Marketing Communication Anthropology: Social Branding, Media Machines, Netnography The blog of Robert Kozinets, USC communication/marketing professor

April 29, 2014

Thinking about the Future of Brands, and Humanity

The Future of Brands and Humanity_2 The Future of Brands and Humanity_2   I was recently asked by my lovely colleague, Susan Fournier, to write a chapter for her book examining Consumer-Brand Relationships. That notion of relationships was so endlessly interesting and worthy of exploration. I had to say yes.

So I thought about this topic and what was so interesting to me. And I thought…hey, the future of these relationships is something that we would like to be able to predict. Can we do that prediction in a cultural sense, then? What would that mean?

The Future of Brands

And Also of Humanity


What would it mean to go beyond anthropology as study and writing to anthropology as action, as a practice, as a reclamation of a set of rituals?

For the idea of ethnography has for a while been to learn practices, to actually do and seek to become like the member of the culture, a full participating member.

In order to predict the future of brands, I will use a range of techniques, and combine them, I thought to myself.

I will think of this as a performance, an artwork, an experiment, and a marketing demonstration. Promotional material for my personal brand, in other words.

And at that moment it struck me, like a bolt out of the deep deep blue. ANTHROPOLOGY


The union of these two elements, these social media elemental opposites–the corporate brand online and the personal brand online, this is the future of brands.

And I sought from there to find some data with which to explore this idea, and I chanced upon Textualized Prediction HISTORY: some great candidate books, including

  • UBIK, Eye in the Sky, and Perky Pat’s Stigmata that Matter: each by Philip K. Dick
  • Down and Out in The Magic Kingdom: by Cory Doctorow
  • Idoru and All Tomorrow’s Parties: by William Gibson

NETNOGRAPHY BOOK COVER_APRIL29_14_2NETNOGRAPHY BOOK COVER_APRIL29_14_2I chose to start my work on this topic here, thinking about one of this group of books, as I also contemplate, in public and private, the content for the new netnography book, a book that will be crowdsourced more than anything I have ever tried before

(although much of academic work is, in fact, crowdsourced, which is why it often reads like a crowdsourced text).

In the next blog post, I not only tell you what I am writing about. I start to reveal it to you in the freshest first draft…why not?

Let us begin to try to answer these questions about the future of brands, and along the way of course, of humanity itself.

Human history. And our humanity itself as a quality of Being Human. And then, to reward my loyal readers, I begin to weave in a whole other plotline. One I hope you will follow on CNN as it breaks major marketing news (or does not–a null hypothesis!) in headline form for social media brilliance by a marketing professor who tests the limits of academic theory at the current time. Or not. NETNOGRAPHY BOOK COVER_APRIL29_14_2

June 1, 2010

In Memory of Joy

Filed under: Innovation & Creativity,Marketing Science,Uncategorized — Robert Kozinets @ 2:13 pm

I thought for a while before writing this blog entry, which is really about a personal matter, a death in my family of my father’s first cousin this week. I just attended her funeral. I thought: “is it right to mix a personal family matter with this blog, which usually discusses more formal, business stuff, like my research work.”

After contemplating it for a while, I came to the realization that a lot of this blog actually is about personal matters. In fact, a lot of my research is sort of personal and introspective. I recently have given a few doctoral consortium talks about research topics and research impact, and I’ve noted how personal good research often is. So, if there’s one thing I’ve discovered lately that feel important, it’s that the personal and the “business” oriented concerns mix and merged together in my thoughts and in my research.

Blogs are interesting places where we can do this sort of exploration. This blog in a way gives you a little insight into some of the stories behind my other writing, and it gives me a forum for exploring my own thoughts in a way that’s a lot less constrained and forced than my more formal writing like articles or book chapters.

So I am writing this blog entry about my late cousin Julie Garden, was also known as Joy Hall. Joy had a lasting impact on my life and interests and I wanted to share some of the impact she had on me in on the world in general.

