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Posts Tagged With: consumer culture

Do Brands Have The Power To Change The World?

 

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Here is the one true thing I know about humans having studied them in action and been one myself for many years: we are essentially “good”. Whether we all know it or not, we share a light of truth that binds us to one another in a spirit of belonging whereby we all have the opportunity to thrive.

This is fact. However, if you disagree with this fact, feel free to stop reading and I’ll catch you later once you have experienced proof of concept. Which wont be long now.

So, yes its true that people are naturally inclined to be good. We know that. But for too many of us these days, that light is hidden in shadows or buried altogether. Or at least we think it is.   We have a tendency – especially in the more economically developed parts of the world – to dive too deep into the distractions of daily life – letting the shiny things substitute for soul shine and forgetting that the good stuff is on the inside. I suppose we have started to forget we belong to one another –that we are love and we are loved.

But here’s the good news – light and love is contagious. It is downright virally infectious. When one human allows their light to shine through in its purest form – that energy draws out the light in others. It is a reflection of our highest common denominator truth and the more pervasive its exposure the more effective its result.

That’s why I like working in marketing strategy. While some people might think marketing is the art of fabricating persuasive fiction, I see it for it’s potential to give and spread the gift of truth. It is the medium through which those who direct mass-communication can remind a world full of customers to reflect, empower and spread that truth.

You see, brands have an opportunity to be so much more than shiny things that might be granted the favor of our attention for a fleeting moment in our lives.

Companies who market consumer brands have not just an opportunity but also an obligation to be more than an idea attached to the stuff we use. They can and should be the fuel – the nuggets of energy we engage with every day – that help us get stuff done – driving momentum for the positive social change that will allow all humans to thrive.

It really is a pretty simple concept:

A Brand is an idea or collection of ideas that has cultural meaning, represented in products, packaging and marketing communication as well as in the ways that the companies who market them conduct their business. When we see a brand sharing an idea that represents a deeply held human truth, we can feel that sense of belonging to one another being validated.

So, If brands can truly embrace and reflect the highest common denominator truths that exist in their most engaged customers – for example – they can reach thousands, hundreds of thousands or even millions of people with that same light-filled message – since many other humans who might not necessarily be engaged with that brand will also share belief in and commitment to those truths.

 

This projection of highest common denominator values not only provides an opportunity for that brand to reach more humans, but for more humans to connect to one another based on those shared values.

Its also important to realize that getting at those truth’s is not as difficult as one might think. As it turns out, humans like to share their truth – whether they tell you or show you through their behavior or how they curate their lives. I should know – I have spent the last 15 years listening to eager consumer research participants share their stories. And when a brand shows interest in really understanding the human truths their customers hold dear it creates a bond that builds love – the same way it happens when you are cultivating human relationships. Because we are inclined to bond with people who care about who we are deep down and allow us to shine.

So it stands to reason that when brands and companies seek to understand their customer’s humanity, they are not only building a bond that ensures a loyal following but one that also puts a little more love out in to the world.

Now imagine if even half of the world’s gazillion brands were spreading that kind of light every day…to multiples of millions of people at a time. Imagine the world we could create if people were empowered to radiate that kind of love and light and truth and belonging every day in their interactions with all of the brands and other humans they encounter.

Based on the math alone we can see the big picture and it illustrates a very very bright future for humanity.

My mission is to help find and spread this light and remind humans how much we belong to one another so we can get on the same path toward a better tomorrow. Sure there are several light-spreading callings out there from music to religious practice to art and film.   I choose work that communicates through the lens of consumer culture – because I truly believe in the power of marketing love to the world.

Our mission at Culture – the cultural strategy firm where I am a partner –  is to cultivate human connection in the interest of shared thriving. We do this by strategically helping companies understand the potential of their brand from the perspective of their best customer’s highest common denominator values. In the process of finding the upside of humanity in the people who support their companies, the humans who run those companies also get the opportunity to bring their own humanity in to their work. It makes for better business and it makes for a better world for all of us.

So yes – brands do have the power to change the world – by elevating the consumer cultural conversation. Because shiny things with fictional stories are simply disposable objects. But brands that share human truths in their communications and their business practices are love machines that have can bring humans into the light and help us achieve the potential we all have to create the world we want to live in – one where we don’t live in fear of our ability to survive but rather embrace our power to thrive.

 

All it takes is a little love and the willingness to seek out our truth.

