The highly visible sign of a modern consumer culture promoting the sale of goods and services is a range of media, including newspapers, radio, television and the Internet (Wilkie). It has its modern origins in the development of the Industrial Revolution. Using advertisements to sell goods can, however, be traced back to Roman times: in Pompeii there are surviving images and text on the walls advertising products and services to a Roman audience. In the late 18th century pioneering British industrialists such as Josiah Wedgwood understood that simply producing goods was not enough; you had to market and advertise your products successfully. From the 1760s Wedgwood set in place most of the key elements of modern advertising we would recognize today. He used press ads and commissioned leading designers to design his catalogues so that customers could look at and order his ceramics in the comfort of their own homes. In the 19th century manufacturers understood the power of the single arresting image, and signs painted on to buildings became commonplace. These were followed by temporary paper posters and then purpose-built billboards, structures that have become more and more elaborate, so that in the Bund district of 21st-century Shanghai the sides of huge skyscraper buildings host advertisements for international companies (Williamson).
There are two major forces that shape who we are and what we buy. Our personal motives, attitudes, and decision-making abilities guide our consumption behaviour (Bagozzi). At the same time, our families, cultural background, ads we see on TV, and the sites we visit on the Internet influence our thoughts and actions. Our consumption behaviour is a function of who we are as individuals. Our thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and patterns of behaviour determine what we buy, when we buy it, and how we use it. Internal factors have a major impact on consumer behaviour.
A marketer’s job is to figure out what needs and wants the consumer has, and what motivates the consumer to purchase. Motivation is the drive that initiates all our consumption behaviours, and consumers have multiple motives, or goals (Wilkie). Some of these are overt, like a physiological thirst that motivates a consumer to purchase a soft drink or the need to purchase a new suit for an interview. Other motives are more obscure, like a student’s need to tote a Louis Vuitton bag or wear Mark Jacobs to gain social approval. Most consumption activities are the result of several motives operating at the same time. Consumer motives or goals can be represented by the values they hold. Values are people’s broad life goals that symbolize a preferred mode of behaving or a preferred end-state of being (Baumeister). Consumers buy products that will help them achieve desired values; they see product attributes as a means to an end. Understanding the means-end perspective can help marketers’ better position the product and create more effective advertising and promotion campaigns.
The consumer information-processing approach aids in understanding consumptive behaviour by focusing on the sequence of mental activities that people use in interpreting and integrating their environment. The sequence begins with human perception of external stimuli. Perception is the process of sensing, selecting, and interpreting stimuli in one’s environment (Bagozzi). We begin to perceive an external stimulus as it comes into contact with one of our sensory receptors—eyes, ears, nose, mouth, or skin. Perception of external stimuli influences our behaviour even without our conscious knowledge that it is doing so. Marketers and retailers understand this, and they create products and stores specifically designed to influence our behaviour. Close your eyes and think for a moment about the hundreds of objects, noises, and smells surrounding you at this very moment. In order to function in this crowded environment, we choose to perceive certain stimuli while ignoring others. This process is called selectivity. Selectivity lets us focus our attention on the things that provide meaning for interpreting our environment or on the things that are relevant to us, while not wasting our limited information-processing resources on irrelevant items (Wilkie). Marketers continuously struggle to break through the clutter and grab consumers’ attention. Advertising and packaging is designed to grab our attention through a host of techniques, like the use of contrast in colours and sound, repetition, and contextual placement.
Did you watch TV last night? You may have paid attention to many of the ads you saw during the commercial breaks; you may even have laughed out loud at a few of them. But how many can you recall today? Consumers’ ability to store, retain, and retrieve product information is critical to a brand’s success. When information is processed, it is held for a very brief time (less than one minute) in working, or short-term, memory. If this information is rehearsed (mentally repeated), it is transferred to long-term memory; if not, the information is lost and forgotten. Once transferred to long-term memory, information is encoded or arranged in a way that provides meaning to the individual. Information in long-term memory is constantly reorganized, updated, and rearranged as new information comes in, or learning takes place. Information-processing theorists represent the storage of information in long-term memory as a network consisting of nodes (word, idea, or concept) and links (relationships among them). Nodes are connected to each other depending on whether there is an association between concepts, with the length of the linkages representing the degree of the association (Bagozzi).
