Examining Chaos at Lollapalooza Earns Marketing Professor “Cool” Research Award

Faculty members at the College of Charleston School of Business are always on the cutting-edge of research. Case in point, Kelley Cours Anderson, Ph.D., assistant professor of marketing.  

At the 2022 Consumer Culture Theory Conference, Anderson and Anastasia Thyroff, Ph.D. at Clemson University, won the inaugural Jim McAlexander Cool Research Award for their paper on Chaos in Lollapalooza — one of the largest and most iconic music festivals in the world. 

Kelley Cours Anderson, Ph.D.

Kelley Cours Anderson, Ph.D.

We recently caught up with Anderson to discuss the paper, its insights and what doing innovative research is all about. 

How did you and your co-researcher, Anastasia Thyroff, Ph.D. over at Clemson University, come up with this research idea?  

Dr. Thyroff and I are avid music lovers! We got the idea for this research when attending modern music festivals and being shocked at how much it pushed against traditional marketing literature that stresses order, certainty, and repeatability. We noticed that it was often the chaos and times of mayhem that often led to the most discussed and memorable moments.  

This paper, in particular, received renewed attention following the tragedy of last year’s Astroworld Festival as it was a reminder that not all music festivals are alike.  

What was the most surprising thing you and Professor Thyroff found? What are some of the key takeaways from your research? 

This ongoing ethnography means going into the “field” of Lollapalooza concerts, including going online to understand the energy of this annual festival. One major finding, again related to Astroworld Festival, is that while consumers enjoy the chaos of a music festival, there is such thing as too much chaos. We find large music festivals (like Lollapalooza) are actually creating safety nets for consumers. Consumers may act wild, pushing the boundaries and adopting temporary identities, but at the same time, they feel safe in doing so. Their safety is unconsciously assumed and not always physically recognized. Interestingly, safety measures fade into the background. It is such an important form of service and often goes unrecognized (by consumers and scholars alike).  

How can this impact large-scale music festivals in the future?  

There is an act of mutual desire for what we call ‘bounded chaos’ within these events, but the small things matter. This is still a work in progress, but we hope this will help inform the importance of creating safe environments that still embody the chaos desired by many consumers.  

You and Professor Thyroff won the inaugural Jim McAlexander “Cool Research” Award at this year’s Consumer Culture Theory Conference. What does this say about intellectual contributions and research to you? What makes research cool? 

The award was such an incredible surprise and honor. The namesake of this award was a deeply respected and inspirational scholar in the field of marketing. Despite all of Dr. Jim McAlexander’s success, he never forgot the importance of enjoying what we do. Jim had a motto, “do no boring research.” For instance, Jim and his co-author John Schouten had a blast researching Harley Davidson and their research on the topic is iconic. At the heart of how Jim McAlexander researched and advocated is that we can learn while having fun at the same time.  

As academics, we work on research projects for years – some for decades. As a researcher, if you’re not excited to jump in, it comes through in the final product. So, what’s the remedy? Work on exciting projects. Don’t we all love cool things? Even when I worked in the consumer research industry, I found projects that draw you in – are what is often characterized as “cool.” This mirrors the motto of ‘do no boring research’ as well. That doesn’t mean it has to be cool or interesting to everyone. Novelty is undoubtedly subjective, so it is important to understand what could be novel to the relevant group. But more than anything, it needs to be something that gets you jazzed.