Consumer Anthropology and AI: Teaching Business School Students

Robert J. Morais, Columbia Business School

In the fall of 2023, I integrated generative artificial intelligence (AI) into my Columbia Business School course, Market Intelligence: The Art and the Science. The course covers how brand-building insights, strategic planning, and marketing decision making are best served by applying an array of behavioral, social, and mathematical sciences and using them complementarily. In preparation for a class based my 2022 article in Teaching Anthropology, Toward a Pedagogy for Consumer Anthropology: Method, Theory, Marketing, I provided ChatGPT with the following prompt:

Use the research findings below to create 12 marketing ideas for Duncan Hines cake mix. Start with the Research Findings and generate the ideas based upon the Conceptual Jumping Off Points, with 4 ideas for each Jumping Off Point. 

I supplied content to ChatGPT sourced from the article referenced above, including details on the research findings and the conceptual/theoretical jumping off points. The response from ChatGPT took about three seconds and appears verbatim below:


Based on the research findings and conceptual jumping off points provided, here are 12 marketing ideas for Duncan Hines cake mix:

Conceptual Jumping Off Point 1: Duncan Hines as Social Connector

1.     Bake & Bond Events: Host community baking events where passionate bakers can come together to bake and connect. Provide Duncan Hines kits and encourage participants to gift their creations, strengthening bonds within their social network.

2.     Share the Joy Campaign: Launch a social media campaign encouraging customers to share their baking experiences using Duncan Hines. Encourage them to tag friends they want to share their baked goods with, emphasizing the social aspect of baking.

3.     Duncan’s Gift Exchange: Create a platform where passionate bakers can exchange baked goods, fostering a community of bakers who connect through the act of gifting. Duncan Hines could facilitate this exchange, reinforcing the brand’s role in building relationships.

4.     Baker’s Appreciation Day: Establish a special day dedicated to appreciating bakers. Encourage customers to gift Duncan Hines creations to their loved ones, highlighting the emotional value of baked goods.

Conceptual Jumping Off Point 2: Duncan Hines as Cultural Transmitter

5.     Cultural Baking Kits: Develop themed baking kits that introduce children to various cultural traditions through baking. Include Duncan Hines mixes and instructions that teach both baking skills and cultural values.

6.     Duncan’s Cultural Corner: Create an online platform where parents can access resources and activities to use baking as a tool for cultural education. Provide recipes, stories, and crafts that complement Duncan Hines products.

7.     Generations of Baking Cookbook: Publish a cookbook that celebrates the generational aspect of baking. Share stories and recipes from passionate bakers, highlighting how baking with Duncan Hines transcends time and culture.

8.     Bake to Learn Program: Partner with schools to implement baking activities using Duncan Hines as a learning tool. Foster cultural understanding, creativity, and life skills through hands-on baking experiences.

Conceptual Jumping Off Point 3: Duncan Hines as Creator of a Special Place

9.     Duncan’s Baking Haven: Design a line of kitchen accessories and tools branded with Duncan Hines, creating a special environment for passionate bakers to create magic in their kitchens.

10.  Kitchen Transformation Contest: Encourage customers to share photos of their kitchens before and after a baking session with Duncan Hines. Reward the most creatively transformed spaces with exclusive Duncan Hines merchandise.

11.  Baking Showcases: Collaborate with influencers to host virtual baking sessions, showcasing how Duncan Hines transforms ordinary kitchens into places of creativity, joy, and connection.

12.  Baker’s Spotlight Series: Share stories and videos of passionate bakers and their unique kitchen setups. Highlight how Duncan Hines products play a role in creating special spaces for baking enthusiasts.

These marketing ideas aim to leverage the deep insights gained from the research findings to position Duncan Hines as a brand that not only provides quality baking products but also fosters meaningful connections, cultural education, and special experiences in the kitchen.

My students first generated marketing ideas in class based on the ethnographic data and conceptual frameworks, and then I shared the ChatGPT results. That teaching process illustrates the combined value of human and artificial intelligence when analyzing ethnographic data in a theoretical context and applying it to marketing.

AI can be tapped broadly for input on qualitative interview/ethnography guides and quantitative questionnaires, content analysis/theme generation, market segmentation, marketing insights, marketing strategy, and tactical marketing ideas. All of AI’s responses can be reviewed to determine if they make sense, which they usually do. It is easy enough to ignore AI’s hallucinations and wrong-headed recommendations.

The slide below is from a class on factor analysis that focused on the automobile market. After the quantitative section, I briefly introduced an anthropological study on Cadillac, had Google Bard summarize it, and then showed this slide to illustrate how AI can provide marketing insights based on culture change. 

Generative AI impacted the teaching of Market Intelligence: The Art and the Science profoundly. Given AI’s rise, excluding it from an anthropological methods course would be a serious error of omission and a disservice to students.


McCabe, Maryann and Timothy de Waal Malefyt. 2010. Brands, Interactivity, and Contested Fields: Exploring Production and Consumption in Cadillac and Infiniti Automobile Advertising Campaigns. Human Organization. 69 (3): 252-262.

Morais, Robert J. 2022  Toward a Pedagogy for Consumer Anthropology: Method, Theory, Marketing. Teaching Anthropology. 11 (2): 37-47.

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