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Off to the Movies

Mason professor has unconventional method of teaching complex concepts.

An Arlington resident and George Mason University professor has an unconventional way of helping her students master complex concepts and evaluating their proficiency: She requires them to watch movies.

Laurie Meamber, an associate professor of marketing in Mason’s School of Management in Fairfax, teaches a consumer behavior course in which students study the actions and motivations of buyers.

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Evan Cantwell/Creative Services/

Laurie Meamber, Associate Professor, evaluates student presentations identifying consumer behavior using feature films. Photo by Evan Cantwell/George Mason University

Meamber teaches them how to analyze why and how consumers make certain decisions. The class studies characters in popular films to see the concepts they learn throughout the semester.

“A primary goal of a consumer behavior course is for students to better understand consumer behavior in order to become more effective marketing managers,” said Meamber. “An additional goal … is to enhance their knowledge of consumer behavior so that they as consumers can consume wisely.”

Meamber says that through watching and analyzing movies, her classes examine the entire range of internal, external and situational influences on consumer behavior. She divides her class into three groups and each group focuses on one factor that affects consumer behavior: external influences, internal influences and decision-making.

“This allows them to reflect upon, apply and synthesize the entire range of knowledge they have acquired in the course.”

— Laurie Meamber, professor, George Mason University

“Students [write] a brief plot summary, providing descriptions of the major characters as consumers and analyzing concepts that they had learned in the course that appear in the film,” she said. “They do this in a comprehensive fashion, after having learned all of the ideas taught in consumer behavior. This allows them to reflect upon, apply and synthesize the entire range of knowledge they have acquired in the course.”

Mason spokeswoman Catherine Probst said, “Along the way, the students construct consumer profiles of the characters and examine reasons why and how they make decisions throughout the film. Specifically, students are looking for influences on consumer behavior based on attitudes, motivation, income level and occupation.”

Mason student, and Reston resident, Ben Coffinberger took Meamber’s consumer behavior class during the fall semester. His group chose “The Devil Wears Prada.”

“We presented it by dressing up as the four main characters and acting out small scenes from the movie that provided examples of important marketing concepts we learned throughout the semester,” said Coffinberger. “I was forced to identify and apply the marketing concepts I learned in the consumer behavior course to the scenes in the movie. Before taking this class, I didn’t think to really recognize consumer-marketing behaviors in movies, television and everyday life. Now I view things in a totally different light.”

Meamber says the increasing popularity of social media makes the movie approach a successful learning tool. “As time moves forward, this type of assignment fits in with the interests and learning styles of this generation of undergraduate students,” she said. “This type of assignment allows students to analyze and reflect upon movies as a medium that portrays many examples of consumers and of consumer behavior.”