Symbols For Sale ... At Least For Now: Symbolic Consumption in Transition Economies

Irvine Clarke III, James Madison University
Kathleen S. Micken, Roger Williams University
H. Stanley Hart, MABE/BE, Mexico City, Mexico
ABSTRACT - This paper examines the changes in symbolic consumption in emerging economies. Television, movies, music, advertising, and tourism bring knowledge about products to consumers well before the actual goods are available for purchase. Thus the consumption process begins with a product’s symbolic meaning. Product symbolism does not, however, remain static. As the economy moves through the phases of demand development, the meaning of Western products changes. To capture the dynamic nature of symbolic consumption, a conceptual framework is presented as a means of better understanding the process. Two emerging economies, Cuba and the German Democratic Republic, provide illustrations.
[ to cite ]:
Irvine Clarke III, Kathleen S. Micken, and H. Stanley Hart (2002) ,"Symbols For Sale ... At Least For Now: Symbolic Consumption in Transition Economies", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, eds. Susan M. Broniarczyk and Kent Nakamoto, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 25-30.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, 2002     Pages 25-30

SYMBOLS FOR SALE ... AT LEAST FOR NOW: SYMBOLIC CONSUMPTION IN TRANSITION ECONOMIES

Irvine Clarke III, James Madison University

Kathleen S. Micken, Roger Williams University

H. Stanley Hart, MABE/BE, Mexico City, Mexico

ABSTRACT -

This paper examines the changes in symbolic consumption in emerging economies. Television, movies, music, advertising, and tourism bring knowledge about products to consumers well before the actual goods are available for purchase. Thus the consumption process begins with a product’s symbolic meaning. Product symbolism does not, however, remain static. As the economy moves through the phases of demand development, the meaning of Western products changes. To capture the dynamic nature of symbolic consumption, a conceptual framework is presented as a means of better understanding the process. Two emerging economies, Cuba and the German Democratic Republic, provide illustrations.

INTRODUCTION

The transition from country-specific markets to globalized markets and its effect on consumption behavior have become important topics of scholarly study (Arnould 1993; Damjan 1993). Regional trading agreements such as NAFTA, the EU, and ASEAN have transformed local markets into world players. New expectations are being created and in developing and transition economies basic consumption activities are being altered (Lofman 1993). Regional economic integration, however, is not the only force driving these changes. Advances in communications (e.g., satellite TV and movie broadcasts), the Internet, education, and increased access to travel allow citizens to compare their socioeconomic levels and consumer lifestyles with individuals of other countries. Consumer expectations rise as people anticipate greater integration of their economies with the rest of the world. These shifts often presage changes in asic value orientations (Roberts and Smith 1992; Tse, Belk, and Zhou 1989). They also serve as precursors of changes in symbolic consumption.

Goods carry symbolic meaning beyond their specific functional use (Levy 1959; Mick 1986; Belk 1988). They are part of a society’s communication system (Douglas and Isherwood 1979) and product success or failure often hinges upon these meanings. In developing or transition economies, knowledge of productsCvia advertising, movies, seeing what tourists wear, and the likeCoften arrives well before the actual goods are available for purchase. Hence, in these countries, the consumption process begins with a product’s symbolic meaning. The appropriate focus for study, therefore, may not be the products themselves but rather their meaning.

This paper examines the likely shifts in symbolic consumptionCand the accompanying consumer evolutionary processesCcreated by a transition from a closed to a more open globalized market economy. The paper takes as its framework Miller’s (1998) four phases of demand development. The economic transition depicted in each phase is adapted to capture the dynamic nature of symbolism as economies experience the tribulations of transition. Symbolic consumption is explored relative to the changing exposure to socialization agents inherent in economic transition from pre-emergent to stable, mature economies. Cuba and the former East Germany provide illustrations of the process. We suggest that this conceptual framework captures the dynamic nature of symbolic consumption and facilitates a better understanding of the transition economies from a consumer perspective.

BACKGROUND

A growing body of literature focuses on the reasons a firm should develop strategies to take advantage of newly emerging markets. The Department of Commerce has programs concentrating on Big Emerging Markets or BEMs (China, Indonesia, India, South Korea, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Portugal and Turkey) and NICs or Newly Industrialized CountriesCsometimes also designated as NIS or Newly Industrialized StatesCsuch as countries which comprised the former Soviet Union. The fast growth rates that have been forecast for these economies, compared with rates in industrialized nations, make them attractive markets. Such discussions also address the advantages to local populations from enhanced economic development.

