A couple of days ago, I argued consumers would respond to the present economic downturn by "dwelling" instead of "surging." I argued that this change would be governed by cultural subroutine called "homeyness." (Both Virginia Postrel and Tyler Cowen were kind enough to point their readers to the post, and I am grateful for the coverage.)
It turns out that the world of marketing is picking up the theme, chiefly in its new attention to what WSJ writer Stephanie Kang calls "family and the warmth and safety of home."
Pillsbury has a campaign called "home is calling." This show a wide variety of characters (business man, woman at train station, girl at school) who click their heals as way to return to home and loved ones.
I believe that this campaign is ill-advised. Homeyness is not, indeed it is the very opposite of, a virtual, imaginary, or fantastic state of mind. Homeyness is one of the great foundational part of our culture because it is so very literal, actual, and there. No clicking of heels, no Wizard of Oz metaphors, no "transportation" should be used here. With apologies to Gertrude Stein (who complained of Oakland that there was no there there), home is precisely where the there is, for most of us. Home is our most substantial there.
Toys "R" Us is reviving an old jingle and here too I think the strategy is ill advised. Greg Ahearn, senior vice president of marketing at Toys "R" Us says that the play here is "nostalgia" but homeyness is an entirely "in the moment" experience. Evocation of another time is as mistaken as the evocation of another place (the Pillsbury play).
Faith Popcorn is quoted in Kang's article and she is right to say we are in a state of shock. This means we want the comfort not in a virtual home or another place, but in the most protected, controlled, personal, intimate and actual of our heres and nows.
Kang reports that other brands are having a go at the homeyness theme, including Ragu, Mastercard, Ikea, and J&J. As it often the case, the brand manager and the agency leaps in the right direction but ends up in the wrong place. It is important to have more than a navigational vector when surveying the creative, branding opportunity. In a perfect world, we are also in command of the anthropological particulars.
Kang, Stephanie. 2008. Marketers Take a Softer Tack to Reach Uneasy Consumers. Wall Street Journal. November 4, 2008.
McCracken, Grant. 2008. What consumers do in a downturn. This blog sits at the intersection of anthropology and economics. October 22, 2008. here.
McCracken, Grant. 2005. Homeyness: a cultural account of one constellation of consumer goods and meanings. Culture and Consumption II: Markets, meanings, and brand management. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 22-47. Available from Amazon.com here.
Thanks to Sue and her website How to Keep House here for the image. This house captures one of the seven symbolic properties of the homey home.