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The Anthropology of Marketing

What has come to be called “the cultural turn” in the social and human sciences, especially in cultural studies and the sociology of culture, has tended to emphasize the importance of meaning to the definition of culture. Culture, it is argued, is not so much a set of things—novels and paintings or TV programmes and comics—as a process, a set of practices. Primarily, culture is concerned with the production and the exchange of meanings—the “giving and taking of meaning”—between the members of a society or group. To say that two people belong to the same culture is to say that they interpret the world in roughly the same ways and can express themselves, their thoughts and feelings about the world, in ways which will be understood by each other.... It is participants in a culture who give meaning to people, objects and events. Things “in themselves” rarely if ever have one, single, fixed and unchanging meaning.

Stuart Hall, Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying

Practices (London: Sage, 1997), pp. 2-3

An imprint and its Code are like a lock and its combination. If you have all of the right numbers in the right sequence, you can open the lock. Doing so over a vast array of imprints has profound implications. It brings us to the answer of one of our most fundamental questions: why do we act the way we do? Understanding the Culture Code provides us with a remarkable new tool—a new set of glasses, if you will, with which to view ourselves and our behaviors. It changes the way we see everything around us. What’s more, it confirms what we have always suspected is truethat, despite our common humanity, people around the world really are different. The Culture Code offers a way to understand how.

Clotaire Rapaille, The Culture Code (2006, New York, Broadway

Books. p. 11)

© The Author(s) 2016

A.A. Berger, Marketing and American Consumer Culture, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-47328-4_6

Abstract The term “culture” is defined. The work of a French psychoanalyst and marketing expert, Clotaire Rapaille, is discussed. He asserts that young children, during the first seven years of their lives, are “imprinted” with their national culture and this imprinting lasts for the rest of their lives, generally speaking. This explains why countries are so different: they imprint their children with their specific codes of behavior, foods, and related matters. The ideas of anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski about the “imponderabilia” of everyday life are discussed, which leads to an examination of the role of national culture codes on our behavior as consumers—information of great use to marketers.

Keywords Culture • Imprinting • Imponderabilia • Codes

We’ve already heard from one anthropologist, involved in marketing, Paco Underhill. The focus in anthropology is on culture, which can be defined in hundreds of different ways. It is generally defined as the rules and beliefs that are passed on from one generation to another. What an anthropological perspective on marketing focuses on is the role of culture in shaping people’s behavior, and their behavior as consumers. Stuart Hall’s definition of culture is semiotic in nature, stressing the role that meaning plays in culture. But it also points out meanings can change, so analyzing cultural phenomena is always perilous.

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