An Exploratory Look at Fromm's Marketing Character and Individualism/ Collectivism

By Saunders, Shaun; Munro, Don | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, January 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

An Exploratory Look at Fromm's Marketing Character and Individualism/ Collectivism


Saunders, Shaun, Munro, Don, Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal


Instruments designed to measure Fromm's marketing character (SCOI; Saunders & Munro, 2000) and the vertical and horizontal dimensions of Individualism and Collectivism (Singelis, Triandis, Bhawuk & Gelfand, 1995) were administered to 167 Ss. The hypothesis that scores on the SCOI would be positively correlated with Vertical Individualism was supported. However, there was only partial support for the hypothesis that scores on the SCOI would be positively correlated with Individualism, as the SCOI scores had the same relationship with Collectivism - which was unexpected.

Fromm (1955) was particularly critical of western society and its emphasis on what he termed the "marketing character", which represents "homo consumens ... a total consumer ... for whom everything becomes an object of consumption" (Fromm, 1970, cited in Funk, 1993, p. 68). The present study evaluates Fromm's (1955) assertion that the marketing character is a by-product of a consumer-driven society that emerged in the western world as a result of the exponential growth of mechanisation in industry required to meet the demands of the second world war (Bedeian, 1986). Rather than close manufacturing plants and risk unemployment and post-war depression, consumer demand was expanded to match supply (Jacoby, 1987). Further, for a capitalist society dependent upon securing loans at interest, continued economic growth is imperative (e.g., Kidron & Segal, 1987).

According to Fromm (1955), the continued survival of a marketing society rests upon its ability to promote the notion that all that is good is outside of one's self Accordingly, an illusion of individuality is promoted whereby people are differentiated by what they possess, instead of by who they are. A person's status in a marketing society is largely based upon his purchasing power, thus the marketing character believes that personal identity and status are derived from and determined more by, the conspicuous possessions that one owns than by intrinsic characteristics.

If the spread of consumption-oriented values has been as pervasive as suggested by Fromm (1955), then one would expect that there have been also concomitant changes in work related values - mass consumption is futile if individual consumers cannot be persuaded to purchase products, and the consumption of products requires money, which, in turn, is usually dependent upon making decisions concerning employment and securing a source of income.

In an extensive international survey of work-related value patterns, Hofstede (1984), found that the individualism/collectivism factor explained the most variation in total.

Persons in individualistic cultures are primarily motivated to serve their own interests and the interests of their immediate family. The opposite of an individualistic culture is a collectivist culture, which promotes values consistent with service to others. Thus, in an individualistic society, life satisfaction is equated with individual success and achievement.

Triandis (1995) further separates individualism and collectivism into vertical and horizontal dimensions. The vertical dimension of both individualism and collectivism includes an acceptance of inequality and the importance of rank, while the horizontal dimension holds that people are essentially similar and do not want to stand out. Horizontal Collectivism is defined by social cohesion and cooperation within the ingroup; Vertical Collectivism is defined by serving the ingroup and doing one's duty while accepting that rank has its privileges, and Horizontal Individualism emphasises uniqueness over competitiveness. Because Vertical Individualism places the goals of self above those of the community, is competitive and emphasises "being the best", it is consistent with contemporary marketing practices, and appears to be compatible with Fromm's (1955) marketing character.

In the present study, a measure of Fromm's (1955) marketing character (the SCOI; Saunders & Munro, 2000) was administered to 167 undergraduate students. …

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