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Analysing the Processes and Methods To Manage Consumer Behaviour

Gabriel and Lang (2006) theorised that consumers are unmanageable because consumers have different `faces` in different periods of their lives. This is contradicted by researchers like Hackley (2012) who feel this is not the case. In this essay, different theories and examples from personal experience have been used to discern to what extent Gabriel and Lang’s view is applicable in contemporary society.

Veblen (1925) and Simmel (1971) argued that people buy products in order to portray themselves in a certain way. For example, consumers might purchase an expensive car, house and watch to tell a story of who they are and how the financial assets that they possess. McCracken reaffirms this by mentioning that people buy a set of goods, as one object alone cannot portray an image, but more than one product can convey the idealised image. For example, an expensive suit, consumed with a proportionately expensive watch, objects could portray an image of the owner. Therefore, consumers are not only purchasing a product, they are purchasing a lifestyle. Moreover, Baudrillard (2001) reaffirms this recounting a personal anecdote of when he bought a new pair of jeans to make a statement. At the time, due to his anti-system beliefs, he deliberately consumed less well-known brands to portray his belief and make an overt statement saying `This is who I am`. This actually contradicts Gabriel and Lang’s view that consumers can be managed by distinguishing between products in portraying an idealised version of themselves. For example, Samsung collaborated with Montblanc and released a premium phone case for their premium flagship phone, the Galaxy Note 4. Since the company knows that target consumers are individuals who are more affluent, due to the high price of the phone, they decided to release high price, premium quality phone case along with it to help them stay consistent with the image they want to portray.

The Panopticon is an architectural design, created by Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. The notion of the Panopticon was simple, it is designed so that the watchman could observe all inmates at once in a covert manner of observation which did not let the inmates know they were being watched. Since they do not know when they are being watched, they all end up acting as if they are being watched all the time. Panoptic sort is a concept developed by Gandy where collecting information about individual status and behaviour could result in resulting an insight of their past economic and political behaviour which corporations could use to sort people into categories (Hackley, 2002). Redsheriff, as cited by Arvidsson (2004), is an Internet Research Company that records and reports consumer’s activities online using their hidden JavaScript when the consumers visit their affiliate sites. A company such as Redsheriff shows the simplicity for the companies to store individuals’ information without them realising, just like Panopticon. Moreover, Arvidsson (2004) also cites that work by Smythe and Jhally in the 1980s has produced a similar dynamic as today’s panoptic sort. However, their information gathering activity was situated, whereas in the contemporary market, information gathering can be performed in any kind of media and market activities and the individual’s life itself generates value. Furthermore, due to the introduction of social media, data gathering has become even easier. For example, Sullivan (2013) surmises that even if Skype calls can be protected under wiretap laws, emails and text messages cannot, meaning that as a new form of communication emerges in fast rate, legal protection of privacy has become harder to achieve. Furthermore, metadata, the transaction records generated by email or text message sent, can be used to gain access to the demographics of an individual’s internet behaviour such as location, time, subjects and more. Thus, panoptic sort allows consumers to be managed to a great extent as data mining could potentially predict the future response to a promotion or a product by analysing the past behaviour of the consumers (Richardson and Bareham, 2004). This can be viewed easily by internet users who use websites like Amazon or Facebook. Those websites, using participants’ activities stored in cookies to generate suggestion or advertisements targeted specifically for each individual. For example, after numerous web searches for student housing, a consumer will then subsequently see advertisements pertaining to this on their Facebook. This again opposes Gabriel and Lang’s view as a concept in a similar vein to Panoptic actually does demonstrate that consumers are that consumers are manageable to some degree.

Conversely, Bareham (2004) argued that there is evidence showing that even though companies use data mining and data warehousing technics, they are unable to make predictions about consumer choices. This is because modern consumers are free in their consumption activities due to wealth of options at their disposal (Gabriel and Lang, 2006). Furthermore, East (1997) reaffirms this, by suggesting that consumption behavior might be a result of consumer’s habit or laws of learning. He further supports his view by mentioning that heuristic mechanism explains consumers’ thoughts process better than logical process as behavior is often a response to consumer’s environment. For example, consumer’s choice of where and what to eat for dinner would depend on one’s habitual buying behavior or the convenience of the restaurant rather than corporate manipulation. He also expounded that a colleague’s decision could also affect their choice. Moreover, Carpenter et al. (1997) expressed that consumers vary their decision strategies depending on the occasion. Firat et al. (1997) support this still further, as they have mentioned that consumers are “context dependent” rather than having unified, congruent self-image. For example, if a consumer is traveling from London to Paris, they would have a choice between Eurostar and an airplane. Even though flying may actually be cheaper than the Eurostar, the consumer may still opt for the Eurostar. However for the inbound route, they might travel by air which shows that the consumer is showing different self-images at the time: the former may be carefree, but the latter may be more economically concerned.

