McCracken Soaks It Up In Mexico

Ethnographer and brand consultant Grant McCracken is in Mexico trying to “save marketing” by asking more of research.

I am here to advance my clients interests not by finding a hot button, but looking for a match between all of the cultural complexities of the consumers’ life and all the things the brand and the product are or can become.

McCracken also provides an historical context for a deep understanding of consumer behavior.

There was a golden age in the agency world when research, strategy and creativity worked together, and brands were build by smart people working in a happy, reckless free-for-all of creativity. (Like all mythic creations, this golden age is heavy on the happy.)
Take Chicago just before and after World War II. Lloyd Warner had taken his position at the University of Chicago in the 30s. (He’d been a graduate student at Harvard in the period 1929-1935 where he was connected both to the Department of Anthropology and the Business School! Like that’s ever going to happen again.) Even as Warner was writing books like American Life: Dream and Reality (1953), he was doing commercial work.
By the time I started doing commercial work in the middle 1980s, things had change, the world had shrunk, joy was largely extinguished. An age of iron now prevailed. Clearly, dark forces had prevailed. The free-wheeling days of smart people from different fields working together in the creation of novel approaches, this was pretty much over. Now people would open marketing meetings with “what’s the hot button here?”
What happened? Certainly, the b-school continued to treat creativity as an off planet activity. Most brands were controlled by managers who didn’t know or care about the full value that agencies and research could create. Wall Street was tightening the screws. And this discouraged longer term thinking and risk taking. The agencies themselves often demanded that they be left alone to commune with their gods. The rich connections and accomplishments of the Chicago world were vanishing.

In an earlier post, McCracken says, “Creativity likes chaos. So it loves Mexico City.”



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.