Stefano Pace. Qualitative Market Research. Volume 11, Issue 2. 2008.
Noah took a photo of himself every day … for six years … Then he put the pictures in a mesmerizing sequence and uploaded the video onto YouTube. Noah was one of the candidates of the 2006 YouTube Awards. What lies behind this behaviour? What method can be applied to understand the YouTube phenomenon? What happens when videos refer to brands and consumption?
Consumers live in a narrative world in which stories are told and they write their own stories through deeds of consumption. In this sense, consumption is a narrative act, a conclusion which can be drawn from the current marketing and consumption literature (Hopkinson and Hogarth-Scott, 2007; Shankar et al. , 2001; Shankar and Goulding, 2001). Marketing scholars have acquired an awareness of the relevance of narrative and narrative analysis applied to consumption and to marketing decisions. Branding, communication and consumption itself have been studied as narrative acts. We can currently observe a new field for the evolution of narrative analysis and narrative expression in consumption: YouTube.
YouTube is a rich repository of information and insights regarding markets and consumption. The aim of the paper is to contribute to a debate regarding the methods to study this new medium. How to extract knowledge about consumers from YouTube? That knowledge is embedded in the videos posted by consumers. Qualitative analysis can help to extract this knowledge. In particular, narrative analysis seems an interesting method to explore, due to the narrative nature of YouTube. The paper tries to contribute to the advancement of qualitative market research by exploring the application of the narrative approach to this new field.
Narrative and Consumption
Narrative can be considered in a continuum from an ontological perspective, according to which “everything” is narrative, to a tool to understand specific marketing features (such as advertisements or brands). The first end of that continuum is probably to much wide to be operationally sound. The other end may limit the use of narrative analysis to few applications. The aim of this section is to define the boundaries of narrative analysis, by illustrating how narrative can be found in some aspects of consumption and marketing.
The relevance of narrative analysis within marketing and consumption studies has been considered by many researchers (Grayson, 1997; Shankar et al. , 2001; Shankar and Goulding, 2001). Shankar et al. (2001) suggest a narrative paradigm to understand consumption.
Narrative has a double nature: functional and ontological. As to the former, narrative is conceptualized as a heuristic function. Narrative is a tool through which the researcher is able to analyze and understand consumption:
Following the footsteps of Gadamer, Ricoeur suggested that all behaviour, and by extrapolation our consumption behaviour too, could be interpreted as a text and therefore could be subjected to a hermeneutic analysis (Shankar et al. , 2001, p. 441).
Narrative can be considered ontologically as the very essence of human behaviour, including consumption behaviour. As human beings, we organize our knowledge and even emotions, in a narrative form. Our memory stores facts using a narrative frame. Cognition is a means of giving meaning to the events of life and narrative is a structure and function to create those meanings. Narrative is not a subjective act: language—on which narrative is based—is determined socially through discourse. Hence, by considering human behaviour as narrative in nature, in this current paper we also introduce a social dimension. Meaning cannot be totally individualistic, but is shared and created in the daily social agora, the public discourse where meanings are created. Completely personal meanings could be considered as close to madness, that is, a monologue not understandable by society.
Narrative and literary criticism is presently a field of interest for marketing scholars. The relevant literature should be considered by marketing scholars for two reasons. First, one it is possible that novels can provide insights about consumption more effectively than research reports or scholarly surveys (Brown, 2005a). Does a writer known consumers better then marketing researchers? Sometimes, a novelist forecasts trends and future marketing practices more accurately than consultants (Brown, 2005a). William Gibson, for instance, in his 1984 novel “Neuromancer,” forecasted human-machine interactions and networks that were a literary rendition of the coming age of the internet. Literary descriptions of consumers are often more vivid and insightful than scientific pieces. Second, marketing is a form of narrative (Brown, 2005a, b; Hopkinson and Hogarth-Scott, 2007): “the research endeavour is itself an act of storymaking and storytelling” (Hopkinson and Hogarth-Scott, 2007, p. 158). Articles are pieces of narration with a scientific rigour. The personal style of scholarly authors impacts on the development of the discipline (Brown, 2005b). Hence, marketing scholars can draw inspiration and assistance from literature and literary criticism (Patterson and Brown, 2005).
The use of narrative can easily be seen in advertising and communication in general. It is common knowledge that many advertisements have a plot that make them a form of modern tale, with a problem finally solved by a hero, that is, the product or brand. It has been proven that, by structuring an ad as narrative, the message can be more persuasive than an analytical illustration of a product’s features (Escalas, 2007). When the consumer sees ads that can refer to herself, the narrative self-referencing is less vulnerable to weak argumentations than common analytical thinking (Escalas, 2007).