Consumers evaluate products by considering the most important factors and construct a consumption activity based on these (Brown and Dacin, 1997). Therefore, firms tend to market a product with limited information so the consumers fill in the gaps with their knowledge of the brand. Therefore, because consumers’ perception of the brand reputation is passed onto its products (Brown and Dacin, 1997) companies with a favourable brand reputation will have more advantages over those that don’t, and can control their reputation through advertising and consumers interactions (Harris and de Chernatony, 2001), allowing them to manage consumers’ consumption activities. For example, when consumers conduct research to compare the various brands and models of mobile phone, it can be challenging for them to find information on reliability and build quality even though it is an important quality. However, when making the final decision they would not take this lack of information into account as they have trust in the company through their previous interactions with them. Therefore, they would assume that the products have high quality and reliability even though there is no actual proof of this. This shows that the firms through their advertising and consumer interactions managed consumer’s purchasing actions. This again opposes Gabriel and Lang’s view that consumers are becoming more unmanageable as Brown and Dacin’s work shows that consumers can still be managed as corporations use advertising and consumer interactions to manage brand reputation.

Antithetical to this, Kozinets and Handelman (2004) emanated that consumer movements can influence individual’s decision making. Even though companies take measures by collecting complaints and responding to protests in order to avoid such movements, the procedures tend to be insignificant due to the difficulties in analyzing consumer activism activism. There are several complex formats such as campaigns, legal cases, education individual and collective acts, and whistle-blowing (Gabriel and Lang, 2006), as well as the fact that the causes of consumer movements are unquantifiable. This is particularly apparent because most consumer movements lack goals and disciplined orientation. Furthermore, companies such as Acorn and Mosaic measures hundreds of categories (e.g. Religion, income, culture) to explore consumer’s lifestyle, behavior, attitudes and service needs, yet still fail to directly forecast and prevent consumer movement. The Gap crisis perfectly illustrates how consumers are unmanageable. Gap replaced its 20 year logo with no market research and limited promotional announcements in 2010. After a few days, consumer movement castigating the new logo began through the inevitable channels of social media. Consumers mocked the new logo as “Cheap, tacky and ordinary” leading to social media comments such as “Is the new Gap logo really that bad? – It’s that bad. #FAIL” and “How dare you compare me to that horrible piece of artwork. I’m nowhere near as an epic fail as @gaplogo” (Twitter, 2010) to ridicule Gap’s decision. The movement gained momentum quickly and after one week, due to the vehement opposition against their new logo, Gap reverted back to its old one. Nolan (2010) commented that Gap ignored traditional brand awareness, by not understanding the brand image which consumer had imprinted in their minds. Thus, a lack of communication between Gap and their consumers resulted in Gap’s creation of a new logo. Contrary to the majority of the arguments expressed in this assignment, this actually supports Gabriel and Lang’s view that consumers are unmanageable due to the uncontrollable nature of consumer movements.

Gabriel and Lang’s view toward consumer behavior is still something which in today’s society. However, it is not necessarily always the case that consumers are unmanageable. Depending on the context, consumers can be managed to a varying set of degrees. For example, as mentioned at an earlier point in the essay, when consumers buy a new phone, they tend to stick to the brands with a good brand reputation such as Apple or Samsung, instead of brands like Oneplus, where they produce “Flagship Killer” models that provide phones with better specifications than Apple or Samsung but cheaper. Ultimately, it seems that consumers can be either manageable or unmanageable, depending on the situation.

Reference List

Arvidsson, A. (2004) On the ‘Pre-History of the Panoptic Sort’: Mobilityin Market Research. Surveillance & Society. 4 (1): 456 – 74.

Bareham, J. (2004) ‘Understanding the Hospitality Consumer.’ International Journal of Hospitality, Management, 23(1): 95-97.

Baudrillard J. (2001) ‘Consumer society.’ In: Polity Press Jean Baudrillard Selected Writings. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Polity Press. pp. 33-56

Brown, T. and Dacin, P. (1997) ‘The Company and the Product: Corporate Associations and Consumer Product Responses.’ Journal of Marketing, 61(1): 68.

Carpenter, G.S., Glazer, R. and Nakamoto, K. (1997) Reading on Market Driven Strategies. Boston, MA: Addison Wesley.

East, R. (1997) Consumer Behaviour: Advances and Applications in Marketing. Harlow: Prentice Hall.

Firat, A.F. and Shultz, C.J. (1997) ‘From segmentation to fragmentation’, European Journal of Marketing, 31 (3/4): 183-207.

Gabriel, Y. and Lang, T. (2006) The unmanageable consumer. 2nd edn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications

Simmel, G. (1971) ‘The metropolis in mental life.’ In: Donald N. Levine On individuality and social form. Chicago: Heritage of Sociology Series. pp.320-337.

Harris, F. and de Chernatony, L. (2001) ‘Corporate branding and corporate brand performance.’ European Journal of Marketing, 35(3/4): 441-456.

Richardson and Bareham, J. (2004) ‘Can consumers be predicted or are they unmanageable?.’ Int J Contemp Hospitality Mngt. 16(3):159-165.

Sullivan, J. (2013) ‘Uncovering the data panopticon: The urgent need for critical scholarship in an era of corporate and government surveillance.’ The Political Economy of Communication [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 27 February 2015).

Veblen T. (1899) ‘The Theory of the Leisure Class.’ In: Macmillan Conspicuous Consumption. United States: Macmillan. pp.70-101.


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