Values and Other Influences on Buying

There are many facets of our individual experiences which influence our purchasing decisions. This week, we’ll look at an overview of some of these influences.


Why do our deeply held cultural and personal values dictate the types of products and services we seek out or avoid?

Core Values

Why does Cosmopolitan magazine need to adjust the sexual content of their magazine, depending on the country?

Cosmopolitan magazine US Cosmopolitan magazine India
Cosmopolitan magazine China Cosmopolitan magazine Sweden

  • In India, the magazine doesn’t talk about sexual positions.
  • In China, the magazine cannot mention sex at all.
  • In Sweden, sex doesn’t sell magazines as well as here because it is not as taboo a topic.

Notice the differences between these two covers? The first is for Lithuania. The second one is for the Middle East.

Cosmopolitan magazine Cosmopolitan magazine middle east

How Values Link to Consumer Behavior

Broad-based concepts such as freedom, security, or inner harmony are more likely to affect general purchasing patterns than to differentiate between brands within a product category.

Marketing researchers try to distinguish between the following:

  • cultural values, such as security or happiness
  • consumption-specific values, such as convenient shopping or prompt service
  • product-specific values, such as ease of use or durability
Cultural Dimensions

One of the ways marketers measure cross-cultural values in the Cultural Dimensions score system by Geert Hofstede.

Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions
  • Power distance is the extent of difference of power between people in the society, and how well it is accepted as the norm.
  • Uncertainty avoidance is a society’s tolerance for uncertainty and change.
  • Individualism-collectivism is the the degree of group integration.
  • Masculinity-femininity is the distribution of roles between the genders.
  • Time orientation is a distinction between long-term or short-term orientation:
    • Long-term orientation: thrift and perseverance; a strict adherence to tradition
    • Short-term orientation: a more versatile adherence to tradition
Rokeach Value Survey

Milton Rokeach defined another system of measures for cultural values. In the following chart:

  • terminal values refer to desired end states (long-term goals)
  • instrumental values refer to actions we need to take to achieve the terminal values (modes of behavior)
Rokeach Value Survey

Conscientious Consumerism

A contemporary trend in consumerism is the tying of purchases to concerns for personal and global health.

Consumers are now responding to marketing efforts to claim the following benefits or qualities of their products:

  • sustainably grown or manufactured
  • organic
  • energy-efficient
  • hybrid or alternative fuel-using
  • alternative or “natural” medicine
  • ecotourism
  • non-GMO (genetically modified organisms)
  • hormone-free
  • pesticide-free
  • locally-grown
  • cage-free
  • reduced packaging
  • extended-life
  • recyclable
  • fair trade

However, these options tend to be much more expensive. People with lower incomes often do not view these options as practical or affordable. And most of these claims can be made without evidence that they are true or desirable.


What possessions do you use on a daily basis that were not common in a US household 80 years ago? Could you live without them?

Does your desire to own something in particular impact your priorities and behaviors? For example, are you saving up for something big, and if so how does that affect your life?

Do you own any things which:

  • specifically are meant to impress other people?
  • help connect you to other people?
  • simply provide you with pleasure when you use them?
  • are family keepsakes?

How do your answers to these questions reflect your personal values?

Conspicuous consumption

Conspicuous consumption is the spending of money on and the acquiring of luxury goods and services to publicly display economic power.

Sociologically speaking, to the conspicuous consumer, such a public display of discretionary economic power is a means of attaining or maintaining a social status.

Conspicuous consumption

But conspicuous consumption takes on an additional flavor in the age of the Internet.

Why are “haul” and “unboxing” videos so popular on YouTube? Who are they popular with?

This video got over 200,000 views in its first week. What values does this vlogger communicate?

This phenomenon is not limited to women. Over 10,000 views.

And it’s not limited to clothing. Over 25,000 views.

Who do you think go nuts over videos such as this one, which has gotten over 9 million views?

Other Influences on Buying

Consumer Self-Concept

How does your concept of self affect your purchasing decisions?

Many people have insecurities about their appearance or social status, which often leads them to buy products that  highlight or hide aspects of self.

And the desire to look at or obtain an idealist beauty is nothing new!

Ancient Egyptian Makeup small_Aphrodite-Kallipygos small_Warrior-of-Riace

What part do sex roles play in consumer behavior?

Is it ethical for marketers to encourage infatuation with the self?

Consumer Personality and Lifestyle

How does your personality, your unique psychological makeup, influence how you spend your leisure time?

While we might argue that we are not completely predictable, psychologist have found fairly consistent behaviors attached to our underlying characteristics. Your choice of leisure activities, political outlook, and aesthetic tastes are pieces of your lifestyle, and they tend to follow patterns based on your personality.

Can you think of any brands that exhibit a “personality”?

Here are some personality dimensions that brands try to align with. What brands do you think of when hearing these qualities?

  • Old-fashioned, wholesome, traditional
  • Surprising, lively, “with it”
  • Serious, intelligent, efficient
  • Glamorous, romantic, sexy
  • Rugged, outdoorsy, tough, athletic

Consumer Attitude

For the purposes of discussing consumer behavior, attitude refers to a lasting, general evaluation of people, objects, advertisements, or issues. It tends to endure over time.

Theory of Attitudes

Psychologist Daniel Katz developed the functional theory of attitudes. The following are the functions, or reasoning, behind most of our attitudes:

  • Utilitarian function: the product is viewed as providing either pleasure or pain
  • Value-expression function:  the product is viewed in terms of what they say about the consumer as a person
  • Ego-defensive function: the product is selected for its ability to protect our ego and cover insecurities
  • Knowledge function: the product appeals to our need for order, structure, or meaning

How does this ad appeal to the Utilitarian function?

How does this ad appeal to the Value-expression function?

How does this ad appeal to the Ego-defensive function?

How does this ad appeal to the Knowledge function?

Which function is this ad probably trying to appeal to?

Changing Attitudes: Persuasion

Advertisers attempt to change our attitudes, so that we buy their products. This activity is called persuasion.

Marketers use a number of methods that pull us one way or another because of the following psychological principles:

  • Reciprocity: we are more likely to give (or respond) if first we receive.
  • Scarcity: items are more attractive when they are not available, or are very scarce.
  • Authority: we believe an authoritative source much more than one that is less authoritative.
  • Consistency: we try not to contradict ourselves; if we do something once we are very likely to continue.
  • Liking: we agree with those we like or admire.
  • Consensus: we consider what others do before we decide what to do.