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BBDO - The Ritual Masters
The Secret is to Become a “Fortress” Brand

BBDO’S global study of rituals uncovers new business-building opportunities for brands


NEW YORK, MAY 11, 2007 – BBDO Worldwide, an Omnicom Group company, released findings today from a global study designed to better understand rituals and the role they play in people’s lives.  The study, entitled “BBDO – The Ritual Masters,” is the most extensive research project ever undertaken by BBDO.  It was nine months in the making, involved ethnographic research in 26 countries, 2,500 hours of documented and filmed behavior, quantitative feedback from more than 5,000 people, and interviews with psychologists, nutritionists and sociologists.  It was led by BBDO teams from the U.S. and Europe.   

“We are focused on behavior, both as a source of insight and for defining goals and strategies,” said Andrew Robertson, President and CEO, BBDO Worldwide.  “The idea here is to look at rituals as an important behavior in consumers' lives, to understand what they are, how they work, and how to work our clients' brands into them.  We usually look at behavior through the lens of a brand or a category. This is an extra lens to look through.  Not an alternative."

According to the BBDO study, rituals are a defined series of actions that move people emotionally from one place to another.  Rituals are sequences that are developed over time.  Rituals make people feel good.  While there may be bad habits, there are no bad rituals. 

It was BBDO’s going-in belief that by better understanding rituals, new insights might be uncovered that could change behavior and unlock business-building ideas.  For example, those brands that are already embedded inside a ritual enjoy great “stickiness” with consumers.  These are called “Fortress Brands.”  The goal of the BBDO study was to uncover insights that could help move a clients’ brands inside.

 More Alike Than Different

“What we found is that people are more alike than different, which is great news for marketers,” remarked Tracy Lovatt, Director of Behavioral Planning for BBDO New York and BBDO North America and one of the architects of the study.  “Emotionally, rituals are critical to people everywhere in the world.  They help transform us from one emotional state to another, for example, from your private sleepy self every morning to your ‘warrior ready to take on the world’ self.  We all repeat a series of steps to help us make that transformation.  What varies from country to country is the execution.”

As a result, the BBDO study focused on the five rituals that are performed most often by most people throughout the world.  These include:

  • Preparing for battle:  transforming us from the cocoon to “ready to face the day”;
  • Feasting:  the pleasure of eating that “reunites us with our tribes,” transforming us from alone to connected;
  • Sexing up:  a highly pleasurable and indulgent ritual, though not without stress (particularly for women), that transforms us from our everyday selves to our most fabulous selves;
  • Returning to camp:  that moment when we unwind and exhale, transforming us from tense to relaxed;
  • Protecting yourself for the future:  that last ritual of the day that moves us from relaxed to feeling safe and secure before the next day comes around

Jammed Up, Preparing for Battle

The busiest and most tightly sequenced ritual of the day, “preparing for battle” includes an average of over seven steps in less than one hour.  These are functional, sequential steps that get people ready for the outside world.  The most common task is brushing teeth (performed by 82% of people around the world), followed by taking a shower or bath (74%), having something to eat/drink (74%), talking to a family member/partner (54%), checking e-mail (54%), shaving (male – 53%), putting on makeup (female – 47%), watching TV/listening to radio (45%) and reading a newspaper (38%). 

Importantly, 89% of people rely on the same brands when performing this sequence, and three out of four people become disappointed/irritated when their sequence is disrupted or their brand of choice is not available.  That’s because the morning ritual is all about being prepared and gaining control in order to face the day.

From a global perspective, the Chinese are the most regimented (96% have a sequence compared to the global average of 79%) and the U.S. is the most brand loyal (94% versus the global average of 82%).  Brazilians brush their teeth most often (94% versus the global average of 82%).  The Japanese shower and bathe the least (only 27% versus the global average of 74%).  Another interesting finding:  seniors have the highest rate of e-mail usage (64% versus the global average of 54%). 

Bottom line:  this is the biggest-volume opportunity for brands, but also the ritual that is most entrenched and most jammed. 

Feasting Is More Than Thanksgiving

A physical and mental meeting of the group marks the start of a feast.  It is an emotional transformation that goes from feeling alone, to being connected to a group.  People let go of other things and bond.  Sharing is at the core of this ritual:  everyone is expected to bring something to the table (literally or figuratively).

Americans are most likely to meet in a restaurant, whereas the Spanish and French are most likely to meet at home.  The car has become a sizable dining venue for the Saudis, Chinese and Americans, with anywhere from 10 to 12% of people eating in their cars (versus the global average of 7%). 

Bottom line:  Maybe convenience has gone too far.  It’s important that people also feel a sense of involvement in the preparation of a meal.  It’s part of the emotional transformation.

