+1 (208) 254-6996 essayswallet@gmail.com
  

Please see asst attached. 

HELPFUL TIP:  When watching the video for the first time, consider watching without any sound so that you can focus on the dynamic imagery without the distraction of sound.

Video for the dynamic video Imagery 

Everything needs to be based on this video

videos that help with the hw 

articles 

https://piktochart.com/blog/5-psychology-studies-that-tell-us-how-people-perceive-visual-information/

Template for Element Assessment #2 – Format: Dynamic (Video) Imagery

Select a marketing communication that employs video imagery as its primary source of communicative information. Then complete the assignment sheet instructions, focusing your assessment on the video imagery and using this template as a guide. NOTE: although there are no limitations to how much you can write, you should write at least several sentences to a full paragraph for each cell entry.

Communication Piece – Provide the URL for your dynamic (video) imagery ad/communication.

Audience, Marketing Goals, Communication Objectives – Briefly discuss what you feel are the target audience(s) for this communication piece. Then discuss what you feel are the general marketing goals of the communication, as well as the specific communication objectives. DO THIS FIRST!

Imagery Design ElementList each element separately and describe, evaluate, and recommend with a focus on each element.2. Element-focused DescriptionDescribe the ad/communication in terms of the design element. Focus on describing how each element is portrayed and/or how the communication has been constructed with the element in mind.3. Element-focused EvaluationEvaluate the effectiveness of each design element portrayal/usage in terms of its ability to enhance communication in general as well as with respect to your view of the ad’s marketing and communication goals.4. Element-focused RecommendationRecommend changes to the way the element is constructed or portrayed that would enhance the efficacy of the messaging with respect to the proposed communication goal(s). Provide rationale for each suggestion.
1.
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3.
4.
5.
6. (optional)
7. (optional)

Referenced Elements – For each of the at least five elements that you used in completing this assignment, list a reference source from one of the design books assigned for our course, one of the assigned readings regarding music, written/spoken word, voice, etc., or from any other source. For each, include the source (book and page number, article title, URL, etc.).

Assignment Structure – You should view this template as a strong guide. You can download it and write directly into it or determine the final structure of the submitted assignment as you desire, keeping in mind that each step must be completed.

• • •

MSM – Fall A 2020

Element Assessment Assignments

To be effective in their construction, assessment, and revision of marketing communications,

marketers must have a strong understanding of marketing communication elements and how they play

a role in achieving the various marketing communication goals (e.g., inform, remind, persuade,

connect, and others). These element assessment assignments have been designed to help you develop

your understanding of marketing communication elements in the context of their various formats (e.g.,

static visual imagery, dynamic visual imagery, music, speaking, static text, etc.), as well in

consideration of their various presumed purposes.

For each element assessment, you will select a marketing communication (typically an ad) that

employs a particular communication format as its primary source of communicative

information. You’ll then complete the assignment sheet instructions below for each of the

assigned format(s) for that week using an associated template as a guide. For some of the

formats, you will choose from among a set of ads provided by your instructors. For others, you

will be required to find an appropriate ad or other marketing-related communication. In some

cases, several of the elements to assess may be provided for you whereas in other cases, you will

select all of the elements to assess. NOTE: You cannot use an ad/communication used as an

example for the course.

Note that there is no page limit to your responses. The more thorough you are in your responses, the

more likely you’ll gain better skills in evaluating marketing communication elements within this

particular format. Remember that the focus of the assignment series is not to deliver descriptions,

evaluations, and recommendations at a highly conceptual level, but to do so at the

micro/elemental level. You’ll be tempted often to discuss “meaning” when what you’ll need to do

instead is focus on how the various elements, and how they’re used/portrayed/displayed/etc. will either

help or hinder the proposed communication objectives.

For each assessment, you’ll deliver the following:

1a. Communication Piece – Whenever possible, provide a high-quality, large image of the marketing

communication you are assessing within your document, as well as the URL. For video content,

provide only the URL.

1b. Target Audience, Marketing Goals, Communication Objectives – Briefly discuss what you feel

is/are the target audience(s) for this communication piece. Then discuss what you feel would be the

general marketing goals of the communication, as well as the specific communication objectives

2. Element-focused Description – Provide a detailed description using elements that are pertinent to

its structure, design, appearance, etc. of the focal communication format. You are encouraged to

broaden your description (and be creative) by using elements that typically are not associated with this

particular format. Your focus on this section should be only on describing the communication piece in

terms of the design elements found within the communication piece (but you also can include a

description of the overall design, structure, and appearance if you would like). IMPORTANT: In this

section, do NOT evaluate or assess the communication elements or provide recommendations. This

section is merely descriptive and must be focused on describing how each element is portrayed and/or

how the communication has been constructed with this element in mind.

