Making meaning: the fate of the consumer in market research

Chris Barnham

It is widely accepted that market research is the study of consumer attitudes and behaviour for the purpose of satisfying specific commercial ends. In this process, consumers, brands, organisations and markets are evaluated and analysed in considerable detail. But it is remarkable how little is written on how the market research community conceives the role of the ‘consumer’. Obviously, the consumer is understood to take part in research, and to contribute their views and opinions, but little time is taken to analyse what this actually involves at a granular level. What is ignored is the specific contribution that the consumer makes in the process of making meaning for brands. This is a surprising, and in some ways telling, omission and one that has an interesting history.

The consumer: a brief history