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Consumer Psychology



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a0005 Consumer Psychology
Michael R. Solomon
Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama, USA
1. I Buy, Therefore I Am
2. Consumers as Decision Makers
3. Psychological Influences on Consumption
4. Cultural and Interpersonal Influences on Consumption
Further Reading
archetypes Universally shared ideas and behavior patterns,
involving themes such as birth, death, and the devil, that
frequently appear in myths, stories, and dreams.
brand loyalty A form of repeat purchasing behavior reflecting
a conscious decision to continue buying the same brand.
consumer addiction A physiological and/or psychological
dependence on products or services.
consumer psychology The study of the processes involved
when individuals or groups select, purchase, use, or dis-
pose of products, services, ideas, or experiences to satisfy
needs and desires.
consumer satisfaction/dissatisfaction (CS/D) The attitude a
person has about a product after it has been purchased.
consumption situation Factors beyond characteristics of the
product that influence a purchase decision.
diffusion of innovations The process whereby a new product,
service, or idea spreads through a population.
evaluative criteria Dimensions used to judge the merits of
competing options.
evoked set The options identified by a consumer that may
satisfy a need.
expectancy disconfirmation model Model whereby consum-
ers form beliefs about product performance based on
prior experience with the product and/or communications
about the product that imply a certain level of quality.
heuristics Mental rules-of-thumb that simplify decision
information search A scan of the environment to identify the
options available to satisfy a need.
lifestyle A pattern of consumption reflecting a person’s
choices of how he or she spends time and money.
market segmentation The process of identifying groups of
consumers who are similar to one another in one or
more ways and devising marketing strategies that appeal
to the needs of one or more of these groups.
need recognition The stage in decision making when the
consumer experiences a significant difference between
his or her current state of affairs and some desired state.
opinion leader A person who is frequently able to influence
others’ attitudes or behaviors.
perceived risk The belief that a poor product choice will
produce potentially negative consequences.
psychographics Data about a person’s attitudes, interests, and
opinions (AIOs) that allow marketers to cluster consumers
into similar groups based on lifestyles and shared person-
ality traits.
reference group An actual or imaginary individual or group
that influences an individual’s evaluations, aspirations, or
self-concept The beliefs a person holds about his or her own
qualities and how he or she evaluates these qualities.
self-image congruence models Models that examine the pro-
cess of cognitive matching between product attributes and
the consumer’s self-image.
subculture A group whose members’ shared beliefs and com-
mon experiences set them apart from others in the larger
culture to which they belong.
Encyclopedia of Applied Psychology, 483 #2004 Elsevier Inc.
VOLUME 1 All rights reserved.
symbolic self-completion theory Theory that argues that peo-
ple who have an incomplete self-definition tend to bolster
this identity by acquiring and displaying symbols asso-
ciated with it.
values Culturally determined general ideas about good and
bad goals.
Consumer psychology is the study of the processes
involved when individuals or groups select, purchase,
use, or dispose of products, services, ideas, or
experiences to satisfy needs and desires. The decision to
consume typically is the culmination of a series of stages
that include need recognition, information search,
evaluation of alternatives, purchase, and postpurchase
evaluation. However, in some cases (especially when
involvement with the product or service to be chosen is
low), this rational sequence is short-circuited as
consumers make decisions based on ‘‘shortcuts’’ called
heuristics (e.g., ‘‘Choose a well-known brand name’’). In
other cases (especially when involvement with the
product or service to be chosen is especially high, as is
the case with extremely risky decisions or when the object
carries extreme emotional significance to the individual),
subjective criteria also may cause the person’s choice to
diverge from the outcome predicted by a strictly rational
perspective on behavior. Indeed, many consumer
behaviors, including addictions to gambling, shoplifting,
and even shopping itself, are quite irrational and
may literally harm the decision maker. The study of
consumer psychology underscores the importance of
individual and group variables that help to shape
preferences for products and services. In addition to
demographic differences such as age, stage in the life
cycle, gender, and social class, psychographic factors
such as personality traits often play a major role.
