Master’s Thesis Peek: “Target Audience: Private Label Food Packaging and the American Middleclass”

The following abstract is from “Target Audience: Private Label Food Packaging and the American Middleclass” by Tal Nadan (MS/MLIS 2009):

I was motivated to study the Target Corporation because I found the
brand’s market positioning and unusual credibility mystifying.  The
company utilizes strong branding and to build a customer base by
demarcating its image and differentiating itself from other discount
stores.  Much of Target’s differentiation is evident in its reputation
as a retailer of affordable fashion.  I traced how the promotion of a
design aesthetic associated with clothing can be extended into other
spheres such as groceries, and anticipates a certain type of
consumer’s purchasing motivation.  The corporation has a clear
perception of whom they are reaching, who is the Target Shopper,
culled through demographic surveys.  It manipulates this understanding
in order to build on the promise of capitalism: better living through
consumption.  By examining the packaging of private label food brands,
I examined how the Target-paradigm plays a role in consumer
perceptions.  By applying design-historic and sociological theories, I
show that these objects of design have cultural significance and that
their use of graphic elements is representative of the inextricable
link between design and American capitalism.

Archer Farms Cereal

Archer Farms Cereal

In this study, I closely examine the packaging of Target’s two major
private label food brands, Archer Farms and Market Pantry.  Target has
established two different brands to occupy different positions in the
American grocery shelf-scape, as a ‘specialty’ brand and a ‘value’
brand respectively.  Each brand has a specific, individual vocabulary
of graphic elements.  I identify and analyze the design programs in
terms of their elements of visual grammar.  Through a careful and
close analysis, I show how the brands attempt to resonate with the
American consumer.  The main source for this thesis is the line of
packages themselves, found in Target stores and on the Target.com
website.  The academic literature is from a wide variety of fields:
sociology, design theory, studies in visual communication.
Additionally consulted are peer-reviewed journal articles linking
consumerism and marketing to psychology.  Non-academic sources include
trade magazines, Target’s corporate missives, and statistics.

Where there is purposeful design, there is meaning.  In a capitalist
structure, the goal is to increase sales and encourage customer
loyalty, and as a company within this structure, the Target
Corporation shares this goal.  It is my contention that Target’s
grocery sales have less to do the foods themselves, rather how the
product’s constructed image may reflect the shopper’s self-conception
– how the package becomes a prop in an imagined narrative for the
consumer, part of the larger phenomenon of the aestheticization of
everyday life.  The acts of shopping and consumption occupy a very
significant place in American lifestyle and the performance of
identity.  By critically analyzing Target’s private label packaging, I
find a connection between American consumerism and middleclass
ideology.

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One Response to Master’s Thesis Peek: “Target Audience: Private Label Food Packaging and the American Middleclass”

  1. SMB says:

    This sounds really fascinating, I will be looking forward to it at the symposium.

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