 

 

 

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Categories: Branding, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Honoring America’s Love of Beer

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As with most things in a narcissistic anthropologists life, our emerging passions become contextual obsessions of sorts. We believe that if we have an affinity for something, then there must be a rich cultural significance around it – and we will stop at nothing to find and share that anthropological enthusiasm with our fellow humans. Because they deserve to know and love the things we hold dear.

You’re welcome.

It is no secret from those who know me that I enjoy a well-timed and finely crafted (or sometimes just cold – or sometimes just in a glass) alcoholic beverage. I developed a passion for the craft cocktail during some fieldwork on spirits trends (I know, life is hard) several years ago. My wife introduced an appreciation for wine. Well, really mostly wine drinking while she does the more serious “appreciating”.

Over the past few years, however, another benevolent spirit has entered my world. Beer has been finding it’s way into my restaurant and bar patterns – from cocktails made with beer, to food pairing and ultimately a refreshing addition of variety into my imbibing and social routine.

So it’s only appropriate that I have now been engaged as a professional social scientist sponsored by Lets Grab a Beer http://www.letsgraba.beer to do what I do best and “dig” in to the cultural history and present social context of beer.

I hear you. I keep getting the really tough gigs.

But here is what I promise. I will continue to periodically share my findings along with my anthropological perspective on the interesting topics surrounding beer drinking behavior and why you should care.

Again, you’re welcome.

So lets start with a few fun things I have learned thus far in my social exploration of beer:

Perhaps the most affirming cultural context of beer is this fact (or what some might call a convenient data coincidence) that I found recently: neatly packaged in the infographic below connecting beer to the founding ethos of our American way of life: Democracy! That’s right – in most free (or at least partly free) countries, you also find that the most commonly consumed alcoholic beverage is our freedom-loving foamy friend, Beer. At least according to the sound logic presented in the comparative “beer” an “democracy” maps below:

beer-democracy1

Then there’s my favorite quote about our fine fermented friend, which comes from one of our founding fathers, Ben Franklin, who said: “Beer is proof that god loves us and wants us to be happy.”

But wait, I have one moreexciting fact! did you know that April 7th  is National beer day?! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Beer_Day_(United_States? That’s right. Our great United States and the powers that be recognize this national treasure as something to be honored with a day of focused appreciation.

In light of this context that is no doubt worthy of celebration, I have decided, in my narcissistic wisdom, that I ought to write a toast to honor our sudsy buddy in appreciation of its irreplaceable place in our lives and on our bar tabs. So here it goes:

An Ode to Beer

 In our hearts and minds

Traditions bind

Of rituals we hold dear.

Like finding friends

When the workday ends

To share an ice cold beer.

 In any season

For any reason

Be you rich or poor

Taking time to stop

We pop our tops

And enjoy just one more.

To suds with class

We raise a glass

For a spirit tried and true.

Whether lager or ale

We say “all hail!”

To America’s favorite brew!

Be sure to incorporate this as a toast when you buy your first round of beer on National Beer Day.  Or tonight.

And thanks again to my sponsors at http://www.letsgraba.beer !

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Categories: American Culture, Consumer Anthropology | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Is Customer Social Responsibility The New “CSR”?

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Sometimes work and life go together.  For Narcissistic Anthropologists like me, this phenomenon happens more often than not.

For the last several months I have been building momentum as a partner at Culture Agency in Atlanta, GA.  In the new year we made an official commitment to, at all costs, only work with clients and on projects that we feel will move human culture forward.

I sit here today, typing out my point of view,  in awe and gratitude for the response we have gotten from our community of clients and fellow strategy practitioners.  It has been amazing to the see the shift in momentum in corporate and “consumer” culture and couldn’t be more pleased to be a part of it.

I wrote the blog below for our company page- but life and art are one so I felt compelled to share here.

Empowering a New Era of CSR: Customer Social Responsibility

Corporate Social Responsibility has been a mainstreaming trend in business for the past decade or more. The intentionality of corporations to make it a point to use their resources as a source of social good is a direct reflection of evolving cultural values. To quote Ryan Honeyman from the B Corp Handbook,

“Business is, for better or worse, one of the most powerful forces on the planet. At its best, business encourages collaboration, innovation and mutual well-being and helps people to live more vibrant and fulfilling lives. At its worst, business and the tendency to focus on maximizing short-term profits – can lead to significant social and environmental damage, such as the BP Deepwater horizon Oil spill or the loss of more than $1 trillion in global wealth in the 2008 financial crisis.”