A person’s identification with others who constitute
significant reference groups or who share the bonds of
subcultural memberships also exerts a powerful impact on
his or her consumption decisions. These macro influences
on behavior make it more or less likely that an individual
will choose to adopt new products, ideas, or services as
these innovations diffuse through a market or culture.
Consumer psychology is the study of the processes in-
volved when individuals or groups select, purchase, use,
or dispose of products, services, ideas, or experiences to
satisfy needs and desires. The field embraces many kinds
of consumption experiences, ranging from canned peas,
a massage, or democracy to hip-hop music or a celebrity
such as Madonna. Needs and desires to be satisfied range
from physiological conditions such as hunger and thirst
to love, status, or even spiritual fulfillment.
Consumers take many forms, ranging from an 8-year-
old girl begging her mother for Poke´mon cards to an
executive in a large corporation deciding on a multi-
million-dollar computer system. This article focuses
on individual consumers, but with the caveat that
many important issues relate to the psychology of
group decision making involving dyads, families, and
organizations. One must also recognize that the study
of consumer behavior is extremely interdisciplinary.
Although psychology is one of the core disciplines that
have shaped the field, many other important perspec-
tives from economics, sociology, and other social
sciences also play a dominant role.
During its early stages of development, the field was
often referred to as buyer behavior, reflecting an empha-
sis on the exchange, a transaction in which two or more
organizations or people give and receive something of
value. Most marketers now recognize that consumer be-
havior is in fact an ongoing process and not merely what
happens at the moment a consumer hands over money or
a credit card and, in turn, receives some good or service.
This expanded view emphasizes the entire consumption
process, which includes the issues that influence the
consumer before, during, and after a purchase.
One of the fundamental premises of the modern field
of consumer psychology is that people often buy prod-
ucts not for what they do but for what they mean. This
principle does not imply that a product’s basic function
is unimportant; rather, it implies that the roles that
products play in our lives extend well beyond the
tasks that they perform. The deeper meanings of a
product may help it to stand out from other similar
goods and services. All things being equal, a person will
choose the brand that has an image (or even a person-
ality) consistent with the purchaser’s underlying needs.
People’s allegiances to certain sneakers, musicians,
or even soft drinks help them to define their place in
modern society, and these choices also enable people
to form bonds with others who share similar prefer-
ences. Following are some of the types of relationships
a person might have with a product:
Self-concept attachment. The product helps to
establish the user’s identity.
Nostalgic attachment. The product serves as a link
with a past self.
484 Consumer Psychology
Interdependence. The product is a part of the user’s
daily routine.
Love. The product elicits emotional bonds of
warmth, passion, or other strong emotion.
Self-concept refers to the beliefs that a person holds
about his or her own qualities and how he or she
evaluates these qualities. People with low self-esteem
may choose products that will enable them to avoid
embarrassment, failure, or rejection. For example, in
developing a new line of snack cakes, Sara Lee found
that consumers low in self-esteem preferred portion-
controlled snack items because they believed that they
lacked the self-control to regulate their own eating.
A consumer exhibits attachment to an object to the
extent that it is used to maintain his or her self-concept.
Objects can act as a ‘‘security blanket’’ by reinforcing
people’s identities, especially in unfamiliar situations.
For example, students who decorate their dorm rooms
with personal items are less likely to drop out of college.
This coping process may protect the self from being
diluted in a strange environment. Products, especially
those that serve as status symbols, also can play a pivotal
role in impression management strategies as consumers
attempt to influence how others think of them. Despite
the adage, ‘‘You can’t judge a book by its cover,’’ in
reality people often do.
The use of consumption information to define the
self is especially important when an identity is yet to be
adequately formed, as occurs when a person plays
a new or unfamiliar role. Symbolic self-completion
theory suggests that people who have an incomplete
self-definition tend to bolster this identity by acquiring
and displaying symbols associated with it. For exam-
ple, adolescent boys may use ‘‘macho’’ products, such
as cars and cigarettes, to augment their developing
masculinity; these items act as a ‘‘social crutch’’ during
periods of self-uncertainty.