$ An increase in the standard of living resulting from improvements in a country’s infrastructure (communication systems, transportation, and power generation) as well as from the availability of "modern" products and services.

$ An increase in the quality of life resulting from improved access to medicine and improved access to both systems (e.g., reliable clean water supply) and products that improve personal hygiene.

$ An increase in personal income levels as foreign capital investment in the country engenders new employment opportunities and a broadened industrial base.

Accounts such as these, however, tend to omit consideration of the impact on individuals. Aggregate economic analysis may obscure important impacts felt by the individual consumer. As the Economist (2001) points out, investment in foreign countries provdes a "potent bundle of capital, contacts, and managerial and technological knowledge" (p. 80). We would suggest that even that list is too short. The potent bundle also includes increased consumer access to socialization agents (various media, tourists) as well as access to foreign goods and services. In this paper we focus on changes in product symbolism that result from the application of the potent bundle. As noted above, Miller’s framework provides a structure for this discussion.

MILLER’S MODEL APPLIED TO SYMBOLIC CONSUMPTION

Miller (1998) posits a model with four phases of demand development (see Figure 1). This model, however, is a progressive one, being more descriptive than explanatory, without clear demarcations between phases. Miller presents the model as a tool for conceptualizing the demand stages an emerging economy moves through as it matures into a stable market. Demand rises quickly, levels off briefly, and then returns to a more sustainable rate. For the purposes of this paper we adapt the model for conceptualizing the likely changes in symbolic consumption that accompany consumer demand shifts. In the early demand phases consumption of Western symbols rises dramatically as a society emerges into the global economy. As the society matures economically, however, consumption of these symbols stabilizes and then declines. Table One summarizes these changes.

FIGURE 1

EMERGING MARKET PHASES

TABLE 1

Images of Western society are transferred to developing economies via the media (television, print publications, movies, music, and the like), contact with tourists, and through the distribution of and exposure to Western products. A common result of the proliferation of Western symbols in transitional societies is the perception that prosperity is synonymous with freedom (Landes 1999). Shifts in value orientations may also accompany this transformation. But these various shifts do not occur linearly, or all at onceCwhich is why Miller’s model is helpful to marketers operating in these important transition societies.

Pre-Emergent Phase

In the pre-emergent period there is very little access to imports. But because of the media, tourism, and other factors, consumers are cognizant of products and brands well before they are available, or before the means to purchase them is at hand. Latent demand begins to build in some sectors of the economy. Consumers become "eager to conform to Western consumption patterns" (Miller 1998, p. 32).

One explanation for this product symbolism might be found in consumers’ daily reality within a command economy of the pre-emergent phase. The prices of goods are usually controlled, there is little personal employee incentive to excel, and the general objective is minimization of services, not profit maximization (Landes 1999). From a consumer perspective, long lines and a shortage of basic staples are the norms. Shopping, or finding things to buy, can take all day. It is no wonder that consumers embrace the luxury and freedom symbolized in the products they know about but cannot attain, as the following example illustrates.

After the Berlin Wall fell, a study by Landor Associates (reported in the Economist 1990) ranked East European perceptions of 400 of the most famous Western brands. Rankings were based on familiarity and the esteem in which the brand were held. Overall, Eastern Europeans were familiar with the names of between 100 (by Russians) and 252 (by Hungarians) brands, many of which they had never seen. Landor Associates concluded that its survey pointed to a "tremendous hankering after luxury and the more visible symbols of capitalism" (p. 71). Ritson and Elliott’s (1999) discussion of the social uses of advertising helps explain the likely processes involved here. Drawing on McCracken’s (1988) model of meaning transfer, they discuss the ways in which the symbolic meanings invested in advertising can be consumed by the audience even if the products themselves are not.

Arnould and Wilk (1984) ask, "Why and how do Western consumer goods penetrate the material culture inventories of the rest of the world?" (p. 748). The impact of the media on consumer socialization appears to be an important key (Gerbner, et al. 1977). The role of television in shaping beliefs about the social nature of things goes beyond just advertisements. Watching television is a safe way of learning how to consume in a new environment, and thus has been used as an agent of acculturation (O’Guinn, Lee, and Faber 1984). Of course, people also may use advertising for similar purposes. The U.S. (a highly consumer-oriented culture) is a major exporter of popular mediaCparticularly music, television programming, and action movies.

