Advertising Cultures

By Timothy Dewaal Malefyt; Brian Moeran | Go to book overview

8
Psychology vs Anthropology: Where is
Culture in Marketplace Ethnography?
Patricia L. Sunderland and Rita M. Denny

‘Ethnography, which involves observation techniques, in-depth interviewing, and using tape or video to record people in their natural settings, is gaining ground in market research, supplying detailed information on customers that other qualitative research techniques don't provide, experts say.’

Michele Worth Fellman, Marketing Research

‘These days, with the media world grown as fragmented as the American demographic map, the sales fantasy du jour is anthropology.’

Thomas Frank, Harper's Magazine

As anthropologists who make their living conducting consumer research for corporate clients, we have benefited from ethnography ‘gaining ground’ and anthropology's status as ‘sales fantasy dujour.’ We work for advertising agencies or manufacturers (‘clients’) conducting research that leads them to relevant and resonant ways to market their products or services, or to develop new ones. In the past few years we have conducted research on cars and refrigerators, Internet sites and Internet appliances, luxury and more mundane package goods including beer and frozen dinners, healthcare and financial services. Across this range of assignments we have seen attention shift from the focus group room to the living room. We have had requests to carry out research in people's homes, to interview them and to watch them cook, to go with them in their minivans, to observe them in stores, to shop with them for shoes. Clients do call us and say, ‘we need ethnography’ and ‘we want an anthropologist.’ The specific request and the general call for ethnography and anthropologists would lead one to expect that the request is for a cultural understanding of brands, products or services in everyday life. (At least it does us. Isn't that what we do as anthropologists?) Sometimes we are charged with providing a distinctly cultural understanding. Too frequently, however, the questions the client or advertiser would like to address are not anthropological – which is to say, cultural. Rather they are distinctly psychological.

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