Self-image congruence models assume a process of
cognitive matching between product attributes and the
consumer’s self-image. Research tends to support the
idea of congruence between product use and self-
image. One of the earliest studies to examine this
process found that car owners’ ratings of themselves
tended to match their perceptions of their cars; for
example, Pontiac drivers saw themselves as more
active and flashy than Volkswagen drivers saw them-
selves. Some specific attributes useful in describing
matches between consumers and products include rug-
ged/delicate, excitable/calm, rational/emotional, and
Traditionally, consumer researchers have approached de-
cision making from a rational perspective. In this view,
consumers calmly and carefully integrate as much infor-
mation as possible with what they already know about
a product, weigh the pluses and minuses of each alterna-
tive painstakingly, and arrive at satisfactory decisions.
2.1. Stages in the Decision-Making
This process implies that marketing managers should
carefully study the stages in decision making shown in
Fig. 1 to understand how product information is
obtained, how beliefs are formed, and what product
choice criteria are specified by consumers. This knowl-
edge will enable them to develop products that empha-
size appropriate attributes and to tailor promotional
strategies to deliver the types of information most likely
to be desired in the most effective formats.
2.1.1. Need Recognition
The decision-making process begins with the stage of
need recognition, when the consumer experiences a
significant difference between his or her current state
Need recognition
Information search
Evaluation of alternatives
Postpurchase evaluation
FIGURE 1 Stages in consumer decision making.
Consumer Psychology 485
of affairs and some desired state. A person who unex-
pectedly runs out of gas on the highway recognizes a
need, as does the person who becomes dissatisfied with
the image of his or her car even though there is nothing
mechanically wrong with it.
Once a need has been activated, there is a state of
tension that drives the consumer to attempt to reduce
or eliminate the need. This need may be utilitarian
(i.e., a desire to achieve some functional or practical
benefit, e.g., when a person loads up on green vegeta-
bles for nutritional reasons), or it may be hedonic (i.e.,
an experiential need involving emotional responses or
fantasies, e.g., when a consumer thinks longingly about
a juicy steak). Marketers strive to create products and
services that will provide the desired benefits and per-
mit the consumer to reduce this tension. This reduc-
tion is reinforcing, making it more likely that the
consumer will seek the same path the next time the
need is recognized.
Maslow’s hierarchy of biogenic and psychogenic
needs specifies certain levels of motives. This hierarchi-
cal approach, shown in Fig. 2, implies that one level
must be attained before the next higher one is
activated. Marketers have embraced this perspective
because it (indirectly) specifies certain types of prod-
uct benefits that people might be looking for, depend-
ing on the various stages in their development and/or
their environmental conditions.
2.1.2. Information Search
Need recognition prompts information search, that is,
a scan of the environment to identify the options avail-
able to satisfy the need. As a rule, purchase decisions
that involve extensive search also entail perceived risk,
that is, the belief that a poor choice will produce
potentially negative consequences. As shown in
Table I, perceived risk may be a factor if the product
is expensive, complex, and hard to understand or if the
consumer believes that the product will not work as
promised and/or could pose a safety risk. Alternatively,
perceived risk can be present when a product choice is
visible to others and the consumer runs the risk of
social embarrassment if the wrong choice is made.
2.1.3. Evaluation of Alternatives
Information search yields a set of alternative solutions to
satisfy the need. Those identified constitute the con-
sumer’s evoked set. How does a consumer decide which
criteria are important, and how does he or she narrow
down product alternatives to an acceptable number and
eventually choose one instead of others? The answer
varies depending on the decision-making process used.
A consumer engaged in extended problem solving may
carefully evaluate several brands, whereas someone
making a habitual decision might not consider any
f0010 FIGURE 2 Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Adapted from
Maslow, A. H. (1970). Motivation and personality (2nd ed.).
