Copyright © 2013 Business Private Eye
Ethnography​/ Participant observation  民族志, 觀察性研究

Consumers in the modern world are complicated. They express one idea, and in the next moment contradict themselves. They convey inadequate trust in various brands and increasing cynicism about the marketing process. Using surveys and formal interviews, companies gather information about changing consumer wants and needs. Oftentimes, however, consumers unconsciously lie when they speak about life, brands, and their lives. Ethnography/Participant observation enables businesses to obtain deeper insights that are not obtained from traditional research methods. 

Most of what consumers really do and what consumers say in daily life about the products and services that they use is not accessible except through direct observation where they live. Observational insight offers insights and opportunities not provided by other forms of market research. In the 21st century, in a personalized society, it is more vital than ever before to know how individuals use products and services- how they live with them in their everyday personal environments, what they think about them, what place the products have in consumers' lives - and to know the nature of the ongoing product experience. These are the kinds of questions that must be answered if a reality-based relationship with your consumer is to be developed and maintained, if a marketing strategy that talks directly to their personal needs and wants is to be constructed, and if an advertising campaign that talks their language and connects with them emotionally is to be created. Where can the answers be found? Not in quantitative research, no matter how sophisticated the database. These are usually found in the quality of the consumer experience.



























We are passionate in researching and understanding the "why" about consumers in Asia and other emerging markets (Brazil, Turkey, Russia, Mexico, etc.). Typically, we start by identifying the objective of clients, such as a gap between their product or service and their target market. Afterwards, we head out to do fieldwork with consumers around the world—interacting with them in their neighborhoods and environments, following them to work, joining them in stores, observing and listening to them all the while. When conducting our field research, our informants usually do not know about our professional identity. Or, perhaps they may have an idea, but they usually do not ask us. In any case, we do not volunteer information regarding our interest. (There is no desire to conceal our identity. Neither is our silence designed to deceive them, especially people who become our friends.) We simply blend in the chosen environment and/or its people, and people take us for what we are. This is in contrast to doing direct interviews, where information obtained may not be as deep and insightful, as respondent may feel ill at ease or may be prone to ‘response bias’.

We will bring the researcher to live among the individuals or neighborhood, where we submerge ourselves in the activities of the environment. For example, if the project calls for understanding urban poor consumers in the slums, we will assign a researcher who is from a slum neighborhood in the location or a researcher who can blend in and make arrangements for him/her to live or visit the neighborhood for a several days, in order to adequately observe the environment as an insider. In this way, informants will naturally share thoughts and feelings. 

The participant observation conversations take place on the consumer's own turf, in familiar, personal surroundings, not at a facility and not in front of a dozen people, with others watching and listening behind a two-way mirror. It's much easier for respondents to relax and be themselves in familiar environments. Respondents act and talk naturally within the first few minutes of the conversations. It's not uncommon for respondents to reveal some of their most intimate thoughts and feelings and to do what they would usually do only in front of a close friend or relative or when they're alone.



SAMPLE PARTIAL REPORT: ETHNOGRAPHIC RESEARCH CONDUCTED IN A SLUM COMMUNITY IN ASIA

Environment Description (Houses, Alleys and Access to the Slum Area)
The slum community, which consists of 1,059 structures, is always bustling around with people especially at night. The surrounding streets of the slum community along XXX Avenue and XXX Road provide the observer with a general scene of the whole community. Most of the structures along these two major roads consist of sari-sari stores (neighborhood convenience stores) significantly bigger than the ones inside the alleys, videoke/beer bars, bakeries, barber shops/beauty parlors, fast food stands and other commercial establishments. The Lotto station and OTB (Off Track Betting) station is especially often huddled with people. 

To enter the interior of the slum community, one has to pass by numerous labyrinth-like alleys that range from two meters wide to as narrow as two feet. Sari-sari stores spring up like mushrooms in almost every corner and alley. Dogs and cats meanwhile could be seen everywhere sniffing for food around the alleys. Dogs in the slum area do not bark at people. Together with the cats, they walk and idle around the alleys like humans, comfortably treating themselves as legitimate members of the slum community. Deeper into the slum area, open gutters with a repulsive smell, could be seen with cockroaches sneaking in and out. Some canals are dry and do not have liquid flowing through it but trash wrapped in plastic bags are scattered in some of these ditches.