3. Element-focused Evaluation – Using the context of what you feel are the target audience(s), the

marketing goals, and the communication objectives, you can now, apart from your description,

evaluate the effectiveness of the elements that you described previously. Are they effective from a

general communication perspective and from the specific perspective of the proposed communication

objectives? Does each design element, as portrayed in the communication, help or hinder the

achievement of the communication goals? These element-focused evaluations can be conducted in the

context of the entire message, the target audience, the brand image, the assumed marketing

communication objectives, the higher-level marketing objectives, the concepts of cognition and

emotion, the underlying purpose of persuasion, etc. (it’s your choice). In all cases, your focus must be

on evaluating the effectiveness of the design elements found within the communication piece (but you

can also assess the overall design, structure, and appearance if you would like).

4. Element-focused Recommendations – Suggest multiple ways in which the focal communication

format could and/or should be designed in order to be more effective. Focus your recommendations on

the specific design elements that you have described and evaluated, and how changes in the design

elements (for the focal communication format) could potentially enhance or change the efficacy of the

message (via attention, delivery, understanding, retention, emotion, direction, etc.). Provide rationale

for each of your suggestions.

5. Referenced Elements – For each of the at least five or more elements that you used in completing

this assignment, list a reference source from one of the design books assigned for our course, one of

the assigned readings regarding music, written/spoken word, voice, etc., or from any other source. For

each, include the source (book and page number, article title, URL, etc.).

GRADING

As for all assignments in the course and program, grades of “A” are reserved for outstanding

performance. Meeting and even exceeding the minimum requirements for the assignment will not

guarantee “A” grades. For each communication format, at least five relevant elements must used to

describe the ad/communication, with the same five (or more) being evaluated for effectiveness, and

then at least some subset of the five (or more) receiving recommendations for improvement. As

always, spelling, grammar, etc. will assessed as well.

Although a template will be provided for each of the eight communication formats, you can determine

the final structure of the submitted assignment as you desire, but please label each section clearly.

• • •

Element Assessment #1 – Format: Static Imagery

Select a marketing communication (not merely a brand logo) that employs a static image as its primary

source of communicative information. Then complete the assignment sheet instructions, focusing your

assessment on the static imagery only and using the template as a guide.

Element Assessment #2 – Format: Dynamic (Video) Imagery

Select a marketing communication that employs dynamic (video) imagery as its primary source of

communicative information. Then complete the assignment sheet instructions, focusing your

assessment on the video imagery only and using the template as a guide.

Element Assessment #3 – Format: Music

Select a marketing communication that employs music and/or sound effects as a key source of

communicative information. Then complete the assignment sheet instructions, focusing your

assessment on the music and/or sound effects only and using the template as a guide.

Element Assessment #4 – Format: Static Text

Select a marketing communication that employs static (non-moving) text as its primary source of

communicative information. Then complete the assignment sheet instructions, focusing your

assessment on the static text only and using the template as a guide.

Element Assessment #5 – Format: Moving Text

Select a marketing communication that employs moving text as a key source of communicative

information. Then complete the assignment sheet instructions, focusing your assessment on the

moving text only and using the template as a guide.

Element Assessment #6 – Format: Speaking

Select a marketing communication that employs speaking as its primary source of communicative

information. Then complete the assignment sheet instructions, focusing your assessment on the

speaking only and using the template as a guide.

Element Assessment #7 – Format: “Other”

Select a marketing communication that employs a type of communicative information that is not part

of the previous six formats. It cannot be focused on visual or auditory formats. This leaves touch,

smell, taste, proximity, etc. Then complete the assignment sheet instructions, focusing your

assessment on this “other” format category and using the template as a guide.

Element Assessment #8 – Format: Silence/Nothingness/Emptiness

Select a marketing communication that employs silence, nothingness, emptiness, etc. as an

instrumental source of communicative information. Then complete the assignment sheet instructions,

focusing your assessment on the silence/nothingness, emptiness, etc. aspect and using the template as a

guide.

BRANDING

Branding in the Age of Social Media by Douglas Holt

FROM THE MARCH 2016 ISSUE

In the era of Facebook and YouTube, brand building has become a vexingchallenge. This is not how things were supposed to turn out. A decade agomost companies were heralding the arrival of a new golden age of branding. They hired creative agencies and armies of technologists to insert brands

throughout the digital universe. Viral, buzz, memes, stickiness, and form factor

became the lingua franca of branding. But despite all the hoopla, such efforts

have had very little payoff.https://hbr.org/topic/brandinghttps://hbr.org/search?term=douglas+holthttps://hbr.org/

As a central feature of their digital strategy, companies made huge bets on what

is often called branded content. The thinking went like this: Social media would

allow your company to leapfrog traditional media and forge relationships

directly with customers. If you told them great stories and connected with them

in real time, your brand would become a hub for a community of consumers.

Businesses have invested billions pursuing this vision. Yet few brands have

generated meaningful consumer interest online. In fact, social media seems to

have made brands less significant. What has gone wrong?

To solve this puzzle, we need to remember that brands succeed when they break

through in culture. And branding is a set of techniques designed to generate

cultural relevance. Digital technologies have not only created potent new social

networks but also dramatically altered how culture works. Digital crowds now

serve as very effective and prolific innovators of culture—a phenomenon I call

crowdculture. Crowdculture changes the rules of branding—which techniques

work and which do not. If we understand crowdculture, then, we can figure out

why branded-content strategies have fallen flat—and what alternative branding

methods are empowered by social media.

