What is culture?

Do the things we buy tell something about us?

How does culture influence the products we buy?


Individuals worldwide participate in activities that allow them to take a break and interact socially with others; example: coffee break

Culture is a key to understanding consumer behaviour


Think of culture as a society's personality. Culture includes values, ethics, rituals, traditions, norms, material objects/services that are created or valued in a group or society. Culture can be seen as a lens for people to see products. Our culture helps to determine our priorities. What a culture says is important we may value. Culture has a large part in what products will become adopted


The ethos of a culture is the set of moral aesthetic and evaluative principles. Ethos is the guiding principles, beliefs and ideals that a culture believes in. It is related to the emotions, behaviours and morals of a group.

Collectivist Culture

The group comes before the individual

People subordinate personal goals to those of a larger group

Self-discipline and group accomplishment are stressed



Individualist Culture


Where people attach more importance to their own personal goals than to a group's goals; Personal enjoyment and freedom are important.




Norms are the informal rules that govern what is right or wrong.

When we form groups we create a set of rules or standards that the members follow



A Custom is a norm that comes from a traditional way of doing things ( example: The time we eat dinner)



A More is a norm with strong moral overtones ( example: We don't eat dogs)


Conventions are norms regarding the conduct of everyday life (example: we use certain utensils to eat)


Culture is in a constant state of change. Marketers want to understand changes in culture so that they can sell products that suit particular groups

Cultural System includes Ecology, Social Structure and Ideology

A Cultural System has three areas:

(the way it has adapted to environment; shaped by technology used);

Social Structure
(how order is maintained; domestic/political groups);

(the mental characteristics of the people; ideas ; principles of order,ethos, morals



Every culture is different, but they vary on some dimensions according to Geert Hofstede's Framework:

Power Distance (how interpersonal relationships form when different powers perceived; how equal? how informal?;

Uncertainty avoidance (how threatened people feel by unknown;

(how gender roles are defined)

(collectivist/individualist cultures)

Long Term vs Short Term Orientation (Planning for future vs focus on past and present)

Indugence vs Restraint (Enjoying and having fun now, vs being in control)

Major Elements that Define Culture

To get a good overview of key elements of culture watch this short video that discusses symbols, language, values (individualism vs collectivism), and norms.

While watching consider how these elements affect what we value, the products we buy, and how marketers can use these elements to influence our buying.


Values define good/bad; these create norms; custom is a norm handed down from past; more is custom with moral overtone; conventions are norms of everyday life

Marketers must be careful when introducing new products or translating ads to different cultures. A phrase or expression doesn't always translate, see the slideshare below for Advertising Translation Gaffesfor some humourous mistakes

Lost in Translation- Cultural Awareness and Ad Fails from K3 Hamilton


All cultures develop stories. Stories help humans make sense of world; Our own culture's stories make sense to us, but we may find other's cultural stories strange. Example: products that offer "magical' results; lucky objects; wizard in software


A Myth is a story with symbolic elements . A myth can show shared emotions/ideals of a culture. Example: The Cadbury Secret; formerly the secret was posted on in Mind Magazine online , but I'll tell you about it in class! Marketers use mythical elements: good versus evil; golden arches; myth of how product made. Product can be defined by what it isn't "not your father's car" (good versus evil)

Not your father's
not your father's planetarium
Not your fathers
not your father's religion
Not your father's

Some myths are common to several cultures: example the hero from everyday world with supernatural powers wins over evil; ET -gentle creature from other world fighting technology; Star Trek

Mr Clean
The Day The Earth Stood Still
The Hero

Ads speak of "good old days" and play into our memory of stories. We relate to stories that we are familiar with.


Rituals are symbolic behaviours that occur in a fixed sequence and that tend to be repeated periodically; some are religious. Rite of passage, family, civic rituals; some are personal. What rituals do you have? Ritual artifacts include special occasion products, birthday, wedding,retirement, graduationIndividuals have grooming rituals that reflect cultural values; gift-giving rituals

bride and groom
Easter bunny

Holidays involve ritual and heroes; new occasions are created for new presents/cards.Marketers can actually "create" new holidays to market products; in the US marketers are trying to commercialize Cinco de Mayo into the Latin version of St Patrick's Day.Corona (2013) created a campaign Corona Calendar that shows you how every day is some special occasion, all so you can have an excuse to drink Corona. See the ad here

Most cultural holidays are based on myths; real or imagined characters.Coca Cola claims credit for inventing modern image of Santa in 1931 ad; however, many others point out this is not exactly accurate.


Sacred Consumption

Consuming objects and events that are special or set apart from our normal life . They may be treated with respect or awe. Can include religious objects but also things we treasure as a culture

Profane Consumption

Consuming objects and events that are ordinary/ everyday- nothing special

Sacred consumption may have religious or mythical significance: Bethlehem, Stonehenge, Statue of Liberty, Walk of Fame; Hall of fame, Disney World; in some cultures the home is sacred; some marketers try to create a "sacred" atmosphere

When people are idolized set apart they become sacred people; things they use become sacred; events can be sacred:Olympics, World Cup, Tourist destination

tao of Elvis
Kurt Cobain
James Dean Gap ad
John Lennon

Even if celebrities die, they can continue to be useful spokespeople. Once they are dead they can no longer do anything bad that they hadn't already done.

james dean
K=James dean
James Dean gap

Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn for Chanel

see a James Dean commercial at and Audrey Hepburn for Gap

Everyday people can become stars -A sensation at the center of Hollywood's fashion scene isn't a famous designer or starlet. It's a 56-year-old homeless schizophrenic man who spends his days dancing on roller skates. Paris Hilton is buying his T-shirts, but they are not his and he is not taking any profit see Crazy Robertson

Sacralization occurs when sacred qualities are given to products or items owned by sacred people .We can make oridinary objects sacred if we assign deeper meaning to them. For example, if we save a ticket stub as a memento of and event, we have assigned sacred meaning to it.

Objectification occurs when formerly sacred objects or activities become part of everyday; when one-of-a-kind works of art are reproduced in quantity

Desacralization occurs when objects that previously were sacred become commercialized and in popular culture

Eiffel Tower key chain
scream ad
celebrity duck


References as noted above and: Solomon, Michael R., Zaichkowsky, Judith and Rosemary Polegato. Consumer Behaviour: Buying, Having, Being. 5th Canadian Edition. Toronto: Pearson Education Canada.


PLEASE NOTE: Information on this site is for use of the students of this course. For copyright information of the linked sites please see the respective authors.