Chapter 20 Consumer Segments and Toy Values
Chapter 20 concludes the description of the socio-cultural factors which make up the decoding process in consumer utilisation of toys. This chapter covers the relationship between socio-cultural factors and the value norms inherent in toys within the contexts of socialisation and communication.
Toys and play will be explained here relative to socio-cultural consumer processes. Consumers can therefore be segmented as either loyal or disloyal by education (10 and 12 in the model for understanding the consumer) - depending on which types of toys they select or reject. The consumers can be segmented according to the values they have already attributed to the toy and to play with it (13, 14 and 15 in the model).
The dividing lines between the various lifestyles - in fact, the dividing lines through the entire cultural lifestyles sphere - bring much influence to bear on the coding and decoding process. One of these dividing lines is the cleft segregating genuine toy consumers who rate toys as valuable and significant from less consistent toy consumers who rate toys as less valuable and less significant. However, another cleft lies between so-called elitist culture on the one hand and the concept of mass culture and other clearer distinctions underlying it on the other.
All these factors are important in product planning and development on the toy market where strategies are related to target groups and cultural segments are defined on the basis of material and abstract consumer conventions, education, gender, etc. Such strategies have been “borrowed” from advertising and campaign theories.
As previously described, social and cultural tastes and consumption are one result of socialisation and of social, financial and - most significantly - educational factors.
And this is why, here too, it is important to emphasise the term “habitat”.
Bourdieu (1986) describes a form of “generative formula” using the term “habitat”. Bourdieu believes that the generative formula is the reason why people select differently in cultural terms in different situations. Hansen (1995) principally covers the same ground in his Danish generation research.
According to Bourdieu, the fact that people choose differently in cultural terms in different situations is due partly to an inveterate and inherited stable core and identity formed over a long period of time and partly also due to a number of continuous changes affecting habitat - either in the immediate environment or as a result of changes in the socio-cultural environment.
We conclude therefore that what represents cultural quality for some people does not necessarily represent cultural quality for others and that cultural quality is in no way a static value for groups or for individuals.
The rationale behind this conclusion seems therefore only to be based on aesthetic distinctions in taste and consumption. However, both taste and consumption incorporate symbolic economy which is manifested on different levels as incongruity and contradiction between very different forms of cultural capital.
Incongruity and contradiction lead directly to the formation of intellectual, cultural and educational norms and movements which in turn form the distinctions between what Bourdieu in particular calls legitimate culture (pure or correct taste) and its contradiction, illegitimate taste (comprising popular, barbaric and vulgar - implicitly: bad - taste).
Toys are subject to incongruity and contradiction as consumer groups do find it possible to define toys as legitimate because they are a cultural phenomenon, possessing cultural value and significance. Selecting or rejecting certain types of toys is in itself an expression of taste and consumption. Consumer groups can therefore be segmented using these parameters.
As part of this conclusion to the description of the model for understanding the consumer, I feel I ought to mention that I think Bourdieu’s general analyses are incomplete because they contain no significant comment on the objects (or their texts) which are part of this socio-cultural process.
Bourdieu supplies us only with a static record, stating that something is more distinctive for some than for others. Consequentially, his analyses state that objects and tastes are not particularly significant while consumers’ or recipients’ attitudes and “cultural capital” are the most important factors.
Worse still, his theories can easily be interpreted as supporting the belief that cultural taste is typical for the intellectual consumer who is in a position to use his critical capacities to suppress other people’s poor (implicitly: bad) cultural taste.
There are, of course, different norms of taste motivated by qualitative values which consumer groups apply e.g. to different types of toys. The norms of taste must be respected and comprehended which is not the same as saying that there are no qualitative distinctions.
We must also allow for the fact that only a fortunate few have conscious access to the cultural orbit and that this is dependent on geography but also on the fact that an individual in possession of broad horizons and wide knowledge is more free than an individual who lacks these advantages. And these advantages are, after all, dependent on education. And for children on the threshold of life and existence, these are serious considerations!