Why Branded Content and Sponsorships Used to Work

While promoters insist that branded content is a hot new thing, it’s actually a

relic of the mass media age that has been repackaged as a digital concept. In the

early days of that era, companies borrowed approaches from popular

entertainment to make their brands famous, using short-form storytelling,

cinematic tricks, songs, and empathetic characters to win over audiences. Classic

ads like Alka-Seltzer’s “I Can’t Believe I Ate the Whole Thing,” Frito-Lay’s “Frito

Bandito,” and Farrah Fawcett “creaming” Joe Namath with Noxema all snuck into

popular culture by amusing audiences.

This early form of branded content worked well because the entertainment

media were oligopolies, so cultural competition was limited. In the United States,

three networks produced television programming for 30 weeks or so every year

and then went into reruns. Films were distributed only through local movie

theaters; similarly, magazine competition was restricted to what fit on the

shelves at drugstores. Consumer marketing companies could buy their way to

fame by paying to place their brands in this tightly controlled cultural arena.

Brands also infiltrated culture by sponsoring TV shows and events, attaching

themselves to successful content. Since fans had limited access to their favorite

entertainers, brands could act as intermediaries. For decades, we were

accustomed to fast food chains’ sponsoring new blockbuster films, luxury autos’

bringing us golf and tennis competitions, and youth brands’ underwriting bands

and festivals.

The rise of new technologies that allowed audiences to opt out of ads—from

cable networks to DVRs and then the internet—made it much harder for brands

to buy fame. Now they had to compete directly with real entertainment. So

Once audiences could opt out of ads, it became harder for brands to buy fame.

companies upped the ante. BMW pioneered the practice of creating short films

for the internet. Soon corporations were hiring top film directors (Michael Bay,

Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Wes Anderson, David Lynch) and pushing for ever-

more-spectacular special effects and production values.

These early (pre-social-media) digital efforts led companies to believe that if they

delivered Hollywood-level creative at internet speed, they could gather huge

engaged audiences around their brands. Thus was born the great push toward

branded content. But its champions weren’t counting on new competition. And

this time it came not from big media companies but from the crowd.

The Rise of Crowdculture

Historically, cultural innovation flowed from the margins of society—from fringe

groups, social movements, and artistic circles that challenged mainstream norms

and conventions. Companies and the mass media acted as intermediaries,

diffusing these new ideas into the mass market. But social media has changed

everything.

Social media binds together communities that once were geographically isolated,

greatly increasing the pace and intensity of collaboration. Now that these once-

remote communities are densely networked, their cultural influence has become

direct and substantial. These new crowdcultures come in two flavors:

subcultures, which incubate new ideologies and practices, and art worlds, which

break new ground in entertainment.

Amplied subcultures.

Today you’ll find a flourishing crowdculture around almost any topic: espresso,

the demise of the American Dream, Victorian novels, arts-and-crafts furniture,

libertarianism, new urbanism, 3-D printing, anime, bird-watching,

homeschooling, barbecue. Back in the day, these subculturalists had to gather

physically and had very limited ways to communicate collectively: magazines

and, later, primitive Usenet groups and meet-ups.

Social media has expanded and democratized these subcultures. With a few

clicks, you can jump into the center of any subculture, and participants’

intensive interactions move seamlessly among the web, physical spaces, and

traditional media. Together members are pushing forward new ideas, products,

practices, and aesthetics—bypassing mass-culture gatekeepers. With the rise of

crowdculture, cultural innovators and their early adopter markets have become

one and the same.

Turbocharged art worlds.

Producing innovative popular entertainment requires a distinctive mode of

organization—what sociologists call an art world. In art worlds, artists

(musicians, filmmakers, writers, designers, cartoonists, and so on) gather in

inspired collaborative competition: They work together, learn from one another,

play off ideas, and push one another. The collective efforts of participants in

these “scenes” often generate major creative breakthroughs. Before the rise of

social media, the mass-culture industries (film, television, print media, fashion)

thrived by pilfering and repurposing their innovations.

Crowdculture has turbocharged art worlds, vastly increasing the number of

participants and the speed and quality of their interactions. No longer do you

need to be part of a local scene; no longer do you need to work for a year to get

funding and distribution for your short film. Now millions of nimble cultural

entrepreneurs come together online to hone their craft, exchange ideas, fine-

tune their content, and compete to produce hits. The net effect is a new mode of

rapid cultural prototyping, in which you can get instant data on the market’s

reception of ideas, have them critiqued, and then rework them so that the most

resonant content quickly surfaces. In the process, new talent emerges and new

genres form. Squeezing into every nook and cranny of pop culture, the new

content is highly attuned to audiences and produced on the cheap. These art-

world crowdcultures are the main reason why branded content has failed.

Beyond Branded Content

While companies have put their faith in branded content for the past decade,

brute empirical evidence is now forcing them to reconsider. In YouTube or

Instagram rankings of channels by number of subscribers, corporate brands

barely appear. Only three have cracked the YouTube Top 500. Instead you’ll find

entertainers you’ve never heard of, appearing as if from nowhere.

