By Darren Gilbert

Let me introduce you to Marcela Ospina. Born and bred in Colombia but currently living in Johannesburg, she is a business anthropologist. Now, before we get lost in all the terminology that comes with a subject such as anthropology, it’s best to take a step back. In essence, Ospina uses behaviour change for effective marketing. If you want an even simpler description, here it is. She makes marketing more human.

And in a world where people are bombarded with marketing messages, it’s desperately needed. “I find it strange that when people talk about marketing, they don’t seem to make the connection with human sciences,” says Ospina. “Why, I’m not sure because marketing is all about prompting behaviour change.” And effecting any change in behaviour is a result of listening and observing.

However, it needs to be pointed out that it doesn’t have to be a drastic change in behaviour. In actual truth, it’s almost always never a big change. Ospina explains: “When people think about changing behaviour, they think of big things like changing who they are. But that is a mistake. In reality, marketing changes behaviour all the time.” And it’s subtle too. In fact, the more subtle the better. One only needs to look at a recent piece of work that NATIVE VML did for The Organ Donor Foundation.

People weren’t donating organs. However, it was discovered that it had nothing to do with a rational decision. So in response to this, two very different concepts – organ donation and fashion design – were brought together. And so the idea of a pop-up shop was born where in exchange for an item of clothing, you had to sign up as an organ donor.

“To me, this is the perfect example of changing behaviour,” says Ospina. “This is because you are changing behaviour by doing clever marketing.” Not only is it subtle but it’s warm and social. It’s also a campaign which would not have succeeded without an understanding of what makes people tick. And it is here where someone like Ospina can play a vital role.

Fortunately for her, anthropologists have become quite popular in marketing. It’s not a new fact, but that is to be expected. After all, someone like Ospina helps marketers to better understand their customers and identify how best to engage with them. That makes what she does a goldmine for business. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any challenges, and especially here in South Africa. For Ospina, the biggest one is attempting to get in front of the right people.

“People here are a little skeptical,” admits Ospina. But that is more out of the fact that you have to pay more and people are scared of invading the spaces of others. And, anyway, why would you want to do that when you can simply turn to a focus group to get the data that you need. However, with focus groups, you’re wasting your money. This is because in such environments, people lie.

“It’s exactly why ethnography became so popular. The behaviour wasn’t matching with what people were saying in focus groups, which meant the data was essentially useless,” says Ospina. This is simply because there is no way that you can contrast whatever you’re being told in focus groups with reality because the context is not real. That means only one thing: you need to gather the information from the field.

In mentioning this fact, you’ll see Ospina’s eyes light up. It’s because it’s the part of her job that she loves the most. And regardless of what you may think, people do welcome you into their homes. Of course, there are checks in place. You have to ensure that whomever you interview is comfortable and you need to ask the right questions. However, it’s the perfect opportunity to find out the truth and help you move forward as a business.

“It’s a skill that I’m selling here,” points out Ospina. “I anticipate how people are going to behave; how people are going to react. And then I identify what actions you should take as a marketer. Not everyone can do that.” It’s a skill that businesses need make use of to remain relevant. After all, if you’re not aligned with where culture is going, your marketing will be ineffective. Just ask Ospina.

For more information about how Marcela Ospina can help you with your marketing, visit