My work is the study of rituals of marketing. Rituals populate the entire range of marketing, from production to management, to promotion, purchase and consumption itself.
We are used to thinking of of ritual as something archaic, an outdated form of behavior that was only used by our primitive ancestors because of their ignorance. Once science and rational management were invented and implemented, the story goes, ritual faded away, and is only brought back, in watered down versions, for rare, special events, like weddings.
This story is the central mythology of our culture. We are taught to believe that ritual has been driven out of our lives, even as we practice it.
In fact, ritual is not a relic of a time before the advent of machines and the Age of Reason. The world is not disenchanted after all. In fact, our commercial culture is the most thoroughly ritualized of any in the history of humanity.
Ritual has been at play in commerce for as long as ritual exists. Evidence for the prevalence of ritual in our culture is all around us, but it is difficult for us to see because we have been brought up not to look for it.
Take, for example, the most economically active period of the year: What we call The Holiday Ritual. Many retailers cannot stay in business without successful sales for Christmas… for the ritual of gift-giving associated with that holiday.
Ritual brings together biological instinct, cultural insight, psychological need, and social power to create sustained changes in what people do by changing who people are. That’s something that simple persuasion, whether logical or emotional, cannot do.
Ritual marketing starts with an intense form of market research, itself a ritual process. It gathers thick data, diving deep into consumer culture to help businesses uncover the meaning that lays hidden underneath the expansive but thin surface of the landscape mapped. by their algorithms.
A ritually-informed marketing strategy enables its practitioners to move beyond mere tracking and prediction into the transformation of consumer behavior. It brings abstract feelings and intentions into action, changing what people do by breaking their attachment to outmoded habits.
Ritual is, above all else, practical. It doesn’t rely on persuasion, or on the hope that people will finally transcend their humanity to make decisions rationally. Ritual is an ancient system for changing behavior that focuses simply on what works.
Ritual has been working reliably for hundreds of thousands of years.
Isn’t it time marketers take it out for a spin?