BBDO's study, with the gothic title "The Ritual Masters," defines rituals as actions that "move people emotionally from one place to another."
It deems brands that are embedded in rituals "Fortress Brands" because once ensconced in peoples' ritual lives--brushing teeth, buying a beer, or shaving, for example--people are unlikely to remove them.
The study, which took nine months, involved ethnographic research in 26 countries, 2,500 hours of documented and filmed behavior, quantitative feedback from more than 5,000 people, and interviews with psychologists, nutritionists and sociologists. Despite the study's breadth, it found that people tend to adopt the same broadly defined rituals.
In fact, BBDO's study focused on five rituals performed most often by most people on Earth: "preparing for battle," which for most of us means girding our loins for work; "feasting" or eating meals with family or friends; sexual rituals; "returning to camp" and "protecting oneself for the future."
Per the study, the ritual with the most elements is the first, "preparing for battle," which includes brushing teeth, taking a shower or bath, having something to eat/drink, talking to a family member/partner, checking e-mail, shaving, putting on makeup, watching TV/listening to radio, and reading a newspaper.
The study found that 89% of people resort to the same brands for these sequenced rituals, and three out of four people become disappointed/irritated when their sequence is disrupted or their brand of choice is not available.
When a ritual is "jammed" with various idiomatic steps, there are more opportunities for marketers to find a niche for their brands. Tracy Lovatt, director of behavioral planning for BBDO New York and BBDO North America, says such rituals are also hard to crack because consumers are rushed, and at such times, are already full of sequences of activities.
One of the architects of the study, Lovatt says brands that succeed in becoming parts of people's ritualistic behavior are those that create product, positioning, packaging, advertising and promotions that address both the specific ritual and the underlying function behind it, if there is one.
"If you can embed yourself--if you can be a useful element--in that particular behavior, it's very hard to move you out of that, whether it's a functional thing like brushing one's teeth, or a completely emotional routine. The question for marketers is: 'Can I own that, can I be part of that?' "
She pointed to Kit Kat bar as a brand that emotionally wedding itself to a ritualistic "feasting moment." "It didn't become about having to have something because you're hungry; it linked itself into a moment: this is a brand that will give you a Kit Kat break at 11 a.m. Starbucks is another brand that has done that."