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Table of Contents

Introduction 3

What is Materialism 3

The Three themes and the Two Types 4

Cultural Effects on Materialism 5

Marketers Influence on Materialism 6

Materialism as a Stigma 8

References 10


Materialism is a tricky word to define 100%, simply because there are different variations of the meaning or interpretation of the word. For this paper, I am going to focus on the most similar definitions that focus on the relationship between the object and the individual. Materialism is a constantly influenced, changed, and learned part of an individual's lifestyle that is based off of cultural values and beliefs, economic prosperity and how marketers portray their products. Most people view materialism as a bad personality trait, behavior, or even a sin, but materialism is, in truth, just the emotional value we as people put into an object, brand, or cause simply because we care, like, or prefer a specific object. As we continue further in this paper I will focus on what materialism is, how materialism is created, changed, influenced, and how materialism can become an uncontrolled stigma in an individual's personal life.

What is Materialism

The various definitions of materialism can make it difficult to interpret or understand the true meaning but for this paper we will look at these similar definitions of the word that focus on the relationship between the object and the individual, “a belief that the acquirement and possession of material objects is the source of happiness and life satisfaction” (Lee, M. S., & Ahn, C. S., 2016, p.18), that “materialism is the importance that one attaches to worldly possessions” (Lee, M. S., & Ahn, C. S., 2016, p.20), even “materialism is a concept often referred to in relation to life satisfaction and happiness” (Lee, M. S., & Ahn, C. S., 2016, p.20), and “materialism originally referred to the philosophical notion that nothing exists except matter and its movement, and in popular usage materialism more often refers to a devotion to material needs and desires, to the neglect of spiritual matters; a way of life, opinion, or tendency based entirely upon material interest” (Richins, M. L., & Dawson, S., 1992, p.303-304). Whether you agree with one definition or all four we can all conclude that materialism is the emotional or physical value someone puts onto a physical object or objects that in turn can result in higher consumption or even emotional attachment to a single product or products. “America is a consumer society, and many treatises have described the dominance of consumption motives among Americans” (Richins, M. L., & Dawson, S. 1992, p.303)

The Three Themes and the Two Types

Most people view materialism as a bad personality trait, behavior, or even a sin, but materialism is, in truth, just the value we as people put into an object, brand, cause and emotional value simply because we care, like, or prefer a specific object. There are three different themes that materialism can be classified as depending on specific characteristics that are present. The first theme is called acquisition centrality, which is when “materialists place possessions and their acquisition at the center of their lives” (Richins, M. L., & Dawson, S.,1992, p.304). During acquisition centrality individuals tend to turn materialism into a type of life style that results in the individual to participate in consumption for the sake of consumption. Acquisition centrality can take a toll on an individual by becoming a type of sickness that can results in the consumption of all available energy in order to obtain the object wanted. The second theme is called acquisition as the pursuit of happiness, which is when “possessions and their acquisition are so central to individuals that they start to view the object or objects as essential to their happiness and well-being” (Richins, M. L., & Dawson, S., 1992, p.304). During the acquisition as the pursuit of happiness individuals see the objects that they are possessing as the source of their happiness and the reason for their well-being, which resulting in a higher consumption of materials because the individual uses them as substitutes for true happiness. Finally, the Third theme is called possession-defined Success, this is when “individuals tend to judge and see their own and others' success by then number and quality of possessions that have been accumulated up to the given time” (Richins, M. L., & Dawson, S., 1992, p.304). During possession-defined Success, an individual tends to rate themselves and the other individuals around them by the cost of the object rather than the pleasure or satisfaction the object can or has created. Possession-defined Success individuals are also characterized as people that prefer or desire a high self-image then what is actually reasonable or responsible.

Now while there are three themes there are also two types of materialism, and the two sections or segments are different from each other. The themes are characteristics that are specific to or grouped off of the characteristics or meanings that an individual can or has placed on the objects placed in their lives, while the two types are actually categorized by the type of purpose the object was consumed for or has on an individual's life. The two types are called Instrumental Materialism and Terminal Materialism.

