Illouz, 2007).
This capitalistic rush into emotions may have expanded self-knowledge while diluting
Weber has poignantly conveyed the fact that the gains of modernity are also losses,
and that sociology cannot help adjudicate between conicting values. Modernity has
brought irretrievable losses in the meaning of love, most notably the connection
between love and moral virtue and the dissolution of the commitment and stability
of pre-modern love, but these losses are the price we pay for greater control over our
romantic lives, greater self-knowledge, and equality between the sexes. (Illouz, 1997,
p. 296)
The inherent conict between hedonistic consumption as a symbolic ritual of ‘love’
and the sphere of production is a central theme in discussing emotional capitalism
(Illouz, 1997). The modern aspirational romantic ‘utopia’ is intertwined with consumer
capitalism. On the one hand, it is driving it, and on the other creating conict and
struggle. Illouz (2019) expressed this conict as frame uncertainty, or ‘the diculty
actors encounter in identifying others’ courses of action, and the associated values’
driving their behaviour (Illouz, 2019, p. 77). According to Illouz, frame uncertainty can
manifest in multiple forms such as existential, emotional, normative, procedural, role, or
evaluative, depending on which area of interaction this uncertainty manifests in. This
lack of understanding results in non-commitment, non-choice, and quick, easy endings –
behaviours which Illouz (2019) terms ‘unloving’ and sees as profoundly impacting
In the digital dating service ecosystem, people are consumers and products at the
same time (Hirschman, 1987). The large oer of easily accessible potential romantic
lovers proposed (and pushed) by online dating services exerts a strain on the process
of nding an irreplaceable romantic partner. Online dating turns the individual self
into a public commodity available for consumption by others (Illouz, 2007, 2019).
Building upon literature that views value destruction as a misuse of resources
(Grönroos, 2011; Plé & Cáceres, 2010; Smith, 2013), here we adopt Illouz’s (2019)
conceptualisation of frame uncertainty. This allows us to shift the focus from individual
consumer subjects to the normative structure of meanings that arise in their interac-
tions with each other.
We argue that conicting values destabilise interactions between market actors
through the breakdown of certainty mechanisms, while the neoliberal market ideology
of online dating transforms individual selves into commodities, fostering the devalua-
tion and objectication of human subjects in a consumption community. This objecti-
cation of humans, combined with the decontextualising inuence of the Internet
disembedding actors from their life worlds (Gummerus, 2013) and the lack of sanc-
tions for unethical behaviours, possesses a real threat for actors in the service
The next section is dedicated to the description of the multidimensionality of value as
the source of possible conicts between actors.
Multiple understandings of value
Despite multiple attempts by marketing scholars to dene value, it continues to be an
elusive concept. This is partly due to the inherent malleability of the notion of value, as it
can take many forms when applied to dierent objects of evaluation (Karababa &
Kjeldgaard, 2014; Venkatesh & Peñaloza, 2014), as well as its subjective, interactive,
experiential, and context-dependent nature (Collins et al., 2014; Holbrook, 1999; Vargo
& Lusch, 2008a). Utilitarian subjective notions of value such as value in use (Grönroos,
2011; Plé & Cáceres, 2010), situational value (Bardhi et al., 2012), and value in disposition
(Türe, 2014) coexist with collective value frames such as social, normative, cultural, and
symbolic values (Karababa & Kjeldgaard, 2014; Scaraboto & Figueiredo, 2017; Venkatesh &
Peñaloza, 2014). Not only does academic research understand value in dierent ways, but
also dierent actors in a shared social setting can have dierent perceptions of what value
is (Gummerus, 2013).
With the aim of bringing coherence to the complexity of the concept of value,
Holbrook (1999) outlined the three key dimensions of customer value: extrinsic versus
intrinsic value, self-oriented versus other-oriented value, and nally, active versus reactive
value. The extrinsic-intrinsic dimensionalisation dierentiates the utilitarian means-end
approach to consumption experience from the appreciation of consumption as an end in
itself. The self-oriented value is emphasised when the subject prizes consumption objects
selshly. When other-oriented value becomes a priority, the consumer looks beyond the
self, appreciating the benecial eects that the product or its consumption has on others.
Finally, the active versus reactive value dimension reects whether things are done by
a consumer to a product, or whether the value results from things done by a product or
service to or with the consumer. In our current investigation we apply this dimensiona-
lisation to outline the main elds of conicting notions of value in consumption experi-
ences, as well as to explain how the misalignment of value notions within a consumer or
between consuming subjects contributes to value co-destruction in online dating.
The dimensions proposed by Holbrook (1999) deal with the contextual nature of value,
which represents one of the meeting points between SDL and CCT, two areas of studies
with dierent traditions but parallel visions in the analysis of the multiple nuances
dening market phenomena (Arnould, 2007). The SDL perspective denes value as
contextually created by the encounter of multiple actors active in the service ecosystem
(Lusch et al., 2006; Vargo & Lusch, 2008a, 2008b). This perspective of analysis ‘converge[s]
with work on meaning production in CCT research’ (Penaloza & Mish, 2011, p. 11).
CCT researchers use the terms, ‘value’ and ‘meaning’, interchangeably, but with dier-
ent connotations in their singular or plural form. Value (singular) is the personal predis-
position or response tendency of the singular actor, while values (plural) describe the
rules, norms, or ideals that underpin personal value (Holbrook, 1999). These last values are
identiable with the social norms and standards shaping dierent markets and ltered by
actors with their judgements (value) to associate meanings to their actions (Penaloza &
Mish, 2011).
The SDL perspective on successful value co-creation posits that a customer would
feel better o after engaging with a service than they were before (Grönroos, 2008).
Research has emphasised the active role of consumers in value co-creation and value
co-destruction through consumer-rm interactions (Echeverri & Skålen, 2011; Grönroos,
2011; Wieland et al., 2012). Contextually and normatively informed value creation has
been embraced by both CCT (Karababa & Kjeldgaard, 2014; Penaloza & Venkatesh,
2006; Venkatesh & Peñaloza, 2014), and SDL (Kuppelweiser & Finsterwalder, 2016;
Vargo & Lusch, 2011). The two perspectives recognise the participation of a variety of
actors in value creation, internal and external to the service ecosystem (Chandler &
Lusch, 2015; Vargo et al., 2017; Vargo & Lusch, 2011; Vargo et al., 2008; Wieland et al.,
Value creation can emerge from usage or possession of resources, or even from
mental states (Grönroos & Ravald, 2011). The co-creation of value is not an automatic
result of the consumer-rm exchange but rather reects an interaction of factors which
collectively compose the service ecosystem. As argued by Grönroos (2011), the actions
of the rm in interactions with customers can have both positive and negative impacts
on value co-creation, as the rm serves as a value facilitator providing resources to
In case of the misuse of their own or others’ resources by one of the parties, the
interactions between market actors can have adverse consequences, leading to value co-
destruction (Echeverri & Skålen, 2011; Plé & Cáceres, 2010; Smith, 2013). Harris and Ogbonna
(2002) and Järvi et al. (2018) identied employees, service providers and customers as
potential sources of the mishandling of resources, whose detrimental consequences can
be observed in one or more actors participating in the service exchange (Akaka et al., 2015;
Järvi et al., 2018; Plé & Cáceres, 2010). Echeverri and Skålén (2021, p. 228) propose a broader
perspective on value co-destruction dening it as ‘an interactional process that connotes
a change of value in a negative direction’, going beyond the relational interaction, and
including eventual antecedents or external events (Corsaro, 2020). The two authors inves-
tigate the relationship between value co-destruction and value co-creation, proposing the
concept of an interactive value formation space where the alignment or misalignment of
resources and practices leads respectively to value co-creation or co-destruction (Echeverri
& Skålén, 2021).
Our analysis sheds light on how value co-destruction can be extended to a service
ecosystem around love where consumers are date-seekers. In this investigation, value co-
destruction processes do not occur through interactions between consumers and the
service provider or employees, but in the process of consumers interacting with each
In the following section we discuss value conict as both a consequence and
a mediator of the commodication of love. Through the cultural framework of emotional
capitalism, we present value conict as an antecedent of value co-destruction.
Research context: online dating as the marketplace of love
In this study we investigate the interplay of the processes of value creation (Karababa &
Kjeldgaard, 2014) and destruction (Echeverri & Skålen, 2011; Grönroos, 2011;
Kuppelweiser & Finsterwalder, 2016) that occurs in consumer-consumer relationships
online, as opposed to consumer-rm interactions. We apply the theoretical lens of
emotional capitalism to online dating as the site where the neoliberal market ideology
of self-interest and mutual competition (Hietanen et al., 2017; Illouz, 2007, 2019) propa-
gated by service providers clashes with the institutionalised social norms of love and
relationships (Illouz, 1997). When consumers lack certainty as to which framework they
are operating under, they lack direction; there is no tool kit, and both the norms and
outcomes of social interactions are unknown (Illouz, 2019).