The alleys are oftentimes dimly lit or with no light at all at night. This is compounded by the many manholes half covered, uncovered or covered only with old plywood, which puts a newcomer in the area in danger of falling in holes. The ground is mostly cemented but grossly uneven. The plastic or metal water tubes could also be seen protruding from the cement floor. On some areas, pieces of wooden planks are used as bridges over wide canals. Walking inside the slum community is made even more difficult because there are wet spots all over the ground, even if it is not raining. This puts one in danger of slipping if he is not careful. One thus has to keep his eyes on the ground when walking inside the slum area, especially if he is a newcomer. 

Turning to his sense of hearing to gain a feel of the neighborhood, the researcher observed that the alleys are particularly quiet in the evening for a place that it is full of people. Though one can hear people speaking, it is not often that one hears people speak in loud voices. In fact, along some dark alleys, people seem to be talking in whispers. The sounds that could be heard are from the television sets from different houses and some houses where people sing with their videokes at home. The televisions inside homes during night time are turned on in almost every home.

Most houses are around a meter wide and have two stories. Others have no second floor. The better looking houses have a patio and a gate in front of their house. The windows are often as wide as the houses and half the length of the house. Curtains are also pulled up, even at night so that passers-by can see the activity going on inside. Wet clothes can also be seen in hangers being dried outside houses. Teenagers meanwhile hang around dark alleys sitting on the floor, with their faces unseen. Others could be seen having a drinking session outside their houses. The alleys and sidewalks in the slum community are thus like an extension of their homes. Houses are built beside one another with almost no space in between. This makes all the houses in danger of burning down the whole community if one house catches fire. 

Many houses are built from old, not sanded wood. Further, when one holds the wood, it feels cold and wet. But despite the lowly conditions in the slum neighborhood, it is the people that seem to make the place alive and draws attention and interest. When one walks the alleys, it is almost impossible not to meet anyone even at night. On one occasion, the researcher went home at one am in the morning and there were still people along the alleys. Outside the area along the streets, the street lamp and people around brighten up the place even during wee hours of the morning. 

With its huge population, it is no surprise that there is a big talipapa (small wet market) inside the slum community. Two long streets and an open space near the southwest part of the slum area is allocated to the talipapa. Most stores are bigger than the sari-sari stores around. Items sold include vegetables, meat, fish, rice, etc. The talipapa also sells all sorts of other items found in markets such as digital video discs (DVDs), etc. The houses near the talipapa, which is near Agham road, also seem to be bigger. The alleys are likewise wider and better lit.

People and Community 
Children especially brighten up the sidewalks around the slum area, playing skip rope or just running around. Teenagers are also commonly seen walking along the sidewalks or sitting and idling around. They can sometimes be seen drinking beer outside sari-sari stores or along the alleys even if they appear to be still minors. Some teenage girls can be seen walking around in quick steps, appearing to be in a hurry to do something important, with bodies straight, their hair neatly combed, wearing sexy shorts and shirts. In a few minutes they can again be seen walking back. This pattern was observed and assumed to be their way to attract the attention of teenage boys. 

Barbeque vendors in carts or makeshift tables are also a common sight in the area. Grilled food sold includes esau (pork intestines) or “IUD” (chicken intestines), pork BBQ, block of dugo (solid blood). These are dipped in bottles containing a mixture of vinegar, red onions and chili pepper as sawsawan (dip). Likewise, mani (peanut) vendors selling their fried peanuts with garlic, ply the streets in carts with wheels. 

The electric wires were observed to be dangerously bound together too low that they can be reached by a person walking by. There were around fifty or more cable wires seen bound together about six feet up from the ground along the outside streets. 

Fights are also not uncommon according to residents from conversations done by the researcher with informants. In fact, one night at around 10:30 pm, the researcher was going home when he chanced upon two neighbors shouting at each other. Residents around came out of their houses to see what the commotion was all about. The researcher noticed however that the residents seem to have come out of curiosity and only wanted to watch a scene from a true to life story because their faces seemed amused and not worried. It was as if it were a common occurrence to have fights among neighbors. The informant told the researcher that when some residents get drunk, they are prone to look for trouble. The informant/host told the researcher that one of the residents involved in the fight was holding a knife and advised the researcher to just walk straight and not mind what was going on so as not to get mixed up in the fight. The researcher was then always accompanied by the informant in and out of the community at night. 