New York: Harper & Row.
Types of Perceived Risk
Expensive products
Products requiring time or effort to
Physical risk Mechanical products, medical products,
Social risk Socially visible products or those that
can influence the impressions made
on others (e.g., deodorant)
Expensive luxuries that may involve
guilt or addiction
Source. Solomon, M. R. (2004). Consumer behavior: Buying, hav-
ing, and being (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
486 Consumer Psychology
alternatives to his or her normal brand. Variety seeking,
or the desire to choose new alternatives over more
familiar ones, can also play a role; consumers at times
are willing to trade enjoyment for variety because the
unpredictability itself is rewarding.
Evaluative criteria are the dimensions used to judge
the merits of competing options. If all brands being
considered rate equally well on one attribute (e.g., if all
televisions come with remote control), consumers will
have to find other reasons to choose one over the others.
Determinant attributes are the characteristics actually
used to differentiate among choices. For example, con-
sumer research by Church & Dwight Company indi-
cated that many consumers view the use of natural
ingredients as a determinant attribute when selecting
personal care products. This prompted the firm to de-
velop toothpaste made from baking soda, an ingredient
that the company already manufactured for its Arm &
Hammer brand.
s0035 2.1.4. Purchase
Once a need has been recognized, a set of feasible
options (often competing brands) that will satisfy the
need have been identified, and each of these options
has been evaluated, the ‘‘moment of truth’’ arrives: The
consumer must make a choice and actually procure the
product or service. However, other factors at the time
of purchase may influence this decision. A consump-
tion situation is defined by factors beyond character-
istics of the product that influence a purchase decision.
These factors can be behavioral (e.g., entertaining
friends) or perceptual (e.g., being depressed, feeling
pressed for time).
A consumer’s mood can have a big impact on pur-
chase decisions. For example, stress can impair infor-
mation-processing and problem-solving abilities. The
two dimensions of pleasure and arousal determine
whether a shopper will react positively or negatively
to a consumption situation. In addition, the act of
shopping itself often produces psychological outcomes
ranging from frustration to gratification or even
Despite all of their efforts to ‘‘pre-sell’’ consumers
through advertising, marketers increasingly recognize
that many purchases are strongly influenced by the
purchasing environment. Indeed, researchers estimate
that shoppers decide on approximately two of every
three products while wheeling their carts through super-
market aisles. Dimensions of the physical environment,
such as decor, ambient sounds or music, and even
temperature, can influence consumption significantly.
One study even found that pumping in certain odors in
a Las Vegas casino actually increased the amount of
money that patrons fed into slot machines. Time is
another important situational variable. Common sense
dictates that more careful information search and delib-
eration occurs when consumers have the luxury of
taking their time.
2.1.5. Postpurchase Evaluation
and Satisfaction
Consumer satisfaction/dissatisfaction (CS/D) refers to
the attitude that a person has about a product after it
has been purchased. This attitude, in turn, is an im-
portant determinant of whether the item will be bought
again in the future. Despite evidence that customer
satisfaction is steadily declining in many industries,
marketers are constantly on the lookout for sources
of dissatisfaction. For example, United Airlines’ adver-
tising agency set out to identify specific aspects of air
travel that contributed to discontent during the travel
experience. The agency gave frequent fliers crayons
and a map showing different stages in a long-distance
trip and asked passengers to fill in colors using hot
hues to symbolize areas causing stress and anger and
using cool colors for parts of the trip associated with
satisfaction and calm feelings. Although jet cabins
tended to be filled in with a serene aqua color, ticket
counters were colored orange and terminal waiting
areas were colored fire red. This research led the airline
to focus more on overall operations instead of just on
in-flight experiences, and the ‘‘United Rising’’ advertis-
ing campaign was born.
