Routines and rituals are part of our everyday lives. Many people follow routines to help organize their time and make their day more predictable, easy to follow and efficient. Routines and rituals are important behaviours in consumers’ lives that serve as sources of insight for marketers. Routine is defined as a set of mundane “tasks, chores or duties that must be done regularly or at specified intervals” (Dictionary.com). Ritual is usually thought of as a more transformational and involving experience that can be defined as a “type of expressive symbolic activity constructed of multiple behaviours that occur in a fixed episodic sequence and that tend to be repeated over time” (Schiffman, Kanuk and Das, 2006). A Bloomberg Business article goes as far as saying that while routines are “ingrained”, they “carry no emotional meaning” (Brady, 2007). In other words, although, these two types of activities may be similar in their “orderliness”, a ritual is a much more elevated and often spiritual experience. Understanding what these are, how they work and how to help consumer goods companies “work their brands into them” has been a subject of a recent extensive global research project called The Ritual Masters and conducted by the famous marketing company BBDO (Advertising Educational Foundation). Among the study’s multiple conclusions is the fact that rituals are associated with more pleasure and sense of purpose than routines. As a result, it has been argued that a ritual has more value. In fact, it carries a lot of value for consumer goods companies, some of which have recognized this and have been working on using their brand to turn a routine (e.g. drinking coffee, doing yoga) into a ritual. I believe that a key marketing strategy of the future is not only to tap into existing routines but also to transform these routines into rituals. By doing so, brands will create meaningful connections with customers and guarantee a long term demand for products beyond their utilitarian use.
A routine may be viewed as an evolutionary mechanism that helps us save cognitive resources and focus on more important issues requiring our attention. This is precisely why we habitually engage into routines. So, it is no surprise that marketers already use these occasions to insert their products into it. Strong brands such as Coca Cola, Colgate and Tide have, for many people, became synonymous with drinking pop, brushing teeth and washing clothes respectively. It is no wonder that according to The Ritual Masters study associating one’s product with a routine helps increase the “stickiness” of a particular product purchasing habit. By continuously repeating a routine people tend to stick with a particular set of products, especially in situations when time is scarce, such as busy weekday mornings(Brady, 2007). When there is no time to think, people are unlikely to experiment. Instead, they are likely to keep using the same brand of cereal, instant coffee or yogurt. Consequently, if a specific brand has been chosen by a consumer, this is a great opportunity for that brand to secure its place in that routine. Once a customer has chosen a product that works for them, they are likely to repurchase and potentially become a loyal customer for life!As the Chief Marketing Officer of Pepsi-Cola North America has said, such strategy would allow to “build our brands’ share of life, not just of the market” (Brady, 2007).
Rituals take the idea to a whole new level. They move people emotionally from one place to another and make people feel good (Vohs, Wang, Gino, &Norton, 2013). So, while there may be boring routines and bad habits, there are no bad rituals (Advertising Educational Foundation). According to Schiffman et al. most rituals fall under these categories: personal, family, group, religious, rites of passage, cultural and civic. Religious rituals are the most obvious ones; they are often associated with the rites of passage, such as birth, wedding and funeral. Other rituals, both social and private, are often performed out of the belief that they will bring good luck. For example, an entire male hockey team may not shave their facial hair before a play-off game or a businessman may wear the specific item of clothing to an important meeting. Civic rituals include raising the flag, parades and marches. Family rituals may be specific to a given families (e. g.visiting specific vacation destination once a year) or common to most families (e.g.thanksgiving celebration). In my family, we celebrate the day we arrived to Canada, by dining in the same restaurant every year. A form of a group ritual that has recently gained popularity is running marathons to raise money for important causes, such as cancer research or combating poverty.In other words, while rituals may vary person to person and culture to culture, most people and societies have them.
Transforming various types of routines into rituals
Now the question becomes: is it possible to take an everyday routine and turn it into such meaningful ritual. It turns out that it is. In fact, according to the BBDO study and based on a large global sample, five of the daily procedures most people perform. are such occasions. This means that a company does not have to be in the wedding or funeral business to capitalize on meaningful rituals. These seemingly mundane procedures that in fact carry with them a deeper meaning are: “preparing for battle” (the morning ritual), “feasting” (reconnecting with your tribe over food), “sexing up” (primping), “returning to camp” (leaving the work place), and “protecting yourself for the future” (the ritual before bed) (Advertising Educational Foundation).
