The Consumer, Caught between Economic Theory and Marketing

By Brunello, Adrian | Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity, Summer 2016 | Go to article overview

The Consumer, Caught between Economic Theory and Marketing


Brunello, Adrian, Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity


The main agent that sets the entire market into motion is the end buyer. Today, consumers are becoming more and more aware of their options, mostly choosing their familiar and favourite brands. Therefore, if companies want to stay ahead of their competitors, they have to make the consumers love and purchase their brands. Brand awareness is considered to significantly influence purchase decision (Macdonald & Sharp 2000). If a brand name comes into the mind of the consumers when they consider buying a particular product it means that the brand possesses a high level of awareness.

The economic theory states that the consumer is a kind of "homo economicus," capable of acting in a logical and rationale manner on a free and transparent market. It was considered that consumer behaviour can be based on a rationale choice. The "homo economicus" hypothesis assumes that human behaviours are motivated by instrumental rationality and self-interest. On the one hand, individuals make decisions not intuitively and blindly, but on the basis of deliberate judgment and calculation of costs and benefits. On the other hand, individuals are self-interested in interactions, and their sole purpose is to maximize their personal satisfaction. The market is free and the consumer should only make the most rationale decision by searching for an optimum between price and quality or price and income. This approach can be explained by the fact that the economic theories on consumption that were developed in the first part of the 19th or 20th century were not interested in individual behaviours, which are very different among themselves, but in an "average consumer," from a statistical point of view, who of course does not exist. The psychological and sociological aspects of consumption and satisfaction are completely ignored from this logic. But, in reality, one cannot ignore the fact that the human being is first and foremost an emotional one.

The "homo economicus" concept was introduced in the 19th century by John Stewart Mill. He came up with "an arbitrary definition of man, as a being who inevitably does that by which he may obtain the greatest amount of necessaries, conveniences, and luxuries, with the smallest quantity of labour and physical self-denial with which they can be obtained."

This theory of the economic man began to be criticised in 20th century by a number of neoclassical economists. Among them, the famous economist John Maynard Keynes stated that real human beings behave irrationally. He considered that the economic man is not a realistic model of human behaviour because economic actors do not always act in their own self-interest manner and are not always fully informed when making economic decisions.

Marketing theory is more focused on the real human being. Consumers are viewed as plain individuals, not necessarily rationale or virtuous. The "irrational" purchase behaviour is possible. We could ask ourselves. After all, what is rationale in the fact that French people usually eat a few hundred types of cheese and Chinese none? For the latter cheese is associated with adulterated milk. What is rational in the fact that the Japanese associate mourning with the colour white, and Europeans with the colour black? What is rational in the fact that some people prefer the sour taste, whereas others prefer the sweet taste? Human needs appear as wants, whims, or imitations. …

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