Satisfaction is not determined solely by the actual
performance quality of a product or service. It is also
influenced by prior expectations regarding the level of
quality. According to the expectancy disconfirmation
model, consumers form beliefs about product perfor-
mance based on prior experience with the product
and/or communications about the product that imply
a certain level of quality. When something performs
the way in which consumers thought it would, they
might not think much about it. If, on the other hand,
the product fails to live up to expectations (even if
those expectations are unrealistic), negative affect
may result. If performance happens to exceed their
expectations, consumers are satisfied and pleased.
This explains why companies sometimes try to ‘‘under-
promise’’ what they can actually deliver.
Consumer Psychology 487
s0045 2.2. Biases in the Decision-Making
Although the rational model of decision making is
compelling, many researchers now recognize that deci-
sion makers actually possess a repertoire of strategies—
and not all of these strategies are necessarily rational.
The constructive processing perspective argues that a
consumer evaluates the effort required to make a par-
ticular choice and then chooses a strategy best suited
to the level of effort required.
As shown in Table II, some purchases are made under
conditions of low involvement, where the consumer is
not willing to invest a lot of cognitive effort. Instead, the
consumer’s decision is a learned response to environ-
mental cues, for example, when he or she impulsively
decides to buy something that is promoted as a ‘‘surprise
special’’ in a store. In other cases, the consumer is highly
involved in a decision, and again the stages of rational
information processing might not capture the process.
For example, the traditional approach is hard-pressed to
explain a person’s choice of art, music, or even a spouse.
In these cases, no single quality may be the determining
factor. Instead, an experiential perspective stresses the
Gestalt, or totality, of the product or service.
Consumption at the low end of involvement typically
is characterized by inertia, where decisions are made out
of habit because the consumer lacks the motivation to
consider alternatives. Many people tend to buy the same
brand nearly every time they go to the store. A compe-
titor who is trying to change a buying pattern based on
inertia often can do so rather easily because little resis-
tance to brand switching will be encountered if the right
incentive is offered.
At the high end of involvement, one can expect to
find the type of passionate intensity that is reserved for
people and objects that carry great meaning for the
individual. When consumers are truly involved with a
product, an ad, or a Web site, they enter a flow state.
Flow is an optimal experience characterized by a sense
of playfulness, a feeling of being in control, highly
focused attention, and a distorted sense of time.
Especially when limited problem solving occurs
prior to making a choice, consumers often fall back
on heuristics, that is, mental rules-of-thumb that lead
to a speedy decision. These rules range from the very
general (e.g., ‘‘Higher priced products are higher qual-
ity products,’’ ‘‘Buy the same brand I bought last time’’)
to the very specific (e.g., ‘‘Buy Domino, the brand of
sugar my mother always bought’’).
One frequently used shortcut is the tendency to infer
hidden dimensions of products from observable attri-
butes. These are known as product signals. Country of
origin is an example of a commonly used product
signal. In some cases, people may assume that a prod-
uct made overseas is of better quality (e.g., cameras,
cars), whereas in other cases, the knowledge that a
product has been imported tends to lower perceptions
of product quality (e.g., apparel). Price is also a heur-
istic; all things equal, people often assume that ‘‘Brand
A’’ is of higher quality simply because it costs more
than ‘‘Brand B.’’
A well-known brand also frequently functions as a
heuristic. People form preferences for a favorite brand
and then literally might never change their minds in
the course of a lifetime. In contrast to inertia, brand
loyalty is a form of repeat purchasing behavior reflect-
ing a conscious decision to continue buying the same
brand. Purchase decisions based on brand loyalty also
become habitual over time, although in these cases the
underlying commitment to the product is much more
firm. Because of the emotional bonds that can come
about between brand-loyal consumers and products,
‘‘true blue’’ users react more vehemently when these
products are altered, redesigned, or eliminated. For
example, when Coca-Cola replaced its tried-and-true
t0010 TABLE II
Limited Versus Extended Problem Solving
Motivation Low risk High risk
Information search Low search High search
Evaluation of
Weak beliefs
Few differences
Strong beliefs
Most prominent
criteria or
heuristics used
Many criteria
Purchase Limited time spent Extensive time
Few stores
Many stores
Store displays
Advertising and
Source. Solomon, M. R. (2004). Consumer behavior: Buying, hav-
ing, and being (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
488 Consumer Psychology
formula with New Coke during the 1980s, the com-
pany encountered a firestorm of national call-in cam-
paigns, boycotts, and other protests.