In reaction to a string of global phenomenon of the aforementioned “for worse” part and thanks to the powder keg of awareness and transparency that has been sparked by connectivity, we have seen the responsibility for creating positive social change become distributed with a new balance of power that is fueling significantly stronger momentum. Where the world once relied on the power of governments and their peacekeeping forces to reactively defend (or keep at bay – depending on the government) human rights and try, in the midst of the constant struggle, to carve out room for progress, we now see corporations and civil society realizing both their influence and their obligation.

Three sociological spheres that used to orbit one another, accessing the light of truth separately and unequally depending on their position, are now traveling on a shared path. Civil society has asserted its power to drive social change. The growth and impact of NGOs like the Human Rights Campaign and 350.org have made great strides in areas like marriage rights for Gay and Lesbian couples and battling Climate Change. Crowd-sourced movements like Occupy raise voices and awareness around income inequality.

When it comes to directing change in the corporate sphere, people are exercising their influence by exercising their wallets – being choiceful about purchases based on their values. People who are passionate about reclaiming the food supply and eating with sustainable health in mind might seek out only those food brands and products that are certified organic or certified non-GMO. Some who care about solving problems related to income inequality might choose one brand over another because they know a portion of the profits (or products) from that company are given to humans in need.

If one trend is clear, it is that more and more “customers” are putting on their “human” hat when they choose how to spend their money. Transparency and corporate social responsibility play an increasing role in our evolving social contract. But as corporations and civil society are finding synergies, new innovations in brand-to-human engagement are arising.

In particular, civil society is realizing that money is not the only powerful force driving social change. Sure, it helps and is a great start and an energetic catalyst. But momentum isn’t driven by bank accounts. It’s driven by action. Change can’t happen unless human hands take those resources and do something with them.

Many businesses leaders in industries across the board have been seeing this light as well. Here’s a little secret about how that’s coming to bear…. lean in closely…

…business leaders are also “customers” and “humans!”

I know. I just blew your mind (insert wink here).

But the other plain fact is that business leaders are the ones who have the power to change the world for the better. Not only do they know it, but they are feeling more and more empowered to embody it the more civil society raises its voice.

According to the co-founders of B Lab, quoted from the same book mentioned above:

“Business leaders are the rock stars of our time. But the rock stars of the next generation will be different from the rock stars of today. These rock stars will build companies that are both high growth and high impact. These rock stars will make money and make a difference – at the same time.”

I tend to think that the trend in better business is heading to a new era of CSR – evolving from Corporate Social Responsibility to a shared ownership rooted in Customer Social Responsibility.

I’ve mentioned a couple of examples of this sort of kindness-in-action before, with Airbnb’s One Less Stranger campaign and Unilever’s Project Sunlight.

I bring them up here again as an example of corporations truly engaging their customers to do something above and beyond using their wallets to affect change. Rather, these two programs encourage customers to get out there and DO something that makes the world better, whether it be a small action like sharing some hot chocolate and a conversation with a “stranger” or downloading a toolkit to help provide guidance on how to start or participate in food sharing programs for the hungry.

This is good news for both businesses and their customers – because it means that we have an opportunity to make life better by reminding us of our power to make this world the caring place we all want it to be by not just putting our money where our mouth is, but also our energy and our time.

Here at Culture, we are proud to work with a number of such business leader “rock stars” who inspire us every day by their willingness to find ways to engage both their organizations and their customers to connect with our shared core human values and make the world a more “human” place for everyone. After all, the first step toward “Customer Social Responsibility” as a part of any business is understanding what drives those customers at their very core and choosing to connect with the highest order values and beliefs that give us permission to share the love.

To see this content in its original form or to read more “Culture” perspectives, click the following link: http://www.culture-agency.com/blog/

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, CSR, sociology | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Experiencing “Old School”: The Middle-Aged Mosh Pit

So, I was enjoying an extended happy hour at my favorite local pub – out on the patio watching folks walk by, when a punk rock couple – complete with mohawk and combat boots – ambled on by.

Here I was thinking “nice to see the neighborhood getting more bohemian and diverse” when I was informed that there was indeed a concert happening around the corner at one of Atlanta’s iconic concert venues – Masquerade.

The show: Bad Religion, Offspring and Pennywise.

I was instantly transported back to high school and remember going to see these bands’ shows. I think one was my senior year….twenty years ago!!!

My friend and I were immediately compelled to go re-live our youth. We walked to the venue down the street, got our tickets, our “you’re over 21 and can drink” bracelets (which – when we were in high school going to all ages shows were typically the “you’re under 21 so don’t let me see you drinking” bracelets)  and headed to the bar, excited to get our drinks and join all the “kids” outside at the big show.

And when I say “kids”, this is not what I was expecting:

Punk Rock Kid

Yes…that would be a child on his dad’s shoulders.

