Friday, January 01, 2010

A Cultural Anthropologist in Brand Strategy?

When I tell people what I do for a living, they usually have a ‘say what?’ look on their face. Either they don’t know what anthropology is,
“oh my god, I loved dinosaurs as a kid!”,
or they do know what it is,
sort of,
“oh my god, I read about this ritual sacrifice they do in Africa!”,
but they don't get the connections between symbols, rituals, human behavior, etc. and branding (see? You get it.).

To me, the anthropology of modern life is so much more interesting than the traditional anthropology of ‘savages’ who clearly only live in places like Papua New Guinea. I mean, come on- a good portion of Americans have a man nailed to a cross hanging in their living rooms. Ask me who have the best two brands out there right now and I'll say Coke and Jesus. Easy question.

Archetypes, kinship and taboos might sound exotic, but what’s really fascinating to me are the same ideas as they manifest through brands. ‘Mac people’ get offended if someone suggests they might have characteristics that even slightly resemble those of ‘PC people’. To hockey players, a Bauer stick is a trusted friend. And Coke drinkers actually call it sacrilegious to drink a Pepsi.

People communicate much of modern life, whether we like it or not, through brands. What we buy, what we drive, what we wear, what we watch, what we sell, what we yell. Yes- even in Africa. The two things you can find in pretty much any village, anywhere? Jesus and Coca-cola. But here’s the kicker- those things mean very different things to Africans than they do to Americans. Or to Indians. Or to Europeans. Or to Baby Boomers. Or to teenage girls on facebook (see where I’m going with this whole “human behavior and advertising” thing?). And it’s the discovery of the different meanings of things, meanings of sacred words, meanings of sacred spaces, meanings that live between what people say and what they do, that makes my job so exciting.