The Senses in Anthropological and Marketing Research: Investigating a Consumer-Brand Ritual Holistically


  • Timothy de Waal Malefyt



Anthropology of the senses, brand, consumer behavior, ritual, sensory marketing


The study of the senses encompasses a range of approaches from the social sciences and humanities. Anthropology, in particular, turns our attention away from previous considerations of the senses as biologically determined and universally fixed, to more interactive, adaptable and fluid concepts of the senses that are continuously shaped by culture, geography and history. Alternately, business marketers increasingly explore the senses and consumer’s sensory response to brands as a means of eliciting deeper, more personal experiences with products and services. While anthropologists regard the senses as a form of social interaction, marketers seek to maximize consumer-brand relations by targeting specific sensory responses to consumption. This study integrates both views in an ethnographic investigation of a brand ritual. It examines the sensorial dimensions and symbolic associations of a shaving ritual that foster skills and reformulate time, which inform culturally situated notions of self-presentation and identity. This study advances a more holistic sensory approach to brand rituals as a means of enhancing consumer brand relationships and experiential consumption studies.

Author Biography

Timothy de Waal Malefyt

Timothy de Waal Malefyt is Clinical Associate Professor at Fordham University Business School in NYC. Previously, he worked in advertising for over 15 years as Director of Cultural Discoveries for BBDO Worldwide advertising in NYC, and at D’Arcy, Masius, Benton & Bowles in Detroit. He holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from Brown University, is co-editor of Advertising Cultures (2003), co-author of Advertising and Anthropology (2012), and was co-chair of EPIC conference for 2013. He is frequently cited in Business Week, The New York Times, USA TODAY, and other media. He may be reached at