YouTube’s greatest success by far is PewDiePie, a Swede who posts barely edited

films with snarky voice-over commentary on the video games he plays. By

January 2016 he had racked up nearly 11 billion views, and his YouTube channel

had more than 41 million subscribers.

How did this happen? The story begins with the youth subcultures that formed

around video games. When they landed on social media, they became a force.

The once-oddball video-gaming-as-entertainment subculture of South Korea

went global, producing a massive spectator sport, now known as E-Sports, with a

fan base approaching 100 million people. (Amazon recently bought the E-Sports

network Twitch for $970 million.)

In E-Sports, broadcasters provide play-by-play narration of video games.

PewDiePie and his comrades riffed on this commentary, turning it into a potty-

mouthed new form of sophomoric comedy. Other gamers who film themselves,

such as VanossGaming (YouTube rank #19, 15.6 million subscribers),

elrubiusOMG (#20, 15.6 million), CaptainSparklez (#60, 9 million), and Ali-A

(#94, 7.4 million), are also influential members of this tribe. The crowdculture

was initially organized by specialized media platforms that disseminated this

content and by insider fans who gathered around and critiqued it, hyping some

efforts and dissing others. PewDiePie became the star of this digital art world—

just as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Patti Smith had done in urban art worlds back in

the analog days. The main difference is that the power of crowdculture propelled

him to global fame and influence in record time.

Gaming comedy is just one of hundreds of new genres that crowdculture has

created. Those genres fill every imaginable entertainment gap in popular culture,

from girls’ fashion advice to gross-out indulgent foods to fanboy sports criticism.

Brands can’t compete, despite their investments. Compare PewDiePie, who

cranks out inexpensive videos in his house, to McDonald’s, one of the world’s

biggest spenders on social media. The McDonald’s channel (#9,414) has 204,000

YouTube subscribers. PewDiePie is 200 times as popular, for a minuscule fraction

of the cost.

Or consider Red Bull, the most lauded branded-content success story. It has

become a new-media hub producing extreme- and alternative-sports content.

While Red Bull spends much of its $2 billion annual marketing budget on

branded content, its YouTube channel (rank #184, 4.9 million subscribers) is

lapped by dozens of crowdculture start-ups with production budgets under

$100,000. Indeed, Dude Perfect (#81, 8 million subscribers), the brainchild of

five college jocks from Texas who make videos of trick shots and goofy

improvised athletic feats, does far better.

Coca-Cola offers another cautionary tale. In 2011 the company announced a new

marketing strategy—called Liquid & Linked—with great fanfare. Going all in, it

shifted its emphasis from “creative excellence” (the old mass-media approach) to

“content excellence” (branded content in social media). Coke’s Jonathan

Mildenhall claimed that Coke would continually produce “the world’s most

compelling content,” which would capture “a disproportionate share of popular

culture,” doubling sales by 2020.

The following year, Coca-Cola launched its first big bet, transforming the static

corporate website into a digital magazine, Coca-Cola Journey. It runs stories on

virtually every pop culture topic—from sports and food to sustainability and

travel. It’s the epitome of a branded-content strategy.

Journey has now been live for over three years, and it barely registers views. It

hasn’t cracked the top 10,000 sites in the United States or the top 20,000

worldwide. Likewise, the company’s YouTube channel (ranked #2,749) has only

676,000 subscribers.

It turns out that consumers have little interest in the content that brands churn

out. Very few people want it in their feed. Most view it as clutter—as brand spam.

When Facebook realized this, it began charging companies to get “sponsored”

content into the feeds of people who were supposed to be their fans.

The problem companies face is structural, not creative. Big companies organize

their marketing efforts as the antithesis of art worlds, in what I have termed

brand bureaucracies. They excel at coordinating and executing complex

marketing programs across multiple markets around the world. But this

organizational model leads to mediocrity when it comes to cultural innovation.

Brand Sponsors Are Disintermediated

Entertainment “properties”—performers, athletes, sports teams, films, television

programs, and video games—are also hugely popular on social media. Across all

the big platforms you’ll find the usual A-list of celebrities dominating. On

YouTube musicians Rihanna, One Direction, Katy Perry, Eminem, Justin Bieber,

and Taylor Swift have built massive audiences. On Twitter you’ll find a similar

cast of singers, along with media stars like Ellen DeGeneres, Jimmy Fallon,

On social media, what works for Shakira backres for Crest and Clorox.http://www.amazon.com/Cultural-Strategy-Innovative-Ideologies-Breakthrough/dp/0199655855

Oprah, Bill Gates, and the pope. Fans gather around the tweets of sports stars

Cristiano Ronaldo, LeBron James, Neymar, and Kaká, and teams such as FC

Barcelona and Real Madrid (which are far more popular than the two dominant

sports brands, Nike and Adidas). On Instagram you’ll find more of the same.

