Themes in American History: Capitalism, Slavery, Democracy

“Culture: Segmenting the Mass” from A Consumers’ Republic by Elizabeth Cohen

In “Culture: Segmenting the Mass” from her book A Consumers’ Republic, Elizabeth Cohen sheds light on the changes of American consumerism after World War II. Prior to the war, no American was fixated on obtaining the newest car model or the newest dress design in the market. Americans were more economically orientated towards just having a dress or a car no matter what it looked like. There was no sense of materialism present. However, the post-war market would give way to obsolescence: the constant “need” to update and modernize. War-time had provided more employment opportunities and thus more money into the pockets of Americans who were now willing to splurge. Cohen begins by explaining the concerns of market analysists and economists such as Wendell Smith (Cohen 295). Although it was great that the economy was booming as a result of this consumerism, how would it be maintained once consumers purchase everything? In addition to this, more markets and producers had come about to supply the growing demand. If more competition was present, how would everyone make a profit? Wouldn’t there be too much supply for the demand? Cohen proceeds to explain how these concerns led to the development of market segmentation. Market segmentation is the concept of appealing to specific smaller groups as opposed to the entire consumerist market. This tactic proved to be efficient in several ways. For example, some products were known for targeting one specific market such as Coors Light and other breweries and liquor companies who mostly targeted men with their advertisement. However, they proceeded to advertise and target other nontypical markets such as women and African Americans to increase their profits (Cohen 297). I think it is interesting to see how the post-World War II consumerism market is similar to our market today and how it has become extremely segmented. In today’s market, you have companies who make products specifically for people with curly hair or sensitive skin. This development is something I can say that I am extremely grateful for considering I’m a consumer who is extremely picky when it comes to purchasing products. I know that if market segmentation didn’t occur and all we had was a Dove soap bar as a shampoo, conditioner, and facial wash, I wouldn’t survive a day in the world.

One thought on ““Culture: Segmenting the Mass” from A Consumers’ Republic by Elizabeth Cohen”

  1. A very strong post, with a somewhat humorous (to me, anyway) conclusion! I think you’re right to suggest that marketing, and consumer culture in general, bring benefits as well as pitfalls—I’m certainly as enthusiastic a consumer as any when it comes to say, vinyl records or guitar pedals [pop-ad for Guitar Center and/or geriatric products appears immediately!]… I guess to me (and Cohen), however, some of the techniques and practices associated with market segmentation, especially now with the rise of social media and the micro-targeting of consumers, raise concerns about privacy as well as with how some of the practices of market segmentation are applied to politics, as she shows in the second part of the chapter. By dividing us into ever-smaller segments of consumer society, are we becoming increasingly walled off into our own consumer and political “bubbles,” isolated from and unable to understand the cultures and beliefs of others?

    I use Dove, by the way, and it works pretty well…

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