Instrumental materialism is when the object that the individual has gained possession of or consumption over is “essential for discovering and pursuing personal values and goals of the individual's life. For example, if a Photographer is purchasing large quantities of different photographic equipment pieces such as backdrops, props, and photography printing paper, the purpose of the materialistic behavior is meant to further the goal of running a prospering photography business in hopes that it would allow the photographer to market themselves as a more desirable and skilled. Terminal materialism is when the

Culture Effects on Materialism

While Consumer goods do play an important role in American culture, these analyses obscure differences among individuals” (Richins, M. L., & Dawson, S. 1992, p.303). Materialism is not something that is spawned inside someone either, it is constantly influenced, changed, and learned based off of cultural values and beliefs. Culture effects materialism in a significant way since cultures create norms and sanctions that determine what is and is not allowed or acceptable. Culture is defined as “the complex whole that includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by humans as members of society” (Mothersbaugh, D. L., Hawkins, 2016, p.40). Whereas Norms are the “rules that specify or prohibit certain behaviors in specific situations” (Mothersbaugh, D. L., Hawkins, 2016, p.41) and sanctions are “penalties ranging from mild social disproval to banishment from the group” (Mothersbaugh, D. L., Hawkins, 2016, p.41). Culture, can and does to an extent, influence a person's decision making, preferences, and perception of the world around them. Finally, the cultural values and beliefs, that stem from culture, start to determine what type of products, services, or physical objects a person is attracted to. Cultural values are defined as “widely held beliefs that affirm what is desirable” (Mothersbaugh, D. L., Hawkins, 2016, p.78), meaning that it is the cultural values that drive or influence the decision and preference on what item or items are deemed valuable, cherished, or wanted.

Culture is not a genetic condition or inherited way of life, it is a set of behaviors norms, and like any form of reaction, attitude, behavior, and habit it is learned from the interactions between people within the same or similar culture. While culture influences a person's decision-making process, preferences and perception by no means does culture “control” a person. Culture is better thought of as a set of boundaries that a group of people creates in order to agree and get along with the other “members” simply because it feels right or natural to behave, think, feel, and interact the same way (Mothersbaugh, D. L., Hawkins, 2016, p.41).

To better understand the difference in cultural outcomes or preferences let us use the “Sweet Corn Example”. “Most Americans think of sweet corn as a hot side dish, but different cultures enjoy the sweet corn in different ways, the French add it to a salad and eat it cold, the British use it as a topping for sandwiches and pizzas, the Japanese use it as a child's after school snack and the Koreans sprinkle it over ice cream” (Mothersbaugh, D. L., Hawkins, 2016, p.41). while the example shows the difference in culture on a continental scale the differential possibility is the same.

Marketers Influence on Materialism

The processes of understanding or research of culture, and demographics allows marketers to research and determine what specific materialistic actions a given culture prefers. The research of cultures alone exposes to the marketing researcher that there are many different ways or problems that can occur when designing a marketing execution on a product.

Materialism is not something that is spawned inside someone either, it is constantly influenced, changed, and learned based off of cultural values and beliefs, economic prosperity and how marketers portray their products.


Belk, R. W. (1985). Materialism: Trait Aspects of Living in the Material World. Journal of Consumer Research,12(3), 265-280.

Lee, M. S., & Ahn, C. S. (2016). Anti-consumption, Materialism, and Consumer Well-being. Journal of Consumer Affairs,50(1), 18-47.

Mothersbaugh, D. L., Hawkins, D. I., Mothersbaugh, L. L., & Tom, G. (2016). Consumer behavior building marketing strategy. 13th Edition, New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

Richins, M. L., & Dawson, S. (1992). A Consumer Values Orientation for Materialism and Its Measurement: Scale Development and Validation. Journal of Consumer Research,19(3), 303.

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