Saturday, October 31, 2009

Marketing Magic; Consumer Choice as Ritual Reified

So it occurred to me that the range of consumer choice represents a
desire to change not the product but one's own life. If my brand of
coffee represents me then symbolically, changing brands represents
changing my life.

Obviously, this change is insignificant, if I wished to improve my
family relationships or my job prospects and so on. To believe that a
change of brand will change one's life is irrational. However, it
seems to me that this constitutes a desire for magic. Work, effort and
reflection are not needed- just a consumer incantation.

As with all magic spells, if a consumer ritual fails to effect the
desired change, then another attempt might work. The failure was
improper recitation. The wrong brand of ketchup and life is a failure.
If only I could choose the right ketchup, car, jacket and shoes.


Anonymous said...


You know...I was trying to think of some witty reply...and then I's kinda true. :D

So what does it say about me if I choose Heinz? Apathy?
Van Houtte...laziness?
Dr. Bronners? Now that's fun...:)

adamvs said...

It's not that some products aren't better or worse than others. It is just that relatively small differences between some products will not make significant changes in one's life. I really like St. Ambroise Pale ale, and go out of my way to drink it over other beverages, but if I drank Molson Export or Belle Geule or Wildcat, I am not fundamentally changing my being.

More over, although brand choices can reveal something about a person's social status( consider the pick-up truck, especially in relationship to place. In the mid- west, a man is judged by the size of his pick-up, in California, only manual labourers drive pick ups, or so it is perceived.

But aspirational purchasing says perhaps more to where you are than where you perceive you are going. It doesn' t generally constitute a metaphysical reordering of one's life.

I understand the notion of shopping therapy, but I hypothesized that how and why people make purchasing decisions has much in common with how early peoples used magic rituals and objects to try to explain and control the world around them. Obviously, I think we are much the same beasts we were 10 000 years ago. So when we feel overwhelmed or lacking understanding we enact rituals to propiate the gods.

This suggests that car purchasing hovers in a cult- like status, which explains the resistance to rejecting the category altogether. Carmakers are schisms
But bicyclists are heretical blasphemers. Pedestrians are simple heathens, more to be ignored or pitied. After all , they cage themselves together on public transport, virtually like herd animals(are you reading my ironic tone, here?)

Anonymous said...

Ya, I got that. ;)
Well, although I certainly can see the similarities between todays consumer trends and early religious rituals, I'm going to suggest another layer... The way I see it here in our corner of the world, the dude picking up the Labatt Blue and Export A’s is making a conscious choice of how he wishes to be perceived. He’d probably scoff his steel toes at a Guinness.
And the red wine drinkers would scoff at HIM.
Of course, then there’s your Cuvee De Depanneur drinkers on the opposite side of the room from your $100 a bottle drinkers there as well. Two totally different cultures, open for choice.(I’m a fine-wine-in-cheap-places kind of person myself.;)
I’d say that for many, aspirational purchasing is more about how you’d LIKE to be perceived than who you actually are or where you think you could be going.
The “cool” guy who won’t be caught dead on a bicycle, the girl who buys only designer jeans…they may live in one room basements, but need to put on an air of more, altering the perception of themselves through what they put off.
Easy marketing targets.
Although I suppose it’s a matter of conditioning as well. Consider the perception of the guy who buys a bottle of beer in Quebec as opposed to the guy who buys a bottle of beer in Germany, say. The same choice and action conveys a totally different message depending on the culture.
Hmn…I wonder what my consumer choices say about ME?
Ack…probably instability.
Or that I shouldn’t be blog-replying at 1:30 in the morning.

"If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country."
-E.M. Forster