The complete network brought to mind when a product is activated is called the product schema. Knowing the set of associations that consumers retrieve from long-term memory about a particular product or category is critical to a successful marketing strategy. For new products or services, marketers must first select the set of associations they want consumers to have. This is called positioning the product, or selecting the brand image. The brand position is then translated into clever ads, reinforced on product packaging, and integrated into all promotion and communication strategies. Over time, a brand’s image can fade or become diluted. Sometimes consumers associate concepts that are not favourable to a brand. When this occurs, marketers reposition the brand, using advertising and other marketing tools to help consumers create new links to positive association and discard links to the unfavourable ones. Generally speaking, a brand extension is more likely to be successful if the set of associations for the extension matches the set of associations of the core product.
It is usually said that advertisement message should be meaningful, believable, and distinctive (Wilkie). An ad is meaningful only if it shows a benefit of the product, which makes the product more attractive. An ad should only claim what is believable by common sense. Claiming that one medicine could cure all diseases would not be believable. The users should be convinced that the product would be able to deliver what it claims because what it claims is possible. A distinctive advertisement is the one, which explains as to how and why a particular brand is preferable over others.
Here again gender emphasis is difficult to decide. However, ads aimed at men probably need to be more believable as compared to those aimed for women. Men tend to more critical in analyzing the claims made by a product. As for benefits and distinctiveness of a product, both, men and women, would be attracted to either of the message strategies.
Ads with social appeal are likely to be popular with women more than with men. This is because women usually understand customs and traditions better than men. They show more interest in such matters and listen to such ads with more attention thus increasing the popularity of the ad and the product amongst women more than with men (Barthel). Setting Appeal could be equally effective or ineffective with either gender and no distinction could be made here between the two. Model Appeal is likely to be more popular with men. Men are interested in women and women are interested in money – so goes the famous belief. It is not incidental that women are cast in all kinds of ads – whether meant for women or men. Rational Appeal is something that is likely to make an ad more convincing for men. If a medicine has cured 10000 patients and if the working of a medicine is scientifically explained in an advertisement then men are going to believe it much faster than women. This is not because of any fault with the women. It is just the role model. Women are supposed to be more perceptive, sensitive, and feeling type than men. Cultural Appeal is likely to attract both the genders equally and gender distinction in ads with this appeal would be difficult. However, in some cultures, ads with a Culture Appeal are likely to attract and convince women more than men. About Emotional Appeal it could probably be safely said that it will appeal to women more than men at all ages. Cost Appeal would be equally appealing to all genders and all ages.
What consumers think and the social environment they live in determine what they buy and how that purchase decision is made. Typically, the decision process is described as a series of five stages. The first stage, need recognition, occurs when consumers perceive a difference between their ideal and actual states. Need recognition is often prompted by persuasive advertising. Consumers then begin the information search process by conducting an internal search of their own knowledge structures, followed by an external search for information from friends, family members, salespeople, and advertisements. This step can clarify the problem, providing criteria to use for assessing product alternatives and resulting in a subset, or “consideration set,” of potential choices. These options are then assessed more completely in the third stage, alternative evaluation. In this stage, products in the consideration set are compared with one another. Sometimes a simple heuristic rule of thumb, such as “I’m going to buy the cheapest product” is used. At other times a more complex strategy, such as a weighted-average model that compensates for product strengths and weaknesses, is used. After examining each alternative, consumers are ready to purchase, the fourth step in the decision process. Finally, after buying, the consumers enter the post-purchase phase of the process, during which the performance of the chosen alternative is evaluated in light of prior expectations. Consumers will be satisfied with the product if it meets or exceeds expectations; dissatisfaction occurs if the product does not meet expectations.
This model of consumer behaviour, while very useful, is highly simplified and does not always accurately reflect the decision process consumers follow. Consumers may not always proceed linearly through the five steps as described, and sometimes they may skip certain steps entirely. However, the model is a close approximation of the process for most consumers for most purchase occasions.
We are all consumers. Understanding why we behave as we do is integral to an efficient transfer of goods and services in a market-driven economy.
Bagozzi, R,P.and Gurhan-Canli,Z. The Social Psychology of Consumer Behaviour . Buckingham: Open University Press, 2002.
Barthel, D. Putting on Apperance;Gender and Advertising . Temple Univercity Press, 1998.
Baumeister, R.F. The Social Psychology. Psychology Press, 1999.
Wilkie, William L. Consumer Behavior, 3rd ed. New York: Wiley, 1994.
Williamson, Judith. Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising. London: Marion Boyars, 1978.