These celebrities are all garnering the superengaged community that pundits

have long promised social media would deliver. But it’s not available to

companies and their branded goods and services. In retrospect, that shouldn’t be

surprising: Interacting with a favored entertainer is different from interacting

with a brand of rental car or orange juice. What works for Shakira backfires for

Crest and Clorox. The idea that consumers could possibly want to talk about

Corona or Coors in the same way that they debate the talents of Ronaldo and

Messi is silly.

How One Brand Uses Celebrities to Break Through Under Armour’s recent campaign “I Will What I Want” shows how to combine celebrity sponsorships and cultural branding to create content with impact.

Under Armour originally became an iconic brand by swiping Nike’s cultural strategy—then doing it one better.

Nike’s approach, launched in the 1970s and perfected in the 1990s, was to tell stories of athletes who overcame societal barriers through sheer willpower. But a decade ago Nike abandoned its competitive-underdog ideology to go all in on branded content, using famous athletes to make entertaining sports lms. Under Armour stepped into the void, producing arresting new ads, such as “Protect This House,” that championed the same ideology and took off on social media.https://www.underarmour.com/en-us/iwillwhatiwant

Under Armour also followed Nike in dramatizing how übercompetitiveness, traditionally associated with masculinity, applied equally to women, broadcasting spots that showcased female athletes. The latest effort, “I Will What I Want,” pushed gender boundaries even further, challenging conventions in arenas where traditional ideals of femininity still reign.

Ballet star Misty Copeland—who grew up in poverty with a single parent—is an athletic, muscular dancer in a profession that celebrates waish, reed-thin women. Under Armour made a video about how she rose above adversity (the voice-over is from a rejection letter saying that her body was completely wrong for ballet), showing her dancing in a formtting sports bra and pants that reveal her curvier physique.

A Gisele Bündchen lm followed the same convention-breaking formula but mashed up incongruous crowdcultures to provoke a social media response. The former Victoria’s Secret star is usually portrayed within the glamorous world of runways and celebrity hobnobbing. Under Armour broke the frame by placing her in what was essentially an old Nike ad: a backstage video of Gisele in an intense kickboxing workout. The company announced the partnership ahead of lming. It immediately stirred up the crowdculture: Sports fans were cynical, Gisele fans were curious, fashionistas were puzzled, and feminists simply loved it. Under Armour’s agency scraped all this commentary from the web and projected quotes from the digital discussion on the walls behind her. The resulting video shows Gisele sweating and kicking the bag, ignoring the litany of digs surrounding her: “Is posing now a sport?” “She’s not even pretty.” “What’s her sport, smiling?” “Stick to modeling, sweetie.”

Under Armour succeeded because it innovated with ideology—using female celebrities to provocatively push against gender norms. The company aimed its communiqués directly at the crowdcultures that held those norms, which set off a restorm of debate.Social media allows fans to create rich communities around entertainers, who

interact directly with them in a barrage of tweets, pins, and posts. Sports teams

now hire social media ambassadors to reach out to fans in real time during

games, and once the game is over, the players send along insider photos and hold

locker-room chats. Beyond the major platforms, new media sites like Vevo,

SoundCloud, and Apple Music are spurring even more direct digital connections.

Of course, entertainers are still more than happy to take sponsors’ money, but

the cultural value that’s supposed to rub off on the brand is fading.

Cultural Branding

While the rise of crowdculture diminishes the impact of branded content and

sponsorships, it has greased the wheels for an alternative approach that I call

cultural branding. The dramatic breakthrough of the fast-casual Mexican food

chain Chipotle from 2011 to 2013 (before recent outbreaks of foodborne illness)

demonstrates the power of this approach.

Chipotle took advantage of an enormous cultural opportunity created when the

once-marginal movements that had challenged America’s dominant industrial

food culture became a force to be reckoned with on social media. The chain

jumped into the fray as a champion of this crowdculture’s ideology. By applying

cultural branding, Chipotle became one of America’s most compelling and

talked-about brands (though recent food-safety difficulties have dented its

image). Specifically, Chipotle succeeded by following these five principles:

1. Map the cultural orthodoxy.

In cultural branding, the brand promotes an innovative ideology that breaks with

category conventions. To do that, it first needs to identify which conventions to

leapfrog—what I call the cultural orthodoxy. America’s industrial food ideology

was invented in the early 20th century by food-marketing companies. Americans

had come to believe that, through dazzling scientific discoveries (margarine,

instant coffee, Tang) and standardized production processes, big companies,

overseen by the Food and Drug Administration, would ensure bountiful,

healthful, and tasty food. Those assumptions have undergirded the fast food

category since McDonald’s took off in the 1960s.

2. Locate the cultural opportunity.

As time passes, disruptions in society cause an orthodoxy to lose traction.

Consumers begin searching for alternatives, which opens up an opportunity for

innovative brands to push forward a new ideology in their categories.

How Cultural Branding Builds Icons Iconic brands are cultural innovators: They leapfrog the conventions of their categories to champion new ideologies that are meaningful to customers.

As a result, they enjoy intense customer loyalty and superior sales and prots, and garner loads of free media coverage. In business, few achievements are more prized than creating an iconic brand. Yet the two dominant branding models are not designed to do the job.