From the SDL perspective, the online dating market can be conceptualised as a service
ecosystem or a sphere of interaction where value is collaboratively created or destroyed
by and between individual actors, acting interdependently or independently, facilitated
by service providers and institutional logics (Holmqvist & Ruiz, 2017; Wieland et al., 2012).
Online dating can be seen as a non-collaborative consumption network where consumers
act in their own self-interest, engaging in serial one-on-one encounters with each other ad
innitum until they settle with a chosen partner. This contrasts with brand communities
and other subcultures of consumption which thrive on unity and belonging (Muniz &
O’Guinn, 2001; Schau et al., 2009; Schouten & McAlexander, 1995), as well as with
collaborative networks in which participants can take each other’s interests into consid-
eration (Figueiredo & Scaraboto, 2016). While extant research focuses on collaborative
consumption communities and consumer networks, in online dating consumers compete
with each other, constantly chasing a better bargain, be it a more desirable partner or
a better relationship outcome (Illouz, 2019).
The commodication of love has increased in recent years, showing that ‘the market-
place of love is a very big business’ (Patterson & Hodgson, 2006, p. 456). As argued by Illouz
(2007, 2019), online dating has boosted the transformation of love into an economic
transaction, while the logic of market and the ideology of choice serve as sociological
frames organising encounters. In this marketplace we see the inherent tension between the
consumer’s desire for freedom, the pornication of culture promoting the ideology of sexual
liberation (Rome & Lambert, 2020), and the socioculturally embedded notions of value
consistent with traditional gender relations. In a radical departure from notions of love and
romance, the online dating setting becomes the arena of the commodication of love,
rationalising the process of partner selection. In this service ecosystem, love is the object of
the marketplace to the detriment of romance.
Research method
The research design included a sample selection through voluntary participation and
consent, focusing on a diverse group of online date seekers with a geographic common-
ality. A diverse sample in terms of age, gender, and lifestyle emerged from the sample
selection process and was coherent with the study objectives. Following the interpretive
tradition in consumer research (Arsel, 2017; Hopkinson & Hogg, 2006; McCracken, 1988),
we used semi-structured in-depth interviews to access the stories and lived experiences of
consumption of 21 online date seekers who resided in Paris at the moment of data
collection (Table 1).
Male and female participants between 23 and 54 years old were recruited via online
calls for participation on dating applications and social networks. The rst author created
online dating proles in order to analyse value propositions, advertisements, and inter-
face of major online dating companies (Tinder, Happn, The League, Bumble). These
proles included an open call for participation in research of consumers’ online dating
experiences and included contact details, allowing the app users to reach out to the
researcher if they were willing to share their consumption stories.
Table 1. Participants of the study.
Pseudonym Sex Sexual orient. Age Education Profession Apps used Frequency
1 Vincent M Heterosexual 36 MSc IT manager Tinder, Meetic, CelibParis Daily
2 Gérard M Heterosexual 31 MSc Administrator Tinder, Happn Monthly
3 Lara F Heterosexual 35 MSc Yoga teacher InnerCircle, eHarmony Weekly
4 Jules M Bisexual 37 PhD Engineer Tinder Daily
5 Mark M Heterosexual 26 MSc Consultant Tinder 1 week/
6 Simon M Heterosexual 23 BSc Press intern Tinder 4 times/
7 John M Heterosexual 38 MSc Business controller Tinder 3 times/
8 Johnny M Heterosexual 34 BSc Data analyst Tinder, InnerCircle, Happn Daily
9 Alice F Heterosexual 54 MSc Administrator Meetic, Tinder Temporary stop (met someone)
10 Rose F Heterosexual 23 BSc University lecturer Tinder, Coffee Meets Bagel Daily
11 Ella F Heterosexual 25 BA Online editor Tinder, Bumble Daily
12 Didier M Heterosexual 51 MSc Engineer Tinder, Happn Daily
13 Alan M Heterosexual 28 MSc Salesperson Bumble, Tinder, Happn Temporary stop (met someone)
14 ASG M Heterosexual 34 BA Supervisor Tinder Daily
15 Derek M Heterosexual 38 MSc CEO Tinder, Happn Voyons Nous Occasional use
16 Sofia F Heterosexual 33 MSc Student Badoo, Tinder, OkCupid, Happn, AdopteUnMec Daily
17 Carmen F Lesbian 29 MSc Programme Manager Tinder Daily
18 Andromeda F Heterosexual 56 MSc Coach Meetic, EliteSingles Occasional use
19 Spongebob M Heterosexual 28 BSc Operations Manager Tinder, The League Weekly
20 Natalie F Heterosexual 30 MA Entrepreneur Tinder When travelling abroad
21 Vero F Flexible 29 MSc Marketing OkCupid, Tinder Weekly
Before their interview, participants signed a research consent form which provided
detailed information about the purpose of the study and the research procedures. The
participants were informed of their right to refuse to answer any single question, to
withdraw from the interview completely at any point, and to exclude their data from the
study. The duration of interviews varied on average between 40 and 60 minutes, depend-
ing on the participant’s accessibility. All participants were guaranteed condentiality and
each participant chose a pseudonym that would be further used in data analysis and
The interviews, conducted in an open and nondirective manner (McCracken, 1988),
moved from biographical questions that gave insight into the participant’s prole to a set
of grand-tour questions that allowed the participants to tell their story on their own terms.
This included special-incident questions, where the participants were asked to recall
memorable stories from their online dating lives, and specic category questions. These
focused on participants’ usage patterns and motivation for using the dating apps, their
attitudes towards online and oine dating, partner selection criteria, and their relation-
ship strategies and future plans. The interview transcripts were read and analytically
coded using NVivo software to identify the key themes and issues in the data, with
particular attention given to understanding the contextual nature of consumer experi-
ences and the interactions between multiple actors in the service ecosystem. In several
cases, follow-up interviews were conducted to go deeper into participants’ consumption
stories. By following up the stories of our participants, we were able to identify the
conicting notions of value that were negotiated throughout the online dating
The rst step in the analysis involved analytical reduction of data through coding and
categorising the interview transcripts (Figueiredo, 2012; Holt, 2002). To structure our
analysis, we used a combination of descriptive coding, summarising the basic data topics
for further indexing and categorising, followed by provisional coding that involved
theoretically informed pre-generated categories (Miles et al., 2014). We then focused on
the interplay of consumer entities (i.e. the users of dating apps, their consumption
patterns and practices, and their motivations, perceptions, and feelings about their
service experience) with service entities (the specics, interfaces, and value propositions
of dierent dating apps and the supporting service ecosystems). The broader society of
friends and families that transmit societal rules, norms, and values aecting users’
approach to relationships in general and online dating in particular was also noted. This
framework uncovered a certain practice logic. During analysis, we went back and forth
between our data and the literature in order to contextualise our understanding of
processes of value co-creation in online dating. In the second stage of our analysis, we
employed pattern coding (Miles et al., 2014), focusing on the dialogue between the micro-
level of consumers’ personal stories on dating apps, the meso-level of service oerings,
and the macro-foundations of emotional capitalism (Illouz, 1997, 2007, 2012, 2019). The
analytical process (Table 2) involved collaborative interpretations based on discussions
between researchers (Wallendorf & Belk, 1989) with the purpose of ensuring the trust-
worthiness of our understanding and representation of the data and its relationship to the
relevant constructs in the existing literature. Finally, in the third stage of analysis,
Table 2. Thematic data analysis and interpretation.
First stage of analysis: analytical reduction of data
through categorisation Illustrative participants’ quotes
Second stage of analysis: finding the overarching
themes and patterns in the data
Third stage of analysis:
reconstruction of theory
and developing the
conceptual framework
Individual users
Consumption patterns and practices Motivations
Expectations Concerns Beliefs about online
dating Beliefs about relationships in general
Feelings about service experience
‘I think attraction is important in a relationship. And
obviously on [dating app name], it is more shallow,
you’re swiping through pictures of them’
‘It’s just a way to have sex I would say. Most of the time
people deny this’
Blurred ethical boundaries and double
Reluctant belonging to community
Enjoying freedom of choice
Misalignment of expected use-value with
embedded social values
Objectification and devaluation of partners
Mental unease & frustration
Disembeddedness of encounters from real life
contexts and consequences of action
Developing uncertainty and danger mitigation
Value Conflict
Extensively reported in
Table 3.
