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Why do we Want to be Bears? Anthropomorphic Ethnographic Research in Action

By now you’re probably all familiar with The Onion’s publication of research from the University of Virginia indicating that 96% of all humans would strongly prefer to be singing, dancing, animatronic bears.

This is hardly big news. Psychologists and market researchers have long known that consumers long to take on non-human forms, largely in response to economic and financial vicissitudes. Think of the surge in rabbit costume sales during the Clinton administration, the weasel craze during the Bush administration, and the viper revival currently underway in some particularly red state political precincts.

No, the real question is: Why animatronic bears, and why now?

As The Onion notes, the prospect of “sitting on a plastic log, strumming a banjo, and singing songs on stage with their goofy animatronic bear friends” is universally appealing, across a diverse range of socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, and age groups, and the allure of wearing comfy overalls and a big, floppy hat is, of course, undeniable. But at Communispace, our expertise lies in employing creative techniques that help us dig beneath the obvious, to elicit the underlying unmet needs and pre-cognitive feelings that drive such seemingly routine survey responses.

For example, a simple, Mad Libs type of fill-in-the-blank activity, in which community members are asked to complete a sentence (“I am most relaxed when ___”), can yield not just the obvious findings quoted in The Onion’s story (e.g., that performing a maximum of six programmed body movements and speaking in a limited number of prerecorded sounds provides a comforting routine for robot bears, or that having a single, smiling facial expression eliminates the need to even try to hide one’s true feelings), but deeper, more nuanced insights as well (such as the fact that having people pet a belly that looks like it’s filled with honey but is actually composed of sheet metal and asbestos insulation offers the best of both worlds – cuteness and durability).

A mobile ethnography project can quickly surface the fact that office workers routinely wind up the little key in the back of the animatronic bear sitting atop their cube over the course of a workday, but only play with the squealing pig or the waddling penguin after their boss has walked by. Mind mapping exercises can reveal that when people think about Winnie the Pooh, their minds go not just to Christopher Robin, but to locavorism,  and to the health risks and benefits of raw honey.

In sum, the kind of longitudinal exploration and analysis that our private communities goes deep. Traditional research – well, it bearly scratches the surface.

P.S. I really, really hope you realize that this is a spoof. Consumers don’t really want to be animatronic bears. They want to be pythons.

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