where to look (aka Societing)

Posted by on Jan 17, 2007 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments


If you haven’t done so yet, you should check out the brilliant Prof Bernard Cova. For the last few years he’s been doing mould breaking stuff which is laying the foundations for Herd-type thinking (and the kind of stuff Faris Gareth and John’s blogs have been throwing up recently)

In particular, he’s been arguing that we’re looking in the wrong place to understand consumption behaviour. We look down at level 2 (through individual’s psychology/psychopathology) or if you’re bonkers in the head (and get easily dazzled by scientific stuff) down at level 1 (the physiological stuff in the brain). Or up at level 4 (aggregated versions of the individual stuff – markets, society etc).

All of which is the wrong place to look because being social creatures, our consumption behaviour (like everything else) is done in front of/with others (real or imagined). So go for the pink, he says: the tribal level…the many shifting ‘tribal’ groups we live out our lives in

I love the way this pushes psychology (the study of individuals) out of the way and creats an intellectual framework for the tools of social science whose tools we’ve been finding so useful in recent years (sociology, anthropology, ethnography). Instead of Marketing, try Societing.

Oh, and it’s great to have a non-anglo saxon voice in the debate. How much of marketing theory is middle clase Northern European?

Allez Bernard!


  1. Jonas
    January 18, 2007

    I suggest that we should go for the pink but don’t forget the individual and the society. I think Cava’s Tribes have a lot in common with Muniz and O’Quinn’s Brand Communities.
    Muniz, A. M. & O´Quinn, T. (2005), Marketing Communications in a World of Consumption and Brand Communities. In: Allan J. Kimmel (ed.), Marketing Communication: New Approaches, Technologies and Styles, Oxford University Press: 63-85
    Muniz, A. M. & O´Quinn, T. (2001), Brand Community, Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 27 March, 412-432

  2. Mark Earls
    January 18, 2007

    I agree.
    Except that Cova makes it clear that most brands aren’t exciting enough to have communities of their own – think we forget this (after all we work for the clients…)
    Instead brands have to more modest and support and facilitate communities that already exist (or create a community around some issue bigger than the silly little brand).
    Granty’s Enthusiasm Marketing is a great attempt to articulate this…

  3. Lee McEwan
    January 18, 2007

    While we’re throwing references about – have you read this paper? I just came across it by accident on WARC seconds after reading your post whilst looking for ethnography case studies…
    From Marketing To ‘Societing’ – Reading ethnographic material through the use of digital matrix and Semiometrie
    Francesco Morace, Tiziana Traldi and Furio Camillo,
    Innovate! Conference, Paris, February 2005
    They don’t seem to be using the concept in the same way however. In fact they seem to consider the concept of societing to be synonymous with listening to consumers. Hmmm. A translation issue perhaps?

  4. Jonas
    January 18, 2007

    I agree with you Mark, we have to be humble, brands aren’t that important for people, and design for community and identification around a bigger issue (somehow connected to the brand) seems to be a good idea. I think that’s what Holt is saying with the idea to present the brand as a resource to bridge the conflict between the individual ambition and the ideology of the society.

  5. Jonas
    January 19, 2007

    Here some more about Holt and “the big issue and enthusiasm thing”…
    I’m starting off with some “truths”, community and identification are inseparable. They are the individual respectively the collective aspect of the identity system.
    There is an ongoing and never ending negotiation between the individual and collective about whom the individual are, where she belongs and what that means.
    That, of course, leads to conflicts between the ambition of the individual and the ideal of the collective.
    And here’s my point, I think that big issues and enthusiasm things, like Dove’s “What’s beauty?”, always are about those conflicts and always involving community and identification.
    In the case of Dove the collective ideal tells us that we have to be beautiful and that’s the individual ambition to. The problem is that the collective ideal not only tell us to be beautiful, it also define what beauty is, and there are many of us who cant keep up to the standard. That’s the conflict.
    Dove addresses that conflict by presenting the idea that there is “Real Beauty” and by taking part of their movement (community) and using their products they offer us the opportunity to be our “True Beautiful Self” (identification). That’s the symbolic resolution.

  6. Mark Earls
    January 19, 2007

    Thanks Jonas, neat stuff.
    Makes a lot of sense.
    But having watched (during my time at Ogilvy) the team that made the original creative and strategic breakthrough on Dove it’s not how they thought about it (and maybe their explanation is more useufl to practitioners than Holt’s).
    Granty’s Enthusiasm marketing idea gets closer to the experience of being involved in the creation of such work: the truth is the women who worked on the brand (for once it was largely women on the team) worked out that the brand had to create somekind ofmeaning if it was to justify its existence. So they dug deep inside themselves to find out something that they really believed in and turned the brand into a vehicle for that…
    Essentially, the campaign says:
    we believe this. If you agree, join us and do something about it…

  7. Jonas
    January 19, 2007

    Thanks Mark. Maybe our views are more alike then it seem.
    I don’t suggest that the Dove-team where working according to some method or explanation of Holt. I think one of the problems with his (and most of the CCT, consumer culture theory) is that it’s quite difficult to translate them into practice. Maybe that’s way we still hold on the more old school theories of psychology.
    What I suggest is one (of many, I guess) explanation of why the Dove campaign works, an explanation of what’s going on with the consumers, as individuals and as a collective. My explanation is that the Dove brand works as a resource for them, to bridge a conflict between the ambition of the individual and the ideal of the collective.
    And I think you can end up with a result as the above without knowing or explicit using any of Holt’s ideas when you doing a campaign.
    But I think (here’s my point) Holt’s ideas maybe give us an explanation about what the “big issues” are, namely conflicts. And it’s much easer to find the next “big issue” to use in a campaign if we know what we looking for.
    I think that the CCT-stuff very well describe what’s going on with brands and people in the social and cultural context, but I’m still struggling with translating it into practice.