Cultural Relevance to Marketing Decisions

It has long been recognized that culture influences consumers. For example, as early as 1949 it was observed that all the activities in which people engage are culturally determined and that nearly all purchases of goods are made either to provide physical comfort or to implement the activities that make up the life of a culture. Thus, an understanding of culture enables the marketer to interpret the reaction of consumer to alternative marketing strategies. Sometimes guidance from cultural anthropologists (social scientists who study people and their culture) is sought in order to again a better understanding of the market.

Anthropologists are able to assist the marketer in understanding how culture is reflected in individuals and in society. The following are such manifestations of culture:

National character or the differences that distinguish one national group fro another. These are the obvious as well as the more subtle cultural differences that distinguish Americans, Swedes, Germans and Brazilians.

Differences in subcultures such as blacks, Jews, and Hispanics:

The silent language of gesture, posture, food and drink preferences is non-verbal clues to behavior.

The significance of symbols in a society: The science of semiotics provides a structure for studying and analyzing how signs (anything that conveys meaning) function within a culture. Advertising is a prime example of using semiotics to invest products with meaning for a culture whose dominant focus is consumptions.

Taboos, or prohibitions in a culture relating to various things such as the use of a given color, phrase or symbol?

Ritualized activities in which people participated at home, work, or play, both as individuals ad as members of a group. Such behavior is expressive and symbolic occurs in a fixed episode sequence, and tends to be repeated over time. Rites of passage are ritual events marking significant points in a person’s life s that person passes from one status to another as in graduation marriage, retirement and death.

Anthropologists have also helped marketers recognize that consumer goods have a significant ability to carry and communicate cultural meaning. This occurs through a process in which cultural meaning is drawn from a particular cultural world and is transferred to a consumer good through advertising and the fashion system and then from these goods into the life of the individual consumer through certain consumption rituals. The following scenario illustrates the pervasiveness in modern life of ritual behavior as an important part of our culture.

It is 3:29 am. Harvey Reeves fell asleep over two hours ago, David Letterman’s second guest, and his television set is still on. The station is now signing off with the national anthem.

In a few hours, Harvey awakes to the sound of an electronic household alarm and, like millions of other individuals performs a personal ritual that transports him from the land of Nod to the office. First Harvey shuffles into the kitchen to start the coffee. Then he turns on the radio. In about ten minutes he’s through with the newspaper and into the shower. Harvey is spending a little more time grooming these days and has just recently added a skin moisturizer to his morning routine. At 7: 03 he turns on his phone-mate exist his apartments and slips into his 300-ZX and onto the freeway. En route to work Harvey attends an early mass at St Vincent’s and afterward mails a birthday card to his Aunt Helen.

At the office the morning is particularly trying because of interminable negotiations with a Japanese business team. The highly formal and slow paced Japanese bargaining style is driving Harvey crazy. Lunch is a real snooze: a retirement luncheon for the head of the accounting department. Harvey’s attention begins to wander. What am I going to buy Mother for Christmas? Will we stay in town or go someplace? After an afternoon of formal personnel reviews Harvey begins to think about his blind date tonight.

He meets Susan at the Red Onion for an early getting to know you, dinner, then they drive to the sports arena to drink beer shake their pompons, shout Defense! Defense! for two hours and watch the Los Angeles Clippers. Susan decides that Harvey is a bore, so the basket ball game is followed by the awkward rituals of social disengagement.

Preparing for bed, Harvey does his fifty sit ups pumps some iron, and consumes a bowl of cereal during ‘The Tonight Show’. Across town, Susan sets her hair and her alarm clock, applies a facial mask says her prayers and falls asleep with Agatha Christie

The activities described above are associated with various types of rituals: media, patriotic, household, grooming, religious, gift giving, business, eating, rite of passage, holiday, romantic, athletic and bedtime. Notice how much ritual behavior often also involves significant aspects of consumer behavior processes in obtaining goods and services, exchanging them, or using and disposing of them. Consumption has been interpreted as the essential ritual of modern life.