The rst model, mindshare branding, is one that companies have long relied on. It treats a brand as a set of psychological associations (benets, emotions, personality). The second model, purpose branding, has become popular in the past decade. In it, a brand espouses values or ideals its customers share. Over the past 15 years I’ve developed an alternative approach—cultural branding— to turn what was once serendipity into a rigorous discipline. Let me illustrate how it works, using the transformation of Jack Daniel’s from a near-bankrupt regional distiller to the maker of the leading premium American whiskey.

Whiskies compete to be perceived as upscale and masculine. In the 1950s the major brands sought to align themselves with the male ideal of the day: the sophisticated modern corporate executive. Jack Daniel’s, a small whiskey

targeted to upper-middle-class men, was being trounced by the national competitors. How could it break through?

Mindshare-branding experts would advise the company to convey, very consistently, the key brand associations: masculine, sophisticated, smooth- tasting, classic. But that was precisely what Jack Daniel’s was doing—its ads mimicked the national brands’, showing alpha executives drinking smooth whiskey. And they didn’t work. Purpose-branding experts would encourage the rm to champion its core values. With that approach, the focus wouldn’t be much different: Those values had to do with producing classic charcoal-ltered whiskey for a sophisticated drinker.

Instead, the rm (tacitly) pursued a cultural-branding approach. Because masculine ideals are shaped by society, they change over time. The Cold War had dramatically affected Americans’ perceptions of masculinity. In the face of a nuclear threat, the corporate executive seemed too sedentary. Instead, the public was drawn to what had only recently been viewed as an anachronism: the gunslinging rugged individualist of the Old West, who, in the American mythos, had helped forge the country’s success. The enormous popularity of Western lms was one indication of this shift. This massive cultural opportunity, which Marlboro and Levi’s leveraged as well, is obvious when analyzed through a cultural-branding framework—but invisible without one.

The Jack Daniel’s distillery was in a rural region of Tennessee that the postwar mass media portrayed as an impoverished land of hillbillies. Yet in the American imagination, the area was also one of the last authentic pockets of the frontier, where Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone had gotten their start. So when American men yearned to revive the ideology of the frontier, the whiskey offered great potential as a symbol. This theme was rst hit upon by men’s magazines (Fortune, True), which published stories romanticizing the distillery as a place run by frontiersmen, little changed since the 19th century. The company’s print-ad campaign simply emulated those stories, adding some folksy copy.

Jack Daniel’s quickly became the aspirational whiskey among urban upper- middle-class men; the branding converted its once-stigmatized location into a place where men were really men. Conventional models would never build a

strategy centered on such a downscale version of masculinity. But in cultural branding, inverting marginal ideologies is one of the tricks of the trade.

For industrial food, the tipping point came in 2001, when Eric Schlosser’s book

Fast Food Nation powerfully challenged it. This was followed in 2004 by Morgan

Spurlock’s film Super Size Me and in 2006 by Michael Pollan’s influential book

The Omnivore’s Dilemma. These critiques dramatically affected the upper middle

class, quickly spreading concerns about industrial food and providing huge

momentum to Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s, and a host of other upmarket

food purveyors. The same transformation is unfolding in other countries

dominated by industrial food ideology. For instance, in the United Kingdom the

celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall have played a

similar role.

Before social media, the influence of these works would have remained locked

within this small fraction of society. Instead, crowdcultures grabbed the critiques

and blew them up, pushing industrial food anxiety into the mainstream. News

about every major problem linked to industrial food production—processed

foods loaded with sugar, carcinogenic preservatives, rBGH in milk, bisphenol A

leaching from plastics, GMOs, and so on—began to circulate at internet speed.

Videos of the meatlike substance “pink slime” went viral. Parents worried

endlessly about what they were feeding their kids. Crowdculture converted an

elite concern into a national social trauma that galvanized a broad public

challenge.

3. Target the crowdculture.

Challengers to the industrial food ideology had lurked at the margins for more

than 40 years but had been easily pushed aside as crazy Luddites. Small

subcultures had evolved around organic farming and pastured livestock, eking

out a living at the fringes of the market in community-supported agriculture and

farmers’ markets. But as social media took off, an influential and diverse cluster

of overlapping subcultures pushed hard for food innovations. They included

advocates of evolutionary nutrition and paleo diets, sustainable ranchers, a new

generation of environmental activists, urban gardeners, and farm-to-table

restaurants. In short order, a massive cultural movement had organized around

the revival of preindustrial foods. Chipotle succeeded because it jumped into this

crowdculture and took on its cause.

4. Diffuse the new ideology.

Chipotle promoted preindustrial food ideology with two films. In 2011 the

company launched Back to the Start, an animated film with simple wooden

figures. In it, an old-fashioned farm is transformed into a parody of a hyper-

rationalized industrial farm: The pigs are stuffed together inside a concrete barn,

then enter an assembly line where they are injected with chemicals that fatten

them into blimps, and then are pressed into cubes and deposited in a fleet of

semis. The farmer is haunted by this transformation and decides to convert his

farm back to its original pastoral version.