Finally, many of people’s reactions to products are
based on aesthetic responses to colors, shapes, and
objects. Many of these preferences are deep-seated or
culturally determined. Package designs often incorpo-
rate extensive research regarding consumers’ interpreta-
tions of the meanings accorded to symbols on the box or
can. These meanings may be subtle or blatant, but they
can exert a powerful effect on expectations about the
product within the box or can. In one study, respon-
dents rated the taste of a beer as heavier and more
robust when it was served in a brown glass bottle than
when the same product was dispensed in a clear bottle.
s0050 2.3. ‘‘Irrational’’ Decision Making
Psychologists have identified many cognitive mecha-
nisms that interfere with ‘‘objective’’ information proces-
sing and decision making. Other researchers have gone
a step further in their focus on domains of consumer
behavior that cannot be readily explained by a cogni-
tive perspective or where an individual’s actions are
actually irrational and perhaps even dysfunctional.
Indeed, some of consumers’ buying behaviors do not
seem rational at all because they do not serve a logical
purpose (e.g., collectors who pay large sums of money
for paraphernalia formerly owned by rock stars). Other
actions occur with virtually no advance planning at all
(e.g., impulsively grabbing a tempting candy bar from
the rack while waiting to pay for groceries).
Still other consumer behaviors, such as excessive
eating, excessive drinking, and cigarette smoking, are
actually harmful to the individual. These actions may
be facilitated by many psychological factors, including
the desire to conform to the expectations of others,
learned responses to environmental cues, and observa-
tional learning prompted by exposure to media. The
cultural emphasis on wealth as an indicator of self-
worth may encourage activities such as shoplifting
and insurance fraud. Exposure to unattainable ideals
of beauty and success in advertising can create dissat-
isfaction with the self, sometimes resulting in eating
disorders or self-mutilation.
Consumer addiction is a physiological and/or psycho-
logical dependence on products or services. Although
most people equate addiction with drugs, virtually any
product or service can be the focus of psychological
dependence; for example, there is even a support
group for Chap Stick addicts. Some psychologists are
now voicing strong concerns about ‘‘Internet addiction,’’
a condition whereby Web surfers become obsessed by
online chat rooms to the point where their ‘‘virtual’’ lives
take priority over their real ones. Compulsive consump-
tion refers to repetitive excessive shopping that serves as
an antidote to tension, anxiety, depression, or boredom.
The business process of market segmentation identifies
groups of consumers who are similar to one another in
one or more ways and then devises marketing strate-
gies that appeal to the needs of one or more of these
groups. One very common way in which to segment
consumers is along demographic dimensions such as
the following:
Age. People who belong to the same age group
tend to share a set of values and common cultural
experiences that they carry throughout life.
Gender. Many products are sex typed, and consum-
ers often associate them with one gender or the other.
Marketers typically develop a product to appeal to one
gender or the other. For example, Crest’s Rejuvenating
Effects toothpaste, made specifically for women, is
packaged in a teal tube nestled inside a glimmering
‘‘pearlescent’’ box.
Social class and income. Working-class consumers
tend to evaluate products in more utilitarian terms
such as sturdiness and comfort. They are less likely to
experiment with new products or styles such as mod-
ern furniture and colored appliances. Higher classes
tend to focus on more long-term goals such as saving
for college tuition and retirement.
Family structure. People’s family and marital status
influences their spending priorities. For example,
young bachelors and newlyweds are the most likely
to exercise, consume alcohol, and go to bars, concerts,
and movies.