Socially embedded influences
‘It’s all drilled into us from a young age that you don’t
know who anyone is on the internet!’
‘I think I have an old model of how people should meet.
You know, the old way, the way our parents met, not
like this . . . ’
Service entities
specific service offerings
value propositions
supporting service ecosystems
‘when you remove the match, they just delete all
information, because they consider it the painless
way of doing it’
‘they are a company trying to make business and their
ideal situation would be if everybody stays stuck in
the app because then they would generate profit.
Their profit is not based on success on exit’
reconstruction of theory (Burawoy, 2009; Kates, 2006), we looked at the phenomenon in
light of existing theories of value creation and critical consumer research with the purpose
of extending the theoretical body.
In addition to consent, condentiality, and right to exclude data, the ethical considera-
tions in this paper include psychological and social-lifestyle risks to benets analysis. This
pertains not only to the participants but also to wider audiences and society at large. The
participants who encountered traumatic experiences chose to share these with the
researchers and to give consent to publication. The authors considered that to not report
these experiences, to exclude them, would be unethical. Given that the consent was
explicit and that anonymity and the permission to publish were acknowledged, the
authors agreed to include these events in the ndings. In other words, the authors
considered there to be more potential of harm by excluding these traumatic experiences
than by including them.
An equally dicult ethical dilemma was to include inammatory language regarding
gender, such as comparing women to a thing or a commodity. Language which denigrates
women was present in interview responses, but it was not limited to women. Men were
also deprecated. Our research question focused on value conict and the commodication
of love. Language which supported our study was therefore included with the objective of
investigation as opposed to voicing and disseminating inammatory language.
Value conict
Guided by Holbrook’s (1999) framework for value analysis, we were able to outline the
three main elds of value conict and their manifestations in the context of online
dating: 1) the conict between extrinsic and intrinsic value dimensions, manifesting as
the conict between the social values framing cultural perceptions of love and relation-
ships and the use-value of consumption as an end in itself; 2) the conict between self-
oriented and other-oriented value dimensions, manifesting as double standards and
moral ambiguity in service encounters; and 3) the conict between active and reactive
value dimensions, manifesting as reluctantly belonging to the consumption community
and the rejection of collective identity. The three elds of conict in relation to their
manifestations in online dating context and their contribution to value destruction are
discussed in the next sections.
Extrinsic vs. intrinsic value
In their approach to online interactions, the users of dating apps experienced conict
between extrinsic and intrinsic notions of value in setting goals for, as well as evaluating
the outcomes of their service experience. The extrinsic value, informed by social values,
posited the ideal of a long-term relationship as a desirable outcome of online dating. The
perceived intrinsic use-value manifested as prioritising the subjective benet of consump-
tion as an end in itself (Grönroos, 2011). The intrinsic value of online dating was
embedded in the consumerist logic of choice and the unlimited access to multiple
potential partners (Illouz, 2019). While social values often represented acceptable notions
Table 3. Value conflict dimensionalisation.
Fields of conflict Facilitated by Manifestations in online dating context
Elements contributing to value co-
destruction Value outcomes
Extrinsic vs. intrinsic value Service design providing
consumers with unlimited
choice of potential partners
Social networks of family and
friends representing cultural
Conflict between social values framing cultural
perceptions of love and relationships and
the perceived use-value of consumption
Existential and emotional uncertainty
misalignment of intended value
outcomes between consumers
Disappointment and frustration with
service experience by one or both
of the parties involved
Self-oriented vs. other-
oriented value
Internet-mediated experience of
disembeddedness of
encounters from real life
contexts and consequences of
Lack of sanctions in de-
institutionalised consumption
Double standards and moral ambiguity in
service encounters, applying higher ethical
standards to the other than to the self
Objectification of the other, fuelled by
consumerist desire for a ‘better bargain’
Normative and procedural
uncertainty – lack of clarity about
the rules and norms of interaction
creating confusion and distress
Encounters with verbal abuse,
violence, harassment, ghosting
threaten physical and
psychological well-being of
Active vs. reactive value Habitualization of app usage
Negative past experiences and
subjective feelings of shame
about using dating apps
Reluctant belonging to consumption
community and rejection of collective
identity – wanting to use the service but not
wanting to be defined by its usage
Role uncertainty and evaluative
uncertainty in choosing potential
long-term partners and in deciding
how long to stay on the app
Fatigue and cynicism emerging from
the prolonged usage of dating
of monogamous relationships among the participants’ social networks of family and
friends, perceptions of use-value were propagated by the advertising campaigns of the
online dating platforms, the user interface of the dating apps, and users’ expectations of
meeting multiple partners and the associated sexual freedom.
In users’ negotiation of these competing value notions, the processes of value co-creation
and co-destruction could be triggered simultaneously, depending on whether the percep-
tions of social and use-value were aligned or misaligned. During the interviews the informants
emphasised loyalty, caring, trust, and intellectual and emotional closeness as the desired
characteristics of the ideal relationship. Nevertheless, these characteristics did not align with
their view of the service experience. Lara referred to online dating as ‘unnatural’, yet she still
had active proles on multiple dating apps in the hope of meeting a long-term partner.
Carmen initially stated that she was looking for a ‘real love relationship’ with a woman who
has a great sense of humour and similar interests in life; however, her partner choice criteria on
the dating apps did not align with her stated partner choice criteria in ‘real life’:
You just see faces, you just swipe. (. . .) At some point it feels like, ‘Okay, her arms are great. Her
nose was better’. You see what I mean? It’s stupid, but . . . I get to set high expectations. And
I guess, you can just block the dialogue as well. (. . .) It is very easy to communicate through
a cell phone, everybody does it. Everybody is used to it. But being face to face, it is much more
complicated. (Carmen, 29)
In Carmen’s account, we see how despite looking for a ‘real’ relationship based on
emotional and intellectual compatibility, when faced with the interface of the online
dating app, her ‘high expectations’ were reduced to the physical attributes of another
person as a marketplace commodity, as she admits that it is easier to engage in digital
communications than to meet someone face to face. Other participants deliberately
embraced the market logic of online dating, separating it from their personal and social
life spheres. Mark, a 26-year old management consultant, admitted that he would feel
‘disturbed’ if he needed to introduce a girl he met on an online dating app to his friends
and family. Because of this, when using the app, he hoped not to ‘stumble upon’ a girl
with whom he could form a genuine attachment. Ella, a 25-year-old online editor,
reected on the disposability of online relationships.
Relationships have become, with regards to actually dating, kind of a lot more disposable.
Like you can swipe, and kind of like someone and like go and see them and just wanna hook
up with them, and get bored and then just move onto the next one, do you know what
I mean? (Ella, 25)
In discussing their attitudes towards online dating, Mark and Ella were experiencing
the conict between attachment and autonomy (Illouz, 2019), where the attachment
represents the desired relationship outcome according to extrinsic social values, and the
autonomy is the necessary element for enjoying the intrinsic use-value of accessing the
unlimited choice of potential partners. Treating another person as a commodity to which
one does not get attached allowed them the freedom to move on to the next partner
when they tired of the previous one.
Unlike collaborative consumption contexts, where consumption communities collabo-
rate to create greater value for the brand and for each other (Blocker & Barrios, 2015;
Schau et al., 2009; Schouten & McAlexander, 1995), in online dating consumers use the
elements of service design to maximise the intrinsic use value, be it having a greater
choice of more attractive partners or enacting boundaries to protect themselves from
partners deemed undesirable. In order to separate online encounters from other life
contexts, participants employed boundary-building tactics, as we can see from the
example below:
It happened maybe two or three times when I added a girl on Facebook and she started to
talk to me, she was like, calling me, and I was like ‘We don’t know each other, stop doing this,
you are not my girlfriend’, so I was like ‘Okay let’s stay on the app’. (Mark, 26)
Staying on the app allowed Mark not to let people he met through online dating into
his personal circle. In fact, he felt uncomfortable with attempts by his online dating
counterparts to close the distance by increasing the frequency or interactions of moving
from the app to more personal communication channels like social networks or phone.
Those participants who used multiple dating apps were constantly comparing their
experiences on these apps, motivating their choice to use one and/or leave another.
The application interface and the ability to access multiple attractive options played
a major role in dening the user experience, overriding the desire for more meaningful
In an informal conversation before our interview, one of the male participants jokingly
called his favourite dating app the ‘Deliveroo for hot chicks’, comparing it with the local
food delivery service. We consider this statement emblematic of how some participants,
such as the one quoted, enrol dating platforms into people’s commodication. This
objectication of people in the online dating scene represents an explicit mechanism of
commodication. In denigrating potential partners as merchandise or ‘similar and com-
peting commodities’ (Illouz, 2019, p. 120), attitudes have evolved in a negative direction.
