Better Selling through Anthropology
Article by: Thomas Frank
Pages 196 - 205


Thomas Frank
Thomas Frank
Thomas Frank is an American author, journalist and columnist for Harper's Magazine. He is a former columnist for the Wall Street Journal, authoring "The Tilting Yard" from 2008 to 2010.
In this article, Thomas Frank discusses the brand and account planning through a rhetoric of mockery and conflict, and he starts right in his title.

Examples/Points of Discussion

Account Planners

Account planners are those individuals entrusted with managing the relationship the public has with the brand of a company. According to Frank, the approach these planners have begun to take toward this relationship management has been deemed ‘anthropological’ in nature, though he is quick to point out that it is anthropological in attitude only. He mocks this trend in perhaps the most poignant manner possible – by writing of his experiences and interactions with industry professionals attending an account planning conference in the style of journalistic ethnography. He begins by providing a short background of the group he is about to study and where they came from before diving immediately into Geertzian thick description of his arrival at the conference and describing in detail what these account planners look like in comparison to him, the outsider that he is. This stylistic choice is one he maintains throughout the remainder of the article.

Rhetoric of Conflict

Equally pervasive is the rhetoric of conflict that Frank establishes early on. He utilizes such phrases as “Stalinist-sounding,” “heroic revolution,” “full consumer democracy” and “free-market utopia”[1] in just the second paragraph of his article, establishing a strong, almost ideological war between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ ways of brand management. He continues to utilize this language even as he describe several of the speakers he watched while at this conference and the way in which they sold account planning to account planners.


Ultimately the point Frank strives to drive home is that this trend of media and advertising adopting the airs and attitudes of cultural studies has established a common ground between two groups that historically have not gotten along, but are now both utilizing eerily similar rhetoric to achieve their explicitly distinct end goals.


Whether or not this rhetorical consensus is good or bad is something to be determined by digital content creators. It can be very beneficial in the context of creating promiscuous content because the reader only needs to learn a standard rhetorical structure. At the same time, however, it goes a long way toward stripping each topic down to an almost rudimentary level and there are topics and disciplines, like anthropology, that cannot be adequately condensed into a standard rhetorical model.

Related Articles

  1. The Cultural Influence of Brands

  1. Culture Jamming, or Something Like It


  • Frank, Thomas (2003). "Brand You", Heller,Steven and Vienne, Veronique, Citizen Designer

  1. ^ 1. Citizen Designer, p.197