Race and ethnicity. Ethnic minorities in the United
States spend more than $600 billion per year on prod-
ucts and services, so firms must devise products and
communications strategies tailored to the needs of
these subcultures. Sometimes these differences are sub-
tle yet important. When Coffee-Mate discovered that
African Americans tend to drink their coffee with sugar
and cream more so than do Caucasians, the company
mounted a promotional blitz in black-oriented media
that resulted in double-digit increases in sales volume.
Consumer Psychology 489
Geography. Place of residence influences prefer-
ences within many product categories, from entertain-
ment to favorite cars, decorating styles, or leisure
activities. For example, BMW found that drivers in
France prized its cars for their road-handling abilities
and the self-confidence this gave them, whereas drivers
in Austria were more interested in the status aspect of
the BMW brand.
s0060 3.1. Psychographics and Lifestyles
Although these segmentation variables are very important,
consumers can share the same demographic characteris-
tics and still be very different people. Psychographics are
data about people’s attitudes, interests, and opinions
(AIOs) that allow marketers to cluster consumers into
similar groups based on lifestyles and shared personality
Lifestyle refers to a pattern of consumption reflecting
a person’s choices of how he or she spends time and
money. In an economic sense, a person’s lifestyle repre-
sents the way in which he or she has elected to allocate
income in terms of relative allocations to various prod-
ucts and services and to specific alternatives within
these categories. Lifestyle, however, is more than the
allocation of discretionary income; it is a statement
about who a person is in society and who the person is
not. Group identities, whether of hobbyists, athletes, or
drug users, gel around forms of expressive symbolism.
s0065 3.2. Personality Theory
Applications to Consumer Behavior
A consumer’s personality, or unique psychological
makeup, may influence the products and marketing
messages that he or she prefers. Consumer psycholo-
gists have adapted insights from major personality
theorists to explain people’s consumption choices.
s0070 3.2.1. Freudian Theory
Freudian psychology exerted a significant influence on
applied consumer research, especially during the early
days of the discipline. Freud’s writings highlight the
potential importance of unconscious motives underly-
ing purchases. This perspective also hints at the possi-
bility that the ego relies on the symbolism in products
to compromise between the demands of the id and the
prohibitions of the superego. During the 1950s, moti-
vational researchers attempted to apply Freudian ideas
to understand the deeper meanings of products and
advertisements. For example, for many years, Esso
(now Exxon) reminded consumers to ‘‘Put a Tiger in
Your Tank’’ after researchers found that people
responded well to this powerful animal symbolism
containing vaguely sexual undertones.
3.2.2. Jungian Theory
Freud’s disciple, Jung, introduced the concept of the
collective unconscious, that is, a storehouse of mem-
ories inherited from a person’s ancestral past. These
shared memories create archetypes, that is, universally
shared ideas and behavior patterns involving themes
such as birth, death, and the devil, that frequently
appear in myths, stories, and dreams. For example,
some of the archetypes identified by Jung and his
followers include the ‘‘old wise man’’ and the ‘‘earth
mother,’’ and these images appear frequently in mar-
keting messages that use characters such as wizards,
revered teachers, and even Mother Nature.
3.2.3. Trait Theory
Trait theory focuses on the quantitative measurement of
personality traits, that is, identifiable characteristics that
define a person. Some specific traits relevant to consu-
mer behavior include innovativeness (i.e., the degree to
which a person likes to try new things), materialism (i.e.,
the amount of emphasis placed on acquiring and owning
products), self-consciousness (i.e., the degree to which
a person deliberately monitors and controls the image of
the self that is projected to others), need for cognition
(i.e., the degree to which a person likes to think about
things and, by extension, expend the necessary effort to
process brand information), and self-monitoring (i.e.,
the degree to which a person is concerned with the
impression that his or her behaviors make on others).
Values are very general ideas about good and bad goals,
and these priorities typically are culturally determined.
From these flow norms, that is, rules dictating what is
right or wrong and what is acceptable or unacceptable.
