French’s Mustard, Est de la France, Oui ou Non?

May 3, 2016

Sonal Pandya receives Stanford’s Hoover Fellowship to Continue Research on Supermarket Scanner Data

Professor Sonal Pandya has been selected as a W. Glenn Campbell and Rita Ricardo-Campbell National Fellow for 2016–17. Her research topic is beautifully quirky, the sort of thing which is interesting to every person who has ever bought a loaf of bread, a gallon of milk, a jar of mustard.

Sonal’s research uses supermarket scanner data to reveal Americans’ reactions to shock events – events which expose our nationalism and how we express patriotism through shopping. During 2003 France was opposed to  the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Scanner data reveals we changed our buying habits after this — reducing our purchases of TRESemmé shampoo, Raison d’être Beer, and yes, even French’s Mustard.

Non-French-speaking Americans picked up on written cues like accents, circumflexes, “eau’s” and “oui’s”, and bundled them all into a boycott against France. The reaction to the event was repeatedly stoked by Bill O’Reilly who included Roquefort dressing, Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint-Laurent, and Pierre Cardin in the boycott. In her paper French Roast: Consumer Response to International Conflict—Evidence from Supermarket Scanner Data, Sonal charted Fox News’ coverage against CNN’s which revealed huge differences between the peaks and valleys in how the two media outlets handled France’s announcement. The data revealed shoppers punished any brand which sounded French or even French-ish.

Fantastique! But also puzzling and a little sad for Americans. Her results do not reveal irony—in a world of multinationals, acculturation, branding, and identity-switching, who can say what products are Franco? or American? or Franco-American!?

The research was published in the journal Review of Economics and Statistics, and subsequently picked up by New York Magazine. This research opens a bunch of potential tools, for brand managers dealing with product identity and crisis communications, as a type of responsive polling data to be watched by policy makers, and perhaps by keen-eyed spies who want to know the political leanings of shoppers within driving distance of a Giant, Kroger, and Trader Joe’s.

Teasing Out

The Hoover Institute liked Sonal’s next project, International Conflict and Economic Interdependence Revisited, and invited her for a year-long fellowship, from September 2016 through June 2017. And so she returns to Stanford where she did her undergraduate work. The Hoover Institute Fellowship is an award earmarked for scholars at Sonal’s career level: someone within seven years of receiving their terminal degree, and post tenure—the time when faculty take on more daring research projects.

Sonal says this revisit will look at 9/11 and the efforts implemented by Homeland Security. What happens to a shopper when the Homeland Security alert system goes from green to red? What about when bin Ladin was captured? How much do fear and anxiety direct people towards American brands?

Teasing out is a phrase political scientists often use when looking at complex data. Sonal will be teasing out more knowledge from more supermarket data. She says the supply chain makes this complex—at what point can we infer causality? How do we parse the signal from the noise? Perhaps this knowledge can be used identify war casualties and events more important than mustard choice.

Sonal looks forward to conducting her research under the Hoover Fellowship. She says “the Hoover Institute can influence policy, and then get that policy information into the right hands.” It is a powerful opportunity. Previous Hoover Fellows you may recognize: former United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (Senior Fellow), UVA Department of Politics’ James Ceaser (Senior Fellow), George Schultz (Distinguished Fellow), Henry Kissinger (Distinguished Visiting Fellow), former Attorney General Ed Meese, former United States Senator Sam Nunn, former California governor Pete Wilson. Recipients also include three Nobel Prize winners, three Presidential Medal of Freedom winners, a National Medal of Science winner, a National Humanities Medal winner, three MacArthur Fellows, among many other types of awards. Sonal Pandya will be in prestigious company.

The Institute has a great array of seminars and events for National fellows. They also are expected to produce a publishable journal article or book manuscript while in residence. Fellows are also expected to participate in the intellectual life of the Hoover Institution, including attending seminars, roundtables with visiting policymakers and scholars, and social events. Political science nirvana.

More on Sonal Pandya’s and research partner Rajkumar Venkatesan supermarket scanner research here.

More on W. Glenn Campbell and Rita Ricardo-Campbell National Fellows.

Her website.

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