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Global study of consumer rituals

A global study by BBDO Worldwide offers marketers insight into the everyday routine of people across the globe - the commonplace rituals that consumers embrace on a daily basis in their lives. The study, entitled ‘The Ritual Masters', is the most extensive research project ever undertaken by BBDO.

Conducted by BBDO Worldwide and by Net#work in South Africa, the study was designed to better understand rituals and the role they play in people's lives. It was nine months in the making, involving ethnographic research across 26 countries, 2500 hours of documented and filmed behavior, quantitative feedback from more than 5000 people and interviews with psychologists and sociologists.

“With Rituals we were focused on behavior, both as a source of insight and for defining goals and strategies,” said Andrew Robertson president and CEO of BBDO Worldwide, who is in South Africa introducing the study to Net#work BBDO's clients. “The idea here is to look at rituals as an important behaviour in consumers' lives, to understand what they are, how they work and how to work our clients' brands into them. We usually look at behaviour through the lens of a brand or a category. This is an extra lens to look through and not an alternative."

According to the BBDO study, rituals are a defined series of actions that move people emotionally from one place to another. Rituals are sequences that are developed over time. Rituals make people feel good. While there may be bad habits, there are no bad rituals.

It was BBDO's going-in belief that by better understanding rituals, new insights might be uncovered that could change behaviour and unlock business-building ideas. For example, those brands that are already embedded inside a ritual enjoy great “stickiness” with consumers. These are called “Fortress Brands.” The goal of the BBDO study was to uncover insights that could help move clients' brands inside.

‘We are more alike than different'

“What we found is that people are more alike than different, which is great news for marketers,” remarked Clive Evans, strategic director for Net#work, who conducted the study across South Africa. “Emotionally, rituals are critical to people everywhere in the world. They help transform us from one emotional state to another, for example, from your private sleepy self every morning to your ‘warrior ready to take on the world' self. We all repeat a series of steps to help us make that transformation. What varies from country to country is the execution.”

As a result, the BBDO study focused on the five rituals that are performed most often by most people throughout the world. These include:

  1. Preparing for battle: transforming us from the cocoon to “ready to face the day”.
  2. Feasting: the pleasure of eating that “reunites us with our tribes,” transforming us from alone to connected.
  3. Sexing up: a highly pleasurable and indulgent ritual, though not without stress (particularly for women), that transforms us from our everyday selves to our most fabulous selves.
  4. Returning to camp: that moment when we unwind and exhale, transforming us from tense to relaxed.
  5. Protecting yourself for the future: that last ritual of the day that moves us from relaxed to feeling safe and secure before the next day comes around

Preparing for Battle

The busiest and most tightly sequenced ritual of the day, “preparing for battle”, includes an average of over seven steps in less than one hour. These are functional, sequential steps that get people ready for the outside world. The most common task is brushing teeth (performed by 82% of people around the world), followed by taking a shower or bath (74%), having something to eat/drink (74%), talking to a family member/partner (54%), checking email (54%), shaving (male - 53%), putting on makeup (female - 47%), watching TV/listening to radio (45%) and reading a newspaper (38%).

Importantly, 89% of people rely on the same brands when performing this sequence, and three out of four people become disappointed and irritated when their sequence is disrupted or their brand of choice is not available. That's because the morning ritual is all about being prepared and gaining control in order to face the day.

From a global perspective, the Chinese are the most regimented (96% have a sequence compared to the global average of 79%) and the US is the most brand loyal (94% versus the global average of 82%). Brazilians brush their teeth most often (94% versus the global average of 82%) and South Africans were not far off at 92%. The Japanese shower and bathe the least (only 27% versus the global average of 74%). Another interesting finding is seniors have the highest rate of email usage (64% versus the global average of 54%).

Bottom line: The preparing for battle ritual is the biggest-volume opportunity for brands, but also the ritual that is most entrenched and most jammed.

Feasting is more than Christmas

A physical and mental meeting of the group marks the start of a feast. It is an emotional transformation that goes from feeling alone, to being connected to a group. People let go of other things and bond. Sharing is at the core of this ritual. Everyone is expected to bring something to the table (literally or figuratively).

Americans are most likely to meet in a restaurant, whereas the Spanish and French are most likely to meet at home. The car has become a sizable dining venue for the Saudis, Chinese and Americans, with anywhere from 10 to 12% of people eating in their cars (versus the global average of 7%).

During a week period 28% of South Africans eat 7+ meals at home, while as many as 24% had not eaten at home. Twenty six percent had eaten 1 - 2 meals in a fast food restaurant and the majority of South Africans (72%) didn't eat at a restaurant.

Bottom line: In many parts of the world (not SA) convenience may have gone too far. It's important that people also feel a sense of involvement in the preparation of a meal. It's part of the emotional transformation.

Sexing up

Globally, people say that sex is spontaneous (78%), yet, 33% say 10pm to midnight is the “hot time of the day” and over 50% wait for the weekend (Friday/Saturday/Sunday) for sex. The Chinese are most likely to have “appointment sex” (41% versus the 9% global average). So maybe sex isn't as spontaneous as people like to think. When South Africans were asked whether they have sex on the same days of the week over half (52%) preferred not to answer, 39 % said no and only 9% said yes.

Preparation starts days before going out. Some call and talk about the evening ahead; teenage girls photo message pictures of their outfits for approval and reassurance. People eat and drink luxury foods, forget diets and treat themselves.

Bottom line: When “sexing up,” people are transforming from their normal to most confident selves. They use special products to make themselves feel special.

Returning to camp

At the opposite end of the spectrum from “preparing for battle” is “returning to camp.” This is the moment when people exhale. It lasts an average of four hours and includes fewer than five steps - quite a difference from the more than seven behaviors that are crammed into an hour at the start of the day.

Winding down typically begins around 8pm, in South Africa a little earlier. 19% of South Africans tend start to unwind between 5 - 6 pm, 27% between 6 - 7pm and 17% between 7 - 8pm. All over the world, people demonstrate they have ended their day by changing elements of their clothes - from kicking off shoes to changing into pajamas. Two out of three people let go with media (66% watch TV in the evening); one out of five read a newspaper; more than one-third go online, many bath or shower, which is a particularly popular activity among Brazilians (85% versus the global average of 48%). Almost half of all people take something to read with them into the loo. Brazilians and Chinese read the most; Italians multitask. Few Americans (only 27%) are able to create alone time - or time for oneself. 59% of South Africans set aside “me time”.

Bottom line: there is an opportunity for those brands that can contribute to a sense of relaxation, calm, self-satisfaction and at ease.

Husbands and fathers take “Protecting Yourself” seriously

The final ritual, and the shortest one, is protecting yourself for the future. This can take the form of leaving packed bags by the door, laying out clothes for the next day, turning off computers, pouring a glass of water, taking your medication or setting the alarm. To husbands and fathers, the day is not complete until they've checked on kids and pets or locked doors and windows.

Sequence matters the least because this is a time to let go: less than 50% of people have a sequence to end their day. Yet, more than 50% use the same products when ending the day. And four out of five people become irritated when their products are not available - levels comparable to preparing for battle.

Bottom line: brands play an important role in the ritual of helping someone feel safe and secure and protected for the future.

What next?

According to Keith Shipley, BBDO SA CEO, there is an opportunity for brands to become more emotionally connected with consumers through understanding the transformation that is taking place in any given ritual and the role that a brand can play in that transformation. “Implications can take the form of packaging to positioning, advertising, promotions and product development,” he says.

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