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Understanding Consumers and Markets

Essay by   •  March 11, 2019  •  Essay  •  1,938 Words (8 Pages)  •  23 Views

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What does consumption mean? In its broadest sense, “consumption means satisfying needs”; i.e. something compulsory for a living, otherwise, “consumption means to have a good or a service, to own it, to use or to dispose it in order to satisfy particular needs”. (Aytekin Firat at al, 2013, 83).

 However, the model of consumption has changed over the past few years to give way to postmodern consumers and consumption. Indeed, today’s postmodern culture is characterized by the new role of consumption activities. Therefore, consumption has become a complex phenomenon in which consumer goods have a significance that goes beyond their utilitarian character (Grant McCracken 1986). In fact, consumers buy and use goods not for their utility, for the task they perform but for what they represent. By buying and assigning meaning to this or that product, consumers construct their social and personal world while also reflecting their lifestyle, their thought, their personalities and their desires. In other words, consumers do not only seek the functional use of the product but also an imaginary part. They buy image, not things.

First, we are going to analyse the consumer’s behavior through the symbolic meaning of products, by explaining that consumers consume to imitate others or to stand out from their peers. We will then explain that the meaning of goods and services is impacted by marketing vehicles such as advertising, and that marketers create and assign a symbolic relationship between the product and the consumer through the brand. Finally, we are going to clarify that the meaning of consumption could also be associated with the functional or utilitarian value of products and not merely bound to the image it conveys.

 

The main purpose of this paragraph is to examine that the “product symbolism is generated at the societal level but may be consumed at the level of individual experience. Products are consumed both for their social meaning (as symbols) and for their private meaning (as signs)” (Solomon Michael, 1986, p324).  

First, consumers consume the symbolic meaning of products because they buy things so as to construct, maintain and communicate a social world. Elliot called this process “Social Symbolism”. In fact, the culture society uses products as a way to communicate with each other in everyday life, in the same way as the verbal language. (Terrence H. Witkowski, 1989). As a matter of fact, Grant McCracken’s Culture and Consumption uses the “language-product” approach to point out that material objects such as clothes are considered a cultural language which gives information on a consumer’s social group. For instance, people distinguish workwear and everyday wear. Indeed, a person wearing a formal suit communicates an image through the way they dress, which allows us to guess the said person’s social group.

Moreover, in our current society it is essential to create relationships and to belong to a reference group, that is why, consumers buy things following an imitation and a reproduction process. For example, students buy the university sweat to show in which university they belong to. The “gender-reveal party” – a new social event that quickly became popular on social media – is another example of this need to associate oneself to a group. For the party, they spend money to fill the house with balloons, confetti, to buy the gender reveal cake, to dress respectively the “team boy” and the “team girl” with blue and pink clothes. This formerly little-known party has now become a pre-parenting custom. Consequently, all of these examples show us that a consumer’s choices are under the influence of the society and that consumption is an important element to participate to the social life and to broadcast a social message.

Secondly, consumers buy products to identify themselves, that is to say, the products they consume help them to stand out from others. According to Dittmar (1992), “It appears that who we are has been defined more and more through what we have as individuals” (Allan D. Olmsted, p 442). Indeed, people consume to express their personality by buying a product that reveals their ideas as a consumer and their social status “class”. Thus, a product becomes a sign, whereas the consumer “needs its object in order to be” (Baudrillard,19701998 ; p47). To carry this argument further, for example, one may wonder why some people possess an extremely expensive work of art at home. In fact, this can be explained by the desire for conspicuous consumption described by Veblen. By buying expensive items, the consumer seeks to show wealth and prestige. In this case, consumption is just a way to gain an image and a status. People who buy luxury products such as a Mont Blanc pen, do not buy it for its functional use, i.e. writing but as an evidence of their power and wealth. So, when consumers buy a Mont Blanc pen, they do much more than choosing a pen, they are making a lifestyle statement about who they are.

To conclude this part, the evaluation of a product is based on their symbolic meaning, the consumption is therefore symbolic, and consumers reflect who they are and who they want to be through what they consume. Obviously, this behavior is influenced by Marketers. How do marketers create, assign a symbolic relationship between the product and consumers?  

Marketers play a crucial role in our consumption choices and our perception of things. First, marketers use marketing communication such as advertising and fashion industries to connect the cultural meaning to the consumer good. In fact, the meaning transfer model affirms that the world is constituted by culture through categories (age, gender) and principles (value, concepts) that organize the world and that the meaning moves from the culturally constituted world into goods (Terrence H. Witkowski, Spring 1989). Hence, the culturally constituted world is portrayed in advertisements and conveys the meaning to the good. (McCracken, June 1986). Indeed, the process consists in selecting a meaning and then deciding which product will be used to evoke this meaning in the advertisement. In other words, the advertiser brings together a good with a cultural representation of the world and proceeds to the transfer meaning. To clarify our statement, we can look at the advertising format of Barilla, a food company. The company advertising often conveys a traditional image, namely the concept of family. They strengthen this image using a slogan: for instance, the Barilla slogan throughout the 1990’s was “dovè c’è Barilla, c’è casa”, which means “where there is Barilla, there is home”. By bringing together the image of a family having a dinner and sharing a joyful moment while eating barilla pasta, advertisers transfer a meaningful sign to the food. As a consequence, when consumers see the ad, they try to interpret the meaning of the symbol and then they “absorb” the brand’s meaning.

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