Advertisements can be analyzed using literary criticism and taxonomy (Stern, 1989, 1995) that are more subtle than content analysis. The narrative structure of ads is even deeper than that. Narrative is not just a story developed along time. Even an image is a story. Scott (1994a) reflects on the use of rhetoric in the visual element of advertising. The still images used in the ads have an intrinsic rhetoric value that is coded by the sender and interpreted spontaneously by the receiver. The interpretation is rooted more in the historical cultural context in which the subject lives, than in a natural process of perception. Processes of perception are learned and not inscribed in the biology of the seer. Visual perception is based on the conventions of symbols and signs shared by sender and receiver. As Scott (1994b) argues, an image showing a magic box full of jewels escaping from it, elicits in the mind of the consumer the literary symbol of the Pandora’s box. That meaning is built in a literary myth shared by the members of the society. Moreover, the consumer adopts a sophisticated interpretation: the box of the advertisement brings beautiful objects and not illnesses like in the myth.
Branding is another field in which narrative can be seen. Brand values and associations are often built through ads that are narratives. At a deeper level, a brand can be perceived by the consumer as a character within a story (Shankar et al. , 2001, p. 447). Literary genres can also be applied to brands in the manner of novels and tales (Twitchell, 2004). A brand is a story in itself, expressed visually (e.g. the Golden Arches of McDonald’s, the swoosh logo of Nike), through sounds and characters (Twitchell, 2004).
In order to benefit from a brand and truly consume it, a subject must be knowledgeable of the story behind the brand and understand its narrative nature. This understanding implies brand literacy (Bengtsson and Fuat Firat, 2006), in which the term clearly refers to conventional knowledge conveyed by symbols shared between advertiser and consumer. Brand literacy has three levels of skills: reading a sign; writing a sign; understanding how the receiver would interpret a sign. The third level of ability resembles the rhetoric (Scott, 1994a), that is, the art and practice of articulating a message to achieve a desired effect on the audience. At the highest level of ability, the consumer uses the brand in a way that shows her knowledge of it and how the other persons would interpret that use. This rhetorical ability is particularly relevant when the consumer becomes a producer of meanings conveyed to other subjects, as it happens in YouTube.
Another aspect of narrative is its use as a methodological tool. A consumer is a producer of introspective narratives that can be studied by researchers. In order to understand the inner emotions and experiences of consumers, researchers investigate the introspective narratives that the subjects write (Carù and Cova, 2006). Probably more effectively than the answers given in an interview, the narrative of the subject can convey the deeper meaning of a consumption experience. Based on the extensive and varied use of personal narrative that is accumulating in marketing, some authors would advocate a “literary-based perspective to the interpretive turn in qualitative market research” (Hackley, 2007, p. 98). Personal diaries are another form of narrative produced by consumers which are analyzed by researchers (Patterson, 2005). Further back in the past, service marketing developed and refined the critical incidents technique, through which a service user recounts the various phases of a service process (Burns et al. , 2000).
We can summarize the relationship between narrative analysis and marketing/consumer behaviour as in Table I.
In summary, the consumer is considered as a reader of narratives that are embedded in ads or brands, and as a writer of introspective accounts of her own experiences and feelings. What seems less central in this broad framework of studies based on narrative, is the consumer as a storyteller. Consumer narratives that are solicited by researchers cannot be considered as stories as such, but as introspection produced and used for research purposes. A story, to be defined as such, should be conceived and issued by the sender with the intent to convey a meaning to an undefined audience. Brand communities are one of the contexts in which stories are told, since storytelling is one of the key features of communities (Muñiz and O’Guinn, 2001; Schau and Muñiz, 2006). The members refer to legendary tales of their preferred brands, maintaining the tradition. However, a story can be told to a larger audience, not necessarily limited to fellow members of a community. Recently, new media provide consumers with a sophisticated tool for telling their stories about consumption.
Narrative is extensively present in the marketing field, however this does not imply that all is narrative and that narrative analysis is a “recipe” for any type of marketing research. The limits of narrative analysis will be presented commenting its application to the case of YouTube.
