Consumer Tribalism – How Brands Use Communication to Organize Us Into Tribes

Academic Source: Consumer Tribes by Bernard Cova, Robert V. Kozinets, and Avi Shankar


You might not know it, but you're a member of many little modern day tribes just by virtue of your tastes in consumption. The brands you engage with on a daily basis are experts at using communications strategies to build and manage these tribes that we're all a part of.


As creatures who are biologically programmed to be self-conscious and prioritize social validation, we look to brands because help us construct our desired self-image and broadcast it to the world. The consumption of cultural resources (clothes, food, etc.) enabled by the marketplace facilitates meaningful social relationships. In exchange for our business and loyalty, research has shown that brands give us a sense of social affiliation and identity.


"Our mass mediated world is filled with participatory personalities whose interest coalesce with commercial culture... the allure of the primitive, of the tribal, lies in its ability to arouse our desires and passions."


Through the effective communication of values, brands develop symbols and cultural products that are inseparably associated with statements about our lifestyle, desires, and passions. For example, the rise of surf-culture is given as an example that demonstrates how the branded image of the 'surfer' was an integral part of political, religious and sexual life in Hawaii and Tahiti.


As consumers, its important to consider what message our consumption methods are broadcasting to those around us and whether that's the desired image we're looking to cultivate. As practitioners of PR and Communications, it is absolutely prerequisite to renew the importance we vest in brand values and ethics because those are the communication channels through which we can engage with and manage the consumer tribes of our brands.