How brands ceremonialize consumption to make it a rite

Traditional taste and smell enhancers, celebrity advice, coherence with a person’s image—all this can make the product, both eatable or not, more attractive to a consumer. But there’s also another thing that can make virtually any product on the market more attractive. This magic non-physical intensifier is a ritual, which adds a new enjoyable dimension to the process of consuming a product.Rites can be part of a consistent marketing strategy and the brand’s image, or may emerge unexpectedly from one of the brand’s commercials. How do commercial labels use this to heighten excitement of connecting with their items? How to develop a ritual that will live through decades? How do brands benefit from their own rituals? Find it out below.

Rituals make people enjoy the product more

As it turns out, rites of consumption also intensify the likeness of non-branded products as well, but it’s more interesting to see how businesses harness the people’s behavioral patterns to make a consumer more excited about their products. The latest research “Rituals Enhance Consumption” published in Psychological Science journal and covered in The New York Times reveals that ritualized gestures make our food more flavorful, and we can trace this effect across non-food categories as well.

The study defines rituals as “a series of behaviors that are seemingly irrelevant to the act that follows.” One of the experiments carried out as part of the study reveals that a simple action like knocking a table or taking a deep breath before eating baby carrots makes them taste better. Another experiment shows that the pause between performing a certain irrelevant “liturgy” and consuming the product heightens the anticipation of the food. Additionally, the research discovered that only the performer of the rite enhances the joy of consuming the product, and nothing changes for the people who watch it.

What’s more interesting, the participants of the experiments who performed a ritual before eating a chocolate bar stated that they were even ready to pay on average extra 25 cents for it. They also savored it longer than their fellows in the non-ritual group. In other words, people who ceremonialize their consumption acts are likely to give more money for the product and enjoy it more than products that don’t encourage any extra behaviors during consumption.

In fact, these findings are nothing new to anthropologists and psychologists. Setting a table for a dinner makes the food taste better, morning coffee is more enjoyable than a dinner one, birthday cake with candles is just fabulous compared to a regular brownie, etc. But it’s interesting to see how brands leverage this game of a human mind.

Simple acts morphed into branded rituals

Most of consumption rituals are driven by a common sense—they emerged from efficient behaviors, acts that enhance the taste, texture, comfort of consumption, etc. from a practical point of view. After analyzing the consumer’s behaviors and behavioral choices, a range of brands offer rituals that live through years. Some of the rites even became ubiquitous and got adopted by all brands in the niche. Here’s the list of some rituals offered by consumer brands:

Oreo—separate the cookies, lick the cream and then eat the cookies, or dunk it into the milk—»twist,» «lick,» «dunk»;
Wispa—keep a piece of the porous milk chocolate in the mouth until you feel the soft bubbles melt;
Corona—put a piece of lime into the bottle’s neck;
KitKat—break the sticks into halves (eaten in a lunch break);
Pringles—pop off the cap of the long tube pack;
Moleskine—sketch your creativity, plan and document your life on paper;
Stella Artois—9-step pouring ritual;
Nutella—spread onto a white bread, consumed only in the morning;
Tiffany—if going to make a proposal, choose the engagement ring at Tiffany; and more.

Some behavioral patterns have become universal across all the assortment of the products: for instance, it’s generally believed that any chewing gum tastes better when you take two pieces (not one, which is actually also OK), you’re expected to fold a piece of pizza, squeeze a long toothpaste “tail” (instead of a pie-sized amount) onto the toothbrush, grab a hot coffee in a plastic or paper cup on your way to work, enjoy beer in a company, and many more.

Interestingly enough, low-cost and mass market brands rather than luxury brands have developed rituals of consumption. Food manufacturers are dominating here, with a little inclusion of personal care brands.

Pic: Advertisments highlighting brands’ rituals: Stella Artois, Tiffany, Nutella (click to enlarge)

Four key characteristics of powerful, viable rituals

Rituals are usually associated with something religious. Some experiments conducted using the MRI scanner reveal that the brand’s products shown to its fans simulate the same parts of their brain as religious symbol shown to religions’ adepts. With «brandism» being the faith of our day, it’s quite natural that consumer labels invent their own rites to strengthen the ties with shoppers and make a regular act of consumption truly exceptional.