Broadcast Yourself: YouTube
A new means of self-expression is available to consumers and is gaining attention on in the managerial practice and the consumer behaviour field: YouTube (www.youtube.com). The slogan of this new internet service is noteworthy: “Broadcast Yourself.” Subjects can upload and share personally produced videos, portions of movies and TV shows, creative montages of any audio-visual material that is available on TV or the Web. Not surprisingly, this technical freedom to post any material raises questions about copyright infringement by YouTube users and YouTube itself. The future development of YouTube is inextricably related to these issues and how they are resolved.
Consumption practices and brands are among the represented topics. The forms are varied: a fan of the TV series “Grey’s Anatomy” edits images of his favourite program and creates his own story using the characters; a Heineken beer bottle is dropped and filmed at high speed to show any nuances of the “phenomenon,” as in a naturalistic documentary. The new environment of YouTube allows consumers to freely and creatively redefine their relationship with products and brands and anything related to them.
YouTube represents a sophisticated and visual form of “public intimacy” that one can find in some internet-personal spaces, where people let others see their own lives. Some of these spaces are promoted directly by brands, like in the case of the community MyNutella, where the fans of the most famous hazelnut spread post pictures of themselves and their passion (Cova and Pace, 2006).
YouTube is part of the visual age that we live in (Schroeder, 2002). Consumption increasingly includes vision as part of other acts of consumption or as a form of consumption in itself (watching TV or browsing in a store are autonomous consumption acts). YouTube adds another dimension to this phenomenon, that is the direct production of images by the subjects and not the mere consumption of images.
What is Told in YouTube? Attempting a Taxonomy
The example of Noah that was given at the beginning of the article is a good answer to the question of what is told in YouTube: anything can be told. Unlike common TV shows which are framed in genres and formats, YouTube is chaotic, left to the idiosyncrasies and caprices of the users.
Nonetheless, it is possible to formulate a necessarily incomplete taxonomy of YouTube contributions, with specific attention to consumption-related content based on the types of stories told by YouTube users.
Creative Redefinition of Brand and Consumption
In this case, subjects re-use known products and brands in a new, often entertaining, way. The Mentos-Coke experiment is an example. The two “researchers” insert few Mentos mints into a series of Coke bottles, creating a choreographic set of fountains. They create a renaissance noble garden, where water is substituted by Coke. Here, the creativity technique used is that of combining two different things (Mentos and Coke), provoking a volcanic reaction. Another evident creative technique is that of the hyperbolic growing of an aspect of a given object: the carbonated effervescence of Coke is so exaggerated, that it literally explodes.
The metaphors conveyed by this story are twofold. On one hand, there is the showing-off of new “functions” of products discovered by consumers driven by curiosity. It is a sort of hilarious reverse engineering of what companies put into the product. On the other hand, there is a hyperbolic celebration of the Coke brand.
Make Your Own TV Series Episode
The main content repository for YouTube users are the media themselves. The user creates self-made episodes and stories by editing together characters drawn from a movie or a TV drama. Shots from episodes are taken form aired TV shows, re-edited into a montage that gives a new story with known characters. For instance, a user can take scenes from one of the Harry Potter movies and the TV series “The X-Files,” adding a soundtrack from the movie “Shall we Dance” and he then creates a visual story about romance and love.
YouTube is not an insulated new media, detached from common TV. It shares much with TV and movies. In fact, a large portion of YouTube content is the uploading—modified or not—of portions of TV series episodes and shows. It is the expression of the subculture of TV fandom already observed in other contexts, like the Star Trek saga (Kozinets, 2001).
Communities gather around ritual, brands and places (Cova and Cova, 2002; Bagozzi and Dholakia, 2006; Cova et al. , 2007a, b; Schau and Muñiz, 2006). Storytelling is one of the key features of a brand community. YouTube is used to celebrate the community rituals surrounding a brand. For instance, a Harley Davidson rally is relived in YouTube. Other forms of community are devoid of references to any particular brand and are a mere sharing, such as personal holidays, places visited, programs seen. In these cases, there is no pre-defined community, but just a sense of sharing. Solidarity is another key feature of communities (Muñiz and O’Guinn, 2001) and some videos can be considered as just a gift to the other users. For instance, a subject posts a video in which he teaches practical recipes and tricks to cook a nice barbeque.
Debunking and Spoofing Marketing
Some videos unmask marketing techniques or alleged marketing threats. The user employs the rhetorical techniques of advertisers and companies against them. It is a form of high-brand literacy, that of unmasking the marketing discourse (Bengtsson and Fuat Firat, 2006) and expressing some counter-power by consumers (Cova et al. , 2007a, b).