Joy was an entrepreneur. After getting her accounting degree (one of the first women in Canada to do so), in the 1950s, she had an idea for a new company that she started with her husband, Moe. The company was called Ambassador Leather Goods. Her idea was to make a type of file folder for credit cards and build it into a stylish wallet. They distributed it through mail-order sales, in a time when the mail order company was cutting-edge marketing science.

Joy was an innovator. The idea behind the company was to merge two at that time cutting-edge trends: the rise of credit cards, and the consequent need the people and organize them, and the efficiency of the mail system and the ability of it to look deliver goods and services through direct mail and catalog-based businesses. This was like riding the Internet wave of the 1950s.

Joy was extremely successful. The business Joy and her husband started was wildly successful, moving from Toronto to Niagara Falls, Canada and from there to Niagara Falls, New York. In the memorial service today, her brother quoted the astonishing figure that at one time 87% of the mail going to Niagara Falls, New York was headed to Ambassador Leather Goods. The company later relocated again, this time to Phoenix, Arizona, which at this time in the mid-1960s was still largely undeveloped, but whose potential Joy, again presciently, recognized.

One of the things that I noticed when I read about Joy’s business in some of the reflections that people had about it online, one of thing that people found most memorable about the Ambassador Leather Goods catalog was the picture of Joy and Moe on the inside front cover and it was signed Joy and Moe Hall. People reflected on that picture. They opined that this was a happy family, a family that somehow by buying these wallets in different goods through the mail they were partaking in. I have no doubt that this personal touch, with their actual signatures, was Joy’s idea.

In a way this was a brand community, maybe even one of the first brand communities. It was a mixing of familial and close knit communal feelings with the commercial and economic workings of the business.

That theme, the relationship and interrelationship of the communal and the commercial, has been a central element of my research work throughout my career. It certainly was a part of Joy’s business and her family’s business as well, as they experimented with forms of multilevel marketing that tried to combine various social relationships with the logics of business. Ruminating on them, writing about them, I had contemplated these interesting social interminglings for decades before I even entered my doctoral program.

It was during her time in Phoenix that Joy had a serious health issue that led her to distrust conventional medicine and to embrace alternative forms of treatment. She was diagnosed with a terminal disease, but she resisted conventional treatments and drugs and sought out alternative treatments, which cured her.

After this incredible experience, she became an evangelical advocate of various sorts of alternative remedies and alternative belief systems. Later, she would be instrumental in institutionalizing, fundraising, and bringing naturopathic medicine to Canada. Because of this work, naturopathy has thrived in Canada, and on practically every corner in my neighborhood there is a naturopathic and homeopathic clinic.

Joy was into healthy food. I remember first learning about the merits of organic food and about vegetarianism from Joy when I was just a kid. And colonic irrigation. Wheat grass juice. Chelation therary. And aura reading. I remember that she insisted that green grapes had powerful anti-toxin properties. She had cheated death once, and I think she planned to continue cheating it, perhaps indefinitely. She was very interested in life extension, and I believe she had ties to the early post-human movement.

Joy was an iconoclast. Another way that Joy influenced my thinking, probably the most profound way, was her introduction of a range of alternative thinkers and writers to me. I remember one of the early books she gave me to read I was probably about 11 years old) was Vera Stanley Alder’s “The Finding of the Third Eye,” and T. Lobsang Rampa’s “You Forever.”

She introduced me to the work of Baba Ram Dass and Dr. John Lilly. I even met some of the spirit channeling and UFO worshiping Unarians at a meeting in her home where, as an impressionable 12 or 13-year-old, I was told by one of their leaders and ‘sensitives’ that I had an “extraordinarily high vibration level” (I felt really special at the time). That exposure contributed to a lifelong interest in mysticism and alternative and particularly Eastern religions, some of which is apparent in my writings about Burning Man (particularly the book chapters).