The interface of the apps combined with promotional communications play a role in
shaping users’ expectations of the service experience, allowing them to engage in binary
evaluation of potential partners (that is, hot or not) guided by a list of desired attributes.
For instance, on Tinder, the possibility of swiping through hundreds of potential romantic
partners every day and the logic of ease and exibility is further reinforced by the
advertisements – #swipelife, ‘single does what single wants’, ‘single never has to go
home early’ – highlighting the opportunities for its users to pursue individual self-
interests, rather than a long-term relationship. Consider the example of Jules, who
decided to leave Tinder and use another application where he thought he could build
a more meaningful connection with a potential partner, but quickly switched back to
Tinder when he was not satised with the appearance of women represented there:
(. . .) there is just a wall of pictures, and I mean I am not interested in their physical
appearance, because you have just a wall of girls who are not very good-looking. So
maybe if I were using Tinder, I would get one girl at a time, but there you just start the
website and there is a wall like that, it was just . . . It was like no, I don’t want this. (Jules, 37)
. . . for me long term relationships are about values, human values. If you have the same
values about life, humanity . . . (. . .) And I meet for a rendezvous and the morning after I have
another new prole, and I see ‘oh there are new proles, oh great let’s go on’, and the girl or
the man you saw last night, they are at the bottom of the list. (Derek, 38)
In the stories of Jules and Derek we can witness how their expressed social values
related to long-term relationships are overpowered by the market logic of commodied
relationships facilitated by service design. The conict between perceived use value and
social values contributes to value destruction by generating existential and emotional
uncertainty (Illouz, 2019), or through a lack of clarity about the role of the self and the
other in the situation, the obligations of reciprocity, and the intended value outcomes of
dating counterparts. None of the interviewed participants entered the online dating
world with the intention to treat people as market commodities, but many ended up
being guided by the perceived use-value of endless partner choice in their consumption
and partner selection criteria.
Value conict between the extrinsic and intrinsic value dimensions can also occur
between dierent consumers when the same actions that create value for some users
diminish value for other users, as multiple understandings of value and expectations from
the online dating experiences clash in the marketplace.
Self-oriented vs. other-oriented value
The conict between self-oriented and other-oriented value dimensions manifests in
online dating as double standards and moral ambiguity. In their reections on their
service experiences, participants applied higher behavioural standards to others than to
themselves. This resulted in blurred ethical boundaries, as informants opposed online
dating to ‘real life’, treating it as a separate fantasy context where they could abandon the
socially accepted codes of conduct and engage in unethical behaviours and mistreatment
of others. The theme of applying dierent moral standards to situations in digital versus
real life was especially evident in the situations of deciding the exclusivity of the relation-
ships or ending communications when the dilemma arose of whether to be transparent
with the other person or to just disappear.
I would much rather somebody be honest and straight up say, ‘You know, this isn’t working’.
I think that if you don’t feel the same, then it’s always going to hurt. But you can make it hurt
less. (Rose, 23)
What do I want them to do? I don’t know, just be honest. And tell me why, like you kind of feel
those things from the beginning. (Johnny, 34)
As we can see from the accounts of Rose and Johnny, participants in the online dating
process expect their dating counterparts to take other-oriented value as their point of
departure. That is, they want others to consider their feelings and to be honest and open
when the decision to end the relationship is taken by another party. However, when they
were the initiators of the relationship dissolution, participants appreciated the ease and
convenience of being able to end the relationship quickly without an explanation, which
would not be as easy if they had met a relationship partner oine through networks of
family and friends. Our ndings are consistent with the arguments of Illouz (2007, 2019),
who called the Internet a disembodying technology that decontextualises social interac-
tions, making it dicult to make sense of the other person as a whole. Adopting a social
constructionist perspective (Berger & Luckmann, 1967), we argue that the anonymity of
internet encounters turns online dating into a deinstitutionalised social setting where
behaviours are unpredictable and uncontrolled, as there are no specic sanctions for
unethical behaviours.
If I’ve been seeing a guy like a few times, I probably wouldn’t ghost them. (. . .) I think I would
at least have the decency to send a message explaining the situation, the reason why I think
it’s good to like sort of stop it. But I wouldn’t ghost them. If I’d have met someone like maybe
once or twice, maybe I’d ghost them. But if someone did that to me, I’d be like . . . So . . . And if
someone ghosted any of my friends, I’d be like, ‘He’s a d*ck, blah, blah’. But then I’ve had
many friends who’ve ghosted guys. And I was like that was the best thing to do. (Ella, 25)
You just have to click ‘unmatch’, or on WhatsApp ‘block’, you can just block people. (Vincent,
In Ella’s account we can see how the value conict emerges from the uncertainty about
the appropriate code of conduct in online encounters. While Ella acknowledges her
double standards in online dating, her account still illustrates the conict between the
rules of politeness and the convenience of ‘ghosting’, or no longer responding to another
person’s messages. Vincent, on the other hand, embraces the convenience of the online
experience. According to Alan, a 28-year old salesperson, ending relationships online is
much easier, because many other potential partners are available on the app – in
5 minutes one can start a conversation with someone else, and in 24 hours one can
already be dating a new partner. Just like Alan and Vincent, in their withdrawal from
communications, many participants prioritised the self-oriented value, the decision to
‘unmatch’ or ‘block’ the other person without much consideration for their feelings. In
online dating the conict between self-oriented and other-oriented values contributes to
value destruction by generating normative and procedural uncertainty (Illouz, 2019), that
is, a lack of clarity about perceived values and norms of interaction, as well as specic rules
and codes of conduct. Or, as Spongebob put it:
Someone’s doing something, and then you’re telling yourself, ‘She’s a sl*t’, or ‘He’s an
*sshole’, or something like that. You know, I don’t know. There’s no proper code, I don’t
know any proper codes for that. Just like, kind of know, but not really. (Spongebob, 28)
Devaluing his online dating counterparts by calling them derogatory words helps
Spongebob make sense of their behaviour, especially in cases where other people act
in their own self-interest and are not guided by other-oriented values in their experi-
ences of online dating. The moral ambiguity is also related to the uncertainty of
knowing the true intentions of a person on the other side of the dating app. Jules
mused about the potential number of sexual partners a woman who uses dating apps
might have.
I suppose that a girl being on [dating app name] is supposed to get lots of physical things
going on with guys, so she is going to be much more careful around that, so if I want to do
something, I will not cross the boundary quickly. I think it’s the dierence between real life
and [dating app name], that on [dating app name] the girl has met lots of guys trying to hit on
her very quickly. (Jules, 37)
The perception of the digital context as a surreal gamied experience gave our
participants freedom from experiencing the negative consequences of unethical beha-
viours, in contrast with the hypothetical real-life situations where they would meet
potential partners through common social networks of family and friends. The tendency
of online dating app users to draw boundaries between ‘real life’ and online dating and
the negative feelings of frustration and disappointment that emerge as a result of the
prolonged usage of dating apps (that is, not achieving the socially accepted goal of
nding a long-term relationship), parallel the argument of Jones, Cronin and Piacentini
(2020) that certain forms of consumer escapism are capable of amplifying the frustrations
of real life. While the people and situations they encounter online are indeed quite real,
the decontextualising inuence of the Internet allows them to commodify their online
dating encounters, separating the instances of online dating from the rest of their lives.
Active vs. reactive value
The third eld of value conict is the conict between active and reactive value
dimensions that is, whether the value involves things done by a consumer or some-
thing that is done to a consumer by a product or service (Holbrook, 1999). Consumers
embraced the active value of having access to dating apps; however, at the same time
they did not want to be known as someone who uses them, and they did not want their
potential long-term partners to be using these apps either. Female users of a popular
dating app, for example, Alice and Soa, referred to the platform as ‘the bargain
basement’ and ‘the jungle’ where you meet ‘creeps’. However, they kept coming back
even after trying several other apps, as they were attracted by the wider choice of
potential dating partners. We can see this conict as an instance of role uncertainty in
which participants act in a context that lacks an established institutional order, shared
goals, or typied forms of action and thus creates confusion about expected role
performance (Berger & Luckmann, 1967).
The conict between active and reactive value dimensions in online dating is also
characterised by a lack of evaluative certainty, or capacity to evaluate others according to
established standards (Illouz, 2019). We can see this conict manifested in the following
accounts of Mark and Ella who reected on their online dating experiences:
It is the image of our society; we consume everything, and we are in a paradox . . . I accept this.
