The intermingling of meanings in marketing: semiology and phenomenology in consumer culture theory

Abstract

This paper explores the construction of meaning in consumer culture through a synthesis of two scholarly streams within the Consumer Culture Theory (CCT) body of knowledge: semiology and phenomenology. Semiology represents consumer culture as a web of meanings—studying cultural meanings as socially agreed-upon structures.  By contrast, phenomenology represents the interpretation and personalization of cultural meanings by consumers—focusing on meanings that emerge from individual lived experience. Combining these two approaches results in a framework that excavates meanings at both the cultural level and the individual level, inviting them into a figure-ground relationship. This relationship between levels of analysis illuminates how meaning in consumer culture is constructed, and how cultural meanings come to constitute a sense of normalcy in modern societies. As all marketing activity is culturally situated, understanding meaning in consumer culture provides an alternative way to understand value in marketing.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Notes

  1. 1.

    There are two streams of thought in semiology; one that stems from the work of Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure and one that stems from American physicist Charles Pierce. Each have offered useful applications to the marketing discipline; however it is important to note that these separate streams rely upon differing philosophical assumptions and are thus incommensurable (Mick et al., 2004). This paper refers to semiology in the Saussurean tradition, which employs a phenomenological interpretation of reality (Mick & Oswald, 2006) and emphasizes the culture-based properties of sign value.

References

  1. American Marketing Association (2017). Definitions of marketing. Retrieved October 1, 2020 from https://www.ama.org/the-definition-of-marketing-what-is-marketing.

  2. Arnould, E. J., & Thompson, C. J. (2005). Consumer culture theory (CCT): Twenty years of research. Journal of Consumer Research, 31(4), 868–882.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Arnould, E. J., & Thompson, C. J. (Eds.). (2018). Consumer culture theory. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Askegaard. (2017). Semiotics, Presented at the Qualitative Research Methods Seminar, Consumer Culture Theory Doctoral Colloquium in Lille, France.

  5. Askegaard, S., & Linnet, J. T. (2011). Towards an epistemology of consumer culture theory: Phenomenology and the context of context. Marketing Theory, 11(4), 381–404.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Barthes, R. (1977). Elements of semiology. London: Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Barthes, R. (2012). Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang. (Original work published 1957.)

    Google Scholar 

  8. Belk, R. W., & Costa, J. A. (1998). The mountain man myth: A contemporary consuming fantasy. Journal of Consumer Research, 25(3), 218–240.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Bellezza, S., Paharia, N., & Keinan, A. (2017). Conspicuous consumption of time: When busyness and lack of leisure time become a status symbol. Journal of Consumer Research, 44(1), 118–138.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Berger, P., & Luckmann, T. (1967). The social construction of reality. New York: Anchor.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Bondi, A., & La Mantia, F. (2015). Phenomenology and semiotics. Crossing perspectives. Metodo. International Studies in Phenomenology and Philosophy, 3(1).

  12. Brewis, J., & Jack, G. (2005). Pushing speed? The marketing of fast and convenience food. Consumption Markets & Culture, 8(1), 49–67.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Cherrier, H., & Murray, J. B. (2007). Reflexive dispossession and the self: constructing a processual theory of identity. Consumption Markets & Culture, 10(1), 1–29.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Cotte, J., Ratneshwar, S., & Mick, D. G. (2004). The times of their lives: Phenomenological and metaphorical characteristics of consumer timestyles. Journal of Consumer Research, 31(2), 333–345.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Cova, B., Kozinets, R. V., & Shankar, A. (Eds.). (2007). Consumer tribes. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Critchley, S. (2001). Continental philosophy: A very short introduction. Oxford: OUP.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  17. Cross, G. S. (1993). Time and money: The making of consumer culture. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Danesi, M. (2018). Of cigarettes, high heels, and other interesting things: An introduction to semiotics. New York: Springer.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  19. Fennell, G. (1985). Things of heaven and earth: Phenomenology, marketing, and consumer research. In E. C. Hirschman & M. B. Holbrook (Eds.), Advances in consumer research (Vol. 12, pp. 544–550). Provo: Association for Consumer Research.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Firat, A. F., & Venkatesh, A. (1995). Liberatory postmodernism and the reenchantment of consumption. Journal of Consumer Research, 22(3), 239–267.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Floch, J. M. (2001). Semiotics, marketing and communication: Beneath the signs, the strategies. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Freeman, C. R. (1980). Phenomenological sociology and ethnomethodology. In D.A. Carp (Ed.), Introduction to the Sociologies of Everyday Life. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