Joy was a freethinker, she used her wealth and influence to explore and share new ideas. I remember her enthusiasm and her clear bright eyes, the passion with which she spoke, and my own thrilling excitement when I heard the ideas I had never heard from anyone else before being shared. She would take the time to invite my sister and I to share in these ideas, coming to meetings as if we were sort of modern-day cellar Christians, in her wild, extravagant penthouse mansion on Toronto’s Bloor Street was our secret hiding place.

This is my tribute to my cousin, Joy Garden, to a dynamic, independent, free spirited, and compassionate woman who changed the lives of so many she touched.

Joy, you are loved, and you will be missed.

January 28, 2009

Word Cloud Interpretation for Fun and Profit

That last blog posting generated some interest and I’ve been thinking more about the idea of word clouds as a possible adjunct to what we do as qualitative researchers.

Lois Kelly, who is a brilliant word-of-mouth marketer, had a very interesting comment and turned me on to psychologist James Pennebaker’s work. Pennebaker, a psychology professor at the University of Texas, has published some interesting research about his spin on content analysis. His systems counts and classifies the different types of words that people use (such as adverbs, adjectives, verbs, and even pronouns), and also catalogs them by their different emotional implications. He has published, along with co-authors, some interesting work analyzing and comparing different types of written texts and spoken words. He had even started a business from it, selling the LIWC, or Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count software program.

It is intriguing, relevant, high-end, sophisticated stuff, and I am seeing a lot of work in this area as different companies are working hard to develop software that can do sophisticated content analyses of all of the textual information contained online. Companies like netbase, AC Nielsen Buzzmetrics, Cymfony, and Motivequest are all over this emotionally-oriented, passion-and-enthusiasm content coded stuff, and for good reason. It makes good sense.

But when I was speculating about word clouds and their qualitative research usage, I was being a bit more open-ended in my ruminations. I wasn’t thinking about such well-developed systems, ones that provided you with such well though out schemata for analyzing texts.

I was thinking more about doodling. Perhaps even diddling with the doodling.

I was wondering what we could do with the simple word clouds we generate with online engines like, which I’ve been playing around with a bit after the Latin American marketing research visionary Pablo Sanchez Kohn set me up with it in one of his online experiments.

I’ve been tooling around with it, and I like it. Why? Well, the people who post it online call it a “toy” and that’s a real insight. It’s just a lot of fun to play with it. It makes decent art, too. The pictures are nice to look at. And to think with, I think. I may frame a couple, or turn them into t-shirts. Why not?

In the play, in that visual appeal, I think there is something deeper that can happen. Because we get some good analysis packed into an at-a-glance form, I think we have opportunities to use that ultimate piece of ‘software,’ the human mind and imagination, to glean insight from these word pictures. We can run poetic comparisons on these scrambled word omelets. And then we can use them to launch creative inquiries into the text. Delving deeper using all our other tools, from content analysis word counts to hermeneutic mindful deep breathing.

A couple of examples today, and then maybe a few in the next post.

Below, I have posted a couple of recent blog pages from Brandthroposophy run through the word cloud generator at I think they’re fairly easy to identify. See if you recognize them.


That one was the recent set of postings having to do with netnographic resources. It is interesting how that big http dominates the frame; the posting is full of links. But it also captures at a glance some central meaning on the page about a community of Internet research scholars coming together to offer a list of new and different places and things to study. The cloud somehow captures all of this for me rather quickly. You get the academic content, the variety of internet forms, as well as the sense of a knowledge network that is building.

Here’s another one. Do you recognize it?


For that one, I took one of my favorite postings, the sad saga about my screws from Can you see at a glance how different these two postings are? This one tells a story about Costco, please Trudy, the screws, the wall, the chair, in March. It’s all somehow squeezed in there. And nice to look at, too.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to read in my entire blog, all of the entries from day one, and then construct a single word cloud from it. The software just pulled up one page or entry at a time. That’s too bad, because it would have been exciting to see what the common words have been for the 18 months or so this blog has been in existence. I wonder…

Word cloud: toy, art, or serious research tool. Why should we have to choose?

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