I believe in the importance of rituals. Earlier this week, CNN wrote about the link between things we ritually buy and how those items often signify the change of seasons. The article digs into the need for this type of buying ritual, like the pumpkin spice latte craze. Making the connection between those lattes and ritual removes some of the mystery for me about why people love them (even though I still think they taste awful.)
Maybe it’s not the pumpkin spice latte that people are truly in love with; maybe it’s fall. It’s the change of season, the cooler weather, the anticipation of the upcoming holidays, and the fact that they get to pull their red cowboy boots out of storage. (Perhaps that last one is just me.) Maybe, the ritual of drinking that first pumpkin spice latte signifies to coffee drinkers that they’re ushering in fall with all it’s enjoyment and comfort.
Dr. Katherine Sredl, assistant professor in the Department of Marketing at the University of Notre Dame, studies consumption and seasonality. She’s found that consumers are good at placing products inside of rituals. Back-to-school shoe shopping, pumpkin spice lattes and Christmas shopping— when seasonal buying rituals like these go well, we get good emotional feelings.
This makes sense to me. Just last night my family had our first chicken pot pie of the season. I don’t make the dish between May and August. It’s not a warm weather food; it’s a cooler weather food.
When my 12-year-old came in from playing at the park and got a whiff of the dinner, which had just come out of the oven, he was elated. He said he loves it when it’s chicken pot pie season. I do, too.
Yes, the chicken pot pie is tasty, but it’s more than that. It’s the symbolism of the first one of the season, the ritual of eating something warm and savory on a chilly night that brings good emotional feelings.
It’s good to understand the link between rituals and the changing of seasons, and it’s also wise to understand that marketers are aware of this, too. They study it. I’m reminded of a piece that I wrote six years ago about back-to-school spending. At that time, the average college freshman was spending $1,285 on new items to furnish a dorm room. Part of that stemmed from stores like Target and Kohls creating dorm room furnishing sections. They also began advertising the concept that buying all new stuff for a dorm room is an experience that parents and incoming freshmen should have together.
Marketers made that shopping experience a much bigger deal than it had been before, and it seems to now be an accepted ritual — an expensive, marketer-created, accepted ritual. I think it’s smart to recognize that marketers want to create rituals that make us feel good, not because they're concerned about our emotional well-being but because they want to sell us stuff. Once we're aware, we can make sure that we aren't letting advertising dictate our rituals.
I certainly don’t want marketers creating my rituals. Do you want them creating yours?
Related on MNN:
- Can't get it at Starbucks? Make your own pumpkin spice latte
- How to create new family traditions
- Should marketing ever be targeted at children, even for healthy foods?