82% of catholics use contraception

understand the complexity of cultural factors

This is the first of 10 ‘BEST OF THOUGHTS’ selected from more than 200 THOUGHTS published in 2018.

Why do people buy what they buy? Why do they buy in the first place? What factors, other than product, price, access, and promotion, influence purchase behaviour?

There are two primary drivers of consumer behaviour – needs and influencers. This THOUGHT addresses the needs and influencers that drive purchase behaviour. Marketing strategies must be developed giving due consideration to each of these factors.

Few things influence consumer behaviour more than cultural factors. While demographic factors are important, cultural influencers are even more important. Within this broad category, the influencers include:

  • Overall culture – what the broader society believes is right and wrong, good and bad etc.
  • Sub-culture – religious, racial, sexual orientation, and gender groups within society
  • Social class – the position that an individual holds, or perceives themselves to hold in society

Society places enormous pressure on individuals to behave in accordance with its norms and expectations. Despite the protestations of many that they are individuals and behave as they want, few consumers have the strength to behave in a manner inconsistent with societal norms.

Religious background has a significant impact on the behaviour of many consumers, as does racial background, sexual orientation, and gender. That said, research suggests that the behaviour of individuals often varies from that exhibited by their subcultural group. Indeed, recent research found that:

  • 82% of Catholics use contraception
  • 57% of Jews eat pork
  • Alcohol sales are booming in Muslim countries

On the last point, in Pakistan alone, the incidence of alcohol-related diseases has increased by 10% in the last 5 years. Corporates such as Heineken are now actively targeting the UAE, Lebanon, and Muslim countries in North Africa. While alcohol sales, even online alcohol sales, are technically banned in many Muslim countries, the number of Muslims who drink alcohol is growing rapidly.

Sub-cultural influencers are powerful, but they are by no means absolute. The influence of cultural background is nuanced. Educated people around the world are more inclined to use contraception regardless of religion. The pressures in the broader society can often overpower the will not to consume something e.g. pork or alcohol. Research also suggests that an increasing number of Buddhists are eating meat and an increasing number of Hindus eat beef.

Social class is also a significant factor. Research has shown time and again that the ISO (the Apple platform) is a ‘white-collar’ choice, while ‘Android’ is a ‘blue-collar’ choice. Like ‘sub-culture’, ‘social class’ is complex. It involves much more than income or wealth. Social class also influences attitudes and views. Blue-collar workers are more likely to join unions than white-collar workers. White-collar people are more likely to watch the ABC (and less TV overall) while blue-collar people are more likely to watch commercial television (and spend more time watching TV overall).


Give a high priority to understanding the cultural factors that influence consumer behaviour and recognise that this is rarely as simple as applying stereotypes or assuming strict adherence to sub-cultural doctrine or values.

It is important to understand the nuances of cultural behaviour and the interactions between different social factors, sub-cultural groups, and the overall culture – dominant societal influences.
Put the facts ahead of gut feelings, habit, and guesswork.


Addicted2Success, Liquid Planner, Educba, Australian College of Marketing, Marketing91, Pew Research, Stackla, Brandon Gale, Independent, Forbes, Marketing Charts and Triple Pundit.
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