Another powerful socialization agency is tourism, though its influence often is biBdirectional (Costa 1993). Tourists are affected by the host population and may alter their standard consumption patterns; the host community may be influenced by the visiting tourists. In Hungary, to use Costa’s example, while tourists were entranced by peasant clothing, local pottery and the like, Hungarians were fascinated with every sort of Western consumer good.

But tourism can impact a host culture in other, more substantial, ways. Belk and Costa (1991) describe four such impacts. The host culture may abandon traditional subsistence activities to build hotels, restaurants, and other entertainment spots for the tourist. Tourism may contribute to the fragmentation of families and changes in traditional family relationships. For example, often tourist spots pull young workers from other areas of a country, potentially dividing families and changing family development. In many cases, more women than men are needed for tourist related jobs, thus changing traditional sex-role relationships. Finally, the tourist infrastructure often is foreign owned and the majority of tourist revenue may leave the host country. While some (e.g. Belk 1995; Featherstone 1990; Ritzer 2000) express skepticism about marketing’s impact on the cultures of emerging nations, there is another perspective. Firat (1995), for example, suggests that the marketizing of local cultureCsuch as that described in Hungary aboveCmay be the very process that saves it. Regardless of one’s perspective about tourism’s impact on culture, for the purposes of this paper, it is only necessary to acknowledge the role that tourism plays in making consumers aware of, interested in, and eager for other lifestyles and other consumption choices. This is a critical element in preparing for the next phase of demand development.

Emerging Phase

As the economy starts to modernize and enters the emerging phase, Western products become available, though on a limited basis. Often they first are sold through government stores and outlets intended for tourists, such as hotels. The pent-up demand created by the socialization agents in the pre-emerging phase coupled with this limited distribution fuels a rapid increase in demand. Western products continue to be very desirable as thy symbolize progress and status. Even if the same type of product is made locally, foreign brands are more desirable and have a higher prestige value (Miller 1998). Two examples illustrate the point. In the People’s Republic of the Congo, even though consumers had access to locally bottled Coke, they displayed cans of the more expensiveCand more prestigiousCimported Coke near the windshield of their cars (Friedman 1990). In Russia, although Russian brands are readily available in many product categories, the preferred brands are Western (Borisova 1999). A survey of brand preferences by PECOM, a Moscow-based research firm, found that of 18 brands listed as the top three in six durable goods categories, only two were Russian; Russian brands "won" only two of 16 consumer goods categories.

Movement towards a market economy, however, is not without its problems. The emerging phase often is associated with recession, high unemployment, and inflation (Shama 1992). It also introduces the consumer to comparative shopping (Lofman 1993). Too much choice may be just as destructive to "new" consumers as the lack of sufficient choices had been in the earlier phase (Belk and Costa 1991). A consumer may now spend an exaggerated amount of time comparing products and prices. Feelings of anxiety and post-purchase dissonance are introduced (Ger, Belk and Lascu 1993).

Another result of such an economic transition is that the people may be more cognizant of their relative poverty. For example, Ger, Belk, and Lascu (1993) discovered with respect to Romania that privileged consumers were able to purchase TVs, refrigerators, and stereos. The availability of such goods, however, made many other Romanians "feel their relative poverty in the world more clearly." A new class structure began to emerge in which "money and goods rather than position in the Communist party are determinants" (p. 103).

A similar tension between the desire for foreign status goods and the ability to pay for them has been reported in China (Belk and Zhou 1986). There the increasing availability of foreign goods led to a desire, especially among the young, for high status, foreign brand items. Many Chinese were concerned with this increase in Western consumer values. For example, a Chinese clerk remarked that her children "want to buy more things than we can afford, this is not good. In the past, everyone knew that we were poor. Now there is the illusion that we are rich. But we aren=t" (p. 479).

Thus just as economic development does not progress evenly, neither does symbolic consumption. Nevertheless, during this emerging period demand for foreign products and their attendant symbolism continues to rise rapidly and the economy begins to move to the next phase.

