The use of products to communicate the self: how proficient are young adults
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That people use products to create, maintain, and communicate aspects of the self is a well established tenet in the behavioural sciences as is the notion of shared understanding of the meanings associated with such products. Consumer researchers who examine facets of the relationship between the self and products (and brands) primarily examine prescribed and specific aspects of the self in relation to prescribed products. Whilst the notion of shared meaning is accepted, few studies examine the proficiency of consumers in their use of products to communicate aspects of the self to others. This multi-method study examines how the products (and brands) which young adult consumers select from those they own, reflect aspects of their self and the degree to which this reflection is shared by their peers. The findings show that young adult consumers speak of their product choices in terms of both personal and social related aspects of the self. The findings show that young adults are able to articulate how they use products to depict aspects of their self and that they primarily, use products to denote group membership including status (inter and intra group). Allied to this is their conscious awareness that the status element is linked to an experience of ‘power’ in relation to others, and that the use of products to depict aspects of their self requires a degree of self-control, i.e., power over self. Whilst the communication of the social self represents the main purpose, the role of products to communicate individual characteristics is also significant. In terms of shared meaning, successful decoding occurs mainly in the social domain, for example, characteristics such as cares about personal grooming; trendy and fashion conscious; healthy, fit and active; sociable; cool; confident and enjoys drinking.