Consumers purchase many products and services
because they believe that these products will help them
490 Consumer Psychology
to attain value-related goals. For example, an emphasis
on personal hygiene in Japan has created a demand for
products such as automated teller machines (ATMs) that
literally ‘‘launder’’ money by sanitizing yen before
dispensing them to bank customers.
s0090 4.1. Subcultures and Reference
Members of a subculture share beliefs and common
experiences that set them apart from others in the
larger culture. Whether ‘‘Dead Heads’’ or ‘‘Skinheads,’’
each group exhibits its own unique set of norms,
vocabulary, and product insignias (e.g., the skull and
roses that signifies the Grateful Dead subculture).
A reference group is an actual or imaginary individual
or group that influences an individual’s evaluations,
aspirations, or behavior. As a rule, reference group
effects are more robust for purchases that are (a) luxuries
(e.g., sailboats) rather than necessities and (b) socially
conspicuous or visible to others (e.g., living room furni-
ture, clothing).
s0095 4.2. Opinion Leaders
An opinion leader is a person who is frequently able
to influence others’ attitudes or behaviors. Opinion
leaders are extremely valuable information sources
because (a) they are technically competent and, thus,
more credible; (b) they have prescreened, evaluated,
and synthesized product information in an unbiased
way; and (c) they tend to be socially active and highly
interconnected in their communities.
s0100 4.3. Diffusion of Innovations
Diffusion of innovations refers to the process whereby
a new product, service, or idea spreads through a popu-
lation. If an innovation is successful (most are not), it
typically is initially bought or used by only a few
people. Then, more and more consumers decide to
adopt it until it might seem (sometimes) that nearly
everyone has bought or tried the innovation.
A consumer’s adoption of an innovation resembles
the standard decision-making sequence whereby he or
she moves through the stages of awareness, information
search, evaluation, trial, and adoption. The relative
importance of each stage may differ depending on how
much is already known about the innovation as well as
on cultural factors that may affect people’s willingness
to try new things. However, even within the same cul-
ture, not all people adopt an innovation at the same rate.
Some do so quite rapidly, whereas others never do at all.
Consumers can be placed into approximate categories
based on their likelihood of adopting an innovation.
Roughly one-sixth of the people are very quick to
adopt new products (i.e., innovators and early adopters),
and one-sixth of the people are very slow (i.e., laggards).
The other two-thirds are somewhere in the middle (i.e.,
late adopters). These latter consumers are the main-
stream public; they are interested in new things, but
they do not want them to be too new.
Even though innovators represent only approximately
2.5% of the population, marketers are always interested
in identifying them. Innovators are the brave souls who
are always on the lookout for novel developments and
who will be the first to try new offerings. They tend to
have more favorable attitudes toward taking risks, have
higher educational and income levels, and be socially
active. In addition, many innovators also are opinion
leaders, so their acceptance of an innovation may be
a crucial factor in persuading others to try it as well.
As a rule, consumers are less likely to adapt innova-
tions that demand radical behavior changes—unless they
are convinced that the effort will be worthwhile. As
a result, evolutionary changes (e.g., a cinnamon version
of Quaker oatmeal) are more likely to be rapidly adapted
than are revolutionary changes (e.g., ready-to-eat micro-
waveable Quaker oatmeal). The following factors make it
more likely that consumers will accept an innovation:
Compatibility with current lifestyle
Ability to try the product before buying
Simplicity of use
Ease of observing others using the innovation
Relative advantage over benefits offered by other
See Also the Following Articles
Advertising and Culture nAdvertising Psychology
nEconomic Behavior nValues and Culture
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492 Consumer Psychology
... For a comprehensive study of consumer behavior, the motivation theories of Maslow (1954), McClelland (1987), the psychoanalytic theories of Kotler andKeller (2011), Kozyrev (2015), Aleshina (2016), Solomon (1995), Statt (2016), and others are currently used. ...
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