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

August 19, 2008

Sage Seals the Deal!


The ink is, literally, just drying on the contract.

A little while ago, a senior editor at Sage publications, approached me about writing a Sage Research Methods book specifically devoted to netnography, the conduct of online anthropology. I thought it was a great idea, and enthusiastically began developing the outline for the book. That outline proposal went through a quick and careful review at Sage, resulting in some useful comments and suggestions. I incorporated them into a revised plan, and now we’ve got a signed deal.

I’m delighted to be working on this book for the esteemed Sage Research Methods series.

Here is a little overview of the book, and I’m sure I’ll be providing more information about it as I write it and we get closer to publication.

“Netnography: Researching Cultures and Communities Online” is going to be a methodological primer on a (relatively) new (yet established!) research technique: “netnography.” Netnography is a qualitative, interpretive, contextual research methodology that adapts the traditional, in-person ethnographic research techniques of anthropology to the study of the online cultures and communities formed through computer-mediated communications (“CMC”).

The Sage Research Methods book will thoroughly introduce, explain, and illustrate the method of netnography to interested scholars and other researchers. The book is needed because there are currently no other books that fill this void. With a history stretching back over twelve years in consumer and marketing research, netnography has been widely accepted by these constituents in this field of research. Netnography therefore differs from past qualitative Internet research techniques in that it offers, under the rubric of a single term, a rigorous set of guidelines for the conduct of online ethnographic research.

The overarching justification for the book is that netnography is an important and distinct technique and compares favorably with other research methods. The distinctive feature of netnography is that it combines the contextual strengths of ethnography with the reach and accessibility of Internet-based research techniques.

The technique has been well received within the fields of marketing and consumer research, and has begun to spread to other fields with recent publications in sociology, game studies, travel, cultural studies journals. The intention of this book is to broaden the reach of this methodology, offering and explaining it to scholars across a range of academic disciplines, as well as to continue to systematize and develop the approach.

The book will achieve its objective of introducing, explaining, and illustrating the method of netnography by offering a structure that initially overviews the history and explains the importance of online culture and community. The next parts of the book present and summarize various approaches to performing research online, and introduce and detail the method of netnography. Netnographic procedures are illustrated with a range of examples from published and ongoing research across a variety of fields, and in a variety of international contexts. The book will be written for a global audience of interested students, scholars, and researchers from any social scientific field that might include qualitative data analysis in its research.

The book concludes with a discussion of the ways netnography has already been adapted and altered, a presentation of the multifarious ways that the online space of culture and community is currently changing, and a discussion about how the method can be further adapted by individual researchers and teams to realize its full potential in this rapidly changing research environment.

In summary, this book will introduce the method of netnography, explain it and illustrate it. In so doing, it will also help to provide an organizing frame around the conduct of online research attuned to its cultural qualities. The book will provide guidelines for a rigorous application of Internet research methodology for social scientists across many disciplines, including sociology, anthropology, cultural studies, business and marketing.

The book is scheduled for release in late 2009.

August 18, 2008

Synchronistic Science: Ilium and Me

Jung, Zeus, or God–take your pick

I’m still planning to write some stuff about the CCT conference last month, but I just wanted to share something strange with you. As some of you know, I started this blog, and named it, based on the sense that what is missing from a lot of the discussions about marketing and consumer culture is a deeper appreciation for the sacred, even mystical, elements of marketplaces and consumption.

I’ve been writing a lot about this lately in my own idea journals, and will have a lot more of this topic to share with you in future blog postings and other writings. I think something is in the air. A number of my colleagues in England and Italy are researching and writing about the connection between magic (as in nature magic, paganism, witchcraft) and marketing. John Sherry and I have written a bit about neo-paganism and neo-shamanism, building on the work of anthropologists like Graham St. John (whose excellent blog is here).

We have barely even begun raising the topic of the mystical and magical side of markets, marketing, and consumption. Not in the “symbolic” or “consumers think this is sacred” sense, but in the way that Jung would write about the Mystical-as a genuine Force operating in the world.

