Select a page

Why did I buy that?


A Christmas StoryAs marketers and business strategists the question of what motivates our actions is the premiere raison d’etre.

Understanding how and why individuals are motivated has been a source of study for centuries, perhaps due to the myriad of probable explanations and perhaps due to the academic approach to soft-sciences that’s largely devoid of practice.

As a cognitive anthropologist I spent much of my time grappling with the concept of motivation. Having dismissed the “reptilian brain” argument that motivation is entirely based on fundamental factors, such as survival and procreation, I searched for deeper meaning.

And after too much egg-nog and a Christmas Eve movie marathon I was reminded of the underpinnings of why we want things:

The Red Ryder BB Gun. The Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!

“A Christmas Story” has become a cultural phenomenon. Why? Not because of the BB gun. Not because of the scene where the kid freezes his tongue to the flagpole, but because it reveals why we want things.

Much of the movie showed Ralphie’s daydreams as a cowboy who chased off the bad-guys, while in his actual experiences he was harangued by local hoodlums. In Ralphie’s dreams we saw him use that Red Ryder BB Gun as a link to a new identity, to a sense of who he longed to be. That BB Gun was more than a piece of metal and wood. It was his key to becoming the person he longed to be.

Ah, longing… How about the father’s pride in displaying that hideous leg lamp with the thigh-high stocking and frills? His prize for winning a contest on the radio, and his desire to display the prize was his way of making a statement about his success, and in this display came the redemption from a mediocre life filled with blown fuses and broken furnaces.

So when we, as marketers, try to find that motivating factor for products not necessary for survival and with no clear advantage over the competitor, we may want to consider how ownership of an object fulfills an individual’s sense of self, of self-definition and proclamation to all our connections that Ralphie truly was the bad-ass, stiff-lipped hero his neighborhood friends needed.


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *