Marketing Anthropology

John Mcreery (jlm@TWICS.COM)
Thu, 9 Jun 1994 15:14:41 JST

Bonnie Blackwell writes,

"Who is to say that an ethnographer researching Amazonian Indians may
not find the cure for some cancer from a plant used by that group?
Wouldn't it be interesting if an archaeologist found some long forgotten
form of technology that proves to be a great marketing success?
What would happen if the next advance in aids research came from
research done on blood type genetics by a human paleontologist?
Why couldn't a linguist discover, by deciphering an ancient text,
information that leads to a better understanding of the rate of volcanic
eruptions in the Mediterranean, which could lead to saving many lives?"

Far be it from me to deny that science works in seredipitous ways. As a
tax-paying citizen I, for one, cheerfully support expanded funding for
basic research for the same reason I also support expanded funding for
space exploration. Together they offer the best hope we have of advances
to improve the pres $@JA (J

ent sorry state of the world.

Still, as an avocational anthropologist who makes his living in advertising
I can't help noting that the field I love has a serious marketing problem.
Our "big ideas"--culture, ethnography, fieldwork, first-hand reports from
exotic places--are now readily available from numerous other sources: I
think, in particular, of consumer research and cultural studies types.
The best macrosocial ethnography I read these days comes from management
gurus like Tom Peters (the Pursuit of Excellence, Liberation

Management, etc.) or investigative reporters like, whoops I've forgotten hs
name, the author of a marvelous book called _Edge Cities_.(I'm talking
here about a book that combines thorough analysis of economic and ideological
factors with plenty of direct quotation from the people most directly
involved on all sides of whatever question is being discussed.)

As someone who enjoys new thoughts, I am fascinated by deconstructionist/
postmodern criticism of classic styles in writing ethnography. From a
marketing point of view, I can't help noting that in ten years in the ad
business I have never once seen anything sold by backbiting, breastbeating
and woe is us. If we can't project a vision of what we're about that others
will find attractive we can't expect the funding that might, I do agree,
lead to important discoveries.