  23. Gottschalk, S. (1999). Speed culture: Fast strategies in televised commercial ads. Qualitative Sociology, 22(4), 311–329.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Hadlaw, J. (2011). Saving time and annihilating space: Discourses of speed in AT&T advertising, 1909–1929. Space and Culture, 14(1), 85–113.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Holt, D. B. (2004). How brands become icons: The principles of cultural branding. Harvard Business Press.

  26. ----- (2006). Jack Daniel's America: Iconic brands as ideological parasites and proselytizers. Journal of Consumer Culture, 6(3), 355–377.

  27. Holt, D., & Cameron, D. (2010). Cultural strategy: Using innovative ideologies to build breakthrough brands. Oxford: OUP.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Honoré, C. (2005). In praise of slowness: Challenging the cult of speed. San Francisco: HarperOne.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Houser, N. (2009). Peirce, phenomenology and semiotics. The Routledge Companion to Semiotics (pp. 111–122). London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Hudson, L. A., & Ozanne, J. L. (1988). Alternative ways of seeking knowledge in consumer research. Journal of Consumer Research, 14(4), 508–521.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Humphery, K. (2013). The Time of Consumption. Culture of the Slow (pp. 19–33). London: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  32. Husemann, K. C., & Eckhardt, G. M. (2019). Consumer deceleration. Journal of Consumer Research, 45(6), 1142–1163.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Kadirov, D., & Varey, R. J. (2011). Symbolism in marketing systems. Journal of Macromarketing, 31(2), 160–171.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Kotler, P., & Levy, S. J. (1971). Demarketing, yes, demarketing. Harvard Business Review, 79, 74–80.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Kozinets, R. V. (2002). Can consumers escape the market? Emancipatory illuminations from burning man. Journal of Consumer research, 29(1), 20–38.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Kozinets, R. V. (2015). Netnography. The international encyclopedia of digital communication and society, 1–8.

  37. Levy, S. J. (1959). Symbols for sale. Harvard Business Review, 37(4), 117–124.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Levy, S. J. (1978). Hunger and work in a civilized tribe: Or, the anthropology of market transactions. American Behavioral Scientist, 21(4), 557–570.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Levy, S. J. (1981). Interpreting consumer mythology: A structural approach to consumer behavior. The Journal of Marketing, 45(3), 49–61.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Mick, D. G. (1986). Consumer research and semiotics: Exploring the morphology of signs, symbols, and significance. Journal of Consumer Research, 13(2), 196–213.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Mick, D. G., Burroughs, J. E., Hetzel, P., & Brannen, M. Y. (2004). Pursuing the meaning of meaning in the commercial world: An international review of marketing and consumer research founded on semiotics. Semiotica, 152(1/4), 1–74.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Mick, D. G., & DeMoss, M. (1990). Self-gifts: Phenomenological insights from four contexts. Journal of Consumer Research, 17(3), 322–332.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Mick, D. G., & Oswald, L. R. (2006). The semiotic paradigm on meaning in the marketplace. Handbook of qualitative research methods in marketing, 31–45.

  44. Murray, J. B. (2002). The politics of consumption: A re-inquiry on Thompson and Haytko's (1997) “Speaking of Fashion”. Journal of Consumer Research, 29(3), 427–440.

  45. Murray, J. B., & Ozanne, J. L. (1991). The critical imagination: emancipatory interests in consumer research. Journal of Consumer Research, 18(2), 129–144.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Osbaldiston, N. (Ed.). (2013). Culture of the slow: Social deceleration in an accelerated world. New York: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Oswald, L. R. (2012). Marketing semiotics: Signs, strategies, and brand value. Oxford: OUP.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  48. Pinson, C. (1998). Marketing semiotics. INSEAD.

  49. Pollio, H. R., Henley, T. B., Thompson, C. J., & Thompson, C. B. (1997). The phenomenology of everyday life: Empirical investigations of human experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  50. Rosa, H. (2013). Social acceleration: A new theory of modernity. New York: Columbia University Press.

