Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Self-Report on Consumer Behaviour

I kept a journal of the list of things I bought, their brand, their price, and the date I bought them on for two weeks. Then I wrote this 'reflection' for an Advertising assignment.

Many of my purchases are things that I buy either impulsively while I’m buying other related products or because they are essentials that I need to “self-actualize” i.e. do the things I want to do. When I am involved in social behaviour, I mimic the consumer decisions of those around me, buying and consuming many of the things that they do. This is what is referred to as conformity. Since people are like herding animals, we tend to socialize by partaking in the same activities as those around us. For example, eating pizza or drinking coffee or even reading certain books can all be related back to the attitudes we adopt about certain lifestyles, and the products that are associated with living those lifestyles.

The products that I buy are selected largely because of the reference groups in my life. I am not so much concerned with brands as products that may be connected to the kinds of groups I affiliate with, but they also refer to certain times and places in my life, frames. For example, I can always count on a Tim Horton’s coffee, because for me, I associate that with a break from hard restoration labour. I like DuMaurier because it takes me back to the days when I was just a young smoker, and Dr.Pepper is a treat for me because it has a catchy name, and I was exposed to the ad probably thousands of times before I ever got to try it out myself. A brand is a label that marks the product as what it is while subtly integrating a justification for using that product in the brand itself. The name Dr.Pepper makes me think of medicine, and then, on some level I think of the drink as something that is good for me. Dr.Pepper is immediately recognizable, so when I see it on the machine, my sense of thirst is elicited, and I already want the product before I’ve even been exposed to it directly. I know all the various pros and cons of each cigarette brand: which ones are cheap, which have special features or exotic tastes. DuMaurier has even added a small red square DuMaurier icon to each cigarette. When I first noticed this, I must admit, I uttered: “cool!” It caught my attention and distinguished the brand from other cigarettes, so I wanted to associate with that brand because by surrounding yourself by things you like, you hope to be liked. Advertising targets the fulfillment of a motive or a specific mood. So even if it is an aesthetic mood for an unaesthetic product, it brands the thought associated with that product.

I buy other things that I sometimes argue I didn’t choose to buy, but they are actually things I integrate so much into my personality that it feels as if I have no choice whether or not I buy them. To look at myself in the mirror and think I am who I am involves conscience of the things I own that facilitate activities that I identify with myself. There is a certain amount of personality upkeep we maintain via activities and behaviours that inevitably involve necessities and luxuries. For example, my passport and my books fulfill a need to pursue the things that are important to me: namely, travel, entertainment and greater freedom. If someone can convince me of the benefits of having things because they give me more choices, then I am apt to go for them, regardless of the costs.

I bought my microphone at a relatively high price compared to other things, but I figured it was worth the sacrifice because it related to personal goals that are subjective and not objectively quantifiable to price-value. This is why advertising often has a personal slant, where an organization claims not to be interested in mass-media, but rather what your needs are, as an individual. People want something that is unique and genuine enough to appeal specifically to them and facilitate the development of their personality. Celebrity endorsements of products are effective because those celebrities already have a public persona. By associating a product to them, it gives the product personality, recognizability, credibility, and authority. People buy the product in an effort to become like celebrities, believing that if celebrities choose certain things, then it must be a part of their personality. If those things are part of their personality and they are acquirable, then so is personality.

Advertising glorifies and celebrates the freedom that we have as consumers. It doesn’t show the negative consequences of buying a product that isn’t satisfying, because its mission is to sell. As a result, Affluenza is a particular disease of wealthy nations. Some have suggested that advertising may get to the point where the ad entirely replaces the product, but this will not be possible until everything can be transmitted as information, since that’s what ads are: well-crafted information. In the meantime, we respond by buying, and our choices continue to be influenced by our selective attention to needs that have been targeted by advertising.

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