Globalisation: Global Consumer Culture?
While it is undeniable that globalisation of markets has occurred on a rapid scale, with global brands being represented on all corners of the globe, the importance for marketing communication – and indeed the idea that we can “sell to the world” with one message remains more contested.
Culture, is the “collective programming of the mind” (Hofstede, 1980), and the level of influence remains a hotly contested topic. For example, Walter (1995) argued that culture will never become globalised, but that does not, of course mean that there is no globalisation in terms of cultural convergence. Many scholars point to increasingly global market segments, and that consumers value “global brands” (Holt, Quelch & Taylor, 2005). Of course, on the other side, many would argue that although there are global brands, the way these brands operate in different markets are unique to the market (for example, Mid-Autumn Festival Chocolate sold in Asia by Belgian chocolate maker Godiva, Brooks Brothers of the US selling “Year of the Dragon” shirts in China etc…). Within marketing, coming from a postmodern angle, CCT or Consumer Culture Theory (Arnould & Thompson, 2005) has become a set of conceptual perspectives offering a framework for studying the interaction of consumers and markets, and co-creation of meaning, which has embraced the notion of global consumption. CCT particularly focuses on four types of “meaning creation” in markets:
1. Consumer Identity Projects – examines how consumers use marketing materials (or marketing meanings) to construct a coherent, though often diverse and fragmented “self”. In other words, consumers use the market to construct their own identities, consuming goods in order to express their own desires and feelings. In this sense, for consumers active in the market, consuming Belgian chocolate (even at or especially during a traditional Asian festival) becomes a way to express yearning for quality, internationalisation or perceived sophistication or modernity.
2. Market Place Culture Perspectives – stresses the importance of the the consumers as the active creators – and not passive bearers like anthropologists would argue- of culture. This means that “culture” is what the consumers in individual markets make: i.e. they co-create their culture by consuming meaning bearing goods. The idea of neotribalism, where consumers form “brand tribes”, is an example of this.
3. Sociohistoric Patterning of Consumption – addresses the question “what is consumer society and how is it constituted and sustained?” (Arnould & Thompson, 2005, p.874) . This perspective offers interesting insights into how, for example, ethnic origins have become something “consumable” and acts as anchor in a fluid consumption environment (Askegaard, Arnould, and Kjeldgaard 2005)
4. Mass-Mediated Marketplace Ideologies and Consumers’ Interpretive Strategies – attempts to answer how consumers make sense of mass-media messages related to consumption and formulate (critical) responses, i.e. embrace or reject received messages.
While CCT does not either reject – or confirm, globalisation as seen by scholars in the 1960s and 1970s, CCT offers insights into the marketplace behaviour of consumers creating meaning within a world of globalised consumer products. It also has highlighted global connections, where consumption patterns and meanings created by the consumption take a global role shared by individuals, or are used to distinguish individuals or groups by constructing distinct identities of the self through consumption.