To think that one can live a serious relationship with this app is despair . . . you are not in the
right place, and you are looking for something . . . (Mark, 26)
Every time I swipe through it, I feel like I’m just not that impressed, which sounds really
horrible . . . But I don’t know, I think it just makes you maybe miss your ex or whatever, when
you’re swiping through people. Beforehand I was excited going through people, but now
I just kind of feel like I’m more like missing my ex when I go on it. And I spoke to a few people,
and I nd it just so ugh. I don’t know. (Ella, 25)
Paradoxically, despite being active users of online dating apps, Mark and Ella did not
want to be perceived as someone who used them, nor did they want their potential
partner to be an active user. Mark said that starting a serious relationship on the app was
his greatest fear, and Ella emphasised that she does not want her potential long-term
partner to even be interested in using dating apps. Just as in the case of access-based
consumption (Bardhi & Eckhardt, 2012), here we see resistance towards the brand com-
munity among the study participants that is, they did not exhibit the traditional brand
community markers, such as shared consciousness, rituals and traditions, or a sense of
moral responsibility (Muniz & O’Guinn, 2001), in their use of dating apps. Going beyond
the emotionally neutral utilitarian attitude characteristic of access-based consumption,
participants in online dating actively rejected the identity of someone who uses online
dating services, preferring to refer to themselves as casual users or as someone who
ended up on a dating app by chance. Much of the commentary of our participants
focused on the risks of using dating apps, the potential harm and a sense of vulnerability,
and the concerns of safety-motivated users to develop a range of strategies, such as
keeping conversations on the app for as long as possible, not giving their phone number
to new acquaintances, and not adding people they met on the app to their social
Value conict as antecedent of value co-destruction
In our analysis, we see value conict as an active antecedent of value co-destruction in
online dating service settings. From the point of view of experience outcomes
(Gummerus, 2013), we can see the consequences of destruction of value from the
subjective assessments of our study participants. Various forms of uncertainty and
instances of value misalignment and mistreatment by other participants in a shared
service setting created a shared sense of frustration and disappointment, especially in
those users who stayed on the apps for a long time. The habitualised and repetitive use of
dating apps combined with the reluctance to use them generated feelings of fatigue and
burnout. Our participants referred to online dating as ‘draining and exhausting’, saying
that matches could make them feel ‘depressed’ and expressing a hope to meet someone
right so that they could ‘nally’ nish using the dating apps. Didier called online dating
a ‘mass manipulation to make cash, and to exploit the vulnerabilities of people’, while the
trajectory of going from initial excitement to negative value outcomes can be observed in
a comment from Ella:
Beforehand I thought it was exciting and new, and now I just get so depressed by it. I nd it
really depressing! (Ella, 25)
The misalignment of values between dierent actors in the online dating context
enables the intentional or unintentional misuse of resources (Grönroos, 2011; Plé &
Cáceres, 2010). That is, when one participant is looking for a long-term relationship
consistent with their social values, and another one is motivated by the perceived use-
value of having unlimited access to attractive partners, both would perceive the actions of
the other person as an inappropriate use of the platform. This poses serious issues for
users on the receiving end of the mistreatment, as we can see in the following accounts
from Rose and Andromeda below:
But I guess you always hear horror stories of people who meet someone from an app and you
know, get murdered or whatever. So, it’s unlikely but I guess that is always a fear. (. . .) The rst
meeting with that person would rst be making sure that they’re not a weirdo. (Rose, 23)
We had to chat over the phone, but I didn’t feel like meeting, so I said ‘Ok thanks for your time
but I don’t feel like going any further with this’, and he said ‘You’re ugly’. (Andromeda, 56)
The fear and frustration expressed by Rose and Andromeda were quite common, as
many female participants of our study have either encountered mistreatment on dating
apps or heard about this happening to someone. While male participants were upset
about the wide spread of false proles and prostitution on the apps and recounted stories
of their date requiring them to pay for her ‘services’ if they wanted to see her again, the
female participants in the study recounted innumerable stories of verbal abuse, threats,
insults, invasive questions of a sexual nature, and inappropriate pictures that they have
experiences while using the app.
Ella had a bad experience meeting a man through the app who looked nothing like his
prole, and then she faced a dicult situation when he insisted on coming home with her.
Alice, a 54-year-old administrator, was a victim of sexual assault by a man that she had
met online. She never knew his real name. They went on a couple of dates, and, according
to Alice, he seemed ‘normal’. One evening they went back to Alice’s apartment, and there
was a certain degree of intimacy. Alice told him that she was not ready to sleep with him,
but then he overpowered her. The next day Alice wrote him and told him that it was not
okay, that the sex had not been consensual, and that she was going to report him to the
online dating platform, then told him not to bother to respond. She later discovered that
he had four fake proles through which he presented himself with dierent names and
ages. She reported each of the four proles and wrote to the app administration that she
had been date-raped but received no response from them. When reecting on her
experience during our interview, Alice said ‘I picked through this crap before nding
the right person’. When asked for her denition of ‘crap’, Alice said that she meant the
dishonest men that one meets on the apps.
Our interview happened one year after the incident, at which time Alice was in
a happy long-term relationship with a new partner and wanted to leave that story
behind. Respecting her request, we didn’t insist on further contacting the digital dating
app about this situation. Based on Alice’s narrative, we consider that automated report-
ing and blocking mechanisms are impersonal and do not allow human interactions with
customer support. This accentuates the power of dating platforms leaving consumers in
a type of limbo with no opportunity to receive personalised feedback and support. It can
have dramatic consequences in delicate situations like the one described by Alice.
Furthermore, we observed a stark contrast between the inaction of the app adminis-
trators and the ocial app community guidelines that emphasise honesty, kindness, and
mutual respect, highlighting the non-tolerance policy towards all kinds of violence and
We can see from the accounts above that unlike in situations of service-
consumer interactions, in consumer-consumer interactions in a shared market set-
ting, the co-destructive misuse of resources can go far beyond the inappropriate
use of the app interface to take dangerous forms when real people are treated as
market commodities, being misused without having the organisational and institu-
tional resources possessed by the service providers. To mitigate the destructive
inuences of resource misuse by other participants and to protect themselves from
negative value outcomes, consumers employed certain mitigation strategies, which
we discuss next.
Coping with value destruction: mitigation strategies
Throughout the process of online dating, the users developed their own sets of rules and
strategies for playing the dating game. To navigate their online dating experiences,
consumers engaged in a range of practices, or routinised types of behaviour (Reckwitz,
2002; Warde, 2005), that they rened in the course of their use of online dating apps, with
past experiences helping to shape future strategies for maximising consumption value
and for dealing with undesired behaviours by their online dating counterparts that
diminished the value for them. These strategies fall into three broader categories: 1) self-
commodication in order to win the contest for attention of potential partners; 2)
resource integration, or the attempts of consumers to use the resources provided to
them in the most ecient manner in order to avoid value destruction; and 3) value
translation, or redening what value means for them in this particular service context.
In our study, most users developed multiple strategies of self-presentation in order to
appear attractive to potential partners so as to be chosen. Mark preferred to ll his dating
prole with pictures of himself surrounded by friends in order to appear as a social person,
while Jules created two separate proles in order to look for men and women. In their
evaluations of potential matches, the informants tended to focus on the appearance of
the people they see there, deciding whether they want to meet the other person based on
physical attraction and the potential display of dierent habits, such as, for instance,
travelling, partying, or smoking.
Productive integration of resources into the usage process by the actors participating
in the service ecosystem has been highlighted as the key element of value creation by
previous researchers (Grönroos, 2011; Gummerus, 2013; Smith, 2013). In online dating,
where the misaligned value notions between the dating counterparts often result in the
perceived misuse of resources by one or both of the parties involved, consumers attempt
to mitigate value destruction through boundary building practices and establishing rm
communication rules. For instance, communicating through the app was perceived by
users as a safer option than giving up their social media proles to strangers, as it gave
them the opportunity to create boundaries with other users, using the interface in order
to block someone when they no longer wished to continue interacting. The communica-
tion rules formulated over the course of the online dating experience helped consumers
make evaluative judgements faster and more eciently. For instance, Alice had her own
set of rules for determining whether the men she met on the app were married:
Very often men on the dating apps are dishonest. They can be either married or divorced,
they have no need of a relationship and they are using apps when they want company. They
can be lying about their marital status. Some of the signs include: 1) getting o the phone
very quickly (because their wife is nearby), 2) always paying cash (because cash transactions
cannot be traced). (Alice, 54)
In the quote above we can see how the heuristics employed by a consumer can help
them mitigate the uncertainty of their online encounters. Over the course of prolonged
use of online dating services, these heuristics and rules become habitualised (Berger &
Luckmann, 1967), providing a bit more certainty and predictability to the dating routines.
