The available knowledge of today strongly supports the role of the self-concept as a partial determinant of human behavior. The self is what one is aware of, one’s attitudes, feelings, perceptions and evaluations of oneself as an object (Grubb, Grathwohl 1967). The self develops not as a personal, individual process but evolves through the process of social experience, that is through the reactions of parents, peers and significant others. Self-enhancement will depend upon the reactions of those people. The interaction process does not take place in a vacuum; the individual are affected both by the environmental settings and the “personal attire” of each involved individual (Grubb, Grathwohl 1967).

The extended self also play a big role when it comes to buy certain product such a brand ones, for example, when one buy a pair of Levi’s as in Zoes case her extended self will grow, makes her feel better both in her own eyes and in her friends eyes. The extended self is what one is and have, not only a single product or brand represent all of one’s self-concept, rather a complete ensemble of consumption objects may be able to represent the diverse and possibly incongruous aspects of the total self. The extended self starts to develop already in the age of 7-8, at this stage the children are beginning to place value on material possessions based on their ability to elevate one’s status above others or to fit into the expectations of social groups (John D.R 1999).

If a brand is to serve as a symbolic communicative device it must achieve social recognition, and the meaning associated with the brand must be clearly established and understood by related segments of society (Grubb, Grathwohl 1967). What brand to purchase depends on the group one is within, in some groups it may be right to ware a pair of no-brand sneakers cause it seen as cool, where in the other group one will not be accepted if one does not wear high-class brand such as Armani etc. Tattooing, ear piercing, hair style and ownership of various styles of bicycles, motorcycles or automobiles are also means of group identification, as are musical knowledge and preference, bar, club, and entertainment attendance, support of specific cultural arts, and knowledge and preference for sport teams.

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The relative variability of such consumption tastes within groups should tell us something about the degree to which group members rely upon the group identity (Belk 1988). Several years of research into the symbolic nature of products, brands, institutions, and media of communication make it amply clear that consumers are able to gauge grossly and subtly the symbolic language of different objects, and the translate them into meanings for themselves (Levy 1959). The individual and group symbolic interpretation is largely depending on one’s understanding of the meaning associated with the brand. Though the individual or group may treat this process in a private or group manner, he or they has learned the symbolic meaning from public sources (Grubb, Grathwohl 1967).

Csikszentmihalyi explains that … the object we posses and consume are…wanted because… they tell us things about ourselves that we need to hear in order to keep our selves from falling apart. This information includes the social recognition that follows upon the display of status symbols, but it includes also the much more private feedback provided by special household objects that objectify a person’s past, present, and future, as well as his or her close relationship (Belk 1988). Status-seeking through products and brand is a significant source of motivation to procure appropriate products and services that the user hopes will let others know that he or she has “made it” (Solomon, Bamossy, Askegaard, 1999).

Possessions help us at all ages to know who we are; however, this does not imply that we are always active in selecting the possessions that we see as a part of our selves. Jean-Paul Sartre, the philosopher and father of existentialism talked and maintained that the only reason we want to have something is to enlarge our sense of self and that the only way we can know who we are is by observing what we have. It seems an inescapable fact of modern life that we learn, define, and remind ourselves of whom we are by our possessions.

2. Identify the changing role and importance of social influences – such as reference groups – for young adult consumers (15 and 24 years).

Social influences are apparently a concept that is difficult to define, explicate, and measure (Moschis, Moore, 1979). For some time, social scientists have recognized group membership as a determinant of behavior. The fact that people act in accordance with a frame of reference produced by the groups to which they belong is a long-accepted and sound premise (Bearden, Etzel 1982). A reference group is a person or group of people that significantly influences an individual’s behavior. Based on this definition three types of influence have been identified by Deutsch, Gerard and Kelman: information, utilitarian, and value-expressive influences. Informational influence is based on the desire to make informed decisions. Faced with uncertainty, an individual will seek information.

From the many sources available, the most likely to be accepted are those viewed as credible. Referents with high credibility include those with presumed expertise or significant others. Utilitarian reference group influence is reflected in attempts to comply with the wishes of others to achieve reward or avoid punishments. If an individual feels that certain types of behavior will result in rewards or punishments from others and these outcomes are viewed as important, he or she will find it useful to meet the expectations of these significant others.

