Monthly Archives: July 2012

Chic-Fil-A Throws A Brand Strategy Curve Ball : But Will Consmers Come Out Swinging?


What an interesting dilemma the folks at Chic-Fil-A have put consumers in. They have publicly expressed a very polarizing point of view on social hot-topic: Gay Marriage.

In case you haven’t heard: they are not in the equal rights camp.

Rather, the CEO of the company has come out publicly on several occasions letting America know that they believe in the biblical definition of marriage…although they treat all of their employees and customers with the utmost respect.

The consumer anthropologist and the brand strategist in me are both equally fascinated by this scenario. As an observer and analyst of consumer culture, I am glued to the Facebook and twitter feeds and so curious to see how consumers react to this uncommon ground that has been stabbed to death by a company known for cutesy advertising using mischievous cows and also for being active members and supporters of the local communities where they operate. They are also known for not being open on Sundays because they are observing Christian traditions. All of these things being their previous public persona, they have been a strong presence in the fast food game and have remained an Icon in the Southern U.S., where they hail from.

The brand strategist in me is also intensely curious as to how their decision will play out in the court of “share of wallet”. Typically speaking, It is really important these days for a brand / company to have a point of view and a set of ideals that differentiates them and connects them to consumer’s hearts, minds and wallets. This means not just having a distinct personality and perspective on our human condition / their role in improving our lives, but also walking the walk. MOST Brands will find some sort of positive point of view to hang their hats on. In this case, Chic-Fil-A chose something decidedly negative and divisive. Such an atypical move for a mainstream brand.

What Chic-Fil-A has done is lay down a challenge to our American Ideals of free speech and free enterprise. It has also put consumers in a precarious position: forcing them to choose how important their convictions are to them when it comes to how they make purchase decisions. If you have checked your Facebook page lately you will notice a lot of action: lots of liberals talking about the conundrum of free speech and the fact that while they don’t agree with Chic-Fil-A’s point of view, they still don’t think it’s fair to deny them the right to do business (like they are trying to do in Chicago). Then there are those who are admitting they are closet patrons and feel bad about it, but can’t resist the MSG-filled tastiness of their favorite Chicken Sammiches. And of course there are those left-wingers who have sworn off the chain entirely to vote with their wallets in expressing their disagreement. Finally, there are those on the religious “right” side who are cheering on the fast food chain and encouraging others to “like” them. And I know more than a few people who have “unfriended” a few folks because of their unexpected fervor for fighting against gay marriage with chicken nuggets.

My opinion? I think everyone deserves a right to enter into a legally binding commitment to another human being. Will I eat at Chic-Fil-A again? No…but I avoid most fast food anyway because MSG makes me crazy. Do I think cities like Chicago should ban Chic-Fil-A from doing business: no. Let consumers decide if they want to support their business or not. The philosopher in me sides with the likes of Voltaire: whilst I disagree with the chicken-sandwich-giant’s point of view, I will fight for their right to express it. However, I will also be very vocal in discouraging anyone I care about from spending a penny at their restaurants.

And that’s the exciting part about this situation…a very unique one in our modern, liberal age. As brand strategists and consumer anthropologists we have been talking about the trend in consumer empowerment and how Brands must be fearless in staying true to who they are and expressing their ideals. But what happens when they express an unpopular opinion? Will they sink to the bottom of the performance pile or will apathy allow them to float by unscathed?

I suppose the numbers will tell…and i will be watching with an Eagle eye….

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An Anthropologist In Context


I am an anthropologist.

I am a participant observer of this culture we call humankind.

I collect context and derive its meaning.

I attempt to communicate that meaning with empathy.

I do this to contribute to the advancement of human understanding.

I do this to earn a living.

I do this as a passion.

Doing this enhances and advances my other passions.

As with any human my context defines me.

I am an anthropologist.