For instance, a consumer discovers a supposedly subliminal advertisement by McDonald’s during a TV program. Subliminal ads are a classic and controversial issue in marketing. Here, a consumer allegedly proves its use. Users post also alternative rendition of marketing communication and ads. As an example, a user produces and uploads a fake video of the iPod launch, using real shot from the Steve Jobs’ speech, but re-edited and dubbed in an ironic and funny way.
Replicate Milestones in Order to Celebrate Them
Classic, famous extracts from TV programs, music videos and milestone advertisements are often simply put online to be relived and seen again and again with comments and discussion from other users.
Some videos are evergreen oldies. Portions of Charlie Chaplin’s movies are uploaded and celebrated. Nothing is changed, the user does not modify anything, the piece of the movie or the ad is just put online and enjoyed. Often it is a leap into the past, a retro-marketing nostalgia (Brown, 2004) when all seemed innocent and authentic, marketing included.
YouTube as Narrative Discourse
YouTube content is so diverse that the categories suggested above cannot pretend to be exhaustive. YouTube seems a collection of episodes selected randomly by individuals, with no criterion but one’s own tastes or caprices. Nonetheless, this is coherent with the historical evolution of writing and storytelling. Literary critics show that tales and novels before the eighteenth century had to acknowledge one main feature: to repeat universal ideas and truths with no variations. Any change would prevent the story from being considered a story. Originality was not considered acceptable (Rutelli, 2005). Novels and storytelling then developed from these origins. Originality became a criterion of evaluation of the quality of a story. YouTube presents stories that can be extremely subjective, showing individual experiences and ideas that are sometimes almost incomprehensible for a viewer. Compared to YouTube, advertising and “institutional” communication almost appear as a communication typical of the past, where truth (the goodness of the product, corporate values) are communicated and repeated over time. The YouTube videos are like novels.
Stories can be divided into three levels (Hopkinson and Hogarth-Scott, 2001). At a higher level, there are myths that are universal values and cultural truths. At the converse level, there are reports: narrative renditions of real facts and events. In between, there are stories, narratives:
Like myths, “narratives” are not true to external reality, but are distinctive in that they are the means through which tellers impose order upon what they see, thereby constructing reality and creating their understanding of events” (Hopkinson and Hogarth-Scott, 2001, p. 28).
YouTube videos can assume all three facets. Videos of real events (reports) and stories created by the user are both present. The uploading of advertisements can thus be considered as the rendition of universal myths constituting the “true” values of brands as coded by advertisers. The renowned Marlboro man tries to tell us a story about values such as freedom or masculinity. It is a consumption myth. The endorser of Coke of the 1980s, Mean Joe Greene, is another case of myth telling a story that was at the core of the US cultural contradictions of that age (Holt, 2004). Those “myths” can then be modified or replicated by the YouTube user, in a celebration or in a new personal narrative where the brand is the core.
Using another classification, YouTube’s videos can cover each cell of the rhetorical tetrad.
YouTube represents a challenge for interpretive consumer research. One of the key challenges is that scholars have apparently not yet refined specific methods of research for such a new medium. The form of expressions employed in YouTube, is, in fact, quite new. Users act as movie producers, directors or actors, telling stories visually to an audience. Other forms of expressions resemble YouTube: blogs, chats, virtual words. What is different in YouTube is:
- The actual intent of users to broadcast stories to an audience; and
- The use of visual tales.
Blogs, virtual communities and similar platforms do not have the same structure. The diachronic nature of videos uploaded to YouTube (the development of the elements of meaning over time) makes them a story, richer than texts and different from pictures. The presence of an audience makes the system a broadcasting system, but with no traditional broadcaster.
The material produced by YouTube users can be interpreted from various perspectives, each capturing a part of the phenomenon at issue.
The video representations posted in YouTube are similar to the setting described by Goffman (1959), that is, a theatre-like presentation of the self, where the subject plays a character. The products and brand would be artefacts and signs to better convey the meanings of the play. This perspective would not capture the meaning of those videos in which the subject is not personally present. In that case, the subject is not an actor who personally plays in front of a public.
This discipline (Schroeder, 2002, 2007; Heisley, 2001) can be useful to understand YouTube, but its semiotic roots could limit its explanatory power. In fact, according to the medium-specificity theory of movies (Forgione, 2004), videos have a nature that is quite different from a picture or a series of pictures. The editing and chronological sequence is what distinguishes YouTube videos from other visual material.
