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Social Reference Groups Family Roles And Status Media Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 2935 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Nowadays, there are more and more products available in the market, often supported by advertising and strong communication.

The objective of the study of consumer behaviour or more precisely the customer, is to understand how people buy and consume. This analysis is very complex because each individual is unique and versatile, so not always faithful. In addition, there are many factors you have to take into consideration and there are often uncontrollable.

So the actions of buyers are quite difficult to predict. For that you have to understand:

What they are

What they do

What they think

How they decide and act

According to Schiffman & Kanuk, consumer behaviour is principally about the search, the purchase, the use, the evaluation and the disposal of the product and service that they assume will please they needs.

Moreover they are some buyer characteristics and psychology, which influence their buyer behaviour. They are four important categories:

Cultural: culture, subculture, social class

Social: reference groups, family, roles and status

Personal: age, life cycle stage, occupation, economic situation, lifestyle, personality and self concept

Psychological: motivation, perception, learning, beliefs and attitudes

Here we will analyse in which way people are influenced by their psychological need, with their personal and social self-concept.

But we will also see the possible influence of the symbolic consumption, the reference group influence and also the cultural group influences.

First we have to understand the meaning of these words.

Self concept: “totality of the individual’s thoughts and feelings having reference to himself as an object” (Rosenberg 1979)

According to Burns and Rosenberg, real self is associated with how a person apprehends herself; ideal self is associated with how a person desire to apprehend herself and finally social self is associated with how a person introduces herself to the others.

There are at least two reasons: the self-esteem and self consistency (Epstein 1980)

The first is associated with the penchant for the search of experiences that reinforce the self-concept. The second is the penchant for someone to act constantly with her view of herself. These two notions could be rival.

Symbolic consumption:

According to Levy, it is associated with the penchant of the consumer to concentrate on the meanings, apart from the real physical aspect of tangible objects. This is more a social tool who to communicate between the individual and his references (Grubb and Grathwohl, 1967).

If you want that your product or brand act as an emblem it has to be culturally spread and shared (Dittmar, 1992).

Reference group:

A reference group is the group, which forms a comparison or a reference in their attitudes or behaviour. You can be a member or not, but anyway it has an influence, great or no on your opinions, values or attitudes.

According to Hebert Hyman, it also means that you use your group as a “point of reference” in deciding your preferences and believes. The size can be variable, small to very large like political party or religious institution.

Cultural group:

Culture is what a person of a society learns from family and other important institutions.

It could be some: beliefs, values or customs. (Kotler, 1996).

By culture you mean society’s personality as the language, laws, religions, food customs, music, art…Culture is something you acquire.

So cultural group is people who shared a same culture, and you can have three levels of subjective culture:



Group (e.g.: families, friends, shopping group)


As we have seen before, a consumer can be influence by some factors like personal, psychological or social characteristics.

First, the personal characteristics are particular to one person:

Age and life cycle (according to the Royal Bank of Scotland it exists 5 life cycle stage segments: youth, getting started, builders, accumulators and preservers)

Occupation, which influence the goods and services who are buying by a consumer.

Economic situation (personal income, interest rates, savings)

Lifestyle: activities (work, hobbies), interests (food, fashion), opinions (business, products)

Personality: multi-trait approach (five-factor model), single-trait approach (consumer ethnocentrism, need for cognition, consumer’s need for uniqueness)

Self-concept: self-image

The self-concept is a multidimensional assembly (Hamm and Cunfiff, 1969; Hughes and Guerrero, 1971; Guttman, 1973) that allows people to judge them in many circumstances of social situations.


(Hunter 2012) Broad aspects of self-concept


Self-concept is often linked to the brand personality (Levy 1959, Sirgy 1982), because people usually buy a brand they think they are matching with (Dent-Read & Szokolsky, 1993; Zalthman, 1997). The aim is for the consumer to fraternize with the brand. Landon (1974) thinks that people are interested in brands that fit their self-concept and personality.

E.g.: Body Shop: justice and equity

Brand personality, according to Jennifer Aaker is the characteristics, which are accompanied with a brand.

