McCracken (1986) A Theoretical Account of…Cultural Meaning of Consumer Goods

Grant McCracken advances a model that encapsulates how meaning flows between culture, goods, and consumers. There are two steps to this process: first, the use of media to transfer meaning to goods, and second, the use of goods to transfer meaning to consumers.  Meaning resides in culture, which categorizes and differentiates people as belonging to groups based on class, gender, age etc. McCracken explains that group membership is fluid and changes rapidly so marketers can easily create new cultural categories in order to create a new market segment.

In the first transfer of meaning, advertising and popular culture transfer desirable cultural meanings to consumer goods by positioning cultural representations and products together. Advertisements, media, and trendsetters invoke the cultural categorizations the desired meanings reside in (class, gender, age) and the audience connects the product to the ascribed meaning. The transfer of meaning from culture to good is complete.

The second transfer of meaning takes place as goods transfer their meaning to consumers. Consumers show off, discuss, photograph, and otherwise display goods to transfer the meaning contained in the good to themselves. These goods are used to discriminate between cultural categories related to class, gender, age etc. and to demarcate one’s position within society.


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