Interpretive consumer research extensively uses videos as method of research and material for study (Belk and Kozinets, 2005, 2007). However, videography implies video material produced by the researchers or (less frequently) autonomously produced by consumers and then interpreted by researchers. In the latter case, compared to YouTube, what is missing is the specific intention of subjects to broadcast their video to an audience. This intention makes the video a story, a movie that can be studied as such and not as real rendition of a spontaneous fact.
Mass Media Theories
YouTube allows an individual to be a broadcaster. Current media theories (Gunter, 2000) are developing new approaches for this new medium. Some TV formats can be a laboratory for such new perspectives. In some respects, reality shows are similar to YouTube videos. In reality shows the average man or woman is the main character, the “hero.” In both cases, common laymen are the stars. However, YouTube adds something new for traditional TV shows: the subject is the star, the director, the writer, the producer, and the broadcaster. The slogan of YouTube is “Broadcast Yourself.” This slogan is a paradox. Broadcasting is a function of societies that relate to specific institutions. These institutions choose the stories to be narrated. The individual can be one of the characters of these programs, like in reality shows, but he cannot be the broadcaster. There is a clear wall between the broadcaster and the broadcasted. YouTube eradicates the division between the two. An individual can broadcast himself freely with no mediation. YouTube can be considered a consolidated format in a new medium, but also, and more interestingly, it seems a new level of evolution of mass media.
Mass media studies have refined the conceptualization of the mass media audience. The first studies by the Frankfurt School saw the audience and mass composed of anonymous individuals. The bullet theory would emphasize the power of the messages broadcasted over such a mass of people devoid of any critical thinking. This theorization of the audience was coherent with an age in which the messages broadcasted were largely propaganda by regimes intending to move entire nations towards war or to instil certain attitudes. The wave of field studies which refined the theory, revealed that the message was not elaborated by the individual, but socialized and discussed within a social network in which a particular role is played by the opinion leader.
The 1970s and 1980s introduced a new way of considering the TV audience. The viewer was no longer a Pavlovian organism which reacts to inputs without reflection. Researchers observe the actual daily use of TV and the results show a quite different situation, compared to the theorization of previous studies. Housewives, for instance, were a common object of study, due to their use of TV. Watching TV was considered a form of escape by them, sometimes with a degree of guilt.
During the 1980s, Hall (1980) developed the encoding/decoding model. The broadcaster encodes a desired meaning within the message, but the audience can decode the message in a quite different way. The decoding may be coherent or resistant to the meaning intended by the broadcaster. What is missing in the decoding by the viewer, is that she cannot express her decodification in the same form of the broadcasted message. For instance, if a viewer interprets a TV ad or a TV program as an excessive praise of a materialistic view, he can accept or refuse this view with the very acts of his daily life and consumption. YouTube allows the viewer to decode the TV material into something made by the same material of TV: images, videos, stories. The same subject cited before can edit that TV material to reinterpret it and posting this interpretation online.
Mass media studies, concentrated on the subjects as a more or less active audience, could have to refine the existing theories in order to investigate the audience as an active producer.
There is probably no theory presently available that can explain YouTube exhaustively. However, it seems that, eventually, it may be possible to develop a method for studying the phenomenon. The methodology that seems to explain the YouTube environment reasonably comprehensively is narrative analysis (Shankar et al. , 2001; Bal, 1997). The question of whether visual expression might be interpreted by using linguistic rules remains open. As Eco (1968, cit. in Rutelli, p. 139) states: “Not all the communication phenomena can be explained with the categories of linguistics.” Visual elements can be reduced to a language through vague linguistic proxies. Wittgenstein was challenged to explain a popular Naples gesture in purely linguistic terms: actions cannot be reduced totally to words. However, other writers like Jacobson refer to intersemiotics, the possibility to translate different forms of communication into one another. For instance, visual communication, like advertisements, use linguistic rhetorical figures to convey meaning. Thus, it is possible that visual elements can be translated into linguistic elements, allowing narrative analysis to be applied. Each act of communication would have a fabula (Bal, 1997) within it, that is, the inner structure of the events, their logical flow, regardless of the actual story told (thus, regardless of the style, the medium used, the actual terms and expressions employed). Even a still image synthesises a story that is developed chronologically.
Narrative analysis seems a fruitful approach, covering many facets of YouTube. As seen, consumer narratives are acknowledged by marketing scholars as a form (even the core form for some of them) of expression of consumption (Shankar et al. , 2001) and employed as a research epistemology when the subject herself writes down her thoughts and inner feelings (Carù and Cova, 2006). YouTube adds a visual aspect and it enriches the way in which a subject can tell his stories of consumption or about consumption. Moreover, YouTube videos are a form of consumption in themselves.
