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Rite Marketing Strategies

23 May, 2007

Advertising Age has reported on a large report done by the BBDO agency which studied daily rituals in a number of national populations in order to detect regularities that might be of use to marketers.  Entitled “The Ritual Masters”, this study was conducted with 5,000 people over nine months and suggests that daily rituals can be broken into five stages.  The reasoning behind the study is explained thus:

By identifying the rituals we perform as we move through the day, the idea is to work out how to fit brands into those rituals and create products, packaging and communication to make it happen.For example, women in Colombia, Brazil and Japan are most likely to apply makeup in the car, and 49% of Chinese eat on the way to work (against a global average of 17%). Such statistics suggest product innovations and marketing strategies that could prove useful.

“The idea here is to look at rituals as an important behavior in consumers’ lives, to understand what they are, how they work and how to work our clients’ brands into them,” said Andrew Robertson, BBDO Worldwide president-CEO. “We usually look at behavior through the lens of a brand or a category. This is an extra lens to look through.”

However set in stone our routines may be, there are always opportunities for clever marketers to infiltrate rituals and seek out moments when they may be disrupted. One Dutch interviewee had used Gillette razors all his life. On holiday at a Club Med, he was given free Wilkinson razors for a fortnight.

Advertising Age – Do You Know Your Rites? BBDO Does

Also commented on here, with the headline that “anthropology is the new selling science”.

Some of the findings are interesting.  For example:

Americans are most likely to meet in a restaurant (27%), while the Spanish and French eat the highest percentage of meals at home (42%). Italians, French and Spanish do not eat at work or in the car, but the car has become a dining venue for Saudis (12%), Chinese (10%) and Americans (10%).

Judging from the article, though, I’m not sure to what extent this kind of study can be considered anthropology.  Perhaps it’s just the recognition that different national groups have statistically significant differences in habits and can therefore serve as predictors for marketing purposes. Is it simply the cross-cultural focus that makes it “anthropology”?  I’m not sure what kind of methodology was employed but it looks like it was mainly survey-style interviews and focus groups judging by the sort of data they’ve collated.  Again, this doesn’t seem to be overly anthropological as it doesn’t seem to provide the sort of qualitative understandings you might expect from an ethnographic study.

Another thing that immediately strikes me is what appears to be the underlying assumption that national groups correspond to cultural groups.  This is hardly an ethnographic move.  For me at least, ethnographic interventions tend to go the other way, by problematising assumptions of these kinds.  Maybe that’s just me, and as Nursel’s recent post suggests, attempts to define “anthropology” are always going to be problematic.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 14 February, 2014 12:36 pm

    For me, what’s more important than the issue of what’s “anthropology” and what’s not is the issue of whether the research method is appropriate to the topic. I agree with your suggestion that surveys and focus groups are not going to provide adequate depth of material for companies that want to apply an understanding of consumer rituals. On the other hand, anthropological academic studies on ritual in consumer culture has been inadequate as well, both in the amount of research that’s being done and in the scope of analytical focus. The time seems ripe for the development of a specialty of ritual-focused applied research that takes the best from academic anthropology and truly in-depth methodologies of consumer research, including but not exclusive to consultant anthropologists.

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