Preparing for Battle is the busiest and most regimented morning ritual in which people “prepare to face the day”. It usually involves some combination of activities such as brushing teeth, showering, shaving (for men) and putting on makeup (for women), eating and drinking, as well as getting updates through checking one’s email, watching TV, listening to the radio or reading a newspaper (Advertising Educational Foundation). The ritualistic significance of this set of activities is transforming one-self from the relaxed to “warrior” state and gaining a feeling of control and readiness to face the outside world (Advertising Educational Foundation). With over 7 steps in under an hour time-period, this is the busiest ritual. On the one hand, it serves as the “biggest-volume” opportunity for brands to build lasting relationships with their customers, as 89% of people use the same brand-name products in their rituals (Advertising Educational Foundation). On the other, it may be hard to squeeze into this conservative and time-crunched sequence of activities.
Feasting is the next common ritual. What differentiates it from any other dining occasion is bonding with a group of close people and sharing the experience on the physical and emotional levels. Certain food and drink brands can seek entry through this ritual. “Sexing up” involves scheduling or setting aside time for intimacy. Preparation includes activities that help a person transform to a confident version of themselves, and varies from a mere anticipation to choosing an outfit ahead of time (Advertising Educational Foundation).
On the opposite end of the spectrum are the two common relaxation rituals called Returning to Camp and Protecting Yourself for the Future. Returning to Camp marks the end of the work day and the beginning of leisure time. Activities that people engage in include changing into comfortable clothing, watching TV or engaging with other media, bathing and showering. Brands and products that contribute to a sense of relaxation, calm and ease can play a role in this transformation. Finally, Protecting Yourself for the Future serves as an ultimate closure of the day. While this ritual is less sequenced, according to the BBDO study, it is taken very seriously. People ensure safety by locking doors and windows, checking on their children and pets and taking medication (Advertising Educational Foundation). Since the feeling of safety seems to be the key element in this ritual, it is agood time for businesses that include alarm companies and insurances to create an emotional connection with their consumers.
An important ritual that I think was omitted in the study is break time. Pausing to rest throughout the day is a prominent time that is present in most people’s lives regardless of their culture, occupation, age or gender. Many people habitually engage in the same activities while on their brake. Among such common activities are cigarette smoking, eating lunch, walking in the park, talking on the phone and checking emails. Cigarette and snack makers are two potential beneficiaries of this ritual. Proper advertising and positioning may help change consumer attitude from an indifference to the kind of cigarette or snack they have at their brake to empowering them to believe that the product they use will give them an edge in taking on the rest of the day.
Yet, there are caveats to this approach. First, according to the BBDO study, it is not always clear what constitutes a ritual. For example, not every meal with one’s friends and relatives can be classified into a Feast category. Although, a weeknight meal may involve one’s family, it may be far from a Feast, which is supposed to be “indulgent and uniting” if each member is busy looking at their smartphone (Brady, 2007).
When a ritual can be clearly identified by competing companies (e.g. Preparing for Battle or Protecting Yourself for the Future), it may be difficult to enter. For example, people, who engage in such rituals may already have a set of products they are used to. If they are happy using such products, they are unlikely to switch. If fact, as the research has shown, most people are likely to “get irritated when their rituals are disrupted” by a company trying to push its products (Brady, 2007). Another problem is that a group of educated consumers may become aware of brands that try to wedge their product into customers’ routine and consciously resist such products (Brady, 2007). Consequently, brands need to be very sensitive if they are to succeed in this strategy.
Finally, and perhaps more importantly, this strategy may contribute to an undesirable social trend and/or consumer backlash. Marketers need to remember that through their work, they have a great influence over a large number of people. This is where ethical issues may surface. Converting a routine into a ritual takes a rational activity and transforms it into an irrational one. The reason, a ritual is irrational, is because it is based on emotion and not logic or science. However, it is important to remember that we, as a modern society have embraced science and rational behaviour. We have moved away from a time when the scientific way was unknown and people relied on rituals and other non-scientific methods in daily life. So, in a way, by ritualizing everyday activities, marketers may be bringing back a less advanced approach to life’s activities. While it is essential to recognize such concerns, marketers can pursue ritualization while being sensitive to the consumer needs.
According to The Ritual Dimension of Consumer Behavior (Rook, 2001) up until early 2000’s, consumer research has largely failed to recognize the potential of tapping into rituals. Nowadays, in a time when “ad agencies are struggling to find ways to reach customers” tapping into rituals proves rewarding for many companies (Brady, 2007). I believe, that truly successful marketing companies should go beyond tapping into existing routines and rituals, and take the practice to the next level by converting existing everyday routines into rituals.