The third influence, value-expressive, is characterized by the need for psychological association with a person or group and is reflected in the acceptance of positions expressed by others. This association can take two forms. One form is an attempt to resemble or be like the reference group. The second form of association flows from an attachment or liking for the group. With this in mind it gives the explanation that the individual is responsive to the reference group out of a feeling for it, not because of a desire to be associated with it. Seeking information, complying with the preference of others, and adopting values of others all involve some form of communication or observation of decisions, opinions, or behavior.

In a purchase context, this implies products that will be seen by others (Bearden, Etzel 1982). The reference groups can be divided into two different groups, normative and comparative. Parents, teachers, and peers are representative of normative referents that provide the individual with norms, attitudes, and values through direct interaction. Comparative referents, such as sports heroes and entertainment figures, provide standards of achievement to which the individual aspire and are relatively further removed from the individual; thus, the individual is only able to observe the behavior of the referent and does not directly interact with him or her (Childers, Rao 1992).

However the exercise of reference-group influence on products and brand decisions will likely be facilitated by the degree to which social interaction occurs or public observation of consumer behavior occurs. Specifically, in a purchase context, the degree to which products are discussed with referents and the degree to which they are observed in the consumption process should positively affect the degree of reference-group influence. Bourne originally proposed that reference group influence on product and brand decisions is a function of two forms of “conspicuousness”. The fist condition, affecting product decisions, is that the item must be “exclusive” in some way.

No matter how visible a product is, if virtually everyone owns it, it is not conspicuous in this sense. This is operationalized as the distinction between luxuries and necessities. Luxuries, unlike necessities, are not owned by everybody and thus tend to be relatively more conspicuous. Second for reference group influence to affect brand decisions, the item must be seen or identified by others (Bearden, Etzel 1982). This refers to the circumstances of consumption or the degree to which consumption is performed in public versus in private. By definition, publicly consumed products are more conspicuous than privately consumed products.

Thus four types of products emerge form this classification: publicly consumed luxuries, publicly consumed necessities, privately consumed luxuries and privately consumed necessities. A public product is one that other people are aware you posses and use. If they want to, others can identify the brand of the product with little or no difficulty. A private product is one used at home or in private at some location. Except for your immediate family, people would be unaware that you own or use the product (Bearden, Etzel 1982). The influence of reference groups is likely to vary across these four product categories and will also vary depending on whether the purchase decision is examined at the product level or at the brand level.

Bearden and Etzel suggest in their hypotheses strong reference-group influence in public consumption circumstances or for luxuries, because these products are more conspicuous. Further, brand decisions regarding public consumed luxuries products (e.g., sailboat) will be greatly influenced by peers because they are consumed in public. The public nature of the product will also ensure that familial influences are less important. Since the product is a luxury, peer influence for the product should be strong (Childers, Rao 1992).

Therefore, since the product will be consumed in public, familial influences should be relatively weak, because such influence should predominantly occur for products consumed at home. Privately consumed luxuries products (e.g., icemaker) attract high peer influence because they are important and discretionary purchases. The private nature of consumption will generate familial influence, and such influences should be strong. Since others will not observe consumption of the product, peer influence for the brand should be weak. Consequently, since the product is consumed at home, familial influence on the brand should be strong.

Public consumed necessities products (e.g., wristwatches) are likely to attract lower levels of peer influence because virtually everybody owns such products. However, the specific brand decision will likely attract considerable peer influence because the brand will be seen by others and will therefore be conspicuous (Childers, Rao 1992). Perhaps the luxury element in the product ensures that peers exert a strong influence, because the relatively high price and associated perceived risk necessitate reliance on such reference groups. Since the product will be consumed in public, the familial influence should be weak, because such influence should predominantly occur for products consumed at home. Privately consumed necessities (e.g., refrigerator), are products and brands that are not socially relevant and therefore not likely to be influenced by peers. Because they are consumed in private, the influence of the family is expected to relatively high.

To bear in mind, is the potential for changes in the perceptions of products among consumers and the pervasiveness of product ownership on reference group influence. Through promotion, it is possible to associate certain images with products that might bring reference group influence into play under conditions (e.g., private necessities) that might not otherwise be expected. In contrast, product diffusion may shift products over time from exclusive to common ownership, and hence reduce the significance of reference group influence (Bearden, Etzel 1982). Culture as well will have a great impact on the individual. Our culture decides how we eat, when we eat and what we eat. The most natural decisions in our day-to-day life is governed by our culture, the society of today has its origins in the culture we live.