Accelerated Growth Phase

In the accelerated growth phase, the country prospers and items which were previously unaffordable become increasingly demanded, almost reaching its highest point. New levels of personal and household incomes allow such items to be purchased. Bolstered by their possession of the same goods as the rest of the world, consumers begin to view themselves as modern. Ger and Belk (1990) speculate that the desire for foreign goods is fueled by more than an interest in acquiring what people see in advertisements. It stems instead, they suggest, from a desire to be like people in "winning cultures." The symbolism of previously desired Western products seems to shift from freedom towards signifying inclusion in a wider global community. Singaporean consumption choices provide one example. Consumers there are sophisticated and extremely brad consciousCnot necessarily from a desire simply for luxury, but more from a desire to demonstrate that they are world class (Export Advantage: Singapore 2000).

While this fundamental economic reorientation provides consumers an ever-increasing array of consumption choices, the experience still can be disruptive. A country may, for example, modernize its economic and industrial sectors; it might even begin to change politically. At the same time, however, traditional norms may continue to govern in other areas of life, such as the role of women, of family and even consumption, especially in rural areas (Singh 1981).

Studies of Singapore in this phase illustrate the different levels at which consumers engage in symbolic consumption. Tan and McCullough (1985) found that people could be characterized by different degrees of Westernization (p. 123). The more "Chinese" shoppers were thrifty, quality minded, and shopped more at stores that carried Chinese goods. In contrast, the more "Westernized" Chinese consumers, who also were more likely to have a higher level of education, tended to be more brand name and image conscious.

In this phase, then, demand for Western symbols continues to build, almost reaching its peak. As consumers see themselves as modern, product symbolism may begin to shift to accommodate this perception. Eventually, as the economy moves toward a stable maturity, Western products lose their cachet as new. Because they are increasingly available, they no longer are coveted for their scarcity.

Maturity Phase

As the economy matures, imported products that once were unusual, novel and highly desirable become integrated into the regular consumption mix. Their importance as symbols of progress and status remains level for a while and then begins to fall from its peak. To continue to be purchased, such products may need to take on a symbolism connected to the society itself. Caglar’s (1995) discussion of the Turkish D÷nor Kebap in Germany illustrates just such a movement in product symbolism. When Germany welcomed Turkish immigrants as part of its guest worker program, Turks established small fast-food restaurantsCoften no more than large kiosksCto sell D÷nor Kebap. Though the food is not a common staple of Turkish diet in Turkey, to German eyes it became the quintessential Turkish food. Over time, as D÷nor Kebap became more popular and as owners of the stands desired to participate more directly in German culture, they began giving their enterprises names such as Mister Kebap, McKebap, and McD÷ner, reflecting the popularity of US-style fast food restaurants in Germany. As the market for Don÷r Kebap matured, it took on a more mainstream symbolism.

Thus, the economic transitions depicted in each of the four phases of Miller’s model have been adapted to capture the dynamic nature of symbolic demand and consumption as economies experience the tribulations of transition. Symbolic consumption has been explored relative to the changing exposure to socialization agents. Two mini-case studies that follow will help establish the relevance of Miller’s model for understanding the trajectory of symbolic consumption in emerging markets.

APPLYING THE MODEL TO CUBA AND THE FORMER GDR

The pre-emergent Cuban economy and the transitions that the former East Germany experienced provide helpful illustrations of the four phases just presented. The commentary that follows is based on the experiences of two of the authors as they immersed themselves in the two countries. Both are fluent in the appropriate language. To better understand the consumption environment, consumers were engaged during working, shopping and leisure activities (Lofman 1993) in several cities in each country.

First, a brief review of each country and its experience with Western goods is presented. The section concludes with a discussion of how these two economies reflect both the changes in symbolic consumption through the stages of Miller’s model as well as the influence of socialization agents in the process.

The Case of Cuba

While Eastern Europe has embarked on the progression to capitalism, Cuba remains one of the last bastions of Communism. Nonetheless, a few market transformations are being inaugurated, placing Cuba in the pre-emergent phase of demand development. The recent increase in Cuba’s tourism industry allows citizens to compare socioeconomic levels and consumer lifestyles with individuals from other countries. Also, many individuals are now encouraged to work outside the government sector, and thus accumulate some wealth. Finally, Canadian, Mexican and European companies are prospecting market opportunities. Concurrently, consumer expectations are climbing as citizens anticipate the integration of their economy with the rest of the world.