I don’t know why I thought that a concert for a band I saw 20 years ago would have an audience full of 20 year olds. Perhaps I was a little delusional.
The reality was the entire venue was filled with people around my age: late 30’s and early 40’s.

Then I decided that this was actually a really cool thing! My generation still knows how to party. We’re all at a “punk” show -doing shots and bouncing in the rain to super-loud guitars!! It was AWESOME! I decided it was time for the mosh pit and mustered up all my frenetic energy to go throw some elbows….

For future reference I have learned that a mosh pit full of 30-and-40-something’s might as well be a “does my insurance cover that” pit.

And if I hadn’t realized yet that I was at a concert for old people trying to be young people it became an acute reality when Offspring finished their set – and 75% of the sweaty, mildly intoxicated concert-goers (who decided not to stick around for the last band because It was “getting too late”) filed out with me to the street.

It was 9:45.

I patted myself on the back for knowing I would be in bed before midnight and perfectly lucid for my morning conference call.

I may have accepted my lot in life as a full-fledged grown up and that my moshing days may be behind me but I will remain grateful that at least my generation had music that rocks!! And that we are “hardcore” enough to bring our toddlers to punk shows.

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Participant Observation, pop culture, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Breaking Breakfast News: Froot Loops Are All the Same Flavor

And here I sit, a dejected consumer anthropologist, believing I had mastered the system of flavor-by-color. For years I have coded my candy flavors by color: red, blue, orange- knowing full well that they didn’t deserve their “fruit flavor” designations but that the dyes and chemistry had earned them their own flavor category. Imagine my shock now that it has been revealed that one of my favorite candies – cereal (that’s a whole other blog) has been flavored with LIES!!!!!!

NewsFeed

We hate to be the ones to tell you this, but: you’ve been eating a bowl of lies for breakfast … and you probably liked it.

Turns out that the delicious, multicolored O’s that make up Froot Loops don’t actually represent different fruit flavors. Reddit’s Today I Learned series recently unearthed a 1999 article from the Straight Dope, which confirms that “according to Kellogg’s, all of those delectable loops are flavored the same.”

If you fainted into your cereal bowl after reading that, you’re not alone. We’ve all been misled by those tempting lime green, orange, purple, yellow and red loops into thinking they are lime, orange, grape, lemon and cherry and/or strawberry flavored, when, in fact, they all the same flavor. That flavor? “Froot,” which according to Wikipedia, stems from “a blend of fruit flavors.”

The good folks at Food Beast did some scientific blind testing and…

View original post 85 more words

Categories: American Culture, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Food, Marketing, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

First World Problems in a Third World Context

I have posted a few tongue-in-cheek blogs about my / “our” respective “first world problems”: those consumer culture driven annoyances that tend to stop us in our tracks and allow us to whine before we really think about it.

For example, to quote my favorite new Facebook page discovery, :

“Everyone is looking forward to the weekend but I have to work all weekend” or “I can’t update my Facebook status on my iPhone with my golf gloves on”

You get the picture. And it’s ridiculous.Well, if you would like an even more incisive dose of contextual perspective – here is a video my wife forwarded me: of Third-worlders (mostly children) reading first world problems.

Pass it along and take a moment to think about it, while I get over the first world problem I am having right now, which is getting this video to post without the ads plastered on top of it. :/

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

Ugly Sweaters, Other Consumer Christmas Traditions and Their Origins

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Did you find yourself online shopping at a place like The Ugly Sweater Store this season to find the perfect tacky holiday sweater to wear to a theme party?  Did you find yourself wondering when the ugly Christmas sweater party became a “thing”?  I thought Cliff Huxtable (for those who did not grow up in front of the television like me , that would be the Father character on The Cosby Show)  might have something to do with it,  and  according to this Time Magazine article  I was right.  🙂

Being both an anthropologist as well as one who studies consumer culture, it is easy for me to get a bit jaded when it comes to hyper consumer-driven holidays.  I JUST KNOW TOO MUCH! 😉   But things like traditions exist to remind us of our humanity and it’s why, in my spirituality I embrace traditions as highly functional in that regard.

Since I have, in this fourth year of Christmas with my wife, come to finally and truly (albeit reluctantly) appreciate the spirit of Christmas in the suburban gentile world (yes – I am not only a narcissist, but also Jewish), I thought I would spend some time in earnest researching the origin of some of those traditions.  As it turns out, things like decorating the tree and Christmas Cookies are not just obligatory consumer rituals designed to keep us distracted and fat, but actually serve to make us feel more connected and remind us to stop and appreciate the moments in our shared human journey.

