On Lions, Laundry and Being a sort of Anthropologist

At one level it is a ghastly expression, which only someone in marketing could come up with. And yet, on the other hand, only someone in marketing could alight on a phrase which neatly captures in an instance some of the advantages of ethnography over 'standard' market research.

''If you want to understand how a lion hunts, don't go to the zoo. Go to the jungle.'' 

This is attributed to AG Lafley – CEO of P&G and convert to commercial anthropology/ethnography/observational research. 

So I was interested in this little exchange, which I quote at length, from the FT's wonderful "Lunch with…" series, which this week featured said CEO. 


So, as Lafley absently lifts the red onion out of his salad and drops it into the upturned metal cover, I tell him how some of the stories in the book remind me of the texts I read when I briefly studied social anthropology.

I pick on the instance when P&G tried to kick-start its stagnant laundry market in Mexico by studying low-income women’s daily washing rituals. “That is a great metaphor!” he exclaims when I describe him as a commercial anthropologist. “I have probably seen every kind of consumer research known to man or woman over 32 years. I have sat with my legs in the water of a rural village in China talking with an interpreter to an older woman and her daughter doing her laundry in the river.

“I have probably done laundry in 25 countries. I was in [P&G’s] laundry business for 16 years … It is like being a social anthropologist … We should use that one Paul [he turns to his adviser who is sitting in on the lunch], I’m serious.”

“Social or commercial?” I counter. “You’re right, we are not doing it for an academic reason, there is in the end a commercial reason, but we deeply believe that if we don’t do anything to really improve life then we don’t deserve to reap the commercial rewards.”