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How brands tap into societal rituals to instill a sense of normality & grow audiences

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OMD on how brands can tap into consumer behavior to deliver genuine solutions that correspond to societal rituals.

According to US professor of psychology Cristine Legare, there are valid reasons people spend time, money and energy engaging in rituals, especially when confronted with such a seismic event as the global Covid-19 pandemic.

“They are essential to meeting our physical, social and psychological needs in the face of adversity,” she says.

Those brands that were quick to understand this basic human need for emotional regulation and the illusion of control have been able to help people scratch some of those ritualistic itches by focusing on solutions that drive community, belonging, tribalism and happiness routines.

Perhaps the most high-profile example is Peloton, a brand that even before the pandemic was able to charge a premium for an exercise bike, along with a monthly subscription to stream the company’s live and on-demand classes. As more and more people were forced to rethink their everyday rituals of how they live, work, travel and exercise, Peloton thrived by perfecting its connected fitness offer and enabling spin class rituals and routines from a team of instructors, who in some cases have become minor online celebrities.

Fitness fans looking for gym class routines weren’t the only segment to benefit either. Couples looking to replace date nights with lockdown evenings at home didn’t have to give up their relationship rituals, thanks to Box42. Box42 is a subscription box (four two people... see what it did?) that launched during the pandemic to make date nights easy, fun, affordable and meaningful. Boxes contain everything you need to continue date-night rituals at home – a few couples’ activities, snacks and drinks from independent brands, accessories and a playlist to set the mood, plus a guide to take you through the evening.

Caroline Haegeman, founder of Box 42, says: “Part of our mission behind the subscription box was to make date nights a regular occurrence to keep you connected and keep your relationship strong. Our one-off boxes are a great option, but they require you to consciously remember and plan your next date. The subscription takes away all the effort on your part – all you need to do is find one evening a month free to spend quality time with your partner.”

Since Box42 has been keeping alive the spark of lockdown relationships and Peloton hopes to continue disrupting gym rituals with its connected fitness community, other brands have tapped into rituals associated with the festive holidays.

Pret a Manger, for example, offered its Christmas menu five months early to make up for people not being able to buy a turkey sandwich in its stores during 2020, while e-tailer Very kicked off its Christmas 2021 TV advertising campaign on October 1, claiming it had witnessed Christmas-related search terms, both on its own site and via external search engines, on the rise from early August.

When planning or considering a brand media strategy that taps into societal rituals, however, it’s important to understand whether or not your company’s values align with the space you’re proposing to serve, plus whether or not consumers will accept brand involvement as authentic.

Very has used humor to excuse it for promoting the ritual of Christmas shopping even before we’ve had Halloween this year. Its TV ad illustrates the confused reaction of Halloween trick-or-treaters when they arrive at a house already decked out for Christmas. The inhabitants, who are wearing Christmas jumpers and adorning their dog with antler accessories, hand the puzzled witches and vampires a mince pie each as their ‘treat.’

It’s entirely possible that the online retailer is trying to stay one step ahead of any potential logistic challenges or fuel shortage chaos, which may re-occur during the more traditional buying season. But its ‘Very Best Excuses’ ad is sticking to the line that many people are planning much further ahead for the festive period and it’s unashamedly supporting them, while acknowledging the absurdity of the situation in an authentic, light-hearted way.

As we’ve witnessed during the pandemic, however, when life gives you lemons, people will always adapt, providing ample opportunity for brands to drive consumer behavior against a fast-moving societal backdrop.

The key though is authenticity, and being able to pinpoint a genuine solution aligned to how consumers view your brand. One that will uphold societal rituals, whatever life throws at us.

For more insight into re-evaluating media trends from the past 18 months, read OMD Connections’ Reset 2021 report here.

Emma Ramsay, head of research and insight at OMD EMEA.

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