As I started going down the search engine Christmas tradition rabbit-hole, I found a few good links with some legitimate cultural origin commentary, like some of the content I posted below, as seen in this article on Allthingschristmas.com.  Enjoy as well as some of the other links and have a very merry…..

Origins of Christmas

From the Old English ‘Cristes Mæsse’ ~ meaning the ‘mass of Christ’ ~ the story of Christmas begins with the birth of a babe in Bethlehem.

It is believed that Christ was born on the 25th, although the exact month is unknown. December was likely chosen so the Catholic Church could compete with rival pagan rituals held at that time of year and because of its closeness with the winter solstice in the Northern hemisphere, a traditional time of celebration among many ancient cultures.

Luke, Chapter Two
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Santa Claus

The origin of Santa Claus begins in the 4th century with Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, an area in present day Turkey. By all accounts St. Nicholas was a generous man, particularly devoted to children. After his death around 340 A.D. he was buried in Myra, but in 1087 Italian sailors purportedly stole his remains and removed them to Bari, Italy, greatly increasing St. Nicholas’ popularity throughout Europe.

His kindness and reputation for generosity gave rise to claims he that he could perform miracles and devotion to him increased. St. Nicholas became the patron saint of Russia, where he was known by his red cape, flowing white beard, and bishop’s mitre.

In Greece, he is the patron saint of sailors, in France he was the patron of lawyers, and in Belgium the patron of children and travellers. Thousands of churches across Europe were dedicated to him and some time around the 12th century an official church holiday was created in his honor. The Feast of St. Nicholas was celebrated December 6 and the day was marked by gift-giving and charity.

After the Reformation, European followers of St. Nicholas dwindled, but the legend was kept alive in Holland where the Dutch spelling of his name Sint Nikolaas was eventually transformed to Sinterklaas. Dutch children would leave their wooden shoes by the fireplace, and Sinterklaas would reward good children by placing treats in their shoes. Dutch colonists brought brought this tradition with them to America in the 17th century and here the Anglican name of Santa Claus emerged. Now, in the present most families have fireplaces that hang on the wall, but the tradition is not changed by this fact.

In 1822 Clement C. Moore composed the poem A Visit From Saint Nicholas, published as The Night Before Christmas as a gift for his children. In it, he portrays Santa Claus:

He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly,
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

Other countries feature different gift-bearers for the Christmas or Advent season: La Befana in Italy ~ The Three Kings in Spain, Puerto Rico, and Mexico ~ Christkindl or the Christ Child in Switzerland and Austria ~ Father Christmas in England ~ and Pere Noël, Father Christmas or the Christ Child in France. Still, the figure of Santa Claus as a jolly, benevolent, plump man in a red suit described in Moore’s poem remains with us today and is recognized by children and adults alike around the world.

Read even more abou christmas traditions andt Santa Claus

Christmas Trees

In 16th-century Germany fir trees were decorated, both indoors and out, with apples, roses, gilded candies, and colored paper. In the Middle Ages, a popular religous play depicted the story of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

A fir tree hung with apples was used to symbolize the Garden of Eden — the Paradise Tree. The play ended with the prophecy of a saviour coming, and so was often performed during the Advent season.

It is held that Protestant reformer Martin Luther first adorned trees with light. While coming home one December evening, the beauty of the stars shining through the branches of a fir inspired him to recreate the effect by placing candles on the branches of a small fir tree inside his home

The Christmas Tree was brought to England by Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert from his native Germany. The famous Illustrated News etching in 1848, featuring the Royal Family of Victoria, Albert and their children gathered around a Christmas tree in Windsor Castle, popularized the tree throughout Victorian England. Brought to America by the Pennsylvania Germans, the Christmas tree became by the late 19th century.

Read even more about Christmas Trees

Focus on Christmas Traditions in US

The variations of the Christmas traditions of USA equal the number active cultures that have settled in the land. These cultural contributions were given a new lease of life by creative artists, authors, poets and songwriters, and it was melded together by the power of secular and commercialized media in record companies, radio stations, television, cinemas and now the internet. The unwritten law of media is the presentation of a seemingly uniform celebration of the Christmas traditions of USA. This is responsible for the world wide acceptance of a universal Christmas image which they get from the media. Nevertheless, the celebrations are peculiar to each region.

Christmas Stockings

According to legend, a kindly nobleman grew despondent over the death of his beloved wife and foolishly squandered his fortune. This left his three young daughters without dowries and thus facing a life of spinsterhood.

