Table of Contents
2. Characteristics of Consumer Culture
2.2 Global Brands
3. Heterogeneous homogenisation or homogeneous Heterogenisation?
3.3 Towards a global homogeneous culture?
Many inhabitants of Western towns have witnessed a change of their cityscapes recently. Small independent stores, restaurants and coffee bars have been replaced by stores of multinational companies, such as Tesco, McDonald’s, Burgerking, Starbucks, H&M and The Gap. No matter if you are exploring the city centre of Leicester, London or Hamburg, you find more and more of these business companies, attempting to attract consumers with their big, bright logos. The same process can be found in the media – global brands such as Hewlett-Packard and Coca Cola advertise all around the globe, or in the terms of Barnet et al (1995: p. 164): “Marlboro country is everywhere”. This definitely leads to a unification of city centres, and maybe even of the media. Particular questions are arising around this issue: are these phenomena results of globalisation? Which consequences do they have for the life in a Western society? Is there a global homogenisation of culture, and if so, to what extent? Which role does advertising play in this process? These and other questions shall be discussed in this paper.
2. Characteristics of Consumer Culture
To begin with, Western democratic culture is often circumscribed by the term “consumer culture”, meaning that many cultural processes, logic and thinking are subsumed under the primary ethic of selling. The world of goods and their principles of structuration are central to the understanding of contemporary society,
a) because goods are symbolized and used as communicators
b) because of the importance of the market principles of supply, demand, capital accumulation, competition and monopolization (Featherstone 1991: p. 84)
Featherstone stresses, that we are not consuming use-values, but signs (ibid.: 85).
During the evolution of consumer culture, consumption became the dominant mode of cultural reproduction (Slater 1997: p.8). Slater highlights the power of market principles, stating that consumer culture denotes a social arrangement in which the relation between lived culture and social resources (…) is mediated through markets (ibid.), and a colonization of everyday life by consumption norms which rendered it status-driven and conformist (ibid.: 12). People became promotional signifiers (Wernick 1991). Moreover, the idea of satisfaction became dependent upon possession and consumption of the socially sanctioned and legitimate – and therefore scarce or restricted – social goods (Featherstone 1991: p. 89). It is hard to say when consumer culture evolved, but scientists agree upon the idea it is linked to Fordist mass consumption (Slater 1997: p. 10). Consumer culture also draws from the very idea of modernity: the desire to possess the latest goods is deeply rooted in our societies. During the 20th century, international trade increased in a way never seen before, and Western-style consumer culture spread worldwide (Sandikci et al 2002: p. 463). Especially the recent years of the 20th century showed an increase in multinational corporations and a growth in power of transnational companies. Multinational companies are not a phenomenon that arose after the 1980s, but the combination of de-regulated capital markets, less unionized labour markets and extended trading areas contributed to the actual state (Myers 1999: p. 57).
As we are living in a visual culture – a culture which gives a primacy to the visible as a source of knowledge, control and contact with the world – “social groups must be visibly recognisable and representable, since this is a major currency of communication and power” (Dyer 1997: p. 44). Advertising is in these terms an integral part of society’s communication. The emergence of mass media, the rise in importance of television emphasises the image of persons and objects before their contents. Recently, politicians started to hire image agencies in order to improve the image they have in terms of representation. Television has turned attention to previously insignificant matters as hair colour, facial expression and body language (Wernick 1991: p. 138). Wernick discovers a personalisation of politics with totalistic implifications, and argues that the concrete-historical individual is swallowed up into the role of a promotional signifier. As Featherstone sates, the modern individual speaks with his or her goods and activities (Featherstone 1991: 86). This is also the reason why Starbucks brands the cup of coffee to a spiritual designer object (Klein 2000: p. 138). Brands are not just logos printed on clothes and goods, they are part of our communications, determined by class (especially “taste”) and play an important role in terms of representation. We are living in a global culture that is created and preserved mainly by communication, with advertising and communications as parts of it (Holt et al 2004: p. 70).
2.2 Global Brands
During the 1980s, first ads comprehending a global character emerged (Barnet 1995: p. 168). The strategies of global (transnational, multinational) companies to gain overall success can be reduced to three steps: First, a company enforces price wars with its competitors. It purchases great volumes from the suppliers so that it can offer the best prices. Next, it is blitzing out the competition by setting up chain-store “clusters”. In the end, we have a palatial flagship superstore (Klein 2000: p. 132). Somehow, the spreading of smaller in-town stores can be seen as a consequence of the large satellite megastores: “Where the big boxes had swapped a sense of community values for a discount, the branded chains would re-create it and sell it back – at a price” (ibid.: 135). The people’s desire for community life and business in the city centres allows for brands such as Starbucks, Virgin Megastore, or HMV. The stores do not even flinch from “cannibalizing” themselves, which Klein shows quite impressively in her example of Starbucks (ibid.: 136).
 According to Slater (1997: p. 13), the consumerist revolution started already between 1880 and 1930 with the emergence of norms about how consumer goods are to be produced. First standardisations of productions can be seen here.
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- University of Leicester – University of Leicester - Centre for Mass Communication Research
- Advertising Culture Communication Consumerism Mass Communication Consumption Globalization