Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Unlike most ad agencies in SA that use research and psychology to inform their strategies, Demographica focuses on anthropology to lead its B2B marketing.

CEO and Founder Warren Moss came across a case study in 2014 that would later prove to be groundbreaking for the agency. Titled “An Anthropologist Walks into a Bar”, the study followed the journey of a craft beer company in America that employed a team of anthropologists to help them increase sales. The concept resonated with Moss, who identified with the way in which anthropology – the study of human behaviour in terms of culture and context – uses the idea of immersion to solve problems.

As opposed to the research and psychology used by traditional advertising agencies, anthropology doesn’t rely on verbal indicators to solve problems, but rather on visual ones. “Very often, a client will have a problem with a product that has less to do with the product itself than with the environmental context,” explains Moss. “A traditional approach to advertising would be to default to pricing, distribution or selling points, whereas an anthropological one would look to solve the problem in terms of culture and context.”  

Moss was so impressed with this approach that he decided to implement it in his own agency. Research revealed that very few agencies were using anthropology globally, and that there were none at all in Africa. But bringing an anthropologist on board proved to be challenging, as most worked in academia and had little interest in the business environment, coupled with a deep suspicion of advertising – a discipline some of them believed sold people products they did not need and went against their philosophy of cultural context.

Undeterred, Moss eventually met Claire Denham-Dyson, who joined Demographica as the agency’s first anthropologist three years ago. Today, Demographica employs nine anthropologists, making it the largest employer of anthropologists outside of academia in SA.

Moss explains the approach. “People buy products from other people, and we believe they are more likely to buy from people they like. Any brand communication must resonate with them and create chemistry between them and the brand. A typical advertising brief will start with a communication strategy combining the agency’s desktop research with product and market research from the client. The gap we see is that everything is about the product and the client in the context of the product, with no research included on the context and culture of the client, independent of the product,” he says.

Demographica’s approach, on the other hand, is informed by anthropology – human insights that speak to the creation of resonance between brand and consumer. In a B2B environment, where service providers are selling to other businesses, Moss emphasises that the buyer is still a person, with a life, context and culture outside of his job that will influence his decisions. “We acknowledge that the buying process is complex one, and while there is one person who makes the ultimate decision – the FD, for example – his decision is influenced by other people and contexts, which in turn influence him. Therefore, our solutions must resonate and create chemistry with every person who is involved in that process,” he explains.

In a nutshell, Moss believes anthropology is a more human approach to advertising – one that considers the total context of consumers, whoever they may be, and provides them with the tools to make better decisions in that context.

The big take-out: While traditionally agencies use research and psychology to inform communication strategies, Demographica takes an anthropological approach that bases communication solutions on context and culture.

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