Rethinking the brand–community relationship: Wearing a biggie in Harlem

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In one of the most cited studies in business and economics, Muñiz and O’Guinn established that a brand can serve as the basis of community. Their seminal fieldwork showed that through digital communication, consumers loyal to the same brand formed a community unbounded by geography and rooted in collective imagination. This article provides an alternative ethnographic account in which the relationship between brands and community runs in reverse: community serves as the input rather than output of a brand, with digital communication bringing forth a distinctly local and interpersonal brand story. Drawing on multi-year fieldwork conducted on- and offline with youth and outreach workers in Harlem, I illustrate how youth implanted the Marmot brand and its Mammoth “biggie” parka with street-level meanings total apart from the public image of the brand yet consistent with branding practices in the corporate sector. This article helps to reorient the sociological, media, marketing, and consumer literatures by demonstrating how place-based, face-to-face relationships may become more, not less, significant as brands, digital technology, and community converge.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)219-235
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Consumer Culture
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Business and International Management
  • Social Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Marketing


  • Brand
  • Harlem
  • brand community
  • branding
  • communication
  • community
  • ethnography
  • social media
  • urban
  • youth


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