March 9, 2021 / Thought Leadership

Brands Should be Ritualizing Our Rising Indulgences

Paul Capobianco, Cultural Anthropologist

Sometimes in the morning my wife sashays across the kitchen, smiling as she proudly displays a tier of foamed milk atop a mug of coffee. She used to make coffee every few months with a strainer, like a cowhand in front of a campfire. Milk frother? We didn’t even know it was called that until about a month ago, shortly before a certain orange “Buy Now” button was pressed.

In retrospect, Dunkin’s pre-pandemic banner ad spookily foreshadowed the changes in many people’s contexts and behaviors: “Enjoy the Great Taste of Dunkin’ at Home/While You Endlessly ‘Add to Cart.’”

The reset of the pandemic elevates our basic needs as we reimagine them as indulgences.

New contexts mean new opportunities

New choices and habits surrounding indulgence are occuring around the world. Professor Nicholas Christakis of Yale University predicts that by 2024 we’ll experience a pent-up post-pandemic bellow of indulgent behavior and social interaction, rhyming with the Roaring Twenties that followed the 1918 pandemic. Most of our new habits won’t become meaningful, gratifying rituals, but brands have many opportunities to help.

Our adaptations to the pandemic change what we consider to be indulgences. By uprooting and shifting contexts, the pandemic forces us to imagine new reference points to orient fulfillment and a sense of control over our lives. That’s where the help comes in.

New opportunities mean new rituals

Opportunities for brands involve creating new contexts ripe for the development of rituals. At its best, fostering these contexts means helping people repeatedly choose to act on certain needs in mindful, fulfilling ways.

Intentionally putting effort into a habit transforms it into a routine. Creating a meaningful routine based on self-reflection transforms it into a ritual. Brands can be a part of these transformations. Some already are.

Rousing people to try something unfamiliar

TAZO Tea’s 2020 “Routine Reboot” initiative connected people with a wide variety of influencers, giving them a window into the daily routines of these inspiring individuals. This, in turn, invoked curiosity and the motivation for consumers to adopt these rituals as well. Invoking curiosity through what people respect and relate to gives them the motivation to adopt the kinds of routines that become rituals.

Planting the seeds of rituals no one’s heard of

Aeronaut Brewing Company hosts virtual open mic nights, trivia competitions, and “cat mixers,” where people meet each other’s cats and drink beer. Blending novelty with the familiar, in ways that make connections between people easy and special, can lay the ground for new rituals through newfound intimacy.

Reinvigorating rituals displaced by the pandemic

At Club Quarantine, DJ B-Nice virtually reinvigorates the ritual of dancing with friends in a vibrant sea of strangers. Recreating and serving seemingly lost needs invites people to ritualize their behavior anew in ways that now celebrate their resilience.

In all cases, repeatable, enjoyable gratification is made convenient and placed in a larger, more meaningful context. One of the most powerful ways to accomplish this is through collaborations and community building.

The creative possibilities are endless.

New rituals mean new selves

It’ll be a few more years before brands fully reap the benefits of helping people form new rituals. The brands that commit and innovate now will stand out as resources for the kind of mindful indulging that becomes a practice of resilience. We’ll remember them as the brands that were there with us as we struggled with self-reflection and growth.

That’s Defiantly Human.