The experience of using the dating apps was described by Rose as a ‘steep learning curve’.
Vincent chose a paid subscription to see quickly if someone liked him and adopted
a strategy of rejecting the proles of women who have children or who listed a tall
partner in their prole preferences.
The second category of mitigation strategies involved cynical distancing (Cronin &
Malone, 2019), manifested as an attempt to suppress personal feelings and to adopt
a detached attitude of ‘seeing through’ the market logic of online dating, and the
translation of value into another value regime (Scaraboto & Figueiredo, 2017), such as
the reinterpretation of the value of relationships in the ideological language of sexual
freedom (Bauman, 2003; Illouz, 2007, 2019) or nding value in short-term encounters
instead of a potentially desired long-term outcome. We can consider the example of
Natalie, a 30-year-old single mother and entrepreneur who likes to use dating apps when
travelling abroad:
We smoked weed, f*cked, and went our separate ways. It all took about an hour. (. . .) The only
thing is, if you want to see the country, don’t have sex until he shows you the country,
because if you have sex before he can take you out sightseeing, then his grandma will
suddenly die, his best friend will get into an accident, and his sister will go into labour.
(Natalie, 30)
When talking about her long-term goals, Natalie admitted wanting a stable long-term
relationship. However, she did not think that it was possible to nd it using online dating,
so she preferred to frame her dating experiences on the apps as living out her fantasies,
feelings, and fun (Holbrook & Hirschman, 1982). The vignette above also involves a certain
degree of boundary building, as Natalie’s experience taught her to withhold sexual
intimacy until she had received what she needed from a man (in Natalie’s case, sightsee-
ing). She translates her frustration from repeated encounters with rapidly disappearing
partners into humour in order to support the ‘fun’ narrative of the situational value of
‘liquid’ relationships with other app users (Bauman, 2003). The data demonstrate that
through self-commodication, resource integration, and value translation, consumers
seek to escape value conict by rejecting the communal relationship logic and embracing
the market transaction logic of relationships, rationalising their expected value outcomes
through the lens of free consumer choice. In other words, by acknowledging that love is
dead and by abandoning attempts to nd a ‘real’ relationship online, consumers attempt
to mitigate ‘the inherent contradiction’ between an ‘understanding of themselves as free,
able, and equal, and the constraining, subjugating experiences shaping their relationships
and (sexual) lives’ (Rome & Lambert, 2020, p. 20).
We argue that value conict contributes to value destruction in the online dating
context by generating multiple forms of uncertainty, specically the misalignment of
intended value outcomes between consumers, the lack of clarity about the rules and
norms of engagement, and the lack of clarity about partner evaluation and one’s role in
the consumption process. While operating under conditions of uncertainty, online dating
app users embrace the market transaction logic in treating potential partners like market
commodities, and at the same time expecting their dating counterparts to respect the
communal relationship logic and to express genuine concern for their feelings and well-
being. The commodication of love in online dating happens not as a consequence of
value conict per se, but rather as an outcome of market transaction logic overpowering
the communal logic in person-to-person relationships. This value misalignment between
dierent actors leads to frustration and disappointment for the participants in the service
experience. To cope with value co-destruction, consumers embrace the neoliberal market
logic of service experience by developing mitigation strategies, such as: 1) self-
commodication in order to win the contest for attention of potential partners; 2)
resource integration for optimal eciency of the app usage; and 3) value translation, or
redening what value means for them in this particular service context. The three elds of
conict in relation to their manifestations in the online dating context and their contribu-
tion to value destruction are represented in Table 3.
Discussion and conclusions
The aim of this paper is to further the theoretical understanding of the impact of
neoliberal market ideology on value creation in online dating, when this ideology con-
icts with the social and cultural values of love, altruism, and reciprocity that traditionally
provided a normative framework for human relationships (Clark & Mils, 1993; Illouz, 1997).
Analysing consumer experiences of online dating through the theoretical lens of emo-
tional capitalism (Illouz, 1997, 2007, 2012, 2019), we investigate the normative structure of
consumer meanings and consumption practices in relational service contexts (Askegaard
& Linnet, 2011), unveiling the eects of capitalist normalcy in unexpected spheres of
contemporary social life, like romantic relationships and dating. In doing so, we show how
the macro-level ideological forces of emotional capitalism and the disembedding decon-
textualising inuence of the Internet (Illouz, 2007, 2019) play out in a context where
dierent parties have dierent conceptions of value (Gummerus, 2013) and where con-
sumerist commodication of self and the other is facilitated by service design. This
theoretical framework allows us to contextualise the practice of dating in a wider societal
and historical context.
Passing from the last chance for dating into a ‘rst stop for many young professionals’
(Patterson & Hodgson, 2006, p. 456), Internet dating services are redesigning contempor-
ary romance. Proposing freedom and fun for simple and easy-going human encounters,
service providers benet from and encourage consumerism in romantic relationships.
Their well-studied oers trap consumers in a loop of endless choice of accessible partners,
contributes to user retention, and helps to encourage paid subscriptions. However, the
same successful oer can eventually have detrimental eects on consumers’ physical and
psychological well-being. That is, the desired value outcomes for the service providers
and for consumers are sometimes not the same. Online dating represents a context where
the commodication of love, which, according to the social values embedded in con-
sumers by their culture, should not be commodied, can lead to value destruction as
romantic relationships turn into cheap commodities produced on an assembly line (Illouz,
2007). The commodication of love is thus favoured by the service ecosystem, as well as
boosted by the frame uncertainty experienced by consumers. Market values overlap social
values in a conicting agora frequently leading to value destruction.
With this work we aim to contribute to the advancement of CCT research as
a ‘continuously evolving perspective on consumer society and markets that shapes
cultural life’ (Arnould et al., 2019, p. 87). Assessing consumption from particular socio-
cultural systems embedded in globalisation and market capitalism (Joy & Li, 2012), we
embrace the notion of the social construction of markets, and of marketing as a societal
practice that goes beyond the consumption exchange between actors (Penaloza &
Venkatesh, 2006). This study problematises the agentic view of consumers as empowered
market actors and challenges the dominant approach of studying service interactions
from the marketer perspective that ‘normalizes consumption as a foundational necessity
stemming from consumer needs that capitalism can full’ (Hietanen et al., 2017, p. 9). In
line with the calls from CCT and critical theory researchers, the dominance of capitalist
market ideology over all social spheres is questioned (Cronin & Fitchett, 2021; Illouz, 2019;
Lambert, 2019; Tadajewski, 2018).
On a broader level, this work furthers our critical understanding of consumer agency and
the role of the market in structuring social relationships (Arnould et al., 2019; Arnould &
Thompson, 2015). We illustrate how neoliberal market ideology can be detrimental to value
creation in consumption experiences. We challenge the celebratory perspective in consumer
research that frames market capitalism as a source of consumer empowerment (Arnould &
Thompson, 2015; Firat & Venkatesh, 1995; Holbrook & Hirschman, 1982) and suggest that
CCT researchers should pay closer attention to the dark side of marketplace commodica-
tion and to the negative consequences that over-commercialised market settings can have
for consumer well-being. In doing so we critically question the logic of consumption in
a context ‘where consumption either does not, and arguably should not, be the primary unit
of analysis’ (Fitchett et al., 2014, p. 503). Moreover, we question the oversimplifying normal-
isation of ‘value’ as a positive outcome in market exchanges (Hietanen et al., 2017), instead
focusing on the conictuality in consumer perception of dierent forms of value.
On a more specic level, rst, we contribute to CCT research on multiple value
regimes in shared contexts by illustrating and explaining the multiple elds of
conict that arise when conicting notions of value are not reconciled through
fostering value hybridity – that is, a mixture of multiple value regimes facilitated
by the institutional actors (Figueiredo & Scaraboto, 2016; Minina et al., 2020;
Scaraboto & Figueiredo, 2017; Türe, 2014). In their interactions with each other in
the online dating marketplace, our consumers negotiate conicting notions of value,
leading to ambivalent meanings in the consumption process. In consumer stories of
their online dating experiences, we can see how the culturally embedded notions of
what is valuable in love – demonstrating genuine concern for the other person –
enter into conict with the pragmatic notions of value informed by the marketplace
logic of exchange relationships, where the participants act with the expectation of
receiving benets from another (Clark & Mils, 1993). While the culturally embedded
notions of value originate from outside the service consumption context, the prag-
matic notions of value and the ideology of endless consumerism are supported by
service design and the disembedding inuence of the Internet, as well as by the
perceived lack of sanctions for unethical behaviours on dating apps. We can see the
commodication of love in online dating as an outcome of market transaction logic
overpowering the communal logic in person-to-person relationships. This outcome
reinforces and is perpetuated by consumers’ conicting values.