The country, however, still faces a severe economic crisis. The two major causes are the breakup of the Soviet Union and the continued U.S. economic embargo (Gordon 1997). Cuba is beginning to realize that it cannot survive in isolation. One response to these challenges has been an increased promotion of tourism, now the second largest industry behind sugar. Tourism brings in dollars, with each tourist spending about $1,000 per vacation. Tourist hotels, stores, and restaurants provide world class service in exchange for dollars. Cuban citizens are now able to accumulate dollars, and spend them at tourist stores which stock a variety of international products including clothes, food, and beverages. Thus, Cuba presently has two economies, one based on pesos and the other on dollars. However, the "peso economy" is an economy of shortages. Cuban products, while offered at heavily subsidized prices for the Cuban population, are often unavailable and of marginal quality.

Employment levels exacerbate this situation. The average peso wage allows for a subsistence level existence, though free health care and education stretch the paycheck. Not only is working for pesos unappealing in real terms, but jobs are scarce as many Cuban plants sit idle for lack of parts and/or customers. The Cuban government has allowed for small-scale capitalist ventures on an individual basis to ease this employment situation. Enterprising Cubans, after paying a small license fee, may serve food restaurant-style in their living rooms, use their car as a taxi, or engage in other small entrepreneurial ventures (Gordon 1997).

Although during the time one of the authors was in uba no long lines were observed at the government stores, a very limited selection of marginal quality products was available. An examination of several Cuban residences also revealed a minimum of comforts by Western standards. Some Cubans, however, were improving their material comforts; they had acquired modern furniture, color televisions, and an assortment of other Western appliances. Nonetheless the owners of the "modern" apartments did indicate that these improvement were created by their own exploitation of the recently created opportunities for dollars. In general, most Cubans were found to be living at a basic subsistence level, and those that had acquired certain Western luxuries, had only very recently done so.

The Case of the GDR

World War II ended with Germany as a divided entity, socialist in the East, and democratic in the West. The Berlin Wall, erected in 1961, symbolized this division. Although the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was considered "the pearl" of the Eastern Bloc, normal citizens experienced the trials and tribulations intrinsic in economies of shortage: long lines, a scarcity of quality products, and a minimum of luxuries. After the November 9, 1989, disassembling of the Berlin Wall, the GDR began a transition to a free market economy, moving from the pre-emergent to the emergent phase.

Interviews conducted in Germany painted a picture of pre-capitalist existence similar to Cuba’s current state. Prior to 1989, consumption was limited to the restricted supply of poor quality Eastern Bloc goods. Special well-stocked tourist stores once thrived in places like Alezanderplatz to promote trade in hard Western currency. Window-shopping, a complex underground economy, and broadcast advertisements that crept in from Berlin all provided citizens a glimpse of the fruits of capitalism. However, most citizens had little opportunity to acquire Western goods.

After 1989, however, a sense of shopping euphoria developed. East Germans poured into Western shopping districts like Berlin’s posh Ku-Damm. They wandered the streets amazed at the availability and quality of goods they could not afford. The same Germans who recently sensed themselves affluent, now felt relative poverty upon comparing price levels in the West. Yet, the demand for uniquely Western goods soared as Easterners expressed their newly established freedom through consumer products. According to Gerd Laurisch, director at Telekon-Berlin, "freedom meant a VCR and a new car."

The initial euphoria, though, was short lived. Since wages in the East were still significantly lower for comparable occupations, young skilled Easterners flocked to major (West) German cities, like Berlin and Frankfurt, to embrace their ideal of the Western dream. However, even the German capitalist machine could not process everyone instantaneously. As the disenfranchised German youth searched for direction, the country experienced a rise in crime, homelessness, and destructive Neo-Nazi activities. Many citizens of the former East German still feel a lack of confidence about the future. Much of the symbolic euphoria is gone.

Transition Themes: The Model and the Illustrations

Interviews with East Germans identified consumer changes consistent with the stages described in Miller’s model. The emerging phase was accompanied by initial consumer euphoria and a dramatic rise in purchases of Western goodsCincluding jeans, rock music, and automobiles which symbolize the West and modernization. The demand for goods with Western symbolism was most immediately seen in areas where exposure to Western ideas flourished. For example, as East Germany moved solidly into the emergence stage, shop owners in the West German sector of Berlin complained that it was impossible to maintain sufficient quantities of Western-branded products like Nike, Levis and Marlboro. Demand from East German shoppers stripped their shelves of their normal allotments from distributors, leaving them with very little to satisfy demand from their regular West German customers. Today, however, as Germany merges into a single traditional mature market, this symbolic purchase pattern has subsided to a level more consistent with Western European norms.