The generous St. Nicholas, hearing of the girls’ plight, set forth to help. Wishing to remain anonymous, he rode his white horse by the nobleman’s house and threw three small pouches of gold coins down the chimney where they were fortuitously captured by the stockings the young women had hung by the fireplace to dry. Read more about christmas stockings

Mistletoe

Mistletoe was used by Druid priests 200 years before the birth of Christ in their winter celebrations. They revered the plant since it had no roots yet remained green during the cold months of winter.

The ancient Celtics believed mistletoe to have magical healing powers and used it as an antidote for poison, infertility, and to ward of evil spirits. The plant was also seen as a symbol of peace, and it is said that among Romans, enemies who met under mistletoe would lay down their weapons and embrace.

Scandanavians associated the plant with Frigga, their goddess of love, and it may be from this that we derive the custom of kissing under the mistletoe. Those who kissed under the mistletoe had the promise of happiness and good luck in the following year.

Holly, Ivy and Greenery


In Northern Europe Christmas occurred during the middle of winter, when ghosts and demons could be heard howling in the winter winds. Boughs of holly, believed to have magical powers since they remained green through the harsh winter, were often placed over the doors of homes to drive evil away. Greenery was also brought indoors to freshen the air and brighten the mood during the long, dreary winter.

Legend also has it that holly sprang from the footsteps of Christ as he walked the earth. The pointed leaves were said to represent the crown of thorns Christ wore while on the cross and the red berries symbolized the blood he shed.

Poinsettias

A native Mexican plant, poinsettias were named after Joel R. Poinsett, U.S. ambassador to Mexico who brought the plant to America in 1828. Poinsettias were likely used by Mexican Franciscans in their 17th century Christmas celebrations. One legend has it that a young Mexican boy, on his way to visit the village Nativity scene, realized he had no gift for the Christ child. He gathered pretty green branches from along the road and brought them to the church. Though the other children mocked him, when the leaves were laid at the manger, a beautiful star-shaped flower appeared on each branch. The bright red petals, often mistaken for flowers, are actually the upper leaves of the plant.

The Candy cane

It was not long after Europeans began using Christmas trees that special decorations were used to adorn them. Food items, such as candies and cookies, were used predominately and straight white candy sticks were one of the confections used as ornamentation. Legend has it that during the 17th century, craftsmen created the white sticks of candy in the shape of shephreds’ crooks at the suggestion of the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany.

The candy treats were given to children to keep them quiet during ceremonies at the living creche, or Nativity scene, and the custom of passing out the candy crooks at such ceremonies soon spread throughout Europe.

According to the National Confectioner’s Association, in 1847 German immigrant August Imgard used the candy cane to decorate a Christmas tree in Wooster, Ohio. More than 50 years later, Bob McCormack of Albany, Georgia supposedly made candy canes as treats for family, friends and local shopkeepers. McCormack’s brother-in-law, Catholic priest Gregory Keller, invented a machine in the 1950s that automated the production of candy canes, thus eliminating the usual laborious process of creating the treats and the popularity of the candy cane grew.

More recent explanations of the candy cane’s symbolism hold that the color white represents Christ’s purity, the red the blood he shed, and the presence of three red stripes the Holy Trinity. While factual evidence for these notions does not exist, they have become increasingly common and at times are even represented as fact. Regardless, the candy cane remains a favorite holiday treat and decoration.

Christmas cards

A form of Christmas card began in England first when young boys practiced their writing skills by creating Christmas greetings for their parents, but it is Sir Henry Cole who is credited with creating the first real Christmas card. The first director of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, Sir Henry found himself too busy in the Christmas season of 1843 to compose individual Christmas greetings for his friends.

He commissioned artist John Calcott Horsley for the illustration. The card featured three panels, with the center panel depicting a family enjoying Christmas festivities and the card was inscribed with the message “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.”

Read more about Christmas Cards

Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer

The Chicago-based Montgomery Ward company, department store operators, had been purchasing and distributing children’s coloring books as Christmas gifts for their customers for several years. In 1939, Montgomery Ward tapped one of their own employees to create a book for them, thus saving money. 34-year old copywriter Robert L. May wrote the story of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer in 1939, and 2.4 million copies were handed out that year. Despite the wartime paper shortage, over 6 million copies had been distributed by 1946.

May drew in part on the story “The Ugly Duckling” and in part from his own experiences as an often taunted, small, frail youth to create the story of the misfit reindeer. Though Rollo and Reginald were considered, May settled on Rudolph as his reindeer’s name.

