If we understand brands as props in our own personal mythologies, then we must recognize how important it is to frame brands properly within their ritualistic context. Not all brands are able to tap into this powerful brand-building approach, but many are able to do it very subtly and very successfully. Nearly all of the iconic brands we use every day connect with us as part of ritualistic behaviors we have.

The idea that we still perform “rituals” might strike many as outdated in today’s rational world. Didn’t rituals die out with savage cultures? Actually, ritualistic behavior is all around us and has never been stronger. With an anthropologist’s perspective, just observe any playground, fraternity,  Big 10 football game, funeral, marriage, or company board meeting (if you are not the CEO, try sitting in the power spot once to see how people react.) We are surrounded by, and eagerly participate in ritualistic behavior every day–we just don’t like to call it that, or be made overtly aware it. When my family engages in the Easter egg hunt each spring, my wife and kids certainly don’t think of themselves as participating in a fertility rite that reaches back to the dawn of agriculture, they are simply doing what one does on Easter. (Spoiler alert! Eggs & Bunnies– classic fertility symbols–are simply the props in this rite.)

Below are two brand examples that tap into a daily ritual in the coffee category. The first goes about it all wrong (in my humble opinion). The second brand did it right.

I recently walked into my local Starbucks to see painted on the door and on signage in the store: “Take comfort in rituals.” Coffee has long been adopted into our culture as part of our morning wake up ritual. This stems from a time when we were very young and the imprinting of first waking experience we had each morning was the coffee aroma wafting up from the kitchen, where our mom was getting the family ready for the day. Starbucks understands this. What they don’t understand is that just as a joke is no longer funny once it is explained, rituals lose their mystery and meaning once they become part of our conscious experience. The spell is broken, the magic is gone, and with it, the meaning.

Procter & Gamble, on the other hand, understood and executed on this morning coffee ritual much better when they launched, “The best part of waking up, is Folgers in your cup” 25 years ago. Today, the brand is owned by Smuckers, but the brand still uses that tagline to frame itself within the morning waking ritual.

Ritualistic behaviors and rites of passage exist (and always will) because they deliver on primal needs for connection, purification and separation that transcend modern culture. If you want to read two of the best books ever written on the subject of ritualistic behaviors, read these classics:

-The Golden Bough, by Sir George Frazer
-The Rites of Passage, by Arnold van Gennep
Both were written over 100 years ago by two brilliant scholars who took the time to deeply study various human cultures and offer a treasure trove of insights with us even today.

Happy reading!