When produced to be told and broadcasted, a video becomes a story. YouTube videos have the typical elements of a story: plot, character, structural pattern, and organization, expressions (as the chosen visual elements). One can analyse videos using different narratological approaches. One of them is the traditional tales structure devised by Propp (1968). The focus can be also on the creative methods employed by the user, like those used to build a fairytale (Rodari, 1973). This could be an operational starting point for analyzing a video. The researcher could pinpoint the creative technique used in the video. The Mentos-Coke experiment, for instance, seems based on the hyperbolic exaggeration of a product’s feature, in this case, effervescence. Another creative tool used is that of combining two different elements (Mentos and Coke).
The YouTube user employs rhetoric techniques to convey the intended meaning to the audience. It is similar to the use of visual rhetoric as applied by advertisers (Scott, 1994a, b). Rhetoric is based on conventional means shared by the sender and the audience. In YouTube, the conventions are the meaning of the brands as generally conceived in the marketplace. Leveraging on this common knowledge, the user can play with that meaning and create a story, celebrating or making fun of the brand. Hence, if Coke is about the excesses of marketing, the video of Mentos-Coke is a visual rhetorical representation of this aspect. The same holds for TV characters. The user knows the personal traits of a TV character and she uses these traits to tell some story. A romantic doctor from the TV series “Grey’s Anatomy” can be used to represent romance in a self-edited video, just like a movie director who hires an actor to play a specific kind of role. Doctor House, for instance, is a cynical TV character. His traits are known to the viewers of the TV series. A user might combine shots of episodes of the Dr House show to tell a romantic story with a cynical flavour, or about medical systems or indeed, about whatever the user can imagine. That character becomes an actor in the hands of the user-producer. The common and shared repository of meanings (romance, drama, cynical, and so on) is produced by normal TV programs and they are necessary to ensure that the discourse of YouTube continues. That is why it is unlikely that YouTube would substitute, at least in the near future, the classical broadcasting systems. TV creates the myths and the “universal” ideas on which the creation by YouTube users are based.
Narrative analysis should respect criteria that are different, compared to other methods (Riessman, 2002). A narrative analysis should be persuasive and plausible, rather than objective. It should show coherence with the informant’s view, consider the viewers as co-authors of the research. The process should allow for pragmatic use, that is, the opportunity for other researchers to work on the same material and conclusions to refine them and validate them, in an open process of collective knowledge creation.
A narrative analysis should account for three forms of coherence (Riessman, 2002). The global coherence accounts for the real intent of the subject in telling the story. Local coherence means understanding the tools and structure used by the narrator in order to achieve a desired effect. Thematic coherence means that certain themes are recurrent in a story and are the relevant keys for conveying the meaning of the tale. Referring once again to the YouTube series of videos about Coke-Mentos experiments, the global intent of the user can be quite varied: showing off one’s creativity, making fun of the brands, imitating other famous videos, conducting a real chemical experiment. As to local coherence, if a funny soundtrack or laughing are added to the video, the local coherence moves in the direction of simple enjoyment, rather than science or accusation. Finally, thematic coherence is the relevance of certain themes: if the brands are often focused on by the camera and mentioned during the story, the tale is about a brand, rather than about chemical ingredients. The same fact—the explosion of Coke once Mentos are added—can told in very different ways. Narrative analysis can take into account this variety.
Conclusions and Limits
New media like YouTube add a new field of study for different streams of research, such as reader-response theory (Scott, 1994b), the coding/decoding model (Hall, 1980) and the subculture of consumption (Kozinets, 2001). The narrative analysis can be a useful perspective to understand the YouTube phenomenon. Naturally narrative analysis has some limitations:
- Once a YouTube video is considered as a story, the researcher has still to define the specific method to apply to understand that story. In fact, unlike other methodological approaches, narrative analysis present different ways of application and different references (such as Propp, Bal, Riessman, just to mention some of the sources).
- The stories that can be told in a YouTube video are so varied that it may be difficult to reach a sufficient validity in the interpretation by the researcher. Is the Coke-Mentos video a representation of irony or a form of protest against marketing? Narrative analysis could produce different results from different researchers. More quantitative method, like content analysis, would assure more valid and reliable results. However, narrative analysis can provide a richer interpretation that can lead to further insights.
Given the richness of YouTube and the limits of narrative analysis, researchers can employ different methods to study YouTube. Narrative analysis can complement other methods.