E.g.: Pepsi is seen as young while Coca-Cola is seen as real and honest

According to Kardes et al (2011), if the main goal of the marketers is to do brand awareness, then they have to cultivate a communication with real self-concept. We can take L’Oreal with is slogan “Because I’m worth it” or Apple with “I’m a Mac” or ‘”I’m a PC”. To the contrary if they want to change beliefs about the brand, they have to focus on ideal self-concepts. For example: US Army’s slogan “Be all you can be”; Pateck Philippe “Who will you be in the next 24 hours?”)

But does the brand personality really count?

According to Freling, Crosno and Henard (2011) they have demonstrate in one test the effectiveness of their system based on three constituents: favourability, originality and clarity. These are directly related to the purchase decision.

Attributes of products can lead to a characteristic identity for a person.

For example, a teenager his with fashion jacket, which is making him self-confident, and permit to feel like a cool guy.

Most of the people are carrying about some of their objects that make them what they are. And sometimes if you loose them you feel like you have lost a piece of you.

We can take the example of someone who would have been robbed; very often he will have the impression of being raped. It is the same with the natural catastrophes where the people feel very depressed or are experiencing a decrease of their sense of self. Another example is in Ireland nowadays, a tradition wants that people are buried with some of their very important values objects.

So we can say that the products can influence the self-concept we use and have.

Russel Belk has widely contributed to the development of the extended self-notion, but William James is at the origin of the conviction that the objects we have can help the construction of our identity and that people are thanks to what they have.

His physical and psychological aspect does not only define the person but also his wife and his children or the house and clothes he owns.

Another example could be the automobile, according to Banning (1996), for a lot of Americans it is a valuable piece of they self. They are spending a lot of time taking care of their car.

Other people are decorating their office with personal items or pictures.

They also like according to Tian and Belk (2005) people like to express their personality through objects they have on their desk as mobile phone or notebook. Some people think that they could not live without these technologies. They are like a part of their brains.

Moreover, the choices of the aspects you decide to affirm in the workplace demonstrate the way you are arbitrating between home and work borders.

Most of the products you have are independent from your physical aspect (except from the haircut, tattoo…we can also talk about diet and plastic surgery).

By buying a certain product you can show your singularity.

According to Tian et al, the research of the singularity shows the need that people have to develop and improve their social and self-personality thanks to the purchase and use of products. It allows them to make a distinction from those who are buying other products.

Due to this need marketers have developed the personalized purchases (e.g. Converse, Nike or some shop where you can do your own tee-shirt).

Some objects have become indispensable, like mobile phone that are permitting people to be connected with the others, but also for the adolescent to feel more adult.


According to Whyte, the possession of an innovative property demonstrates the model of the interpersonal communication.

With his example about the air conditioner, he says that social conformity is very high in America. So when people are exchanging with their neighbours about their new purchase it animates them to do the same purchase.

Nowadays, there are the same things in residential sphere with swimming pools, trampolines, and television satellite…

Whyte also talk about the corporate norms, which stimulate conventionality in offices.

Moreover, the word of mouth (viral marketing can be associated with it) is one of the most relevant things in influencing people, in a bad or a good way.

People are widely influences by their relatives and people they are seeing like friends, work partners and journalists for example. As they are submerging by advertising the informal power is even stronger and often decisive.

According to Charles Cooley, self-concept is directly related to the intercommunication with other people.


Consumers are influenced by their culture. It could be seen as the “personality” of a certain society. As a human being, culture is made by some proper characteristics like demography, norms, art or traditions.

It is not easy for a person of a society to certainly define how his culture is. According to Michael Solomon, as we don’t face another type of culture or environment, it is difficult to realize what are the differences about the clothes, foods and way of interacting with each other.

According to McCracken, a lot of significations in our everyday life products are developed by our culture. They are giving symbolic qualities to products consistent to our culture through advertising. E.g. Calvin Klein with is ads about thinness.

It exists some different rituals according to the country:

Wedding ceremony for the Jewish

New year’s celebration in France

Senior high school prom in America

Moreover, people can also be influenced by subcultures. They possess the same value systems established on shared life experiences. There are some characteristics as race and origins. It exists 4 important subcultures in America:


African American


Mature consumers

For example they have common characteristics like for American Hispanics (Mexican, Cubans, Costa Ricans):

Shopping is something they do in family, they are willing to buy some goods of good quality (generics are not preferred), they are brand loyal and like companies who are interested in them.

