Unveiling (In)Vulnerability in an Adolescent’s Consumption Subculture: A Framework to Understand Adolescents’ Experienced (In)Vulnerability and Ethical Implications

  • Wided BatatEmail author
  • John F. TannerJr.
Original Paper


Consumer (in)vulnerability is studied via a quasi-ethnographic longitudinal study of adolescents aged 11–15. The study focuses on how adolescents define their vulnerabilities within their adolescent consumption subcultures, the factors enhancing this vulnerability, and the social actors involved in their experience of vulnerability. The findings contribute to consumer vulnerability literature in three ways. First, by adopting an adolescent-centric approach based on an emic perspective, we go beyond the monolithic approach of studying one source of vulnerability at a time seen in present marketing literature. Instead, we introduce a polyadic or multiple simultaneous approaches that can consider risk sources. Second, the findings show that adolescents’ perceptions of consumer vulnerability are anchored within their consumption subcultures. This study introduces the concept that young consumers experience vulnerability in multiple ways, including imposed by adults or by adolescents deliberately engaging in risky behaviors. Third, this research provides ethics policy-makers and scholars with the conceptual framework of adolescent-centric vulnerability, which can help them to develop actions based on both imposed and deliberate sources of vulnerability from the perception of the adolescent.


Adolescent vulnerability Invulnerability Imposed and deliberate sources of vulnerability Adolescent consumption subculture ACV framework 



Travel between the faculty’s institutions was funded by a Grant from Baylor University.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declares that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

Humans were involved, and all procedures performed in studies involving human participants were completed in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Regarding our field and the characteristics of the minor participants involved in this research, we followed the ERIC (Ethical Research Involving Children) guidance developed by UNICEF in 2013 and adapted it to our field activities.

Research Involved in Human or Animal Rights

This article does not contain any studies involving animals, performed by any of the authors.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all of the individual participants included in the study.


