Much has been written about the various strategies that marketers use to target variously situated consumers in contemporary society. The more sophisticated of these strategies rest upon the notion that each consumer, as a self, represents a site of contestation over the very definition of his/her selfhood. Whereas the marketers’ objective is to create selling messages designed to colonize each and every self in accordance with the desires of their corporate clients, such messages may be at odds with the development of a healthy, uncorporatized self.
Marketers use widely varied demographic and psychographic (lifestyle) techniques to group consumers into narrowly defined and purportedly unique market segments. Celebrants of advertising and consumer culture tend to argue that the sphere of consumption offers consumers untold liberating possibilities for constructing identities and projecting unique, highly personalized images of self (Firat & Venkatesh, 1995). We contend that all of these purportedly unique constructions of selfhood are nothing more than permutations of what we call the consumer-incorporated self, a self compromised by marketing ideology and brand affiliations in which consumption practices displace self-autonomy.
Unsurprisingly, the myriad strategies that marketers have developed for reaching different consumers typically derive from the predominant model of the self found in college-level textbooks on marketing management. Across the pages of these touchstones of marketing wisdom unfolds the template for the consumer-incorporated self, an idealized model of self that renders the consumer in largely behaviorist and cognitivist terms, subject to manipulation. Sprinkling marketing theory with influences culled from motivational psychology and neoclassical economics, this dehumanizing notion of self reduces the consumer to a combination of rational calculator and passive recipient of marketer manipulation.