We can also talk about another subculture: age, with for example the Generation Y (born 1982-2000) who are willing to use more internet than newspapers, use a lot text messaging and spend time on online social networks.


Fishbein and Ajzen (1975)

The reference groups are groups that can form a comparison or a reference in forming attitudes of behaviour. It can be also aspirational, informal, primary and secondary or symbolic. With the reference groups we face new way of behaviours and lifestyles, but it also inspire our attitudes and self-concept. Moreover it can develop ways of pressure to conform to our group, it could influence our products and brand choices. It can be some rock stars, professional athletes, opinion leaders or group like for example Vocalpoint, a community for moms.

Celebrities endorsement is usually use in advertising to convince the consumer to choose this brand.

Very often, the consumer is not even aware of the behavioural influence of the group. This is especially true is the development of social networks like Facebook, Twitter or forum where consumers talk about their experiences. You are influenced, as this is a relevant aspect of your social life. But for that you have to share the same interests. (Michener & Wasserman, 1995).

Kathryn Mercurio and Mark Forehand (2011) have shown that when you are watching a television ad that makes you think about your reference group, it is easier for you to remember it.

It exists different types of groups like shopping, work, consumer-action, friendship or virtual groups.

Shopping group could decrease the risk of your purchase thanks to the opinion of the others.

Consumer-action group is for example who are fighting for a cause like Greenpeace.

Concerning the friendship group, we could say that it’s one of those who have the most important influence on purchases with the family one.

They are often more trustful with their friends than the marketers.

According to Emmanuel Rosen(2002), more than 43% of the people who are travelling have made their choices of planes and hotels thanks to the advice of their friends and family.

So people are very attentive to their advices, also for clothes, for the brands their purchase but also for the magazines and the films they will choose.

According to Tobi Elkin (2011), the influence of the peer is the first motive in the shopping behaviour of the teenage girls.

Even if they are price-conscious and attentive to interesting deal, the most important thing is that their friends and family agree with their purchase decision.

With the appearance and development of Internet, virtual groups are borne.

Hoegg et al (2006) recognized five types:




Social networks

Social bookmarking

This kind of online activity has totally changes the ways people are influenced; it has a relevant role with brand connections. Because people can easily learn about the brand they like and people are sharing recommendations for brand through these sites.

Finally they are a lot of ways whereby the consumer is influenced. It could be by discussing the product, or by the pressure of the peer, by imitation or by the influence of social media.

We have seen that a reference group can have a wide influence on people, principally by playing an informational role. They could also have an utilitarian influence, because people are looking for acceptance and approval.

Reference groups can also be value-expressive, because they are ready to conform to the group due to the psychological need to be part of the group. They can compare their selves to the others. (Schiffman et al., 2008).

According to Saul Kassin, Steven Fein and Hazel Markus (2010), we all are animate by the actions of other people. (E.g.: when someone is laughing you are often tempted to laugh too or for the musicians who are putting some of their money to encourage people to donate).

Consumer conformity is when people change their behaviour to adapt to the other consumers (e.g.: compliance or private acceptance).

According to Solomon Asch(1951), during a study when the judgement of a person is in conflict with the opinion of most of the other participants, he generally changes is mind even if they are wrong.

There is also the anti-conformist who is willing to stop buying a brand when it is too popular (e.g.: Apple)


To conclude, we can say that self-concept is not just about our essential values or interests but it is also about people who are around us like family, friends, intimate relationship and group of interest. (William James, 1980). Self-concept can be related to social connections with our peers, our families or even with our reference groups.

They are often using the reaction of other people to construct their opinion and themselves but also by using social comparisons.

So the personal and social concept is closely related to the symbolic consumption, reference groups and social groups. Relationships are something very relevant for the construction of themselves.

We have also seen that we are more willing to process the information that is consistent with our self-concept and that our self-image could be multiple (family self, friend self, student self).


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