However, society as well as culture is constantly changing, and what affects a consumer when it concerns social influences today may not be the same tomorrow. The individual will be more influenced by reference groups the younger he or she is, the reference groups will wary, when you are 15 your family will have strong influence on you but as you grow older the influence of reference groups’ will shift towards peers and significant other. However, it becomes clear that reference groups and our cultural values have a big impact on the individual consumer pattern of buying behavior. Especially during the adolescent period when the individual tries to establish him or her self into certain groups, and to be accepted by society and our culture in a larger perspective.

3. What is meant by “symbolic consumption”?

Perhaps one of the strongest and most culturally universal phenomena inspired by consumer behavior is the tendency to make interferences about others based on their choices of consumption objects (Belk, Bahn, Mayer 1982). This tendency is a part of the process that allows us to communicate nonverbally and to achieve the satisfaction of self-expression through consumption. It is argued that consumers employ product symbolism to define social reality and to ensure that behaviors appropriate to that reality will ensue. Thus it is proposed that product symbolism is often consumed by the social actor for the purpose of defining and clarifying behavior patterns associated whit social roles. Moreover, the consumer often relies upon the social information inherent in products as a guide to shape self-image and to maximize the quality of role performance (Solomon 1983).

The shared meaning inherent in a common symbol system allows an individual to assume that his or her interpretation of reality is reasonably consistent with the interpretations of others. Given the overlap of shared meaning, individuals who learn a culture should be able to predict the behavior of other in that culture. Perhaps more importantly, they should structure their own behavior in accordance with others’ predicted behavior (Solomon 1983). Cultural symbols, which are learned through interaction and then come to mediate it, do not exist in isolation, but are often related to other symbols; sets of symbols are grouped together as guides to behavior.

Cultural symbols acquire meaning only when placed in the context of contemporary culture. The material goods produced by a culture have symbolic properties with meanings that are shared within that culture. It becomes clear that most product symbolism is produced at the social/ or subcultural level. Cultural symbols are generated and disseminated by “specialists” (e.g., designers, copywriters, musicians) as products, they comprise a culture production system and such systems compete in the marketplace for adoption by consumers. The centrality of symbolism to the interpretation of social reality and the nature of symbols systems, as shared by members of common culture, lead to a proposition that extends the symbolic interaction process into the product realm.

4. What are the implications of the psychological and social benefits of consumption for marketing managers?

For a marketing manger to understand the implications of psychological and social benefits are of highest importance. Through understanding of these implications marketing manger can draw advantages such as to understand how, why and what for a consumer makes certain decisions. Depending on what group one target, the knowledge of how different groups influence one and each other will facilitate the work for a marketing manger. To be able to understand the meaning and value of different symbols within our society will help marketing managers to decide not only how the object he sells can satisfies certain practical needs but also how it fits meaningfully into today’s culture (Levy, 1959).

Reference list:

Bearden W and Etzel M, 1982, Reference group influence on product and brand purchase decisions, Journal of Consumer Research, 9, 183-194.

Belk R, 1988, Possessions and the extended self, Journal of Consumer Research, 15, 139-163.

Childers T, Rao A, 1992, The influence of familial and peer-based reference groups on consumer decisions, Journal of Consumer research, 19, 198-205.

Grubb L.E, Grathwohl H.L, 1967, Consumer self-concept, symbolism and market behavior: A theoretical approach, Journal of Marketing, 31, 22-27

John D.R, 1999, Consumer socialization of children: A retrospective look at five years of research, Journal of Consumer research, 26.

Levy S.J, 1959, Symbols for sale, Harvard Business Review, 37, (4), 117-124.

Solomon M.R, 1983, The role of products as social stimuli: A symbolic interactionism perspective, Journal of Consumer research, 10, 319-330.

Moschis G.P, Moore R.L, 1979, Decision making among the young: A socialization perspective, Journal of Consumer research, 6, 101-112.

Solomon M.R, Bamossy G, Askegaard S, 1999, Consumer behavior: A European perspective, Prentice Hall Inc, New Jersey, USA.

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