Consumer Culture, Branding and British Adolescents: A Vicious Cycle? A Comparison Between High and Low-Income Adolescents.

  • Katja Isaksen

Student thesis: Phd


The growth of consumerism has meant that individuals are increasingly using possessions as a means of developing their personal identities and forming social connections. Specifically, the consumer culture has seen the increase of brands and branded goods as marketers attach emotional attributes to them. Thus, brands have become communicative symbols which display, amongst other things, the owner's values, beliefs and social status. As a result, consumers are attempting to form their identities, social connections and self-worth by consuming (often branded) possessions which they feel are representative of their self or ideal self and will increase their chances of social acceptance. However, psychological studies in consumer behaviour suggest that the increasing propensity to seek inner happiness and social bonds through external means (consumption), has led consumers to be less satisfied with their lives and hence decreases psychological well-being; the focus on external rewards has reduced the importance that individuals place on personal development and intrapsychic developments.This study investigates the relationship between the consumption culture, branding and British adolescents, with a comparison between high and low-income teenagers. Adolescents are particularly prone to assuming consumer orientations (and hence the consequences thereof) due to their stage in identity development, their need for social acceptance and the fact that they are a very profitable market segment. As a result, teenagers are encouraged to turn to consumption for developing their personal and social identities, as opposed to more traditional means such as personal skill development. Although limited studies have investigated adolescent consumption, little attention has been paid to low-income adolescents who are prone to reduced self-worth but have a restricted consumption scope and thus cannot consume their self-worth in the same 'normal' ways as their peers. In light of previous studies, it was necessary to first develop a new measure of self-esteem which included the vital role of possessions (and specifically brands) in feelings of self-worth amongst adolescents. The scale-development process revealed the functional importance of self-esteem as a marker of social inclusion and hence shed light on the reason for the importance that adolescents place on specific brands; they are a promise of fitting-in. A valid and reliable 23-item, self-report measure of self-esteem is presented. Subsequent to developing the new scale, the research provided empirical support for a model of the psychological characteristics of adolescent consumption (including self-esteem). The result is a 'Vicious Cycle' model of consumption which suggests that there is a relationship between the factors which contribute to a consumer orientation and the likely effects of having such an orientation. For example, the model suggests that reduced self-esteem may contribute to consumerism and a consumption orientation may contribute to a reduction in self-esteem. Furthermore, the comparison between high and low-income teenagers showed that low-income teenagers were significantly more materialistic than their high-income counterparts thus supporting the suggestion that low-income teenagers are more prone to consumerism than their high-income counterparts. With reference to the detailed links presented in the Vicious Cycle model, the author proceeds to explore the efficacy of extant consumerist-curbing strategies and highlight the need for more effective methods if we wish future generations to develop in to more than simply shoppers.
Date of Award31 Dec 2010
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorStuart Roper (Supervisor) & Thorsten Gruber (Supervisor)


  • Self-esteem
  • Consumer culture
  • Branding
  • Adolescents

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