The ethnicities in the slum community are said to composed mostly of Bicolanos, Warays and Muslims according to residents interviewed. Near the talipapa, along XXX road, there is a mosque, where most Muslims are said to live around this area. 

Interpersonal Relations
Another important dimension of slum life is the relational aspect or how members of the community interact with one another. The kapitbahay (neighbor) is best exemplified in terms of how one regards the other. Gossiping is one form of behavior through which neighborhood relations are articulated. Gossiping may be viewed as a means of establishing group cohesion because a feeling of intimacy is developed once feelings, emotions and secrets are shared. Hence, it is not uncommon to see people idling outside their houses engaging in gossip. Coming into contact with neighbors and other residents is a way to pass away time and relax. 

The slum community in Botanical compound is filled with colorful images of Filipino life to the interested observer. Without the intent to do research, the slum community is already of particular interest to any passer-by because of the many different kinds of people seen walking in and out of the area. People in school uniforms, office uniforms, men without upper clothing, etc could be seen. What more interest it is then to a researcher who will pay attention to the little minute details of the community. The harsh living conditions make the place appear as if it is despicable but there is something about the slum community that is so much a part of being a local. Because it is in the slum areas where one sees the ordinary Filipino. Life in the slum community is hence a significant part of Filipino culture.  

Despite the stench of the canals and the dilapidated houses that make the place look like no man’s land if it were vacated, what is so attracting about the place is the people one sees around the community at all times. People are all around walking the alleys and streets. The houses are built next to each other with practically no space in between. People say that if a fire breaks out, all the houses would be burned down. Despite this, the physical make-up of their homes allows the people to be close and familiar to each other, as if people there share a natural human bond with each other. This is exhibited by how neighbors know one another. People come out of the streets all of the time and talk to one another. Unlike in developed countries where neighbors greet usual pleasantries with each other then disappear into their houses, the slum community is a community of people who seem to form a closer bond because they share the plight of poverty.  

Home-based Drinking sessions
​The researcher participated in a total of four drinking sessions with two different groups in the slum community during the month of September 20XX. 

The very first drinking session the researcher attended in the area was on September X, 20XX. The host, who is forty-seven years old, is a nursing attendant of the XXX Children’s Hospital fronting the slum community. Manong Gilbert has been residing in the slum community for five years in a room he is renting inside a house whose occupants are all boarders in the house. (The address of the house is 144 XXX Street - see map). There are five rooms in all, with everyone sharing the kitchen, living room area and a bathroom. The house is one of the few in the slum community that is bigger than most houses (around 50 square meters) and made completely from cement. There is even a gate and a patio in front of the house where occupants of the house can lounge and talk. This space is also where clothes are washed. 

Items, Rituals and Routines
At around ten-thirty o’clock pm in the evening, after the host had come home from work, the drinking session started. Emperador brandy and a bottle of RC cola were bought from the sari-sari store nearby along with cigarettes. Two glasses were used: A glass for the cola as chaser and a small glass jigger for the hard alcoholic beverage. There were three participants in the drinking session including the researcher. The other participant, Teloy, is another boarder in the house. When another boarder of the house would pass by the gate, he would be offered a shot of alcohol. Many different topics were discussed. Teloy confided that there were many “shabu” (methamphetamine hydrochloride) addicts in the area. The slum area thus has likewise many “hold-uppers” (robbers) at night, most of them drug addicts who are in desperate need of cash to satisfy their vice.  

The second drinking session was on September xx, 20XX. The informant/host, Kiko, is an employee (merchandiser) of a toilet facilities store in The Fort, Makati. He has already been residing in the area since 1999. Slippers are taken off when entering the house. Almost all houses have their floor covered with linoleum. This is preferred to than the more expensive vinyl or tiles. An old shirt is used as a mop for the floor. Kiko’s live in partner has been residing in the area longer than him. The venue was inside the rented house of the informant, which was around four square meters big. Small as it was, the house had a second floor. The first floor is being rented for 2,000 pesos. The second floor is rented for the same amount. The house is built from old pieces of wood that are not even sanded. On the first floor, one can hear the floor above squeak dangerously whenever someone is upstairs. The live-in partners split the payment for the rent. The woman, Ate Salve has two daughters from a previous affair with a married engineer. She works in a restaurant grill operating from 6 pm to 3 am. At night, Kiko would be the one to take care of the two children (April and Sophia, ages seven and nine respectively).  

