Consumers as Individuals – the Self

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LECTURE 5: CONSUMERS AS INDIVIDUALS – THE SELF

Self-concept

The self-concept refers to the beliefs a person holds about their attributes, and how they evaluate these qualities.

Components of the self-concept

It is composed of many attributes, some of which are given greater emphasis when the overall self is being evaluated. Attributes of self-concept can be described along such dimensions as their content (for example, facial attractiveness vs. mental aptitude), positivity or negativity (i.e. self-esteem), intensity, stability over time and accuracy (that is, the degree to which one’s self-assessment corresponds to reality).

Self-esteem

Self-esteem refers to the positivity of a person’s self-concept. People with low self-esteem do not expect that they will perform very well, and they will try to avoid embarrassment, failure or rejection. People with high self-esteem expect to be successful,, will take more risks and are more willing to be the centre of attention. Self-esteem is often related to acceptance by others.

Marketing communications can influence a consumer’s level of self-esteem. Exposure to ads can trigger a process of social comparison, where the person tries to evaluate their self by comparing it to the people in these artificial images.

Real and ideal selves

Self-esteem is influenced by a process where the consumer compares their actual standing on some attribute to some ideal. The ideal self is a person’s conception of how they would like to be, while the actual self refers to our more realistic appraisal of the qualities we have or lack. And we often engage in a process of impression management where we work hard to ‘manage’ what others think of us by strategically choosing clothing and other cues that will put us in a good light.

The ideal self is partly moulded by elements of the consumer’s culture, such as heroes or people depicted in advertising who serve as models of achievement or apprearance. Products may be purchased because they are believed to be instrumental in helping us achieve these goals. Some products are chosen because they are reaching the standard set by the ideal self.

Multiple selves

We have as many selves as we do different social roles. Depending on the situation, we act differently, use different products and services, and we even vary in terms of how much we like ourselves. A person may require a different set of products to play a desired role.

The self can be thought of as having different components, or role identities, and only some of these are active at any given time.

Symbolic interactionism

If each person potentially has many social selves, how does each develop and how do we decide which self to ‘activate’ at any point in time? The sociological tradition of symbolic interactionism stresses that relationships with other people play a large part in forming the self. This perspective maintains that people exist in a symbolic environment, and the meaning attached to any situation or object is determined by the interpretation of these symbols.

Like other social objects, the meanings of consumers themselves are defined b social consensus. The consumer interprets their own identity, and this assessment is continually evolving as they encounter new situations and people.

The looking-glass self

When you choose an article of clothing, the mirror superimposes it on your reflection so that you can see how it would look on you. This process of imagining the reactions of others towards us is known as ‘taking the role of the other’, or the looking-glass self. According to this view, our desire to define ourselves operates as a sort of psychological sonar, we take readings of our own identify by ‘bouncing’ signals off others and trying to project what impression they have of us.

Self-conciousness

There are times when people seem to be painfully aware of themselves. If you have ever walked into a class in the middle of a lecture...
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