Ritual Marketing Examples
To date, the companies that have successfully done this have enjoyed great profits and brand recognition. DeBeers, world’s largest producer of diamonds, has been said to be single handedly responsible for creating a diamond engagement ring-giving ritual. Prior to their advertising, there was no tradition of men presenting expensive diamond rings to women upon engagement. Other examples include jewelry designers such as Tiffany Co and Pandora, who have created rituals around their jewelry pieces. Owning a Tiffany ring, necklace or bracelet became synonymous with belonging to a special club. In the case of Pandora, their ingenious concept of purchasing charms to fill one’s bracelet and mark important life events has secured a loyal customer base. Each bracelet could be fitted with multiple charms, creating a unique combination. The charms vary from pretty flowers and gems to ones that symbolized graduation, marriage or a birth of a baby. Consequently, each woman owning such bracelet could express her individuality with these symbols around her wrist. As one of Pandora’s slogans states: “Your story is Precious. Express yourself in silver and gold” (Pandora.com).
On the other end of the spectrum are certain food and drink companies that have used a different strategy to arrive at the same result, i.e. ritualizing consumption of their goods. For example, in the coffee industry, Starbucks has arguably created a cult around its products and a ritual around consuming its drinks at Starbucks cafes. Another prominent coffee brand, Nespresso, has used celebrity endorsement to give a luxury feel to its products. Their advertisements show stylishly-looking actress Penelope Cruz and actor George Clooney engaging in, what can only be called, a ritual of enjoying a cup of Nespresso coffee in an elegant setting. Sports drinks, such as Gatorade have used advertising to associate its brand with professional athletes. Through such association, the brand was able to link its products to a higher performance. Such positioning, in turn, creates synergies for its customers by giving people something they feel they can depend on. In general, it seems that before any performance, be it a sports game or an important presentation, many people often feel that they may benefit from that special sports drink, energy drink or a shot of coffee, depending on what their favourite beverage is.
An example from yet another industry is Blackberry devices. Although no longer in widespread use, Blackberry was responsible for popularizing the practice of checking emails on the go. Business people, many of whom owned Blackberry mobile devices, would continuously check emails throughout the day, which became a sort of a ritual. This ritual symbolized success – the more often one checked their email, the more important they felt. Having gotten used to Blackberries, a lot of the aged executives still use one in 2015. The product became “sticky” among this conservative group. Nowadays, as more people switch to iPhones and Android devices, staying connected and being “mobile” in general can be seen as a similar ritualistic activity.
Future of Marketing
So, if the future of marketing lays in converting routines into rituals, what could be a hypothetical example of a routine to ritual conversion? One such large-volume potential exists in an exam writing scenario for high school and college students all over the world. Many of them already have their own rituals, such as having specific objects with them during the exam, completing exam paper in a specific order, etc. Such rituals may actually boost self-confidence and help examinees perform at their best by creating a feeling that a good luck component has been secured. To create a ritual that would involve a given product, a marketing company would need to take one of the steps in the exam preparation routine and convert it into such “good luck” ritual.
For example, a company such as Mars could pursue this strategy with its Twix brand. The young students could be targeted through a variety of high impact channels relevant to the segment (e.g. Facebook, YouTube). Next step would involve advertising the use of their product in a ritualistic way. For example, knowing that students snack before, during and after the exam, one version of this commercial could feature a student having the one Twix bar before the exam and another – after. This advertisement could be done in a humoristic fashion, claiming that performing the activity in this exact sequence would guarantee the best possible performance. While the entire target audience may not be taking the claim seriously, a certain percentage is likely to be curious to try this approach and may consequently end up adopting this ritual. Since rituals create a sense of safety, predictability and help boost confidence, such ritual may actually boost performance (e.g. via placebo effect), resulting in a win-win scenario for both the company and consumer.
Routines and rituals permeate people’s lives and often involve favourite products and brands that consumers stay loyal to. As such, routines and rituals are important gateways for marketers to take into consideration when positioning their products. While routines fulfill a more utilitarian purpose, consisting of rote repetition, rituals are considered a more emotionally involving experience. They serve an important symbolic function by allowing people to transition from one state to another throughout their day. Consequently, rituals have been recognized to carry more significance. Some companies have already recognized the unique opportunity of introducing their product into their customers’ routines. However, brands that have gone a step further and tapped into rituals were able to create an emotional connection between their products and customer base. Finally, in my opinion, the ultimately strategy a successful brand should adapt is transforming everyday routines into rituals. By doing so, a company would be able to build a life-long relationship between its brands and consumer (Brady, 2007). In other words, this may make a difference between someone being indifferent to which brand name deodorant they use to using the one, they believe,will give them the edge before an important interview. This kind of marketing presents a new and more advanced way of brand-consumer relationship. Brands may be able to benefit consumer through creating a sense of safety, boosting self-esteem and increasing performance. In turn, customers are likely to respond through increased purchasing behaviour and brand loyalty.