Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science Administration (Marketing)



First Advisor

Daniel W. Kemper

Second Advisor

Joe Silverio

Third Advisor

Eric Zitelli


A major issue confronting consumer researchers and other investigators of social-psychological phenomena is whether individuals are motivated to purchase products that symbolically are congruent with their self-concept.

This issue is of particular importance to consumer and marketing researchers, since much of their data and resulting actions depend on the decision processes leading up to the consumer's choice of product for consumption. Examining the relationship between the self and consumption through congruence of self-images and images of owned or desired products reveals that the consumer regards his or her consumed products as expressive of themselves.

Perception plays a critical role in consumer decision making. Perception of a products attributional meaning, perception of one's self and the resulting perception of the congruity of these two links in consumption behavior. The essence of a product, then, becomes not the physical product itself, but the relationship expressed in symbolic form between the product, its owner, and the rest of society (usually reduced to a reference group in consumer behavior).

A fairly large number of studies have confirmed the existence of a relationship between consumer self-perception and product- image congruency. This suggests that self-image and product-image congruency may be an important factor in the development and understanding of a significant element of consumer behavior, the self-concept.

This paper examines the stream of scholarly literature on consumption symbolism and the subsidiary notion of the self-concept in consumption behavior. This study will utilize a sociological approach to offering an interpretive framework of the self-concept. The focus will be a conceptual synthesis of the self-concept, its application in shaping and determining the behavior of the consumer in relation to the effects of the socio-cultural environment.

The assumption that many products possess symbolic features and that consumption of these goods may depend more on their social meaning, and its congruence with the individual's self-concept, than the products functional utility is the central focus of this paper . It is hypothesized that some portion of product meaning will be held in common by members of a given consumer sub-group . This hypothesis puts forward the premise that consumers will tend to purchase the product whose image is closest to his own, and that the individual tends to see himself as he perceives his significant others him. This perception of themselves forms part of the basis of the individuals personality.

The subjects selected to participate in this study were high school seniors, fifteen male and fourteen females participated. The subjects were all members of the same school as well as in the same class at the time of the administration of the questionnaire. The participants were given a modified Adjective Self-Description questionnaire. The purpose of this questionnaire was to find if a common layer of meaning exists in the participants perception of product ownership.

Results of the questionnaire confirmed a common layer of meaning for the Nike and Reebok brand athletic shoes. The notion that a consumer's self-concept is based on perceptions of the responses of others was accepted in the support of the hypothesis. The results corroborate the assumption that many products possess symbolic features and that consumption of these goods may depend more on their social meaning (as to a societal reference group), and the congruence of the product's image, than the functional utility of the product .

The significance of validating self-image and product image congruence is that it provides clear evidence of the principle of the reflected appraisal, "it is thus not others' attitudes toward us but our perception of their attitudes that is critical for self-concept formation" (Rosenberg 65). It is the process of symbolic communication that makes it reasonable to think that others evaluations will affect an individual's self - evaluation and consequently her behavior as a consumer.

This research has demonstrated an approach to the study of the notion of self-image/product image congruency. Because the data report a comparison of two products, and the small sample size, essentially the conclusions can not be applied across a broader spectrum, though one would need to be very cautious in concluding that the congruent layer of meaning found in this study is unimportant. The study possess some limitations, yet within the limitations ... if nothing else, the study demonstrates an approach that may be taken in further studies of the self-concept and product image congruency.

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