In multiple cities and countries, ethnographic research unfolded in local ice rinks, Subway sandwich shops, high-school parking lots, and family homes. The objective was for a major hockey equipment company to learn more about their customers “off the ice” – challenging assumptions about consumption patterns, media choices and concepts such as authority, legacy, brotherhood and even the game of hockey itself. The researcher became an agent of transformation for the very way that the brand understood its place in the culture of ice hockey. Corporate marketers engaged this project in the middle of a yearly planning cycle – disrupting the allocation of resources for media spend and creative content and setting the company on a path to re-design their approach to customer communication. Returning from the ethnographic practice, the research team made recommendations for how to shift hundreds of thousands of dollars from celebrity, magazine and television contracts to locally executed communication. They led creative teams to change the marketing messages, to re-imagine hockey players themselves as media and brand agents, and to build a digital experience that revolutionized the way that one of the largest marketing machines in the industry of consumer packaged goods mobilized its core customers.
Emilie Hitch is an applied anthropologist (Yale, LSE) whose work is rooted in the Common Good. From American, Cambodian and Zambian farmers, to modern philanthropists and Generation Flux-ers, she collaborates with people designing for social impact. She is also an active board member for the Quetico-Superior Foundation and Eat for Equity. Hitc0017@umn.edu