Challenge accepted

Dr. Pankaj Aggarwal on carving out a new field of study

Pankaj Aggarwal, PhD, is a man of two worlds. Now a professor of marketing at the University of Toronto, Pankaj began his career as an advertiser in New Delhi, India. After working his way up to the top of India’s advertising world, Pankaj chose to quit his job as V.P. of one of India’s leading marketing firms to pursue a PhD at the University of Chicago, to the shock and awe of his co-workers. “In India, employees, especially junior employees, can have no right to life, and certainly no right to weekends! But after the first few years it is worth it. You have your chauffeur driven car, someone to carry your bags and someone to type your dictations!” When asked what prompted this career shift, Pankaj shrugs and responds: “I suppose midlife crisis hit me.” Well, this may be the case, but few midlife crises are so fortuitous as his.

Pankaj’s 14 years of experience in advertising has led him down a path of new exploration and discovery in marketing research. It all started when he came across a study done by researchers at Harvard Business School on a phenomena they called “Brand Relationships”. Pankaj immediately recognized this phenomena as one that he knew to be possible. This intuition is one that he believes many professional marketers share. “The concept of brand relationships is new to academics, but marketers know it and have been using it for years, so it is surprising that academics have not caught up.”

Pankaj was surprised to find not only that little research had been done on consumer-brand relationships, but that there were some who we’re skeptical of it as a field of research. “’What do you mean by relationship?’ They would ask. ‘Is it just positive affect? Mood? Liking? Preference?’” Pankaj was faced with the challenge of designing a study that would prove that this phenomena existed, and was none of the alternatives suggested by his colleagues. “How do I say, it is none of those, it is this!”

He did not back away from this challenge, and today stands on the brink of pioneering a new field of study in marketing research. “In academics everybody has a goal to be known in their field. So I am hoping that I can carve this as my area, and be one of the few people who come to mind when considering this kind of research.” This is not an insignificant goal, but Pankaj has worked his way up from the bottom before. It may not be long before he is achieving great heights in academia as well. We’re just happy to have connected with him now.

Written by Aliah El-houni, Peeps
Photography by Nation Wong, Peeps

Pankaj Aggarwal is an associate professor of marketing in the Department of Management at the University of Toronto-Scarborough, with a cross-appointment to the Marketing Department at Rotman. He holds a PhD in Marketing from the University of Chicago, and teaches classes in marketing communication and strategy. His research examines consumer behavior in the context of consumer-brand relationships, including anthropomorphism.

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