Brands Must Embrace Culture

Consumers are more fragmented than ever before when it comes to the values they hold, the media they consume and the politics they support. The rise of social media and the ability to create personalized eco-chambers have only multiplied the pattern. This has created challenges for marketers, as they struggle to build meaningful connections with consumers.

But one thing that can bring us together is culture. Brands like Apple, Amazon and Heineken are taking a stand to bring us together by embracing culture.

A great example of an ad embracing culture in a way that clearly demonstrates the benefits of the brand is Amazon’s “Priest and Imam.” It features few product messages but nevertheless the ad is clearly designed to predispose you to use Amazon. To connect to the brand, we see the priest using the app and the emotional payoff of being able to order with one click and have a gift delivered the next day.



Amazon acts as the bridge between these two symbols of a fragmented world, Christianity and Islam, in acknowledging that we all need a little help now and then. The commercial garnered both viral fame and social media love; however, some naysayers said it pushed an agenda of Islamic tolerance.

When done well, a brand can make itself more relevant and drive business performance by riding the wave of culture. Being part of culture makes people connect with brands on an emotional level, which drives brand growth. In addition, if brands truly become part of culture, content (both brand and user generated) becomes the voice of the brand as opposed to advertising, which often falls into the trap of being invasive and, in some cases, borders on stalking.

But culture is complex and nuanced, and, just as it can help brands create strong and lasting connections, it can also light a match and make a brand seem opportunistic as opposed to authentic. If the brand’s infrastructure is not rooted in the beliefs portrayed, these initiatives risk being seen as simply marketing stunts.  

Brands can be a unifier in this fragmented world if they truly stand for something relevant to the culture but do run the risk of driving further fragmentation and a negative impact on business performance if the goal is to use culture to garner attention as opposed to genuinely becoming a force for good.  

In an ad from Heineken, strangers with different world views are asked to complete tasks together and then given a chance to talk over a beer. Before they sit down for that beer, they watch a short film of their previous personal statements on polarizing issues such as feminism, transgender or climate change.

They realize they have been bonding with someone who has the exact opposite view as them on their particular topic. They can choose to have the beer on the bar they just built, or walk away. This ad isn’t just about building a bar or drinking a beer, but about building a mechanism to connect with others, a message of unification. 

One final thought. In the desire to embrace culture, we need to be sure not to leave consumers behind. What is going on in culture may not be relevant to the daily realities, values and challenges of real people and could further alienate segments of the population if not done in a way that they see as important.

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