Catering to the Contradictive: A Post-Subcultural Perspective on Brand-Consumer Alignment Through Self-Congruity

Adam Nilsson & Vincent Janér

Student thesis: Master thesis


A widely acknowledged feature of contemporary consumption is that consumers imbue brands with cultural and social meaning, which has put the marketplace at the center of their identity formation. By extension, brands have become imperative means of identifying with certain groups, as well as demarcating against unappealing cultural movements. Yet, as previous research has seen, the value-expressive function of brands is at risk of being diluted by conventional business motives. This becomes particularly apparent when consumers are pursuing a subversive identity. However, the standards of such subcultural expressions are being subject to a fundamental reevaluation in light of postmodernism and the ubiquitous commodification of cultural items. Given the emergence of new understandings of how valueexpressive consumption manifests, we found it meaningful to examine how they concern central subversive concepts, such as refusing the mainstream and in turn, brand-consumer alignment. In this paper, we have looked at developments within postmodern consumer culture through the lens of self-congruity theory, centered around hipsters - a contemporary consumer group that encapsulates relevant cultural phenomena. Within the research field of identity projects in consumer culture theory, we conducted a qualitative case study on the Swedish fashion brand ‘Eytys’, whose recent collaboration with fashion giant Hennes & Mauritz provided relevant insights into brand meaning in relation to commercial pursuits. Based on indepth interviews with ten young adults living in urban areas, our findings suggest that postsubcultural consumers use individuality as an expression of authenticity to guide their identity formation, and that it leaves little tolerance for commercial pursuits, as the mainstream connotations they entail are inherently incongruent with what they want to be. We propose that hipsters, as an emblematic representation of a postmodern subculture, for pragmatic reasons frame their identity goals around the rejection of mainstream, rather than the enactment of their individuality. We also find that subversive consumers value consistency in brands, seeing that it facilitates their function as cultural resources in their style. In view of this, we see that management philosophies with high brand centrality, such as the brand-identity based management model, are especially adept to meet the self-congruity needs of subversive consumers. Finally, we emphasize the importance of aesthetics in upholding symbolic value and introduce the notion of incorporating blatantly outlandish designs as ‘incongruity buffers’.

EducationsMSc in Brand and Communications Management, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2019
Number of pages115
SupervisorsAllan Hansen