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The Development of Consumer Culture

Part IV B – Branding

Chapter 8: Societal and Anti-Societal Level in a Branding Context

8.1 The Development of Consumer Culture


70 organic foods vs. fashion. As CSR and branding hold a main position in this project, we will include both the Postmodern and Hypermodern consumer, as well as the importance of Branding Paradigms and how they change over time; sometimes as a result of the consumers gaining more knowledge. In order to properly examine the alteration of consumer culture and Branding Paradigms as an interdependent relation, Holt’s Dialectical Model of Branding and Consumer Culture is presented below to give an overview of the evolvement of Branding Paradigms parallel to the development of consumer culture.

Figure 8: The Dialectical Model of Branding and Consumer Culture

Source: Holt, 2002

Modern Branding Paradigm

Principle: Cultural Engineering Techniques: Scientific branding

Freudian branding

Postmodern Branding Paradigm Principle: Authentic Cultural Resources

Techniques: Ironic, Reflexive Brand Persona

Coattailing on Cultural Epicentres

Lifeworld Emplacement Stealth Branding

Post Postmodern Branding Paradigm

Modern Consumer Culture

Principle: Citizen-Artist

Contradictions Authority = coercion Denies freedom to choose

Postmodern Consumer Culture

Contradictions Ironic Distance Compressed

The Sponsored Society Authenticity Extinction Peeling Away the Brand

Veneer Sovereignty Inflation

Post Postmodern Consumer Culture

Cultivating Self through brands Acquiescing to Brands’ Cultural Authority

Personal Sovereignty through brands

71 From looking at Figure 8, it becomes clear that branding has been guided by different principles throughout the evolvement of branding and consumer culture. The main principles of the Modern Branding Paradigm were cultural engineering, meaning that the consumers saw companies as cultural authorities, seeking their advice. In addition, people sought to look alike, being collective and not standing out (ibid). At that time, consumers exchanged money for goods and the producer determined product value (Vargo; Lusch, 2004). Moreover, firms determined wealth as a surplus of tangible resources and goods (ibid). However, the advertising industry was also beginning to put social and emotional meaning into the brands, giving products psychological and social value (Heller, 2000 in Holt, 2002).

With the emergence of Postmodernism, both Branding Paradigms and consumer culture experienced a transformation. The consumer culture was highly influenced by the existential revolution that many people underwent in the 1960s, putting the individual in the centre and rejecting companies and advertisers as cultural engineers (Holt, 2002). However, brands still held significance to consumers, as they still added social value to the individual. However, they were now offered as cultural resources; tangibles that through appliance of cultural meaning helped shape the individual’s identity (McCracken, 1986), whereas they before were utilized as cultural blueprints (Holt, 2002). The Branding Paradigm also shifted; the consumer became co-producer by adding value to the product through usage and the companies started to determine their wealth through intangibles such as sharing of knowledge and skills (Vargo et al, 2004). As individualism gained ground, brands must hold authenticity, i.e. it had to seem as if they were invented by people, who were motivated by their fundamental inherent value and not by an economic incentive (Holt, 2002). In order to comply with the Postmodern values of the consumers, new branding methods were developed; ironic campaigns, subculture membership, endorsement, and product placement were some of the new strategies created in order to brand a product as a value resource used to build the consumer’s identity (ibid).

Entering the Hypermodern society, which Holt calls the Post Postmodern society, the contradictions from the Branding Paradigms of the Postmodern era become obvious. When the first ironic campaigns were mass copied, it became clear that the ironic distance also had a commercial goal. When consumers found out that endorsers were paid to have the right opinion and product placement was a billion dollar business, they lost faith in their idols and experts. People have acknowledged that branding is business and do not attempt to assess

72 them on how well they hide commercial objectives, but instead consumers judge their ability to create differentiated cultural material, which can be utilized in their Interpellation (ibid).

However, some parts of the Postmodern Branding Paradigm are still valid: the consumer serves as co-producer of the product or service, and relationship with consumers is also still important to obtain. New concepts in the emerging Branding Paradigm are communities, corporate branding, and storytelling, because consumers no longer judge a brand from the specific product, but instead on the whole company and its leverage, requiring a more holistic branding (Morsing, 2003). The ever-increasing importance of CSR has also generated a need for a more holistic and proactive branding, as consumers tend to focus more and more on if a brand or a product performs its civic duties and does not harm, calling for the companies to act beyond what is expected from their stakeholders (Ottman, 2011) (Holt, 2002).

Along with the emergence of the Internet, which, among other things, led to globalization, consumers slowly began gaining more power, as they gained more knowledge because their information sources were unlimited. Today, individualization and globalization of society have spawned a politization of consumption, which in turn has generated consumers, who are shaping future cultures and politics. By using consumer values through the freedom of consumption they are showing why consumption is called a soft power (Sestoft, 2010), as it holds important influence on society, which is also argued in her article:

“In Western capitalist civilization, we live in consumerist societies where people are categorized according to their competences as consumers.” (Bauman 1997; Bordieu, 1995 in Sestoft 2010, p. 3).

Holt mentions two types of resistance towards marketing techniques; reflexive resistance and creative resistance. Reflexive resistance is only done by consumers, who are able to reflect on how marketing works and use it to create a distance to it. Creative resistance is people, who view companies as the big bad capitalist, which form people to become passive consumers.

These people wish for a heterogeneous market driven by social spaces that consumers generate themselves, where they can form their identity and not let it be dictated by the market (Holt, 2002). However, we argue that globalization has made the global market more

73 homogenous in many ways, but the ability for dialogue and interaction via the Internet has fostered an increasing acceptance of heterogeneity.

We further argue that what Holt names as resistance is that same as what Sestoft describes as Anti-Society Level. They both include the alteration of their sign values in order to indicate hostility towards the establishment (Societal Level) values (Ozanne; Murray, 1995 in Holt, 2002). In terms of branding, Holt describes the Anti-Societal Level’s alteration of values as an ongoing thing, because marketers utilize this consumer resistance to rejuvenate the brands. In time, these values become mainstream and a part of the Discourse of the establishment (Societal Level), which forces the Anti-Societal Level to come up with new values and types of resistance (ibid). This is also in line with Kohlberg, as he states that consumers need to encounter dilemmas in order to grow morally (Kohlberg in McGregor, 2006). Therefore, consumers’ resistance is not dangerous to companies that understand the new emerging opportunity of value alteration. They merely see Anti-Societal Level as assistant to tear down old Branding Paradigms and help the market revitalize itself (Holt, 2002). These viewpoints are in line with what Lee (2010) argues, as he also states that anti-consumption phenomena in the future will become mainstream consumer behaviour. Moreover, knowledge of anti-consumption can create opportunities to competitive firms, in terms of knowing what consumers avoid in current competitive mainstream products. In short, companies need to understand that today’s anti-consumption might be tomorrow’s consumption choice (Lee in Jaeger, 2010).

Figure 9 shows the dynamic flow of how Anti-Societal Level affects the Individual Level, who takes on this value alteration and thereby change the Discourse between the Individual Level and Societal Level, which forces companies to change their branding strategy.

74 Figure 9:

Source: Holt, 2002; Sestoft, 2010 Societal Level

- Companies

Anti-Societal Level - 2 types of resistance:

Reflexive and Creative

Individual Level


Influences the Individual Level in how they perceive society


Forces a change of Discourse


Forces companies to alter their branding strategy, hence create a new Branding Paradigm