Writing in verse as a series of rhyming couplets, May tested the story as he went along on his 4-year old daughter Barbara, who loved the story

Sadly, Robert Mays wife died around the time he was creating Rudolph, leaving Mays deeply in debt due to medical bills. However, he was able to persuade Sewell Avery, Montgomery Ward’s corporate president, to turn the copyright over to him in January 1947, thus ensuring May’s financial security.

May’s story “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was printed commercially in 1947 and in 1948 a nine-minute cartoon of the story was shown in theaters. When May’s brother-in-law, songwriter Johnny Marks, wrote the lyrics and melody for the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, the Rudolph phenomenon was born. Turned down by many musical artists afraid to contend with the legend of Santa Claus, the song was recorded by Gene Autry in 1949 at the urging of Autry’s wife. The song sold two million copies that year, going on to become one of the best-selling songs of all time, second only to Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”. The 1964 television special about Rudolph, narrated by Burl Ives, remains a holiday favorite to this day and Rudolph himself has become a much-loved Christmas icon.

Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Holidays, pop culture, Rituals, Suburban Living, Trends, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brain Candy: An Exercise in Knowing Thy Context in The Check-Out Aisle

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Checking out at the Whole Foods on my way to a Father’s Day lunch I spied (and purchased) this parent-trap: Sharkies Kids Sports Chews.

As with most things in life, brand and product positioning (the mindspace a company would like their product to occupy in the mind of the consumer) is all about context. In this case, this item’s value is rooted entirely in its marketing.

Somehow, this product- which is at best a “fruit snack” / glorified candy: slightly better than Sour Patch Kids but slightly worse than Annie’s Gummy Bunnies on a nutritional scale) is not a sweet- but-minimally/harmful snack. Rather, it a functional-yet-fun nutrition supplement.

Let’s break it down a bit:

Ingredients: organic sugar, organic tapioca syrup, organic white grape juice concentrate, pectin, citric acid, ascribing acid, color. The important words here are “sugar” and “syrup”. You will find less euphemistic versions of all these ingredients (AKA high fructose corn syrup) in most fruit-snacks with potentially a few extra added dyes and preservatives.

Marketing messages: notice the list of badges on the package advertising all the “bad” things the product DOESN’T have: high fructose corn syrup, trans- fats, wheat, gluten and nuts. Aside from the corn syrup – there is nothing among the listed evils that you would find in ANY fruit snack or candy. These buzzwords are evoked to enable quick editing and validation in the “impulse aisle” so Mom or Dad can have an easy reason to say yes to their nagging toddler.

Then throw in the tagline: “Clean Fuel for Active Kids” and you’ve got an instant win for a parent who is inevitably stopping at the organic food store on their way to, from or the day before / after a soccer game, tee ball practice, gymnastics or junior hip-hop dance class.

Why is it “clean?” Flip it over and look at the ingredients list – only about 8. Fits the “not processed” bill for most over-achieving label-readers.

Finally, it’s not called a “snack” or a “gummy” anything – even though from consuming the entire bag I can tell you it has the same consistency as most gummy candy. It’s a “chew”. Other things that are called “chews” in Mom-and-Dad land are typically kid’s vitamins- gummy and chewy I consistency to trick kids into getting their essentials by making then think it’s candy.

So, at the end of the day, this sugar-rush-in-a-bag passes as chewy Gatorade instead of gummy bears because of clever marketing and because its organic.

Context is everything indeed. I simply recommend that every now and then we all remind ourselves to take the time to put the pieces together more objectively so our consumer choices are made in the right frame of reference and frame of mind. Otherwise we are destined to become slaves to our cultural context rather than being a part of its evolution.

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Food, Health and Beauty, Marketing, Social food movements, Trends, Uncategorized, Well-being | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Know Thy Data

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One of the most fascinating parts of our consumer culture is the stuff that is behind the scenes: the insights about our attitudes, values and lifestyles that companies unearth (part of my “day job”) as well as the data they collect about us to figure out now to get more of our hard-earning spending cash.

For the former, the information that forms the insights comes from work done with cognizant and willing participants (e.g. “would you like to take a survey?”) or by observing public behavior.

The latter, however is a complex algorithm of numbers that are aggregated by our supermarkets, electric companies, cell phone providers and the like that they analyze and sell to other big companies but very rarely, if ever, share with us- even though they are collecting our every move and purchase with us just-barely knowing about it.

There was an interesting article in yesterday’s New York Times business section that talked about this in  detail as well as the trend of some companies (as discussed by my fellow consumer anthropologist Ken Anderson at Intel) towards finding ways to allow consumers to benefit from their own information.  Check out the Technoforia article on our “Open Data Society”  for more.