Spontaneous Sex

Globally, people say that sex is spontaneous (78%), yet, 33% say 10pm to midnight is the “hot time of the day” and over 50% wait for the weekend (Friday/Saturday/Sunday) for sex.  The Chinese are most likely to have “appointment sex” (41% versus the 9% global average).

So maybe sex isn’t as spontaneous as people like to think.

Preparation starts days before going out.  Some call and talk about the evening ahead; teenage girls photo message pictures of their outfits for approval and reassurance.  People eat and drink luxury foods, forget diets and treat themselves. 

Bottom line:  when “sexing up,” people are transforming from their normal to most confident selves.  They use special products to make themselves feel special.

Time for Me

At the opposite end of the spectrum from “preparing for battle” is “returning to camp.”  This is the moment when people exhale.  It lasts an average of four hours and includes fewer than five steps – quite a difference from the more than seven behaviors that are crammed into an hour at the start of the day.

Winding down typically begins around 8pm.  All over the world, people demonstrate they have ended their day by changing elements of their clothes – from kicking off shoes to changing into pajamas.  Two out of three people let go with media (66% watch TV in the evening); one out of five reads a newspaper; more than one-third go online.  Many bathe or shower – a particularly popular activity among Brazilians (85% versus the global average of 48%).  Almost half of all people take something to read with them in the loo.  Brazilians and Chinese read the most; Italians multitask.  Few Americans (only 27%) are able to create alone time – or time for oneself. 

Bottom line:  there is an opportunity for those brands that can contribute to a sense of relaxation, calm, self-satisfaction and at ease.

Husbands and Fathers Take “Protecting Yourself” Seriously

The final ritual, and the shortest one, is protecting yourself for the future.  This can take the form of leaving packed bags by the door, laying out clothes for the next day, turning off computers, pouring a glass of water, taking your medication or setting the alarm.  To husbands and fathers, the day is not complete until they’ve checked on kids and pets or locked doors and windows.

Sequence matters the least because this is a time to let go:  less than 50% of people have a sequence to end their day.  Yet, more than 50% use the same products when ending the day.  And four out of five people become irritated when their products are not available – levels comparable to preparing for battle.

Bottom line:  brands play an important role in the ritual of helping someone feel safe and secure and protected for the future.

What Next?

There is an opportunity for brands to become more emotionally connected with consumers through understanding the transformation that is taking place in any given ritual and the role that a brand can play in that transformation.  Implications can take the form of packaging to positioning, advertising, promotions and product development. 

As people prepare for their next weekend, BBDO invites them to think about their activities, compared to Monday through Friday:  what is done differently, their emotional state, the products used.  It’s what BBDO calls the ritualistic rhythms of life…and it can give someone a firsthand perspective of what this study is trying to tell clients.


BBDO Worldwide has 287 offices in 79 countries.  Its professional ambition is captured in the agency’s mantra, “The Work.  The Work.  The Work.”  In 2006, BBDO was the winner of The Gunn Report as the most awarded agency network in the world, and the Won Report, as the most awarded agency network in direct and interactive.  BBDO also won the most Lions at Cannes.

BBDO Worldwide is a part of Omnicom Group Inc. (www.omnicomgroup.com).  Omnicom is a leading global advertising, marketing and corporate communications company.  Omnicom's branded networks and numerous specialty firms provide advertising, strategic media planning and buying, digital and interactive, direct and promotional marketing, public relations and other specialty communications services to over 5,000 clients in more than 100 countries. 

Related Article:

Daily Rituals of the World
A recent study by ad agency BBDO Worldwide offers marketers insight into the everyday routines of people across the globe.

Human beings are creatures of habit—the morning coffee with two sugars, the post-lunch brush and floss, the bedtime yoga routine with lights dimmed. Advertisers, on the other hand, often try to break those habits by wedging new products and services into various parts of the day.

Now comes ad giant BBDO Worldwide with its latest weapon to help clients get an edge: An extensive global study of daily rituals. Unlike habits or routines, which may be ingrained but carry no emotional meaning, a ritual is described in the study as "a defined series of actions that helps us transform from one emotional state to another."

Many of those actions involve favorite things, naturally, and BBDO's hope is that the data will help clients insert their products into those rituals. "We didn't have categories or brands in mind," says Tracy Lovatt,director of behavioral planning at BBDO North America. "We wanted to study the power of rituals in our lives."

The study comes at a time when ad agencies are struggling to find new ways to reach customers, and emphasize the value of their work to clients. "This is another example of how the richest source of insight comes from observing behavior," says BBDO President and Chief Executive Andrew Robertson.