Back in 2011, Jon Howard, Planning director at Quiet Storm, figured out six key characteristics of a good brand rite. It should be: discovered (based on behaviors that already exist), consistent (remain unchanged through decades), iconic (integrate symbolism), relevant (be truly rewarding and effective), easy, and shareable.

Based on these suggestions and inspirations from the latest marketing efforts by brands, here come the guidelines for coining a viable brand rite:

1. Extract it from real life. Investigate what people typically do when use the product, make the consumption more comfortable and efficient. What do they associate this process with? What do the culture and new trends dictate? Brands have to find the way to amplify these purposeful living rituals, not to invent some synthetic patterns that are hard to be integrated into a customer’s daily routine.

2. Create simple and consistent rituals, tied to time, occasion or place. Do not overegg the pudding. The behaviors you create should be easy to perform and hard to forget. They should be easily established in the public’s consciousness. For this, brands are to repeat the rites across all the advertising formats available. Ceremonialized behavior is usually tied to some occasions, locations and time—like it is with Nutella, the morning spread, or Subway with its Sub of the Day offerings, using Kleenex when you’ve got a cold, etc. Another important thing here is to keep the ritual unchanged for as long as it’s possible.

3. Embed the brand’s philosophy into the ritualized behavior. The idea of the “branded” behavioral pattern should mirror the ethos of the product and, ideally, relate to sustainable and meaningful social behavior. For instance, Levi’s called its fans not to wash their jeans often in a bid to save more water, and shared unconventional ways to keeps the jeans clean.

Coining new rituals that sync with the brand and the people’s culture is a smart thing to do—it can both enhance loyalty to the brand and seed positive sustainable habits across consumers (if the action is developed with eco and social good in mind).

Four ways brands can benefit from establishing rituals

As discovered above, it helps to enhance the product’s physical characteristics in a consumer’s mind and it makes a person part of some particular group. It can also enhance loyalty to the brand and seed positive sustainable habits across consumers. Rituals can do good to a brand because they:

1. Build lasting connections between the product and a customer. An adopted ritual is an anchor that emotionally binds you to the product. It enhances loyalty and helps the brand become part of a consumers’ life for as long as they stick to the rite.

2. Stimulate sustainable behaviors. Today, a vast majority of brands aim to be green, good to communities, etc. By imposing a behavioral pattern that includes a sustainable twist, brands add to their positive image and motivate people to adopt healthier and nature-friendly choices, which in general helps make the world a better place to live. People make waves with their behavior.

rs within their communities—non-doers see the rituals performed and might want to mirror them. The more positive the example is, the better.

3. Help consumers feel part of a certain group. Performing a ritual is expected to produce a feeling of unity and belonging to some particular subculture. In general, that’s behind the ideology of any brand—allowing a person to use the products to reinforce his or her own image, make a statement, signal about “belonging” to a certain group. Actions with a ritualized pattern can be performed alone, not in groups—but people around can easily decode this message and understand that the performer belongs to a certain group.

4. Inspire new products within the brand’s range. For instance, earlier this year Facebook teamed up with HTC to produce the Facebook Home software, tapping into consumers’ habit to check their Facebook home page when they activate a smartphone. The IKEA retailer, providing goods for home comfort, leverages the customers’ habit to shop at its stores with spouses and children. In a bid to make family shopping more comfortable for families, the retailer launched recreational zones for babies and husbands.

Flip through a 94-page slide presentation titled «Ritualising your brand: how establishing meaningful, ownable behavior can create lasting loyalty and value» created by Jon Howard to get a deeper insight into why and how commercial labels coin cunsumption rites.

Rituals put a story behind the act of consumption, make it stand out among other similar actions. While brands usually use rites to popularize their product and make people stick to it for as long as possible, potentially they also can ritualize sustainable behaviors and healthier lifestyle choices while building stronger emotional ties. For instance, brands can invent a new pattern for the act of sending the packaging to a recycling bin or encourage people work out before and after eating a burger or drinking soda (Coca-Cola is doing something like this with its new ads).

About the Author
Anna Rudenko is News Editor and Features Writer at Popsop, where she covers philanthropy, future technology and the environmental pulse of the globe. She is an art films aficionado, crafter, avid vegetarian, and sustainability enthusiast who does her best to bring positive change into the world around.