Crowdculture converted an elite concern into a national social trauma.

The second film, The Scarecrow, parodied an industrial food company that

branded its products using natural farm imagery. The company is actually a

factory in which animals are injected with drugs and treated inhumanely. It

cranks out premade meals stamped “100% beef-ish” that kids, oblivious to the

real process, eagerly gobble up. A scarecrow who works at the factory is

depressed by what he witnesses until he gets an idea. He picks a bunch of

produce from his garden, takes it to the city, and opens up a little taqueria—a

facsimile of a Chipotle.

The films were launched with tiny media buys and then seeded out on social

media platforms. Both were extremely influential, were watched by tens of

millions, generated huge media hits, and helped drive impressive sales and profit

gains. Each won the Grand Prix at the Cannes advertising festival.

Chipotle’s films are wrongly understood simply as great examples of branded

content. They worked because they went beyond mere entertainment. The films

were artful, but so are many thousands of films that don’t cut through. Their

stories weren’t particularly original; they had been repeated over and over with

creative vigor for the previous decade or so. But they exploded on social media

because they were myths that passionately captured the ideology of the

burgeoning preindustrial food crowdculture. Chipotle painted an inspired vision

of America returning to bucolic agricultural and food production traditions and

reversing many problems in the dominant food system.

The bête noire of the preindustrial food movement is fast food, so the idea that a

major fast food company would promote that story was particularly potent with

the crowd. Chipotle was taking on pink slime! Moreover, boutique locavore food

was expensive, but at Chipotle people could now assuage their worries with a $7

burrito. Because they tapped into anxieties percolating in the crowdculture,

Chipotle’s films never had to compete as great entertainment.

5. Innovate continually, using cultural ashpoints.

A brand can sustain its cultural relevance by playing off particularly intriguing or

contentious issues that dominate the media discourse related to an ideology.

That’s what Ben & Jerry’s did so well in championing its sustainable business

philosophy. The company used new-product introductions to playfully spar with

the Reagan administration on timely issues such as nuclear weapons, the

destruction of the rain forests, and the war on drugs.

To thrive, Chipotle must continue to lead on flashpoint issues with products and

communiqués. The company has been less successful in this respect: It followed

up with a Hulu series that had little social media impact because it simply

mimicked the prior films rather than staking out new flashpoints. Then Chipotle

moved on to a new issue, championing food without GMOs. Aside from the fact

that this claim challenged its credibility (after all, Chipotle still sold meat fed by

GMO grain and soft drinks made with GMO sweeteners), GMO was a relatively

weak flashpoint, a contentious issue only among the most activist consumers

and already touted by many hundreds of products. These efforts failed to rally

the crowdculture. A number of other flashpoints, such as sugary drinks and

industrial vegetable oils, generate far more controversy and have yet to be

tackled by a major food business.

Of course, leading with ideology in the mass market can be a double-edged

sword. The brand has to walk the walk or it will be called out. Chipotle is a large

and growing business with many industrial-scale processes, not a small farm-to-

table taqueria. Delivering perishable fresh food, which the company is

committed to as a preindustrial food champion, is a huge operational challenge.

Chipotle’s reputation has taken a painful hit with highly publicized outbreaks of

E. coli and norovirus contamination. Chipotle won’t win back consumer trust

through ads or public relations efforts. Rather, the company has to convince the

crowdculture that it’s doubling down on its commitment to get preindustrial

food right, and then the crowd will advocate for its brand once again.

Competing for Crowdcultures

To brand effectively with social media, companies should target crowdcultures.

Today, in pursuit of relevance, most brands chase after trends. But this is a

commodity approach to branding: Hundreds of companies are doing exactly the

same thing with the same generic list of trends. It’s no wonder consumers don’t

pay attention. By targeting novel ideologies flowing out of crowdcultures, brands

can assert a point of view that stands out in the overstuffed media environment.

Take the personal care category. Three brands—Dove, Axe, and Old Spice—have

generated tremendous consumer interest and identification in a historically low-

involvement category, one you would never expect to get attention on social

media. They succeeded by championing distinctive gender ideologies around

which crowdcultures had formed.

Axe mines the lad crowd. In the 1990s feminist critiques of patriarchal culture

were promulgated by academics in American universities. These attacks

whipped up a conservative backlash mocking “politically correct” gender

politics. It held that men were under siege and needed to rekindle their

traditional masculinity. In the UK and then the United States, this rebellion gave

rise to a tongue-in-cheek form of sexism called “lad culture.” New magazines like

Maxim, FHM, and Loaded harked back to the Playboy era, featuring lewd stories

with soft-porn photos. This ideology struck a chord with many young men. By

the early 2000s lad culture was migrating onto the web as a vital crowdculture.

Axe (sold as Lynx in the UK and Ireland) had been marketed in Europe and Latin

America since the 1980s but had become a dated, also-ran brand. That is, until

the company jumped onto the lad bandwagon with “The Axe Effect,” a campaign

that pushed to bombastic extremes politically incorrect sexual fantasies. It

spread like wildfire on the internet and instantly established Axe as the over-the-

top cheerleader for the lad crowd.