Making Meaning

But rituals are something many associate with rites of passage—marriage, death, even the transition to a new season. BBDO, in contrast, came up with five that occur every day in every part of the world: "preparing for battle" (the morning ritual), "feasting" (reconnecting with your tribe over food), "sexing up" (primping), "returning to camp" (leaving the work place), and "protecting yourself for the future" (the ritual before bed).

Each label is meant to suggest a defined emotional state that permeates each set of behaviors. The notion resonates with anthropologist Norman Stolzoff, founder of Ethnographic Insight. "The idea that the day could be carved up into meaningful times is clever," he says. "Rituals form meaning."

As part of the study, researchers asked more than 5,000 people in 21 countries how they behave during these five transitional periods of the day. While people in every culture report engaging in rituals for similar reasons, they approach them quite differently. About 41% of Chinese respondents said they schedule sex, for example, while only 3% of Russians do—and 7% of Americans.

Nightly Lockdown

Fully 44% of Brazilians read in the bathroom, according to the study; in Saudi Arabia, 10% of respondents do. More than half of all Indian respondents surf the Web before leaving the house, while less than one-third of Americans or Canadians do. About 80% of Saudi Arabians pray or meditate before work; in Germany, 3% of respondents do.

The rituals that are easiest to understand occur in the morning and evening. Marketers have long appreciated the value of getting a foothold in the tightly scheduled morning ritual, when people tend to stick with a routine and a particular set of products. BBDO participants reported doing an average of seven activities in under an hour, from brushing their teeth and drinking coffee to checking e-mail (participants between the ages of 60 and 70 reported the highest rate of e-mail use).

BBDO dubbed the period before bed "protecting yourself for the future." That's because the survey found people in self-preservation mode, as they went about locking windows and doors, applying wrinkle cream, and selecting clothes or "armor" for the next day. It's a brief period, but also the perfect time to find customers at their most vulnerable. As BBDO's Robertson, a former insurance salesman, puts it: "If there was some way to be in the home as people are going through lockdown, you could probably sell a lot of insurance."

Broad Categories

When it comes to rituals in the middle of the day, the survey's results are less conclusive. That might have to do with the categories BBDO settled on. Feasting, for example, is described as "pleasurable and indulgent…the ritual that reunites us with our tribes." But the frequency with which people feast vs. simply eating something to stave off hunger isn't clear, and anyone who has organized a midweek meal with busy kids knows that "indulgent" may not be the best way to characterize the mood.

Everyone, too, understands the elaborate preparations that go into "sexing up." But the category is a catch-all for everything from teenage girls e-mailing each other to find out what they're going to wear, to people scheduling sex. "Returning to camp," meanwhile, can mean anything from sharing martinis with friends to staring zombie-like at the TV with a bag of chips in hand. Watching TV also creeps into both the morning and evening rituals, as do other habits—this perhaps means the same activity serves different purposes at different hours of the day.

Even so, marketers may find BBDO's results help them tailor their approach to consumers. For instance, cultures in which a high proportion of people eat on their way to work, such as China, could be more open to portable breakfast food than those that don't, such as Spain. While everybody showers or bathes, a shower gel aimed at Polish consumers might emphasize relaxing qualities, as 84% of them shower at night. A more invigorating message might work better with the 92% of Mexicans who shower or bathe in the morning. Knowing that women in Colombia, Brazil, and Japan apply makeup in their car at twice the global rate could prompt a new approach to the design and marketing of cosmetics.

Breaking the Code

The challenge is that most consumers are loyal to particular products and patterns, making it tough for marketers to become part of a ritual if another brand is already there. Americans, in particular, said they use the same products every morning, though they're more flexible about what they use at night. Russians are less predictable—only half of them use the same products as part of their morning ritual, and 19% of them use the same products before going to bed. If there's one constant around the world, it's this: Almost everyone gets irritated when their rituals are disrupted.

How will clients see the work? BBDO has presented the findings to several so far, and some were willing to share a few comments with BusinessWeek. YUM! Brands Chairman and CEO David Novak, who calls his company "maniacal about insight-driven marketing," says the study will "provide a fresh, new lens to uncover those insights that lead to positive and lasting changes in consumer behavior." Pepsi-Cola North America Chief Marketing Officer Cie Nicholson called the study "intriguing, because we can learn how to build our brands' share of life, not just share of market."

For Scott Aakre, a vice-president at Hormel Foods, the Holy Grail is to "find a way to break the code and fit into one of these five universal routines [so] we might be able to build lifelong relationships between our brands and consumers." That's a tough challenge. But if he doesn't do it, he can always head home, change into his pajamas, curl up on the couch, and find comfort in the little rituals of his day.

Diane Brady, BusinessWeek, May 10, 2007.
Copyright 2000-2007 by The McGraw-Hill Companies Inc.






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