In Cuba, due to the increased exposure to US and European culture and products, there is a general feeling that change is imminent, creating a sense of urgency, especially among Cuba’s teenage population. There is an increased emphasis on acquiring Western products and becoming "rich." In fact, a new class of nouveau riche has been created by this new exposure to foreigners with dollars. This "Yuppie" class is called "Los Masetas." This word is masculine and roughly refers to a big flowerpot. Ger and Belk (1996) identified a similar phenomenon in Turkey. The term "Kro" came into the language to refer to people who identify with their possessions and who "display their new wealth with no regard to subtlety and refined tastes" (p. 56).

As both economies developed in the pre-emergence phase, the desire for liberty and freedom began to be expressed through Western goods. Exposure to socialization agents such as movies, television, music helped shape such demand. In the traditional socialist economy, Western goods were labeled as bourgeois and symbolized the capitalistic repression of the working classes. Yet, in the period preceding the emergence phase, the symbolism associated with Western goods changed. The same products took on a new meaning of liberty. This same symbolism appears to persist through the emergence point into the accelerated growth stage. For example, immediately after the fall of the Berlin wall, Eastern consumers traveled vast distances to purchase the records, clothing, and consumer goods that they had heard about through their prior exposure to Western advertising and tourists. They often returned with souvenir products of their newfound freedom. The Western symbolism that they placed on these products enhanced their personal value.

However, as the Eastern sectors of Germany became integrated into the Western economy, the same products began to take on similar meanings for all Germans. For example, one East German student expressed how thrilled she had been to have gone to the West and buy her first U2 record. Now that she can buy Western records whenever she likes, however, the significance of records has changed. It was also interesting to learn that she would not part with her original U2 album, since it served to remind her of her first Western shopping experience and symbolized a transition point in her life.

The movement towards the integration of the Cuban economy is also associated with the increased symbolism of Western goods. In fact, one interview with a factory worker revealed the powerful message behind Coca-Cola. As Cokes were only available in tourist stores that accept dollars hence their moniker "Dollar Stores"), they came to symbolize Western affluent society. The dream of this young worker was to drink a Coca-Cola in a tourist hotel. Realization of this dream would mean that he had achieved a new socioeconomic statusCthat of someone who could afford to pay for a Coke. For him, then, Coca-Cola symbolized success. Interestingly, throughout the rest of Latin America Coca-Cola does not carry such symbolism. It usually is readily available and inexpensive, and as in the US often is a mainstay of contemporary diets.

Like any progressive model, identifying the point where one phase ends and another begins can be difficult. For Germany, the departure point into the emergence phase could certainly be the destruction of the Berlin Wall. The conditions immediately after the fall saw an accelerated growth in the symbolic consumption of Western products. However, as the East German consumers came to accept Western products, and in some ways become Westernized themselves, the importance of Western symbolism declined. Cuba currently is developing the necessary pre-conditions of exposure to tourism, media and Western products. Exodus into the next stages may be postponed until Fidel Castro departs. It would be expected that at this point, consumption of Western product symbolism would accelerate.

As these two cases illustrate, the adapted Miller framework may serve as a rough guide for understanding the importance of symbolic consumption to economies in each phase of demand development. Consumers are likely to elaborate their relationship to products, and the overall significance of Western product symbolism will alter as the market transforms.

CONCLUSION AND LIMITATIONS

As the forces of globalization unfold, more countries will make the transition to free markets. The relationship between economic development and symbolic consumption also will evolve. This study demonstrates that the importance of Western symbolism is likely to grow in the initial phases of this process. Once the economies reach a stable mature phase, however, symbolic consumption of Western products will decline. To continue to be consumed, products will have to be imbued with new meaning. The framework presented here may assist marketers through opportunities to modify promotional messages to emphasize Western symbolism; to anticipate distribution needs; to extend premium pricing for luxury symbolism; and to export products associated with the symbolism germane to each transition stage.

The conceptual framework and discussion presented here are, of course, subject to limitations. While a broader study of more transition economies, with repeated observations, would be optimal, this study does enhance our knowledge of consumers by providing an understanding of the inherent transition involved in symbolic consumption. Future research, using differing countries, at various stages of the transition, will provide further insight into the process. As marketers gain a better understanding of the changes in product symbolism as economies mature, strategists can develop effective tactics for tapping this consumer construct.

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