Monday, January 12, 2009

PoST – Class 3: Being an Anthropologist

Today’s class was focused on “Ethnography” and how to study a situation or a person with the sense of “Vuja De” – with fresh eyes. We all had to watch an episode of Entourage and look for cultural practices – a manifestation of a culture or a sub culture. Interspersed with the insights from the show on the topics of sex and gender, social organization and loyalty, were comments from Sundeep Ahuja, giving us a real flavor to what the people in the show were really like.

One of the games that we played today, was to spend a couple of minutes discussing what the person sitting next to us did yesterday and extrapolate from that information, what breakfast they had today. This was fun, because this illustrated to us in a straight forward manner, how it feels to try and imagine being someone else. Post, that we discussed how and what kind of products we could potentially market to them – was it through a viral video, a party setting, internet etc.

Another topic we touched today was how Vinay’s campaign was so effective – from getting their life’s story out through moving pictures that captured different phases of his life and make him real to the audience, to punctuating every campaign with an action recommendation. It was beautiful to see how by putting yourself in the foot of your target audience, and then thinking about the barriers to action and then removing it could be an effective way using social marketing.

Professor Aaker, then told us the story of a 14-year old who was suffering from a mysterious disease that suddenly attacked her, and turning her from a healthy little girl to someone who is bed-ridden today with a few weeks of life predicted. And we noticed that the campaign that the Professor had launched similar to Vinay’s campaign to identify one other similar case, was a failure, because they could not define the goal, privacy issues and the complexity of the disease which made communication complex.

The class ended with tips on the power of brevity in communication, through stories in 6 words (Like Hemingways’: “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn”) and with tips on in-situ ethnography. The five insights were to be there, be present, be vulnerable be surprised and to be brave and honest. Three methods of getting another person to open up were through good opening questions, photos and quotes and keeping a “bug list or an idea wallet”.

All in all, it was a great class with a wide breadth of things covered around ethnography and social impact.



  1. The story about the 14-year old girl that Professor Aaker tried valiantly to help was also telling in that the momentum of the cause dropped off dramatically when the blog stopped being up to date. The blog helped people connect with the girl and brought her to life in the eyes of thousands. This was very similar to the Vinay and Sameer cases where the power of connection through blogging and video was so critical to the success they achieved. I think people develop a sense of reliance / anticipation regarding such updates, but when they're not there anymore, interest drops off rapidly... sad, but true.

  2. I still have problems believing 100% that a personal story, a face for the campaign makes that much difference. To me, personally, it always looked a little bit cheap, manipulative and unscientific if a campaign was using emotional personal stories to a large extent. However, I'm very excited to experiment with this method. I guess the key is probably to make every little detail as authentic as possible to prevent even the slightest sense of manipulation.

    By the way, I'm also taking the class "How to make ideas stick" with Chip Heath and his findings seem to be highly applicable for social technology campaign. When you're at the point where you want to narrow down your message and make it as compelling and "sticky" as possible, I recommend you have a look at his book "Made to stick" that is available in Jackson. It is very well organized and therefore easy to skim.

  3. Although I wasn't able to take PoST because of scheduling conflicts, I'm excited to hear about the great discussions in class vicariously through everyone's blog posts.

    On the point of the value of actionable recommendations, the wonderful Pod that I'm helping is looking into donation platforms to help users easily make monetary contributions to a cause.

    In case it's helpful to others, here are some places to start:

    Facebook Causes ($4.75 fee per $100 donated)

    Amazon Simple Pay (5.0% + $0.05 for less than $10 transactions, but 2.9% + $0.30 otherwise)

    For people who shop with Amazon, they can use their stored payment info, potentially reducing a barrier to donation given the number of Amazon customers. Causes benefits from its relationship with Facebook (although fewer users are likely to have stored payment info).

    With higher transaction sizes (~>$20), Amazon might be more cost effective, while Causes may be better for many small donations.

    Others places to look: PayPal, Convio, Network for Good