Staff Writer: Greta Frusha
Cele Otnes, Professor of Marketing and Professor of Advertising at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign focused her research on ritualistic consumption. This is when a consumer devotes an immense amount of time, money and energy to build dramatic and sometimes even sacred occasions that they believe will enhance their lives socially and emotionally.
Examples of this would be weddings, proms, Christmas, religious milestones, wedding proposals, divorce parties, certain birthday milestones, cultural events, etc. After getting married and buying for a newly acquired family, Otnes decided to explore how different forms of influence, including advertising agencies in Los Angeles CA, shaped consumers’ gift giving behaviors.
In a paper that Otnes co-authored in the Journal of Advertising in 1996, she explored one example that is called “ritual transference”. This is where variants of ritual objects that are associated with one ritual become associated with another. Christmas lights have now transferred over to Halloween lights, Easter lights, St. Patrick’s Day lights and so on. This can be seen now in many gift catalogs that place an emphasis on holiday decorations and decorating.
She has explored how changes in advertising elements for a particular ritual over time reflect the evolution of a ritual in a culture. It was very evident in honeymoon ads from the 1950’s to 2000’s that cultural perspective had changed along with the Los Angeles advertising agency that reflected those changes. DeBeers has relentlessly targeted the American public to convince them that diamond engagement rings are a “must” in all of the goods necessary to create the perfect wedding. DeBeers was even more successful when they targeted Japan with this idea in the 1960s.
There are broader issues with ritualistic giving, like how consumers manage the occasionally overwhelming job of giving gifts. Ritualistic consumption is an incredibly rich boon for the advertising market for several reasons. First, is the amount of archived material and possibly grant monies that are available to support the study of how advertising and ritual intersect. In particular, it is how marketers often use emotion packed ritual symbolism to sell their products. Advertising campaigns that have been archived provide millions of ads that are a rich resource in rituals.
There has been much research in consumer behavior that was focused on the consumer side of rituals, now marketers realize that consumers enjoy participating and co-creating ritual activities while they are actually purchasing products or engaged in purchases. Examples of this would be customers choosing products to go in a Welcome basket or ceremonies when a consumer takes ownership of a product like the delivery of a new car. These can become key components of an advertising strategy that appeals to the ritualistic side of the consumer.
Rituals are essentially a form of communication and so are the elements of the promotion mix. The focus is on specific types of ritual language that marketers employ when they engage in ritualistic behavior of consumers. Marketers actually rely heavily on slogans that they hope will enhance the consumers’ experience.