Second, with this work we contribute to advancing the current understanding of
interactive value creation and destruction (Cabiddu et al., 2019; Echeverri & Skålen,
2011; Plé & Cáceres, 2010; Smith, 2013). Recognising an interactive value formation
space (Echeverri & Skålén, 2021) where practices and resources are modelled by
actors, resulting in value co-creation and value co-destruction, we dene and
develop the notion of value conict as an active antecedent of value co-destruction
in service settings. In doing so, we further the current understanding of value co-
destruction as a result of the misuse of resources in interactions between dierent
service systems (a customer and a rm; Plé & Cáceres, 2010) by documenting and
explaining the antecedents of resource misuse within the same service system
(interactions between customers). Specically, we identify the main dimensions of
value that clash in the marketplace and describe the mechanisms through which
value conict contributes to value destruction and the resulting value outcomes.
Service providers benet from and encourage consumerism in digital settings. The
context of online dating confronts consumers with the marketisation of romantic
relationships. This confrontation of embedded social values with treating relation-
ships as cheap commodities can lead to value destruction (Illouz, 2007, 2019).
Our ndings reveal that conicting notions of value in a shared marketplace destabilise
interactions between members of the service ecosystem, turning it into a deinstitutionalised
eld dominated by multiple forms of uncertainty and lack of control mechanisms (Berger &
Luckmann, 1967) that allows for misuse of resources by the parties involved, leading to
interactive value co-destruction. Finally, we highlight the complex and non-linear character
of interactive value co-creation by illustrating the strategies through which consumers
mitigate value conict in a shared marketplace in order to avoid value co-destruction.
In this work we highlight the dehumanisation led by the application of market
ideology to all the spheres of human private and social life which, if it does not result
in a form of value destruction, at least leads to a profound sense of exploitation of the
self. Unless consumers employ value translation strategies, replacing the culturally
embedded conceptions of relationships as long-term, stable, and monogamous with
the exible ideals of liquid love, pure disattached relationships, and casual sexual
freedom (Bauman, 2003; Giddens, 1990; Illouz, 2007, 2019), they cannot enjoy their
service experience to the fullest. With this in mind, it is important for us as marketing
researchers to transcend the considerations of managerial eciency and to adopt
a critical perspective from which to map the broader consequences of such value
misalignments on consumer life worlds that extend beyond consumption, acknowl-
edging that market eciency cannot always be recognised as a solution for all customer
problems (Cronin & Fitchett, 2021).
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author(s).
Notes on contributors
Dr. Alisa Minina is Assistant Professor of Marketing at Ipag Business School. In her research she
adopts the sociocultural perspective as a framework for understanding consumption experiences,
with the particular focus on globalization, consumer mobility, acculturation and consumption in
service settings.
Dr. Stefania Masè is Assistant Professor at Ipag Business School, France, where she teaches
Marketing, Strategy, and Digital Economy. She has a double Ph.D. from the University of
Macerata, Italy, and Lettres Sorbonne University, France. Stefania has authored national and
international refereed publications like the International Journal of Arts Management, Journal of
Global Fashion Marketing, Palgrave Studies in Practice: Global Fashion Brand Management, and the
ACR North American Advances. In 2020, she published her rst book for Springer titled Art and
business: perspectives on art-based management.
Dr. Jamie Smith is Director of Undergraduate Programmes at ISC Paris. Following his PhD at De
Montfort University in Leicester, UK, Dr Smith has had an academic career in France. Teaching
Marketing at undergraduate, postgraduate and executive levels, Dr Smith has also worked with a
number of Grande Ecole in France to further their international accreditations. His research interests
have covered Competitive Intelligence, Integrating Ethics into Curriculum and more recently Value
Creation in Online Communities. Publishing in both French and English, his work can be found in
International Management, Journal of Strategic Marketing, Question de Management, La Revue des
Sciences de Gestion and ACR North American Advances.
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... The technology has helped companies to create value, since it allows them to expand the services capillarity and personalization, and branding capacity. For example, the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning can generate economies of scale, improve process efficiency and enhance business penetration, but such technologies can also destroy business value, and sometimes with serious and irreversible consequences (Hsu, Nguyen e Huang, 2021;Kamalpour et al., 2021;Luyen, Shabbir e Dean, 2022;Malar, Arvidsson e Holmstrom, 2019;Minina, Masè and Smith, 2022;Moghadamzadeh et al., 2020). Organizations have the task of balancing the potential and limitations of technologies in order to generate adequate value propositions, which becomes a critical aspect for any business model (Molling e Klein, 2022). ...
... Studies about VCD usually explain it by associating it with the concept of VCC disseminated through the SDL theory (Chen & Lin, 2018;Hsu et al., 2021;Kamalpour et al., 2021;Luyen et al., 2022;Sønderskov & Rønning, 2021;Van Riel et al., 2019). The relationship between VCC or VCD and SDL have been investigated several sectors, such as: online community (Kamalpour et al., 2021), social network services (Kwon & Namkung, 2022), technology-based self-services (Luyen et al., 2022), online banking service (Malar et al., 2019), online dating (Minina et al., 2022), social media platforms (Moghadamzadeh et al., 2020;Trittin-Ulbrich et al., 2021), event apps (Neuhofer et al., 2021), smart mobility (Pulkkinen et al., 2019), platform business (Wu & Tsai, 2022), and digital platforms (Klein et al., 2020). ...
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Objetivo do estudo Levantamos a seguinte questão: como se destrói valor nos processos de Transformação Digital e como as organizações lidam com isso? Relevância/originalidade A cocriação de valor (VCC) é um conceito no coração da Lógica Dominante de Serviço (SDL). Os pesquisadores afirmam que, assim como o valor é criado, a mesma lógica pode ser usada para explicar a co-destruição de valor (VCD). Metodologia/abordagem Realizamos uma pesquisa bibliométrica que inclui 957 artigos envolvendo VCC, VCD e SDL. Principais resultados Encontramos evidências da necessidade de atualização das premissas do SDL Contribuições teóricas/metodológicas Identificamos também tópicos de tendência envolvendo Transformação Digital e VCD, artigos que propõem novas abordagens e várias sugestões para pesquisas futuras. Contribuições sociais/para a gestão A transformação digital requer atenção e planejamento, nossos achados podem ajudar os gestores a refletir sobre os risco e cuidados. Palavras-chave: Cocriação de Valor, Codestruição Study purpose We raise the following question: how value is destructed in Digital Transformation processes and how organizations deal with it To help future researchers in the search for answers to this question, we conducted bibliometric research that includes 957 articles involving VCC, Relevance / originality Value co-creation (VCC) is a concept at the heart of the Service-Dominant Logic (SDL). Researchers claim that just as value is created, the same logic can be used to explain value co-destruction (VCD) Methodology / approach We conducted bibliometric research that includes 957 articles involving VCC, VCD and SDL. Main results We found evidence of the need to update the premises of the SDL Theoretical / methodological contributions We also identified trend topics involving Digital Transformation and VCD, articles that propose new approaches and several suggestions for future research Social / management contributions Digital transformation requires attention and planning, our findings can help managers to reflect on risks and care.
... The technology has helped companies to create value, since it allows them to expand the services capillarity and personalization, and branding capacity. For example, the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning can generate economies of scale, improve process efficiency, and enhance business penetration, but such technologies can also destroy business value and sometimes with serious and irreversible consequences [7,[16][17][18][19][20]. Organizations have the task of balancing the potential and limitations of technologies in order to generate adequate value propositions, which becomes a critical aspect for any business model [21]. ...
... Studies on VCC and VCD in SDL focused on specific sectors, such as tourism [6,16,45,[61][62][63], transportation [14,33,64], ecosystems [39,65,66], and social media [19,20,55,61,67,68]; in addition to other scattered surveys across multiple sectors. However, few studies have been dedicated to the challenges of digital transformation, especially in the financial services segment, which has advanced in digitization, and its operations affect several other sectors [44]. ...
