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Consumer Behaviour A Consumer Society Notes

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A Consumer Society

Consumer Culture

Many people use the notion of consumer society in order to describe the current type of social organisation in the economically developed world. This is not only because we live in a world of things but also because the most decisive step in the construction of consumer society is the new role of consumption activities.

We used to define ourselves primarily based on our role in the production process however increasingly it is more decisive for our personal and social identities how we consume instead of what we do for a living.

The plethora of goods and their varieties in range and styles allows consumption choices to become clear statements about our personality, our values, aspirations, sympathies and antipathies and our way of handling social relations.

Modern consumer society is thus characterised by consumption based identities.

Popular Culture

When it is said that contemporary culture is a consumer culture we do not only refer to the central role of consumption in all of our daily activities.

Popular culture is both a product of and an inspiration for marketers. Our lives are also affected in more fundamental ways ranging from how we acknowledge social events or how we view societal issues.

The Meaning of Consumption

One of the fundamental premises of consumer behaviour is that people often buy products not for what they do but for what they mean.

This principle does not imply that a products primary function is unimportant but rather that the roles products play and the meaning that they have in our lives go well beyond the tasks they perform.

The deeper meanings of a product may help it to stand out from other similar goods and services. A person will choose the brand that has an image consistent with their underlying ideas.

Research has demonstrated that the cultural symbolism of product meanings influence physiological processes such as taste.

So much cultural symbols are very powerful and product meanings are to some extent self-fulfilling.

Meaning transfer is largely accomplished by such marketing vehicles as the advertising and fashion industries which associate products with symbolic qualities. These goods in turn impart their meanings to consumers through different forms of ritual and are used to create and sustain consumer identities.

Cultural values and symbols obviously only exist in so far as people enact and use them. Therefore it is also important to remind ourselves that the advertising and fashion industries, even though they are highly influential, are not dictorial in establishing product meanings.

In a sense, in consume society we are all lifestyle experts to some degree and many of us are trying to assert our uniqueness by mixing and matching styles and products that we can find in the marketplace.

Consumer society us a society where social life is organised less around our identities as producers or workers in the production system and more according to our roles as consumers in the consumption system.

This expresses a relatively new idea. Until recently many researchers treated culture as a sort of variable that would explain differences in what they saw as the central dimension in society; economic behaviour.

However, in our post-industrial society it has become increasingly evident that the principles of economy are themselves expressions of a specific kind of culture.

Cultural Categories

Meanings that are imparted to products reflect underlying cultural categories which correspond to the basic ways we characterise the world. Our culture makes distinctions between different times of day such as between leisure and work hours as well as other differences such as between genders, occasions, groups of people etc.

Goods are signs of the times in which we live.

What is important to retain is that meanings of consumer goods and their designs are not universal but relative to given social and historical contexts are bound to particular times and places.

What We do, When We Consume. Product Meanings in Use

If consumption is not just about solving practical problems. But is also about the personal and cultural meanings ascribed to the consumption practices, then it raises the important question about the cultural purposes of consumption.

One consumer researcher has developed a classification scheme in an attempt to explore the different ways that products and experiences can provide meaning to people.

This analysis identified four distinct types of consumption activities; o


Consuming as an integration - using and manipulating consumption objects to express aspects of the self.


Consuming as classification - the activities that consumers engage in to communicate with objects both to self and to others.


Consuming as experience - when the consumption is a personal emotional or aesthetic goal in itself.

Consuming as play - consumers use objects to participate in a mutual experience and merge their identities with that of a group.

It is important to realise that these categories are not mutually exclusive and that consumption activities may have traits of several or all of these aspects. On the other hand one aspect may dominate in the understanding of one particular consumption situation.

A Branded World

One of the most important ways in which meaning is created in consumer society is through the brand. Although defining exactly what band is is a complex task, the point of departure is that it refers to those strategic processes whereby managers try to create and sustain meanings attached to products, services and organisations.

What the brand means is ultimately decided by the consumer, not by the brand manager.

In the 21st century there has been a tremendous growth in the interest in brands, whether product brands or corporate brands and their increasing Importance as vehicles of meaning for consumers.

The hallmark of marketing strategies at the beginning of the 21st century is an emphasis on building relationships with customers. The nature of these relationships can vary and these bonds help us to understand some of the possible meanings products have for us.

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