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.
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.