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Digital transformation imposes an invisible legacy on managers: the destruction of value. Technology's ability to make services intangible can lead to irreparable losses of value to businesses, resulting in a decline in economic potential and imposing a dictatorship of gratuitousness. To research how this happens and propose solutions, I analyze the trend of value co-destruction (VCD) in banking digital transformation. The ability to understand and predict such changes is important to guide the planning , implementation, and evaluation processes of business decisions, since the application of expert systems in decision support is common. Value creation is a central concept in business literature since companies create value through their operations and the delivery of services and products that meet the desires of their customers. However, the value can also be destroyed, causing the bankruptcy of companies and significant changes in the market. Through a semi-systematic review of the literature, I seek the theoretical guidelines of VCD in the context of online banking services. We found 112 articles related to the theme, and part of the systematic analysis of these articles is arranged in this work. The main objective of this theoretical essay is to evidence research propositions for analysis of VCD in the context of digital banking transformation.
... Studies on VCC and VCD in SDL have focused on specific sectors, such as tourism (Arıca et al., 2022;Bordian & Gil-saura, 2021;Freire & Veríssimo, 2021;Hamidi et al., 2020;Solakis et al., 2017 ;Sthapit & Björk, 2020), transport (Echeverri & Skålén, 2011a;Schulz et al., 2021;Trittin-Ulbrich et al., 2021), ecosystems (Chen & Lin, 2018;Fuentes et al., 2019;Hogg et al., 2019;Hogg et al. al. al., 2021) and social media (Bordian & Gil-saura, 2021;Kuppelwieser & Finsterwalder, 2016;Minina et al., 2022;Moghadamzadeh et al., 2020;Pulkkinen et al., 2019;Zuboff, 2015) ; in addition to other research spread across various sectors. However, few studies have been dedicated to the challenges of Digital Transformation, especially in the financial services segment, which has advanced in digitalization and its operations affect several other sectors (Martins et al., 2019). ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Digital Transformation imposes an invisible legacy on managers: the destruction of value. The ability of technology to disseminate services can lead to irreparable losses of value for companies, resulting in the decline of economic potential and imposing a dictatorship of gratuitousness. To research how this happens and propose solutions, I analyze the trend of value co-destruction (VCD) in the Digital Bank Transformation. The ability to understand and predict such changes is important to guide the processes of planning, implementing, and evaluating business decisions. Value creation is a central concept in the business literature, as companies create value through their operations and the delivery of services and products that meet the desires of their customers. However, value can also be destroyed, causing companies to fail and significant changes in the market. Through a semi-systematic literature review, I seek the theoretical guidelines of VCD in the context of online banking. We found 112 articles related to the topic and part of the systematic analysis of these articles is available in this work. The main objective of this theoretical essay is to highlight research propositions for the analysis of VCD in the context of Digital Banking Transformation. For the main delivery, it is necessary to: 1) delimit the concepts related to Digital Transformation and VCD; 2) understand how the VCD process is configured; 3) define the mechanisms related to the VCD; and 4) gather characteristics of the financial services segment in the context of Digital Transformation. Two proposals were proposed for future research.
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The aim of this conceptual article is to both provide a critical review of research into value co-destruction (VCD) and outline a common conceptual framework in order to better understand and guide future research into VCD and value co-creation (VCC). This review finds that the VCD stream of research has followed two lines of enquiry: one that highlights the role of resources and service systems and another that focuses on practices. It further finds that some prior research has argued that a direct and reciprocal relationship exists between VCD and VCC, captured in the concept of interactive value formation (IVF). A synthesizing IVF framework is outlined which suggests that the alignment and misalignment both within practices and in-between different practices determines IVF, that is, VCD and VCC. The framework further suggests that IVF is both enabled and constrained by resources and service systems.
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This commentary offers a view into the contributions of Consumer Culture Theory (CCT) in marketing and charts promising future avenues for research and marketing practices building a culturally sensitive and reflexive approach. After highlighting pioneering CCT perspectives, an outline for future directions in marketing is offered emphasizing the assembling of experiences, shaping of brands’ symbolic universes, institutional and creative market processes, and networked and algorithmic mediation of consumption ideologies and desires. Overall, CCT’s future looks promising in its commitment and ability to foster critical, contextually sensitive, and reflexive cultural insights into marketing – an important foundation for marketing strategy and practices.
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In this article, we integrate Nietzsche’s visions of self-overcoming with a Žižekian toolbox to explore how ‘market-based progress’ is upheld through a fabric of ideological fantasies. Through an analysis of Huel, a nutritionally complete British food brand aligned with progressive and techno-utopian discourses, we reveal a fantasmatic structure centred on pragmatism, the search for unassailable truth and continuance of a prehistoric legacy. These fantasies function as illusory support for acceptance that humanity’s great overcoming is singularly achieved through market logic and ethos. Here, a fetishistic inversion centres on subjects believing that the detached spectatorialism of consumption is closer to the act of the Nietzschean ‘Overhuman’ than it is to its inverse, the ‘last human’. This article provides the parameters for how ideological fantasy insulates the market from its material deadlocks and concludes with a conceptualization of the post-sovereign consumer’s subjectification along the fantastical contours of market-based progress.
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This review takes stock of the development of Consumer Culture Theory (CCT) and provides a perspective from which this field of research can be framed, synthesized, and navigated. This review takes a conceptual and historical approach to map the rich theoretical inventory cultivated over almost 40 years of culturally-oriented research on consumption. The authors describe how CCT has emerged, chart various approaches to consumer culture studies, outline the dominant research domains, identify debates and controversies that circulate in the field, discuss the latest conceptual and methodological developments, and share managerial implications of a CCT approach. From this vantage point, they point to some promising directions for CCT research. © Eric Arnould, Melea Press, Emma Salminen and Jack S. Tillotson (2019).
Feminized sexual consumption has gained increasing legitimacy in the marketplace. Despite calls for critical, feminist perspectives, extant research in marketing continues to prioritize its emancipatory implications. In this article, we draw on the cultural theory of “postfeminism” to critically analyze the sexual narratives of young women. Tightly bound with neoliberal ethics, a postfeminist orientation encourages women—purported to have achieved equality thanks to past feminist activism—to work on, invest in, and manage their sexual lives. This discourse manifests in women’s sexual and intimate experiences in two key ways: first, through their attempts to establish authority and control in their relationships, an endeavor thwarted by neoliberal and patriarchal logics; and second, through an implicit submissive sexual positioning that privileges masculine meanings of sexual pleasure. These findings suggest an inherent contradiction between participants’ understanding of themselves as free, able, and equal, and the constraining, subjugating experiences shaping their relationships and (sexual) lives. Our key contribution to feminist critique and theorizing is to illustrate how postfeminist discourses operate to mask and deny oppressive patriarchal discourses, which paradoxically increases their strength under the guise of female emancipation and consumer choice.
Following Breton’s writings on surreality, we outline how unexpected challenges to consumers’ assumptive worlds have the potential to alter how their escape from reality is experienced. We introduce the concept of ‘surrealist disruption’ to describe ontological discontinuities that disrupt the common-sense frameworks normally used by consumers and that impact upon their ability to suspend their disbeliefs and experience self-loss. To facilitate our theorization, we draw upon interviews with consumers about their changing experiences as viewers of the realist political TV drama House of Cards against a backdrop of disruptive real-world political events. Our analyses reveal that, when faced with a radically altered external environment, escape from reality changes from a restorative, playful experience to an uneasy, earnest one characterized by hysteretic angst, intersubjective sense-making and epistemological community-building. This reconceptualizes escapism as more emotionally multivalenced than previously considered in marketing theory and reveals consumers’ subject position to an aggregative social fabric beyond their control.
The importance of the fair appropriation of co-created value in business relationships has been widely emphasised in the literature. However, in business relationships, value can be both co-created and co-destructed, but what happens to value appropriation when value is co-destructed? Previous studies have focused on what causes value co-destruction, rather than its effects. The question posed is relevant because some actors experience higher diminutions in value appropriation, generating perceptions of inequities, dissatisfaction, and tensions. By analysing data from 39 qualitative interviews with companies that have experienced value co-destruction, this paper attempts to identify the reasons for the unbalanced relationship between value co-destruction and value appropriation. Two higher-level dimensions – awareness of value and awareness of context – are identified and used to generate four clusters of reasons for disproportionate value co-destruction effects. The paper also pinpoints specific actions for managing unfairness from value co-destruction.
Service research and marketing theory have found value co-creation to be a key element in the business-to-business (B2B) context. Value can also be co-destroyed by the same actors who interact to create it. However, very few studies have examined service provider-customer work practices when value co-destruction (VCD) occurs. In this qualitative study, we approach VCD by combining social interactions and resource integration practices with a notion of value that reveals its multiform nature. We adopt a value definition that enables us to show that the notion of co-creation and co-destruction should be viewed conceptually as representing a value variation space rather than as being dichotomous or mutually exclusive. Our research allows practitioners to recognize and contrast VCD, as it emerges and impacts their B2B relations.