By Russell Jones, Co-founder / Creative Director of Condiment Junkie

199.53 seconds. That's the exact amount of time a well-informed bartender will take to pour a perfect Guinness. Leaving it to perform its slow-motion swirling display, until gracefully settling into two distinct layers and receiving the final top-up.

Seeing brand rituals played out in front of you looks very impressive and meaningful. It appears to have clear, visible purpose and builds a sense of expectation. Of the quality. Of the taste. Of the experience.

Brand rituals can make a beer taste better
Editorial credit: VanderWolf Images / Shutterstock.com

Owning a globally recognised serving ritual

For a brand to own a globally recognised serving ritual like this is gold dust. It’s immensely effective at building brand equity, but can also vastly improve how much people enjoy and value the product. Brand rituals make people like products more. 

Sensory research can enlighten us on the benefits of having a ritual as part of a product experience. But importantly, the science shows the powerful difference between seeing someone else perform brand rituals (like the bartender serving a Guinness) or actually doing it yourself.

Rituals serve as a means of delaying gratification. And doing that extends the pleasurable and rewarding period of anticipation. In 2002, researchers used fMRI scanners to measure people’s brain responses while they waited to expect a sweet treat, and then consequently eat it (O'Doherty et al., 2002). The study showed that their dopaminergic levels – the pleasure reward signal – were just as high during their anticipation of the treat as when they actually tasted it. Looking forward to something can be just as pleasurable as actually having it.

What does performing brand rituals signify

Barista preparing a coffee

Watching someone performing a ritual also cues up perceptions of craft, expertise, and therefore expectations of quality. Seeing a coffee barista flatten the freshly ground beans into their receptacle before tightening it into the machine, or the tap-tap of the milk jug before artfully pouring it into your cup. Who knows if the coffee would taste exactly the same, objectively speaking, if these brand rituals weren’t performed. The sights and sounds of them definitely tell us that this person knows what they’re doing, and we’ve learnt to associate them with quality and taste.

At Condiment Junkie, we showed that even just hearing these sounds (vs. hearing a cheap coffee machine) makes the same cup of coffee taste better. We’ve learnt to associate the sounds of the brand rituals with quality. They prime us to expect a better tasting coffee.

How do you eat yours?

Cadbury Creme Egg’s brilliant and iconic campaign ‘How do you eat yours?’ celebrates and democratises rituals. Any ritual goes; you can do anything and you own it. This does a very important thing – it brings the ritual into the hands of the consumer.

Performing the ritual yourself has been proven to enhance emotional attachment. In the case of food and drink, it makes people want more of it, say it’s tastier and increases how much they would pay - more so than a ritual they weren’t personally involved with.

The "IKEA Effect"

“When people make something themselves, they place a higher value on it.”  - Norton et al. (2011)

Scientists in 2011 coined the now-famous term for this phenomenon, the "IKEA effect”. This effect is defined as “consumers' increased valuation for goods they have assembled when compared to objectively similar goods not produced by the self” (Norton et al., 2011). The research team showed that people who assembled their own IKEA box were willing to pay 63% more for it than people who were given the chance to buy an identical pre-assembled box.

Exploring the IKEA Effect

The IKEA Effect also applies to food. When people prepared a milkshake themselves, they liked it more and ate much more of it (because they liked it so much), compared to when the milkshake was made by someone else (Dohle et al., 2014).

One study had participants perform completely arbitrary rituals before eating chocolate or carrot sticks, or drinking lemonade. This included things like tapping on the table twice before breaking off and eating a chunk of chocolate. Across all types of food, people rated them as more flavourful, ‘deserving of more savouring’, and were willing to pay more (Vohs et al., 2013).

“Performing a ritual oneself enhances consumption more than watching someone else perform the same ritual, suggesting that personal involvement is crucial for the benefits of rituals to emerge.” - Vohs et al. (2013)

The power of performing a ritual yourself

So, owning a global ‘serve’, as it were, performed by someone else delays gratification and will improve the product experience. 

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However, to have a more powerful effect on consumers' emotional attachment to a product, increasing their liking for it and what they’ll pay for it, brands should seek to devise a ritual that’s performed by the person themselves.

This ritual can involve any action and seemingly can be completely arbitrary. But it should give people their own sense of craft and achievement, no matter how small that is. If the ritual were to involve the senses, or give you some kind of sensory feedback, it becomes even more powerful, memorable and own-able. Generating a sound, releasing aroma, or incorporating an action that engages touch and creates a feeling.

Engaging the senses in such a way brings you into the moment, snapping you out of autopilot. As you’re performing the ritual, the sensory cues are also sparking other instinctual reactions. A sound that cues up the quality of the product. A texture that communicates the sustainability or naturalness of the material. In doing this you are also creating valuable sensory and emotional assets. Sounds and textures that are now intrinsically linked to your brand and product. Enhancing its core functional and emotional qualities, and through the ritual itself, increasing enjoyment and satisfaction.

That’s why a multisensory, science-based approach to developing product or brand rituals is the way to go - and why we’ve found ourselves creating quite a few of them. If you’d like to know more and explore how we go about doing that, please get in touch with us at listen@condimentjunkie.co.uk.

And if you ordered a Guinness just as you started reading this, it should just about be ready. Enjoy.