Wellbeing Trends: The Values Bubble


Quality of Life

Quality of Life (Photo credit: angrywayne)

A couple of posts ago I had shared some of my “raw” thoughts on well being trends that I had given to a friend of a friend for a piece she was writing. It has turned out to be a series addressing a number of macro trends related to well-being, and she has done a good job of curating my “mess” of feedback along with some others.

The topic of her most recent piece is on how consumer values have shifted to increase our focus on well being. Namely, the monumental shift from mid century America to where we are now, driven by trends in communication technology that have allowed us to as a human populace to regularly interact wtih old and new points of veiw and see how the “other” lives in a way that is complimentary or detrimental to our own lifestyles…thus allowing us to practice more informed curation of values.

You can read Renee Morefield’s article in Marmapoints here:
http://marmapoints.org/features/317-good-health-is-trending

Defining The Focus and End Goal of Applying Consumer Anthropology: Companies, Brands and Products


As a part of training and development for Consumer Anthropology at Northstar, I have been putting together a “handbook” / training guide to help researchers (both green and seasoned) understand the role 0f this practice area and how it is applied.

In the spirit of beginning with the end in mind, It was important for me to make sure to include a foundation in philosophy and theory as well as in the definition of those social agents that impact and are impacted by consumers:  The company, the brand and products.

So, I started by taking to the academic publications and then turned loose on LinkedIn, posing the questions to practicing academic and private sector anthropologists.

Here is where I netted out, but of course welcome a continued conversation in the spirit of constant evolution:

A Company is a functional collection of humans within our culture

Company is what Malinowski calls “an institution” in the broader anthropological and sociological sense. It is the basic unit in a socio/cultural system. Its product(s) is its function(s) in and contribution to in a larger system. Since a company is a human institution it could be sole proprietor of an ice cream stand with  three ice cream flavors as the, or Goldman-Sachs, with the financial system of United States of America as its product.

Products are the outputs of human ingenuity and are definitive part of human culture

“As for the term “product,” it is the output of a company. It requires the transformation of raw materials (physical, human, or intellectual) into something that has value in the marketplace”.  – Barry Bainton

“A third part of our definition of culture is “products.” Human thought and behavior often lead to the production of material artifacts or tools. In this people are not alone; other forms of life also make and use simple tools. Birds make nests; some ants use sticks as prods; caged monkeys use sticks to get bananas. But in transmitting knowledge to successive generations so that it becomes cumulative, humans are distinctive. And as human knowledge and technology grow, human tools become increasingly complex, and growing bodies of information stimulate an even more rapid rate of expansion”.   – http://home.snu.edu/~hculbert/points.htm

A Brand is an IDEA, completely dependent on collective culture’s interaction with and perceptions of products and companies

“A brand is a process of attaching an idea to a product. Decades ago that idea might have been strictly utilitarian: trustworthy, effective, a bargain. Over time, the ideas attached to products have become more elaborate, ambitious and even emotional. This is why, for example, current branding campaigns for beer or fast food often seem to be making some sort of statement about the nature of contemporary manhood. If a product is successfully tied to an idea, branding persuades people — consciously or not — to consume the idea by consuming the product. Even companies like Apple and Nike, while celebrated for the tangible attributes of their products, work hard to associate themselves with abstract notions of nonconformity or achievement. A potent brand becomes a form of identity in shorthand.  – Walker, Rob.  2006.  The Brand Underground.  New York Times, July 30, 2006

A ‘brand’ is much like an ‘imagined community,’ a symbolic cluster that’s partially created by the company & its partners (advertisers, PR) and partially created by the consumer community (both those who invest in the brand and those who avoid it)”. –  Greg Downey, Macquarie University

At the end of our work day, the study of consumer culture involves the study of companies, brands and products alongside thw culture of consumption.  Ultimately, however, the benefactors of that work are also the same objects of study.   It is because all three of these are intensely human in nature and driven by culture.  We explore the context of that culture to bring meaning and meaningful change to the way we do business and the way we “consume” our world.