Cultural Marketing: How Contributing to the Zeitgeist Builds Brand Loyalty

Cultural Marketing: How Contributing to the Zeitgeist Builds Brand Loyalty

By Anna Swenson

There’s nothing more valuable than a brand’s ability to build a relationship with its audience. In the age of always-on news and instant social media reactions, the brands that succeed are those that learn to become part of the cultural conversation at large. Sometimes these moments are organic, like when Beyonce’s Formation dropped and everyone waited eagerly for Red Lobster’s response to her reference to the chain restaurant. Other times, brands botch an opportunity or pursue product placement in poor taste. Those moments leave many thinking, “did AT&T really use the anniversary of a national tragedy to promote their new phone?”

When done right, however, cultural marketing allows brands to transcend basic transaction-level relationships and build something deeper. Instead of creating momentum for a message that originates from one company and exists in a vacuum, cultural marketing is about becoming part of the zeitgeist. It’s about making a contribution that adds value to a current conversation, independent of a product for sale.

Music technology brand SONOS has an entire division devoted to cultural marketing. They’ve executed some of the best-known examples of the discipline, including their “Subway Therapy” campaign. After the election of Donald Trump, artist Matthew “Levee” Chavez started a public art project where thousands of people left Post-it notes in New York City subway stations sharing candid thoughts on the election. When SONOS learned the MTA would be removing the notes to make space for new station ads SONOS had purchased, they asked the MTA to stop immediately — and instead sent a photographer to each station to document the notes for posterity. These photos were then incorporated into new ads, making SONOS a brand known for supporting and empowering an authentic outpouring of community spirit.

Cultural marketing is a valuable way for digital brands to connect with people in the real world. LaunchSquad worked with client GIPHY to create Loop Dreams, a two-day brick and mortar gallery to celebrate “contemporary GIF art IRL.” LaunchSquad’s work with GIPHY was centered on the notion that GIFs are more than just short, looping images; that the GIF medium was the future of how we communicate and share our culture. In helping create Loop Dreams, the team was able to build an analog experience for a digital brand, establish GIFs as a highbrow cultural and artistic medium, and create an opportunity for people to engage with GIFs IRL. The gallery’s opening was accompanied by a panel discussion featuring artist Laura Brothers, curator Jason Eppink, and GIPHY founder Alex Chung. The media enjoyed it, too — the project was featured in Popular Science, Paper Magazine, It’s Nice That and Vox.

Cultural marketing is about how a brand can contribute genuine information and insight to a conversation that is already in progress. It might require shortening a few review cycles or entering a discussion you once considered outside your scope — that’s okay. Supporting a cultural moment, not just the brand’s message, allows a company to build loyalty, awareness and respect among consumers. It’s about communications strategies that say something in a way that’s authentic, timely and valuable even beyond the brand’s best interest. Now that’s something to Tweet about.

Image C/O Chris Cubellis/GIPHY

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