Brands as cultural icons

We define culture as a network of discrete, specific knowledge structures shared
by individuals within some definable population. Icons of a culture are like “magnets of meaning”; they connect many diverse elements of cultural knowledge.
Thus, cultural icons, when activated, will spread activation to other constructs in the cultural knowledge network.

Like other symbols, a consumer brand can also be a cultural icon or a vehicle for
cultural meaning. Iconic brands are consumer brands that become “consensus expressions of particular values held dear by some members of a society”. These brands are loaded with cultural meanings; they are strongly associated with the culture’s values, needs, and aspirations
and increase their cognitive accessibility.

Consumer brands vary in their degree of cultural iconicity. We conceptualize brand iconicity as the degree to which a particular brand is associated with multiple constructs in a network of cultural knowledge. Consumers’ knowledge about products/brands forms integrated structures in memory. Iconic brands can transfer their iconic status to the product category they belong.

Accordingly, we conceptualize an iconic category as a product category with highly accessible iconic brands. Through the strong connections with their iconic brands, iconic categories also possess rich cultural significance; they are strongly associated with the values, needs, and aspirations in their culture of origin. Brands with rich cultural meanings can create stronger and much deeper connections with the consumers.

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