Abstract: this paper presents a conceptual framework for understanding the development of the cultural constraints that the society puts on consumption phenomena. The author considers first the ideological criticism which had characterized the sociological thought, focusing on the exponents of the School of Frankfurt. Issues such as false need, alienation, standardization of culture and manipulation by the capitalistic system come under review. Other social constraints are then identified in the growth of consumer protection associations
(consumerism) and no global pressure groups. Implications on the social role of brands and the ethical dimensions of consumption are drawn.