There were four participants in this drinking session, including the researcher. The other two participants were neighbors of the host. At around 9 pm the drinking session started. The host bought pork barbeque and balot (boiled duck embryo) for pulutan (food eaten when drinking). Grand Matador was bought and cola for chaser. Grand Matador is a brand of hard alcoholic beverage that is fast becoming popular because of its cheaper price compared to Tanduay Rum or Emperador Brandy. The researcher also observed this when he passed by several groups in the slum community drinking outside their houses. The downside, according to a participant, is that the bottle could not be resold to the magbobote (person who collects or buys empty bottles for a living). A neighbor who was a participant of the drinking session confided to the researcher that iced or cold water was preferred to cola as chaser not only because it is cheaper but also because it does not cause hangovers. Cola was only bought because the guest (the researcher) may not be contented with water. Of course, there were cigarettes bought for participants who smoked. Cigarettes are a symbol of friendship. When one offers a cigarette to a new acquaintance, it is like he is offering his friendship by sharing a luxury he can afford. 

Cold or iced water is preferred to by participants of the drinking session the researcher participated in the Botanical garden slum community than soft drinks as chaser. Not only is it cheaper according to one participant of the drinking session but it also tastes better and is healthier. (Coke was bought as a chaser because the researcher was asked of his choice before the drinking session). “Tatay”, who is 61 years old, also commented that it is ‘manlier’ to drink water as chaser. The choice of pulutan was also discussed. Kiko commented that cooked rice can also be good for pulutan. In fact, according to him, many do this to give them the energy to have a few more shots or bottles of alcohol. Tatay brought leftover food from his house to add to the pulutan that was bought.  

Drinking Sessions in Videoke Bars
Two vidoeke bars from the many beer joints along the main road of the slum community were visited by the researcher. Behavioral patterns and physical description of the two pubs were observed.  

The researcher counted more than ten beer joints around the slum area. Inside two of the videoke bars along the main road, men could be seen drinking gathered in groups of not less than two persons. The physical structure of these beer joints are often so that they do not have walls along the entrance. The entrances to these bars are wide open, which allows cool air in and at the same time making them appear inviting to customers. Under yellow and different colored blinking lights, the men inside drink beer together in groups around tables of two to three square feet and sing by inserting coins into the slot videoke machine. 

Though many of the customers of the bar appear to be residents of the area, some wear pants, probably because they had just come from work. Others wear shorts and slippers. GROs (Guest Relations Officer) or women who entertain male guests work as waitresses but can be invited to sit beside male guests. The cost for a drink for a GRO, however, is much more expensive. For example, the price of a San Miguel Pale Pilsen for customers is thirty pesos. For a GRO, it is around two hundred pesos a bottle. 

Sari-sari Store Purchase (Observed Purchase)
The sari-sari stores represent a vital part in sales and advertising of alcoholic beverages among the urban poor. Hence, four of the numerous sari-sari stores inside the slum community were observed and engaged in conversations by the researcher. 

























Observations and conversations with informants revealed that practically all residents of the slum community purchase their alcoholic beverages from the nearby sari-sari stores. 

Another interesting insight obtained was that ice is considered a prime commodity in the urban poor community. Almost all sari-sari stores sold ice because many residents could not afford to own their own refrigerators. A circa 300 ml block of ice in a transparent plastic bag of around 4”X 7”inches costs two pesos. The block of ice is crushed by hitting it against a cement wall to break it into small pieces of ice that can be filled in glasses.

During the times the researcher participated in the drinking sessions, most sari-sari stores had already run out of ice. According to the owner of the store, it would take another three hours for the next batch of ice to freeze. 

In casual conversations with the owners regarding sales and brand preferences of customers, two owners of sari-sari stores inside the slum community revealed that Red Horse was the highest selling alcoholic beverage. Among the hard alcoholic drinks, Emperador Brandy was preferred although Grand Matador (owned by San Miguel Corporation) was observed to be fast catching up... 
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Apart from using anthropology for consumer research and ethnography, by describing certain aspects of the inner life of a specific group of people, we may likewise impart to interested parties or government officials an understanding of some of the problems and aspirations of certain sectors of society. Perhaps, social workers or political leaders who are concerned with subculture conditions and their quality of life may find the information derived from ethnography useful for comparative purposes.

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