This brings me to my little story.

Do you remember over a year ago I posted the original story that I wrote for the Brown and Sherry “Time, Space and the Market: Retroscapes Rising” volume? An unpublished science fiction story that combined my ethnographic research on Burning Man, but developed it within the literary framework of a science fiction story? Here’s an internal link to the beginning of that post on Super Hyper Ultra Post-postmodern Primitives.

Now, I had posted that post (and written that chapter, originally) as an illustration of the variety of resonant forms of representation that were possible in marketing and consumer research.

But something really pretty freakishly weird just happened.

In that story, written and submitted in December of 2001 (as John Sherry and Stephen Brown would attest), I set myself up autobiographically, as myself a professor in a Midwestern university (Northwestern’s Kellogg), but I cast the tale in the far future. I had been forcefully reincarnated using future technology, my consciousness and memory brought back into a physical body by people in the future who had need of my scholarly ability. These people, future groups of warring tribes, in fact, had need of my knowledge of Burning Man. Which sets up the tale and allow me to position my ethnographic reflections on Burning Man as a retroscape, a place that evokes the primitive past even though it also partakes in a timeless sense of the future.

Okay, that was kind of fun and I liked the result. Here’s the weird part.

Ilium by Dan Simmons–with altered colorschemeI recently started reading the book Ilium by one of my favorite science fiction authors, Dan Simmons. In the book, godlike people in the future forcefully reincarnate a Midwestern professor in order to use his scholarly abilities for their own purposes.

Reading that was totally strange. It was almost the exact same idea of using professors from the past and bringing them into the future for the purposes of these future people. I was really struck by that Jungian synchronicity, that unexpected concordance.

Synchronicity, if you aren’t aware of the concept, was Carl Jung’s word for coincidences that are just too strange to be coincidences. Too weird, or repeating, patterned, or just so weirdly impossible that they give us a sense that everything in reality (“reality” or, maybe, Reality?) is connected somehow by forces larger than ourselves (cue Twilight Zone music, right?). It suggests a different notion of causality, a causality linked by meaning rather than brute physical elements.

The story gets odder.

As I’m reading this book about the reincarnated professor in the far future, I come across page 76. Some of the characters are trying to locate a strange, ancient woman, and are asking one character, named Daeman, about her.

“Where did you meet her?” asked Ada.

“The last Burning Man. A year and a half ago….Lost Age ceremonies never interested me very much, but there were many fascinating young women at this gathering.”

“I was there” Hannah said, her eyes bright. “About ten thousand people came.”

Burning Man? In the far future? I did a double, then a triple take when I read that, my heartbeat loud in my ears.

What the heck was going on here?

This was just a pileup of coincidences. A causal connection and concordance of meaning. Consider these facts:

  1. Both science fiction stories are set in the far, far future.
  2. The central character in the book is Thomas Hockenberry, a future-science reincarnated professor from the Midwest. My story’s central character is Robert Kozinets, a future science-reincarnated professor from the Midwest.
  3. Both stories involve the idea of “posts.” In my story this is a post-postmodern primitivism that deeply involves the sacred. In Ilium “posts” are post-humans who sponsor a type of primitivism involving ancient gods.
  4. Burning Man plays a peripheral role in Ilium, but a central role in my story. But this book is probably the only major science fiction book I know of that involve Burning Man at all. Burning Man in the far, far future. AND for some strange reason it occurs alongside the reincarnated Midwestern professor thing, just like my story.
  5. The Ilium book was first published in 2003. That is two years after I wrote my story. There was no way I could have seen it before. The Retroscapes book was finally published in 2003 as well (with the edited, amended chapter, which had the science fiction elements excised.

Maybe the creepiest thing, the creepy coup de grace that sent a shiver down my spine is this. I started reading this book during the Olympics. Not intentionally, really, but maybe all of the Greek references in the book made it a bit more attractive to me during this time. It has lots of Olympian references, because it is about Greek gods living on Olympos Mons on Mars and an incredible re-enactment of the Homer’s Iliad.

