Why brands need to understand the opportunity presented by rituals

By our African Marketing Confederation News Team | 2024

Brands should think about how to incorporate small rituals to engage consumers, recommends Harvard Business School professor.

Recent research from MSQ, the global media and technology group, and WARC (World Advertising Research Center) explores the role of rituals, how they uncover truths behind human behaviour, and why brands need to understand the opportunity presented by rituals.


The findings are based on qualitative and quantitative research from 4,000 people across the USA, UK, Germany and France.


“Every brand has some unique aspect of behaviour tied to it that may be considered ritualistic. What are the (hidden) patterns amongst the consumers you serve? What are they doing, how and why? Once you know, you’re well on your way to tapping into the power of rituals,” comments Kate Howe, Executive Director at MSQ.


Among the key takeouts from the study:


Why rituals matter:

Even brushing your teeth can have ritual significance.

Photo: Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

  • Rituals are about emotional transformation, yet, magically, any behaviour can be a ritual. As long as it’s regular, long held, and about animation rather than automation. Rituals are deeply personal experiences. 
  • One person’s ritual, if imbued with emotional meaning, may be another’s habit – the point where meaningfulness is replaced by pure efficiency. Rituals therefore present a sizable opportunity for brands. This is especially true for treat brands – think Starbucks, KitKat, Coca-Cola or even Guinness – although they can also form part of a less frequent ritual, such as a holiday.
  • There are important guidelines, not least that a brand can only become part of a ritual if a person invites them into it. 
  • “Observe, facilitate, participate” is the mantra for brands exploring the ritual opportunity. Use it as a framing for understanding your consumer’s lives more richly and where you can better fit in, in order to better support their lives. It’s powerful stuff, if done correctly.

The frequency of rituals:


  • 72% of consumers incorporate a specific product or service into their rituals at least occasionally.
  •  48% have had their key ritual for more than five years, and the majority of important rituals occur daily.
  • 39% feel more positively toward a brand once it has become part of their ritual.


What rituals do:


  • Support individuals in an atomised society: 31% believe rituals help to create the rules and constructs for living their life.
  • Provide control in a world of volatility: 33% say rituals offer them structure, while 31% believe rituals give a sense of control, and 32% said they helped them de-stress.
  • Meaning in an efficiency obsessed world: 33% believe rituals exist to enhance experiences, while 24% believe that rituals give their life purpose and meaning.

Michael Norton, a professor at Harvard Business School in the US, also studies rituals and believes brands that use rituals as part of their interaction with consumers are more likely to create a lasting connection.

Even commonplace rituals, such as in which order you shower and brush your teeth, can have significance, he states.

“[There’s] an opportunity for brands to think [about] ‘how can we help customers build little rituals around our products and services that will resonate more with them emotionally and improve their experience’, because you’ve given them something that’s more meaningful,” Norton says.

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    Dr Kin Kariisa

    Group CEO - Next Media

    Dr. Kin Kariisa is an extraordinary force at the helm of Next Media Services, a conglomerate encompassing NBS TV, Nile Post, Sanyuka TV, Next Radio, Salam TV, Next Communication, Next Productions, and an array of other influential enterprises. His dynamic role as Chief Executive Officer exemplifies his unwavering commitment to shaping media, business, and community landscapes.
    With an esteemed academic journey, Dr. Kariisa’s accolades include an Honorary PhD in exemplary community service from the United Graduate College inTexas, an MBA from United States International University in Nairobi, Kenya, a Master’s degree in Computer Engineering from Huazong University in China, and a Bachelor’s degree in Statistics from Makerere University.
    Dr. Kariisa pursued PhD research in Computer Security and Identity Management at Security of Systems Group, Radboud University in Nijmegen, Netherlands. As a dynamic educator, he has shared his expertise as a lecturer of e-Government and Information Security at both Makerere University and Radboud University.

    Dr Kin did his PhD research in Computer Security and Identity Management at Security of Systems Group, Radbond University in Nigmegen, Netherlands. He previously served as a lecturer of e-Government and Information Security at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda and Radbond University in Netherlands.

    Dr Kin did his postgraduate courses in Strategic Business Management, Strategic Leadership Communication and Strategies for Leading Successful Change Initiatives at Harvard University, Boston USA.

    • Other current and previous roles played by Dr Kin Kariisa:
    • Lecturer of e-Government and Information Security to graduate students at Makerere University, Kampala and Radbond University in the Netherlands
    • Director of Eco Bank Uganda Limited, one of the largest banks in Africa
    • Chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters, an umbrella industry association for all Television, Radio and online broadcasters in Uganda.
    • Chairman of Board of Directors of Nile Hotel International, that owns the leading hotel in Uganda, Kampala Serena Hotel.
    • Chairman of Board of Directors of Soliton Telmec Uganda, the leading telecom company in Optic fibre business managing over 80% of optic fibre in Uganda.