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In Defence of Shopping

Douglas wrote an important article, “In Defence of Shopping,” in which she argues that (1997:23) “cultural alignment is the strongest predictor of preferences in a wide variety of fields.” It is membership in one of the four lifestyles that determine what we consume; what we buy. The advertisements that lead us to buy certain goods and services must be, then, focused upon our lifestyles. She explains how this works (1997:17):

We have to make a radical shift away from thinking about consumption as a manifestation of individual choices. Culture itself is the result of myriad choices, not primarily between commodities but between kinds of relationships. The basic choice that a rational individual has to make is the choice of what kind of society to live in. According to that choice, the rest follows. Artefacts are selected to demonstrate that choice. Food is eaten, clothes are worn, cinema, books. music, holidays, all the rest are choices that conform with the initial choice for a form of society.

Douglas claims that there are four distinct and mutually antagonistic lifestyles or consumer cultures, even though, as I keep pointing out, people who are in each of them may not be aware they belong to one of them. This would mean that it wouldn’t be demographic/socioeconomic class and discretionary income that is basic in consumption decisions, but lifestyles or membership in one of the four mutually antagonistic consumer cultures. This suggests, then, that there are four publics for marketers to focus their attention on because the consumption decisions members of a lifestyle make are not based on individual taste as much as the hidden imperatives stemming from one’s lifestyle.

Shopping, she says is a struggle to define not what one is but what one is not. This reminds us of Saussure’s dictum that concepts are differential whose most precise characteristic is in being what others are not. Advertisements, then, must be designed to appeal to the taste cultures of the different lifestyles and involve the implicit rejection of the tastes of all the other lifestyles. What Mary Douglas reminds us is that we find out who we are by discovering who we aren’t and whose taste we don’t like.

This means that marketers must figure out ways to determine which lifestyle might be most interested in a product they are selling and which ones wouldn’t. There are, then, four target audiences/lifestyles and the advertisements must appeal to them. Thus, mass market cruise lines, such as the Norwegian Line, makes different appeals to potential customers than luxury lines like Regent Seven Seas and manufacturers of inexpensive cars must keep in mind the lifestyle as well as the socioeconomic status of the people they are targeting.

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