Birthday celebrations typically include the ritual of gathering around the cake, lighting the candles, fabulously off-key singing, blowing out the candles, cutting and finally eating the cake. New psychological research from Harvard and Minnesota business schools suggests that this ritual not only makes the experience memorable but may also improve the taste of the cake.
In their experiments the delay between ritual and consumption positively boosted the subjective taste of the food. Now we can understand how clever Guinness is in making us wait at the bar for its lengthy pour and telling us that ‘Good things come to those who wait’.
However, another experiment showed that performing a ritual oneself is more effective than watching someone else perform it, so ideally we should be pulling our own pints of Guinness. Stella Artois advertised its 9 step ritual which requires a plumbline and a head cutter that looks like a dagger. This started as a way of emphasising the craftsmanship of the beer and as a ritual to be performed by the barman. Advertising now concentrates on just one part of the ritual – the ‘beheading’ – with the double entendre ‘ A cut above’, using what could be a standard kitchen knife – thus transforming it into a ritualised action that is easily performed by the drinker himself. Similarly, some smart beer and cider brands have adopted the foil, wire and metal cap closure of Champagne. While their first thought may have been to signify the premium nature of the product, a secondary benefit is the incorporation of a longer, more ritualistic opening and heightened involvement, anticipation and pleasure. The experiments confirmed one reason rituals enhance flavour and enjoyment is their ability to focus people’s interest on the ensuing consumption.
As consumers increasingly look for and are engaged by brand experience, creating a compelling ritual for your brand has a number of additional advantages:
- It helps differentiate your brand in an increasingly homogenised world full of similar, competing offers. Perhaps the best known drinks example is the addition of a slice of lime to the neck of each and every Corona bottle. It not only differentiates Corona but delivers a taste benefit and triggers an emotional connection with the world of sunny tropical beaches.
- Rituals are symbolic, woven into our cultural, social and religious lives, and the actions create affinity towards the brand and a reason to revisit and replay the brand experience. This way brand loyalty can be built – a ritual act can create neural pathways that reinforce habit and relevance. Mumm’s website has ‘100 Protocoles’, a complete guide to Champagne etiquette. Not just a way of educating new consumers how best to enjoy drinking Champagne, it associates the showy sabring ritual with the brand.
- Belonging to a group, a feeling of unity and being part of a sub culture, can also be engendered by the sharing of a ritual. How often do we behave like sheep in an on-trade situation? “What will you have?” “Oh I’ll have that too”. How much more binding this is when there is a brand ritual to be shared as well.
- Curiosity can be raised by seeing others taking part. Rituals can drive behaviour towards a brand. At its simplest this could be serving a brand in particular glassware. When Peroni created its distinctive tall glass it almost certainly had visibility in mind and also its eye on female consumers who are often turned off by more masculine style glasses.
One of our favourites is the Coca Cola sharing can. A two piece can introduced in Singapore earlier this year, it needs to be twisted to break it into the two individual components. It is impressively ‘on brand’ – part of a host of activities by Coca Cola to support its ‘sharing happiness’ brand purpose. This new ritual caught consumers’ attention and, within a couple of days of a promotional video of the activity going live, Twitter and Facebook were buzzing with favourable pictures, video shares, comments and blogs. It also has the advantage of creating two small serves of just 115ml each – a potential response to those who criticise soft drinks as a cause of obesity. I wonder if this new pack was inspired by existing consumer behaviour of sharing a can of Coke – often the best rituals come from inherent consumer behaviour. Which leads me back to my title…
‘Twist, lick and dunk’ is the ritual associated with Oreo biscuits. The brand noted how consumers ate their Oreos and incorporated the ritual into brand promotions with huge success.