The social psychological basis of individualisation in consumer lifestyles and demand


Individualism in Western countries has come about through psychological and socio-cultural factors: human needs for a separate, distinctive identity in comparison with others. This requires secure attachments and core group affiliations, on top of which individuality can be superimposed; cultural values for self reliance and individual responsibility (e.g. Thatcherism). Distinctive identities are derived from social categories, group memberships, and roles. Individualism has thrived in response to consumer choice and brand segmentation which has permitted diversified identities. Pan European marketing and advertising strategies are largely irrelevant to consumer identity, providing there is choice within markets. Foreign brands contribute to the diversity within a market and foster individual identities based on national stereotypes. Cultural (and national) identities may however become a salient issue through perceived imposition of 'foreign' brands (replacing local products), or consumer awareness of homogeneity across markets as a marketing strategy. Cultural differentiation could become a key dimension for social comparisons in the search for a distinctive identity. Individualism may not be a permanent feature of Western society, in so far as it is a cultural phenomenon based on contemporary social values, and it relies on individual feelings of security and optimism to give it motive power. Loss of confidence would result in a return to group solidarity and identities derived from conformity to fashion.

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