  1. Baker, S. M. (2009). Vulnerability and resilience in natural disasters: A marketing and public policy perspective. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 28, 114–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baker, S. M., Gentry, J. W., & Rittenburg, T. L. (2005). Building understanding of the domain of consumer vulnerability. Journal of Macromarketing, 25, 128–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bandura, A. (1989). Social cognitive theory. In R. Vasta (Ed.), Annals of child development. Vol. 6. Six theories of child development (Vol. 6, pp. 1–60). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.Google Scholar
  4. Batat, W. (2008). Exploring adolescent development skills through Internet usage: A study of French 11–15 year olds. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 32, 379–381.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Batat, W. (2014). How do adolescents define their own competencies in the consumption field? A portrait approach. Research and Applications in Marketing, 29, 25–54.Google Scholar
  6. Batat, W. (2015). An adolescent-centric approach to consumer vulnerability: New implications for public policy. In Vulnerable consumers. Routledge, London, pp 103–117.Google Scholar
  7. Berry, L. L. (1993). Playing fair in retailing. Arthur Anderson Retailing Issues Newsletter, 5(2), 5–6.Google Scholar
  8. Boulianne, S. (2015). Social media use and participation: A meta-analysis of current research. Information, Communication, and Society, 18, 524–538.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A social critique of the judgment of taste. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Bryan, C. J., Yeager, D. S., Hinojosa, C. P., Chabot, A., Bergen, H., Kawamura, M., et al. (2016). Harnessing adolescent values to motivate healthier eating. Proceedings of the National academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Scholar
  11. Canhoto, A. I., & Dibb, S. (2016). Unpacking the interplay between organizational factors and the economic environment in the creation of consumer vulnerability. Journal of Marketing Management, 32, 335–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Carpenter, C. S., & Pechmann, C. (2011). Exposure to the above the influence antidrug advertisements and adolescent marijuana use in the United States, 2006–2008. American Journal of Public Health, 101, 948–954.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Clark, T. (2010). On ‘being researched’: Why do people engage with qualitative research? Qualitative Research, 10, 399–419.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Clarke, J., Hall, S., Jefferson, T., & Roberts, B. (1976). Subcultures, cultures, and class: A theoretical overview. In S. Hall & T. Jefferson (Eds.), Resistance through rituals: Youth subcultures in post-war Britain (pp. 9–74). London: Hutchison.Google Scholar
  15. Cohen, P. (1997). Rethinking the youth question: Education, labor, and cultural studies. London: Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cook, D. T. (2005). The dichotomous child in and of commercial culture. Childhood, 12, 155–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Davis, B., & Grier, S. (2015). A tale of two urbanicities: Adolescent alcohol and cigarette consumption in high and low-poverty urban neighborhoods. Journal of Business Research, 68, 2109–2116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Eckert, P. (1988). Sound change and adolescent social structure. Language in Society, 17, 183–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Elliott, R., & Jankel-Elliott, N. (2003). Using ethnography in strategic consumer research. Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal, 6, 215–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Farber, K., & Bishop, P. (2018). Service learning in the middle grades: Learning by doing and caring. RMLE Online, 4(12), 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fullerton, S., Kerch, K. B., & Dodge, H. R. (1996). Consumer ethics: An assessment of individual behavior in the market place. Journal of Business Ethics, 15(7), 805–814.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Garrett, D. E., & Toumanoff, P. G. (2010). Are consumers disadvantaged or vulnerable? An examination of consumer complaints to the Better Business Bureau. The Journal of Consumer Affairs, 44, 3–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gentina, E., Rose, G. M., & Vittel, S. (2015). Ethics during adolescence: A social networks perspective. Journal of Business Ethics, 20(1), 87–93.Google Scholar
  24. Gentina, E., Shrum, L. J., Lowrey, T. M., Vitell, S., & Rose, G. M. (2018). An integrative model of the influence of parental and peer support on consumer ethical beliefs: The mediating role of self-esteem. Power, and Materialism, Journal of Business Ethics, 150(4), 1173–1186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Grier, S. A., & Davis, B. (2013). Are all proximity effects created equal? Fast food near schools and body weight among diverse adolescents. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 32, 116–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kang’ethe, S. M., & Makuyan, A. (2014). Orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) care institutions: Exploring their possible damage to children in a few countries of the developing world. Journal of Social Sciences, 38(2), 117–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Keles, B., McCrae, N., & Grealish, A. (2019). A systematic review: The influence of social media on depression, anxiety and psychological distress in adolescents. International Journal of Adolescence and Youth (In press).Google Scholar
  28. Kuss, D. J., & Griffiths, M. D. (2012). Online gaming addiction in adolescence: A literature review of empirical research. Journal of Behavioral Addiction, 1, 3–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kutsche, P. (1998). Field ethnography: A manual for doing cultural anthropology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  30. Larson, R. W., & Richards, M. H. (1994). Divergent realities: The emotional lives of mothers, fathers, and adolescents. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  31. Law, S. F. (2016). Unknowing researcher’s vulnerability: Re-searching inequality on an uneven playing field. Journal of Social and Political Psychology, 4, 521–536.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lin, W., & Pantano, J. (2015). The unintended: Negative outcomes over the life cycle. Journal Population Economics, 28, 479–508.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Luczak, C., & Younkin, N. (2012). Net generation: A conceptual framework of the consumer socialization process. Academy of Marketing Studies Journal, 16, 47–51.Google Scholar
