Heightened Self-Consciousness: the Intended and Unintended Consequences of Marketing Activities

Lauren Block, New York University
Gavan Fitzsimons, Columbia University
[ to cite ]:
Lauren Block and Gavan Fitzsimons (1994) ,"Heightened Self-Consciousness: the Intended and Unintended Consequences of Marketing Activities", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, eds. Chris T. Allen and Deborah Roedder John, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 252.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, 1994      Page 252


Lauren Block, New York University

Gavan Fitzsimons, Columbia University

With the expansion of consumerism and the consumer movement, considerable attention has been given recently to the potentially serious unintended consequences of traditional marketing activities. Such criticisms are typically focused on the impact of marketing on societal values and cultural norms. Marketing researchers have recently begun to explore the effects of traditional marketing practices on a smaller scale, focusing more specifically on the side effects of standard marketing activities on individuals or subsets of the population.

This session presented four papers that explore how standard marketing practices may affect consumer behavior by influencing the consumer's perceived in-group or out-group status (perceived self-consciousness). An underlying assumption in each paper is that perceived self-consciousness can be an intended or unintended byproduct or side effect of marketing strategy.

The Tepper paper raised the issue of self-consciousness in the context of being labelled as an elderly consumer. Tepper demonstrated, using both experimental and qualitative data, that promotion incentives that specifically target elderly consumers with age segmentation cues (e.g., Senior Citizen discounts) unwittingly engender perceived stigma and self-devaluation associated with use of the product.

Wooten addressed how self-consciousness affects purchase intentions among consumers in a numerically rare context. He suggested that self-consciousness mediates the impact of self-felt ethnicity on consumers' choice of food products traditionally associated with their ethnic in-group. Wooten experimentally manipulated social surroundings and then measured consumers' levels of self-consciousness. As consumers became conscious of the potential impact of the marketing activity they were less likely to be influenced by it.

Unlike the Tepper paper, which measured the effects of in-group consciousness on perceived attributions and behavioral intentions, and the Wooten paper, which focused on its effect on purchase behavior, the Aaker and Dean paper dealt with the effects of target marketing on out-group self-consciousness. Aaker and Dean explored the potential impact of targeting on in- and out-group self-consciousness. Based on a series of focus groups and in-depth interviews with consumers, advertising creatives and researchers, they proposed a typology of the situations under which the impact of target marketing on those in the non target market can be negative.

The final paper complemented the other three by introducing an interpretive methodology to the study of peripheral impacts of marketing. Block, Fitzsimons and Holbrook used an interpretive approach to study the effects of the beauty ideal on consumers' self-consciousness, as manifested through the products they consume and display. They developed a framework for understanding various types of beauty that correspond to consumers' perceptions of inclusion/exclusion with the beauty ideal. The authors suggest that self-consciousness of one's actual social position vis-a-vis one's desired social position is reflected in the lives of consumers, in pop culture generally, and in motion pictures especially.