I just went back to bookmark and re-read the sections on the story that I posted on the blog. And then I find Renan Wagner’s old comment post at the end of my story where he talk about being “in ancient Olympia” taking a course on “Olympic Studies.” And then he links up the Olympic Games, a giant burn, the lack of a marketplace, and Burning Man. Just like the book does.

This is just too weird.

Now, if you believe me that I did indeed write this story in 2001, and that I didn’t read Ilium before I wrote it, how would you explain these convergences? Doesn’t this seem to be too much intersection and patterning of meaning to be a random coincidence?

What’s your explanation? Am I missing something? Or is this just the way the universe winks at us and tells us that there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye?

August 1, 2008

McCain’s Obama Ad Launches New Advertising Genre

Filed under: Branding,Culture + Ad Jamming,Marketing News & Insights — Robert Kozinets @ 8:45 am

I had to post on this latest ad, already much blogged about, from John McCain’s new campaign team headed by ex-Bush campaigner Steve Schmidt. You’ve probably heard or seen the ad already, which uses images of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton to try to suggest that Barack Obama is some kind of breezy, superficial, fame-seeking attention-starved dilettante, while its voiceover questions his ability to lead. Notice the celebrities not being used in the ad: admired people like Oprah Winfrey and Robert Redford, who actually support Barack Obama for President.

Here’s the ad on YouTube.

Here’s some interesting coverage of it in the LA Times on how it is playing in Hollywood.Anyways, amid all the other vast blogospheric coverage of the ad (see this Wired article on some of the response it has generated among bloggers; see this blog from the SF Gate on more responses), I was thinking that it actually starts a new kind of advertisement.

We already know a lot about celebrity endorser ads, where people employ celebrities so that some of their positive cultural meanings will “rub off” onto the product or brand. Michael Jordan advertising Eveready batteries is a good example. MJ really isn’t a credible source of information about batteries, as he is with shoes, but his image was so strong he sold batteries, perfume, and lots more. Grant McCracken wrote a classic article on the Celebrity Endorser which you can link to here.

But this new McCain-supported ad isn’t just negative advertising, as everyone is calling it. It is an anti-celebrity de-endorsement. A de-legitimizing strategy. A negative inference using celebrities (and the notion of fame itself, it seems) to appeal to a particular target. It uses celebrities (widely disliked ones) in order to discredit a brand or product (of course the political candidates are like brands or products; that’s just basic marketing at this point in marketing’s evolution).

This use of celebrity images for negative rather than positive impact seems to me to be new, and noteworthy. I wonder if anyone is going to study it culturally, or in a more controlled setting like a consumer lab.

I also think it’s wonderfully ironic and kind of silly that the McCain-ex-Bush camp is talking about how awful it is that Barack Obama is using “marketing” (that devilish technique, so avoided in Washington), to make himself “popular.” They even say that he is being marketed like soap or candy bars (horror of horrors–the technique is, <gulp>, generalizable; does that mean it could spread…um, everywhere?).

They are saying this as they are experimenting very deliberately with new marketing techniques. Like the anti-celebrity de-endorsement.

However, there are two problems with your plan, McCain marketers.

Number one: Good marketing is premised on the idea of segmentation and targeting. And number two, it’s premised on old, outdated assumption about controlling your message–it’s a different media world than it was four years ago, when blogging and the Internet weren’t such a force.

So when a message targeted at blue collar Americans spills over and gets wide attention among many who are not of that target, all sorts of interesting things can happen. It also changes things when the message gets transformed, altered, transmogrified in this amazingly wild terrain of the Internet and blogosphere. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing now.

So it’s not exactly good marketing, by any means. New, probably. Effective, unlikely.

I’d expect to see a boomerang effect on the negativity. People posting responses of their own. For example…something like ‘if you want your President to be a serious man, in charge of the issues, above the realm of popular culture, and “ready to lead,” then it may be worth revisiting this video of Senator McCain.’

And this catchy little consumer-generated ditty+video that it inspired.

Boom-boom-boom boom-boom-er-ang.

De-endorsement, indeed.

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