Monday, 11 August 2014

Do You Have an End of Summer Ritual?

With the start of the school year almost here, it's time to say good-bye to care-free summer days. Do you have an end of summer ritual? Perhaps a final weekend at the cottage or a last night out with friends?

Solomon, White and Dahl (2014, p. 432) define ritual as "a set of symbolic behaviours that occur in a fixed sequence and that tend to be repeated periodically." Rituals perform important functions in society and many of them are associated with consumption occasions. Some rituals remind us of the passing of time or the yearly cycle of events. For me, the smell of a new pair of leather shoes has always been connected with the start of the school year. That and the purchase of a brand new package of coloured pencils.  Other people talk about the smell of autumn leaves crunching under foot or the crack of new textbooks being opened. What sounds and smells are associated with going back to school for you? Do you have a 'back to school' ritual?

Marketers, of course, tap into our seasonal rituals and use them in promotional messages. In order for these messages to work, both the sender and the receiver have to share an understanding of the rituals being referenced. Here's a favorite example of a TV commercial that humorously inverted two seasonal rituals.

Consumption occasions can also be associated with rituals that mark important transitions in our lives. Some of these rituals might be considered 'sacred', such as a baby's baptism, child's first communion, or a marriage ceremony. Others, such as the bachelor party or tailgating at football games, might more appropriately fall under the heading 'profane' (Belk, Wallendorf and Sherry, 1989). Some rituals, like the annual fire at the Burning Man Festival, call upon the sacred to expunge the profane. As the sacred power of fire consumes the Burning Man, those in attendance celebrate the anti-consumption roots of the festival (Kozinets, 2002).

Some rituals are enacted in a public forum. Think about the laying of wreaths at the National War Memorial in Ottawa on Remembrance Day or even your eventual (let's hope!) university graduation ceremony. Other rituals can be quite private, like praying or visiting the grave of a loved one. 

Rituals can change over time, but typically they do so quite slowly. Whether we choose to adhere to the old or change with the new may say something about us, our beliefs and the society we live in. For example, asking for the bride's father's permission to marry seems to be something that most contemporary couples have decided to skip. Sometimes, change can be contested and the subject of heated, public debate. What you see in the image below may depend on how you think about the institution of marriage and marriage rituals.

As our rituals change, businesses that depend upon those rituals for their livelihood need to be aware of the changes. There may even be a strategic advantage to being the first to recognize the change and serve that segment of the market.

Belk, Russell W., Melanie Wallendorf, and John F. Sherry, Jr. (1989), "The Sacred and the Profane in Consumer Behavior: Theodicy on the Odyssey," Journal of Consumer Research, 16 (June), 1-38.

Kozinets, Robert V. (2002), "Can consumers escape the market? Emancipatory Illuminations from Burning Man," Journal of Consumer Research, 29(1), 20-38.

Solomon, Michael, Katherine White and Darren W. Dahl (2014), Consumer Behaviour: Buying, Having, Being, 6th Canadian edition. Toronto: ON: Pearson.


  1. Reading the heading 'Do You Have an End of Summer Ritual?', I immediately thought to myself YES. As a new school year is fast approaching, I always ensure to have one final weekend of unstoppable fun. Whether it is hitting my cottage, going to the bar 3 nights in a row, or spending all my summer savings at the mall, I ensure to get that burning desire out of my system. I think this happens because I am mentally preparing myself for the 4 months of 'non-excitement' I'm about to experience. Typically, I will also get caught up in all the back to school advertisements and insist on buying everything new (even though I usually already have old stuff that works perfectly fine). However in recent years, especially the last 2 semesters, I haven't even used any school supplies. My laptop has become my school lifeline and I can't say I will take one hand written note all semester. This is an example of changing and evolving rituals because school supplies are becoming less important for a Marketing student. With almost everything being done online, I wonder if there will be a time when school supplies will become completely extinct?

  2. I read this post back in the summer when it was first posted and started to think about all my end of summer rituals and just traditions in general. As the holiday season came to a close I started thinking about the rituals specific to Christmas and New Years Eve and how marketers use these to their advantage. Throughout the past few weeks I noticed specifically how many holiday traditions I partake in (both family, friends, and personal) and after reading this post again I wanted to see how many of these were affected by marketers.

    I spent the past couple weeks in Florida and being there over New Years gave me plenty of time to see the standard marketing tactics used both specifically for the holiday season as well as rituals that are used by many throughout the year. I know many of my friends have a tradition of collecting shot glasses from each place they visit as a type of souvenir. Walking in and out of all the shops in the center of Fort Myers Beach really made me realize the incredible amount of variety in shot glasses and how marketers even personalize the glasses to be even more appealing for consumers who want to bring a personalized gift home to their friends. This is also displayed through many other types of souvenirs such as bottle openers, t-shirts, hats, and magnets. I have spent New Years Eve in Fort Myers Beach for the past two years and both years, before and after the fireworks, there is a ritual that I can see slowly beginning. Paper lanterns are released into the sky one after the other and the sky slowly gets filled with little lights. Last year, only a few people were releasing the lanterns but this year there were many more. Thinking back to how marketers are able to profit off of known rituals I realized that this year they were beginning to sell the lanterns earlier on and advertise them as a New Years Eve tradition that had to be continued. I bet that as the years go on this tradition will continue and will only become more and more well known as a result of marketers abilities to work their magic.

    Overall, I think this was a very interesting post and that we are all more influenced by marketers then we realize (even with rituals that we think belong to only us). I wonder what my next ritual will be!

  3. Do I have an end of summer ritual? Yes. Does it have to do with raiding malls and wiping out Staples? Definitely not. My end of summer ritual is actually quite the opposite. I'm from the east coast and my family spends a lot of time outside, so we like to go hiking as an end of summer ritual. My parents, brother, and I pile into the car really early in the morning (6am) and drive out to Fundy National Park where we leave cell phones in the car, hike all day, and finish it off with a swim in their salt water pool.

    I wanted to comment on this post because of the effort that needs to take place to stop myself from connecting or consuming even just for a day. Completing physically demanding hikes up in the mountains with no one around for miles allows my mind to reset. Leading up to our hiking day I usually run around frantically making last minute purchases and working the last days of my summer job, so being able to completely check out for a few hours is extremely refreshing.

    Without even knowing it, I find that we become so accustomed to the marketing and advertising clutter that overwhelms our environment that we become desensitized to the sheer amount that is being thrown at us. There is too much going on in our minds to make effective decisions. We, as consumers, need space to think and evaluate things; and the environment won't just give it to us, we need to consciously make an effort to seclude ourselves.

    My end of summer ritual is to do my best NOT to consume.