Ritual is a very serious matter, but it’s also very playful. Ritual deals with the important process of transformation, helping its participants to transcend the boundaries of their social and psychological identities so that they can become something more than what they have been. Yet, in order to do so, the ritual process often requires its participants and officiants to become like children, playing an elaborate game of pretend.
Linguist Johan Huizinga noted the ancient historical links between ritual and play. He explained, in his book Homo Ludens, how games and rituals alike are contained within a magic circle, allowing a separate system of rules to temporarily take replace the expectations that ordinarily constrain behavior. Within ritual and game play alike, people put aside their usual identities in order to give themselves to an experience that transcends ordinary reality.
Huizinga’s idea of the magic circle of play and ritual was inspired by the child’s game of marbles, which begins with the drawing of a circle in chalk on a piece of empty pavement. That simple chalk shape marks out a ritual environment, declaring that, within the circle, something special is going on.
For marketers, the introduction of elements of the ritual process enables the introduction of the spirit of play. Ritual marketing places consumers in a state of mind where they can pretend, and entertain the possibility of change. It is an approach that brings back the flexibility of youth, within which new relationships between consumers and producers can be formed as easily as within a group of children gathered around a game of marbles on the ground.