  34. Maira, S. (1999). The paradoxes of an Indian American youth subculture (New York Mix). Cultural Anthropology, 14, 29–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Martin, M. C., Gentry, J. W., & Hill, R. P. (1999). The beauty myth and the persuasiveness of advertising: A look at adolescent girls and boys. In C. M. Macklin & L. Carlson (Eds.), Advertising to children: Concepts and controversies (pp. 165–187). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  36. Mason, M. J., Tanner, J. F., Piacentini, M., Freeman, D., Anastasia, T., Batat, W., et al. (2013). Advancing a participatory approach for youth risk behavior: Foundations, distinctions, and research. Journal of Business Research, 66, 1235–1241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. McCoy, S. S., Dimler, L. M., Samuels, D. V., et al. (2017). Adolescent susceptibility to deviant peer pressure: Does gender matter? Adolescent Research Review, 4, 59–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Mick, D. G., & Fournier, S. (1998). Paradoxes of technology: Consumer cognizance, emotions, and coping strategies. Journal of Consumer Research, 25, 123–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Moore, J., Raymond, N. A., Mittelstaedt, J. D., & Tanner, J. F. (2002). Age and consumer socialization agent influences on adolescents’ sexual knowledge, attitudes, and behavior: Implications for social marketing initiatives and public policy. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 21, 37–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Moschis, G., & Churchill, G. A. (1978). Consumer socialization: A theoretical and empirical analysis. Journal of Marketing Research, 15, 599–609.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Ozanne, J. L., & Saatcioglu, B. (2008). Participatory action research. Journal of Consumer Research, 35, 423–439.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Pechmann, C., Levine, L., Loughlin, S., & Leslie, F. (2005). Impulsive and self-conscious: Adolescents vulnerability to advertising and promotion. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 24, 202–221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Pechmann, C., & Reibling, E. (2000). Planning for an effective anti-smoking mass media campaign targeting adolescents. Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, 6, 80–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Perales-Blum, L., Juárez-Treviño, M., & Escobedo-Belloc, D. (2014). Severe growing-up phobia, a condition explained in a 14-year-old boy. Case Reports in Psychiatry. Scholar
  45. Pine, D. S., Cohen, P., & Brook, J. S. (2001). Emotional reactivity and risk for psychopathology among adolescents. CNS Spectrum, 6, 27–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Roberts, J., Manolis, C., & Tanner, J. F. (2003). Family structure, materialism, and compulsive buying: A re-inquiry of Rindfleisch, Burroughs, and Denton (1997). Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 31, 300–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Roedder-John, D. (1999). Consumer socialization of children: A retrospective look at twenty-five years of research. Journal of Consumer Research, 26, 183–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Rogers, R. W., & Prentice-Dunn, S. (1997). Protection Motivation Theory. In D. S. Gochman (Ed.), Handbook of health behavior research 1: Personal and social determinants (pp. 113–122). New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  49. Shapiro, L. A., & Margolin, G. (2014). Growing up wired: Social networking sites and adolescent psychosocial development. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 17(1), 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Shultz, C. J., & Holbrook, M. B. (2009). The paradoxical relationships between marketing and vulnerability. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 28, 124–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Solberg, E. G., Diener, E., & Robinson, M. D. (2004). Why are materialists less satisfied? In T. Kasser & A. D. Kanner (Eds.), Psychology and consumer culture (pp. 29–48). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  52. Soster, R. L., & Drenten, J. M. (2011). Flirting with technology: Understanding the motivations for and consequences of adolescent sexting. In Marketing and public policy conference, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  53. Spotswood, F., & Nairn, A. (2016). Children as vulnerable consumers: A first conceptualization. Journal of Marketing Management, 32, 211–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of qualitative research: Grounded theory procedures and techniques. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  55. Tang, T., & Chen, Y. (2008). Intelligence vs. wisdom: The love of money, machiavellianism, and unethical behavior across college major and gender. Journal of Business Ethics, 82(1), 1–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Tang, T. L. P., Luna-Arocas, R., Quintanilla Pardo, I., & Tang, T. L. N. (2014). Materialism and the bright and dark sides of the financial dream in Spain: The positive role of money attitudes—The Matthew effect. Applied Psychology, 63(3), 480–508.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Tanner, J. F., Jr., Hunt, J. B., & Eppright, D. R. (1991). The ordered protection motivation model: A normative approach to fear appeals. Journal of Marketing, 55, 36–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Tarrant, M. (2002). Adolescent peer groups and social identity. Social Development, 11, 110–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Thompson, C. (1997). Interpreting consumer: A hermeneutical framework for deriving marketing insights from the texts of consumers’ consumption stories. Journal of Marketing Research, 34, 438–455.Google Scholar
  60. Thornton, S. (1997). The social logic of subcultural capital. In K. Gelder & S. Thornton (Eds.), The Subcultures reader (pp. 200–209). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  61. Tomé, G., Matos, M., Simões, C., Diniz, J. A., & Camacho, I. (2012). How can peer group influence the behavior of adolescents: explanatory model. Global Journal of Health Science, 4(2), 26–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Tsang, K. M., Hui, K. P., & Law, C. M. (2012). Positive identity as a positive youth development construct: A conceptual review. The Scientific World Journal. Scholar
  63. Twenge, J. M., Martin, G. N., & Campbell, W. K. (2018). Decreases in psychological well-being among American adolescents after 2012 and links to screen time during the rise of smartphone technology. Emotion, 18, 765–780.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Unicef. (2013). Ethical research involving children. Retrieved from
  65. Wolcott, H. F. (1994). Transforming qualitative data: Description, analysis and interpretation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  66. Zhao, G., & Pechmann, C. (2007). The impact of regulatory focus on adolescents’ response to antismoking advertising campaigns. Journal of Marketing Research, 44, 671–687.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Suliman S. Olayan School of BusinessAmerican University of BeirutRiad El-Solh, BeirutLebanon
  2. 2.Strome College of BusinessOld Dominion UniversityNorfolkUSA

Personalised recommendations