Would love to know how you would want to use your own data – if you could access it in a way that made sense.

I think I would want to be able to predict my bikini size and workload leading up to my next vacation so I can plan my stress-eating consumption accordingly.  😉

Categories: Consumer Anthropology, Marketing, Technology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Personifying Our Pets: A Consumer Culture Creation

As someone who feels awkward around her dog when she is “naked”, I can totally relate to this conversation about how we anthropomorphize our pets.

The  nature of pet ownership in America (and the developed world) has changed significantly as consumer culture has evolved.  It used to be we domesticated animals to serve a function:  helping  to herd sheep, hunt, deliver supplies,  pull sleds, keep us warm on cold nights, etc.  Then as we moved into an industrial age and grew our wealth accumulation, pets became status symbols and products for the privileged.  But as the pet population multiplied and ownership became a part of our American dream (white picket fence, two and a half kids and a dog), our furry friends became much more than another mouth to feed – they became family.   And we began treating them like any other member of our family – by dedicating supermarket aisles to their feeding and maintenance, establishing medical and grooming routines and even buying them clothes.

This woof-raising article from Sociology of Style talks about this fashionable phenomenon along with sharing some great, fun content, take a close look at these pet product reviews.
  For more from Sociology of style, including the tips at the end of the article for “nurturing the human-pet connection”, click    .     Otherwise, yappy reading!

The Modern Day Muppet Show:
Our Pet Personification Obsession

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If you are a dog and your owner suggests that you wear a sweater. . . suggest that he wear a tail.

– Fran Lebowitz

 The recent “dogs in pantyhose” meme — while a bit odd and disturbing — is merely the latest example of our cultural affinity for anthropormorphizing pets.  We seem to view and treat pets as people — and often dress them accordingly.  It’s as if we’re living in a (less musically-inclined) real-life version of The Muppet Show, where the line between animals and humans is indistinguishable.

Since the early 2000s, when Paris Hilton became the queen of the purse dog, with her Chihuahua, pets have become an accessory to be carried (or pushed) around town. More significantly, they are envisioned as an extension of one’s personal identity. Is this human absurdity or is there more to it?  Some people look like their pets, and as a 2010 study shows, pets are prone to automatic imitation, which causes them to act increasingly like their owners over time.  Some have even taken to using their pets as their social media profile photos — a literal surrogate for their persona.

enhanced-buzz-22108-1366731082-18Cats and dogs are being used to represent human emotions and experiences, and their popularity is viral. Buzzfeed’s animal page features pet personifications that include “24 Cats That Are So Single Right Now,” and Jimmy Fallon’s “If Puppies Could Vote” segment features adorable puppies dressed in tuxedos and asked to “predict” outcomes, like the Oscars.

But our interest in pet personification is not limited to human events and identities — we’re also increasingly interested in the lives of pets. Kitten Cams (no, really, you should click on this) offer a 24/7 real-time view into the thrilling lives of cats. Tune in and…see which toy they play with, observe their eating habits, and watch them nap.  In other words, it’s “The Real World: Feline Edition.”   It should therefore be no surprise that some of these pets are elevated to celebrity status.  Grumpy Cat, of internet meme fame, appeared on Anderson Cooper’s talk show and was recently “interviewed” by Forbes about his personal “brand monetization” and internet meme trend forecasting.

yhst-86054107059876_2257_113953686The dressed up pet has become so ubiquitous that one no longer flinches at the sight of a schnauzer out for a stroll with sunglasses or a boxer with booties in the park. It can be rather cute, right?  But how much is too much? Pet Halloween costumes run rampant, with some owners including their animals in the slutty Halloween costume trend.  Think a “Born to Ride” Harley Davidson jacket or Juicy Crittoure terry tracksuits and ‘Pawfume’ must be a joke? Think again. Designer duds for pets are rampant, and pet couture is on the rise.  But is a dressed up pet a privilege or punishment? (Many believe it’s the latter.)

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We know why we dress ourselves in a particular style — status, tribal marking, and mating rituals are just a few of the socio-cultural elements that guide our personal aesthetic manipulation.  But what about our pets? What’s the point of their adornment? Transforming our pets into conspicuous consumers does little for their social lives (though I’m sure more than a few people would argue otherwise), but it does say something about us: our dressed up pets are yet another outlet for us to express our personal aspirations and ethos, and as with any visual affectation, publicly communicate.  What does your pet’s image say about you?

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Fashion, pets, sociology, Trends, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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