From Anthropology to Advertising — What I’ve Learned Along the Way
“Wait, so what do you do for work?” It’s a question that family, friends, and strangers making small talk ask me regularly. When I tell people about my career, they often get a perplexed look on their faces.
Anthropology and marketing might sound like divergent worlds from the outside. (Probably because a lot of people think I’m talking about paleontology which is the study of fossils!) But the market research methods used in the realm of advertising share many similarities with those used in anthropology.
My journey from anthropology into advertising
What anthropology really boils down to is understanding the influences that shape us as humans. My passion for anthropology started as a college student when I studied primate behavior and was fascinated by what those behaviors could teach us about human interactions.
Over the years, my focus shifted into cultural anthropology, the study of the cultural influences that shape us as humans. I’m particularly interested in how our values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors are impacted by the everyday interactions we have with our surroundings.
Fast forward to my role today, where I utilize my background as a cultural anthropologist in the world of marketing. I research how humans (as consumers) are influenced by the cultural elements around them.
The way we think, communicate, and interact with our environment is largely shaped by the mediums that we engage with. From magazines to social media and streaming services, humans are constantly processing cultural messages from their environment. This includes paid and organic content produced by agencies, brands, influencers, and everyday people. As a Strategist, I analyze consumer responses to these messages and synthesize the data into insights that guide our work at Experiences For Mankind.
Building stronger connections between brands and their consumers
When our team sets out to build a marketing strategy, I tap into research methods that I’ve learned through anthropology to help brands facilitate more empathetic connections with consumers. My focus is on understanding how (and where) audiences create and express shared meaning around brands.
I do this using a perspective called ethnography which helps me pay attention to all the cultural dynamics at play in the research itself. Depending on the project at hand, this can include interviews, workshops, focus groups, and field work.
Last year, our team worked with a restaurant called Pink Taco to redesign their website. We conducted onsite fieldwork, participant observation, and interviews to get a sense of how employees and customers made and shared meaning around the Pink Taco brand. Through my ethnographic analysis, I unearthed that each location varied hugely in the ambiance they provided customers, which created different perceptions of the brand across audience touchpoints.
These insights allowed our team to elevate the website by highlighting locational “vibes” in ways that fit the Pink Taco brand — all while staying true to the unique employee and customer experiences from each location. In doing so, we were able to produce a better UX/UI experience that reflects the brand’s colorful personality and satisfies the cravings customers have for Pink Taco’s one of a kind vibe.
Evolving our strategic approach with anthropology
Through my experience working at a creative agency, I’ve found that brands have a strong desire to understand their audiences, yet often struggle to prioritize research methods that turn data into valuable insights. That’s where I come in.
My role as a Strategist is to ask the right questions around consumer culture so our team can understand audiences in the broader context of their lives. By looking at them not just as consumers, but as people immersed in culture, I can discover new areas of shared meaning that allow brands to connect with audiences more deeply.
Thanks to my background in anthropology, I’m able to provide a better view through to the cultural and ever-changing environments that people occupy. This approach has laid the foundation for the brand anthropology work we are doing at Experiences For Mankind.
You can learn more about our strategy and creative agency, Experiences For Mankind, on our website or contact us. We’re always looking for brilliant clients and teammates.