It’s been decided! The winner of the March 2013 TSP Media Award for Measured Social Science goes to:
“Anthropology Inc.,” Graeme Wood, The Atlantic.
Wood explains that corporations are seeking the help of social scientists to understand the qualitative dynamics of consumer behavior. To illustrate, Wood delves into one strategy consulting company’s struggle to understand consumers’ needs in China:
“We find that these objects have meanings, not just facts,” Madsbjerg says, “and that the meaning is often what matters.” So to sell a personal computer in China, for example, what matters is the whole concept of a “personal” computer, which is culturally wrong from the start. “Household objects don’t have the same personal attachment [in China as they do in America]. It has to be a shared thing.” So if the device isn’t designed and marketed as a shared household object, but instead as one customized for a single user, it probably won’t sell, no matter how many gigahertz it has.
TSP author Andrew Wiebe wrote a citing on this article which outlines the problem-solving Absolut Vodka did with the help of anthropologists. To see more examples of how social scientists are helping unearth consumer insights, check out Wood’s article—a lengthy, but fascinating read.
As we say often, the choice of each month’s TSP Media Award is neither scientific nor exhaustive, but we do work hard to winnow our favorite nominees. And, while we don’t have the deep pocketbooks to offer enormous trophies or cash prizes, we hope our informal award offers cheer and encouragement for journalists and social scientists to keep up the important (if not always rewarding) work of bringing academic knowledge to the broader public.