  51. Rossolatos, G. (2017). Semiophenomenology and consuming the experiential. Journal of Marketing Semiotics, Call for Papers, 2017, 1–3.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Russell, C. A., & Levy, S. J. (2012). The temporal and focal dynamics of volitional reconsumption: A phenomenological investigation of repeated hedonic experiences. Journal of Consumer Research, 39(2), 341–359.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Ryle, M., & Soper, K. (2013). Alternative hedonism: the world by bicycle. Culture of the Slow (pp. 94–109). London: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  54. Saatcioglu, B., & Corus, C. (2019). Towards a macromarketing and consumer culture theory intersection: participatory and deliberative methodologies. Journal of Macromarketing, 39(1), 9–24.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Schau, H., & Gilly, M. C. (2003). We are what we post? Self-presentation in personal web space. Journal of Consumer Research, 30(3), 385–404.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Schouten, J. W., & McAlexander, J. H. (1995). Subcultures of consumption: An ethnography of the new bikers. Journal of Consumer Research, 22(1), 43–61.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Slater, D. (2015). Consumer culture. The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Consumption and Consumer Studies, 1–7.

  58. Sonesson, G. (2007). From the meaning of embodiment to the embodiment of meaning: A study in phenomenological semiotics. Body, language and mind, 1, 85–128.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Stjernfelt, F. (2007). Diagrammatology: An investigation on the borderlines of phenomenology, ontology, and semiotics (Vol. 336). Springer Science & Business Media.

  60. Tadajewski, M. (2010). Towards a history of critical marketing studies. Journal of Marketing Management, 26(9–10), 773–824.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Thompson, C. J. (2004). Marketplace mythology and discourses of power. Journal of Consumer Research, 31(1), 162–180.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Thompson, C. J. (1997). Interpreting consumers: A hermeneutical framework for deriving marketing insights from the texts of consumers’ consumption stories. Journal of Marketing Research, 34(4), 438–455.

    Google Scholar 

  63. Thompson, C. J., & Haytko, D. L. (1997). Speaking of fashion: consumers’ uses of fashion discourses and the appropriation of countervailing cultural meanings. Journal of Consumer Research, 24(1), 15–42.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  64. Thompson, C. J., Henry, P. C., & Bardhi, F. (2018). Theorizing reactive reflexivity: Lifestyle displacement and discordant performances of taste. Journal of Consumer Research, 45(3), 571–594.

    Google Scholar 

  65. Thompson, C. J., Locander, W. B., & Pollio, H. R. (1989). Putting consumer experience back into consumer research: The philosophy and method of existential-phenomenology. Journal of Consumer Research, 16(2), 133–146.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. Thompson, C. J., Locander, W. B., & Pollio, H. R. (1990). The lived meaning of free choice: An existential-phenomenological description of everyday consumer experiences of contemporary married women. Journal of Consumer Research, 17(3), 346–361.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Thompson, C. J., Pollio, H. R., & Locander, W. B. (1994). The spoken and the unspoken: a hermeneutic approach to understanding the cultural viewpoints that underlie consumers’ expressed meanings. Journal of Consumer Research, 21(3), 432–452.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  68. Veresiu, E., & Giesler, M. (2018). Beyond acculturation: multiculturalism and the institutional shaping of an ethnic consumer subject. Journal of Consumer Research, 45(3), 553–570.

    Google Scholar 

  69. Wagner, H. R. (1973). The scope of phenomenological sociology: Considerations and suggestions (pp. 61–87). Phenomenological Sociology: Issues and Applications.

    Google Scholar 

  70. Woermann, N., & Rokka, J. (2015). Timeflow: How consumption practices shape consumers’ temporal experiences. Journal of Consumer Research, 41(6), 1486–1508.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  71. Zlatev, J. (2009). The semiotic hierarchy: Life, consciousness, signs and language. Cognitive Semiotics, 4(Supplement), 169–200.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sarah C. Grace.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Grace, S.C. The intermingling of meanings in marketing: semiology and phenomenology in consumer culture theory. AMS Rev (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13162-021-00192-1

Download citation

Keywords

  • Consumer culture theory
  • Marketing meanings
  • Phenomenology
  • Semiology
  • Value