Popular brands and culture have caused identity loss in consumers, according to research by a graduating PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne.
And according to author, and soon to be “Doctor of Cool” Lauren Gurrieri, the marketing industry is responsible for causing and continuing to sell this confusion.
“The line between marketers and consumers is blurring, with consumers now proactively engaged in marketing activities. However, the cynicism and savvy of youths today has made it harder for marketers to reach consumers,” said Dr Gurrieri. “In response, marketers are turning to specialist agencies who can talk to youths in their own language, appropriating the latest fads and fashions to build cool brands.”
Dr Gurrieri, now a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Griffith University, will receive her doctorate at a University of Melbourne graduation ceremony on Saturday August 13. Her thesis, ‘The social construction of cool in consumer culture: a discursive approach’, was completed in the Faculty of Business and Economics, under the supervision of then Deputy Dean Professor Gregory Whitwell and Professor Cynthia Hardy.
The study found that certain lifestyles are associated with the idea of ‘cool’, and marketing trends have stereotyped cool identities as male, wealthy, heterosexual, white, sexualised, attractive, thin and able-bodied. These consumer stereotypes are exploited by marketers, who feed on the psychological need for fantasy, pleasure, novelty and escape from social orders.
“Whenever cool products are sold, consumers are subconsciously buying into an experience that is determined by social order and hierarchy,” said Dr Gurrieri. While consumers of ‘cool’ products aspire towards popularity and social acceptance, Dr Gurrieri said they also paradoxically compete amongst themselves to stand out as strong and unique individuals that do not need the help of products and services in order to fit in.
“Originally cool was about being different and going against the mainstream, but the growing influence of marketing on cool has changed in meaning, in the process confusing consumers who are sold these competing messages.”
“Society is often critical of materialism, yet, the changing conceptions of coolness often leave people feeling inadequate and pressured into outdoing one another while also competing to acquire popular identities, lifestyles and products.”
“This feeling is enhanced by the fleeting sense of fulfillment that comes with buying and selling. As the gratification associated with owning of a cool product disappears, consumers end up moving through cycles of discontent in pursuit of the next cultural fad.”