Cultural Strategy: Why Brands Need To Know Their Changing Audiences

David Ogilvy once famously said, “The consumer isn’t a moron; she’s your wife.” Ogilvy was instructing creatives to speak and listen to consumers. He didn't want advertisers to preach or condescend for profit.

We should continue to heed Ogilvy’s ethos as we shape our unique circumstances of the 21st Century. For us, this means using data and research wisely while understanding and connecting the social dynamics of our contemporary ephemeral life. Since 2010, steady streams of quantitative and qualitative data point to widespread shifts in our social demography. In broad strokes, U.S. government Census Data tells we are becoming a more diverse country than we’ve been at any time in our history. All signs suggest this new population influx will continue to merge and spread deep into all parts of the American geographic landscape



And while the big demographic patterns are changing, so too are values, opinions and expectations about family life. Data now shows the majority of households configured in any number of combinations: single parents, divorced, same sex or never married. The once-divided roles between men and women have given way to everyone doing what they can for the common household good. Since 1989, the number of stay-at-home dads has doubled.

Divorce is now familiar going back two generations andThe New York Times has speculated that today’s young people are introspective, realistic even, about family life. We can’t predict too far ahead of the social curve, but some research suggests that a growing, but small majority of Millennials say a happy home life is more important than financial success.

Meanwhile, we must take these changes into consideration while pairing them with the effect technology has had on our daily social interactions. Today, we use social media to connect with layers and layers of “friends” who comment on fragmentsof our days; we send short-form ideas in tweets; and we visualize our stories with snapshots and selfies. Neuroscientists and psychologists are cautioning us to understand that the social connectivity we crave, that we think we are having online, may be merely sensory triggers, sensations that fuel neuron stimulation, that feel like connection. 

Today’s audience is craving a real connection, and authentic stories that represent the changing demographics of the American landscape are one of the most powerful way to establish that connection. Stories tap into the emotions we all share. Stories are universal ways of telling our personal view from the individual and tying it all up with what’s going on in the city, country and globe. Our job is to create stories of possibility and resonance. 

I see two related opportunities for brands to meaningfully connect with audiences using story: as content for context and as content for everyday storytelling.

Content as Context

2014 was the year for telling the Big Family story, content as context. The 2014 Coca-Cola America Super Bowl spot and Honeymaid’s This is Wholesome commercial are examples of telepathic compelling campaigns; piquing our emotions without running too much in the way of sentimentality. In these spots, we see the “wide screen format” of storytelling as context. It gives the reader the emotional landscape.

Content for Everyday

The smaller but nonetheless still potent pieces of the story are what I call snap-shorts of everyday life, the smaller bits that make up our big picture. P&G’s Tide with a Problem-Solving Dad doing laundry and French-braiding his daughter’s hair; the Thank You Mom featuring kids and falling and learning with lots of support from mom; Chevy Malibu’s The Car For The Richest Guys On Earth piece or the Cheerios Here’s To Dad where the narrator looks straight into the camera and says, “We make the new rules… this is how to ‘Dad.’” 

As advertisers, we are responsible for taking the constellation of social dots of demographics, sentiments and media connectivity and turning them into tactics and actions, shaping the data into meaningful ways of reaching out and engaging with consumers. In so doing, we will be able to, as David Ogilvy suggested, respectfully and empathetically become trusted partners with consumers, smart and savvy social beings who live in the world.

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