Dove leads the body-positive crowd. Axe’s aggressive stand set up a perfect

opportunity for another brand to champion the feminist side of this “gender

war.” Dove was a mundane, old-fashioned brand in a category in which

marketing usually rode the coattails of the beauty trends set by fashion houses

and media. By the 2000s the ideal of the woman’s body had been pushed to

By targeting novel ideologies from crowdcultures, brands can stand out.

ridiculous extremes. Feminist critiques of the use of starved size 0 models began

to circulate in traditional and social media. Instead of presenting an aspiration,

beauty marketing had become inaccessible and alienating to many women.

Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” tapped into this emerging crowdculture by

celebrating real women’s physiques in all their normal diversity—old, young,

curvy, skinny, short, tall, wrinkled, smooth. Women all over the world pitched in

to produce, circulate, and cheer for images of bodies that didn’t conform to the

beauty myth. Throughout the past decade, Dove has continued to target cultural

flashpoints—such as the use of heavily Photoshopped images in fashion

magazines—to keep the brand at the center of this gender discourse.

Old Spice taps the hipster crowd. The ideological battle between the laddish view

and body-positive feminism left untouched one other cultural opportunity in the

personal care market. In the 2000s, a new “hipster” ideology arose in urban

subcultures to define sophistication among young cosmopolitan adults. They

embraced the historical bohemian ideal with gusto but also with self-referential

irony. Ironic white-trash wardrobes (foam trucker hats, ugly Salvation Army

sweaters) and facial hair (waxed handlebar mustaches, bushy beards) became

pervasive. Brooklyn was chock-full of lumberjacks. Amplified by crowdculture,

this sensibility rapidly spread across the country.

Old Spice branding piggybacked on hipster sophistication with a parody of Axe

and masculine clichés. The campaign featured a chiseled, bare-chested former

football player, Isaiah Mustafa, as a huckster for Old Spice—“the man your man

could smell like.” The films hit the hipster bull’s-eye, serving up an extremely

“hot” guy whose shtick is to make fun of the conventions of male attractiveness.

You too can be hot if you offer your woman amazing adventures, diamonds and

gold, and studly body poses, all with aggressive spraying of Old Spice.

These three brands broke through in social media because they used cultural

branding—a strategy that works differently from the conventional branded-

content model. Each engaged a cultural discourse about gender and sexuality in

wide circulation in social media—a crowdculture—which espoused a distinctive

ideology. Each acted as a proselytizer, promoting this ideology to a mass

audience. Such opportunities come into view only if we use the prism of cultural

branding—doing research to identify ideologies that are relevant to the category

and gaining traction in crowdcultures. Companies that rely on traditional

segmentation models and trend reports will always have trouble identifying

those opportunities.

A decade in, companies are still struggling to come up with a branding model

that works in the chaotic world of social media. The big platforms—the

Facebooks and YouTubes and Instagrams—seem to call the shots, while the vast

majority of brands are cultural mutes, despite investing billions. Companies need

to shift their focus away from the platforms themselves and toward the real locus

of digital power—crowdcultures. They are creating more opportunities than ever

for brands. Old Spice succeeded not with a Facebook strategy but with a strategy

that leveraged the ironic hipster aesthetic. Chipotle succeeded not with a

YouTube strategy but with products and communications that spoke to the

preindustrial food movement. Companies can once again win the battle for

cultural relevance with cultural branding, which will allow them to tap into the

power of the crowd.https://hbr.org/archive-toc/BR1603

A version of this article appeared in the March 2016 issue (pp.40–48, 50) of Harvard Business Review.

Douglas Holt is the founder and president of the Cultural Strategy Group and was formerly a professor at Harvard Business School and the University of Oxford. He is the author of How Brands

Become Icons: The Principles of Cultural Branding (Harvard Business School Press, 2004).

Related Topics: SOCIAL PLATFORMS

This article is about BRANDING

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31 COMMENTS

Niki Qwee 15 days ago

Thanks for this useful post! Social media Inuencers, when used correctly, are arguably one of

the world’s most powerful forms of digital marketing at present and thus worth it. Inuencers

typically specialize in their own niche to capture a targeted audience. I use ingramer.com and

bigbangram.com/hashtag-generator for me account on IG and also I use livelikes.com( thishttps://hbr.org/archive-toc/BR1603https://hbr.org/search?term=douglas+holthttps://hbr.org/topic/social-platformshttps://hbr.org/topic/branding

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program get likes, followers, views, reposts and commentson the most prominent social

media – Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, VK, and Youtube). You might want to check out, I can

say that this will surely help you either.

Monica Wilson 9 months ago

Thanks for sharing this post. I think so now a days social media is one of the biggest and

greatest places to promote your business and get brand recognition. You can build the brand

on social media and earn the trust of people. It is very necessary for every brand to have

unique personality from other brands. You can also try some tools like Growr (

https://socialgrowr.com/ ) to get followers for your Instagram account.

Linda Vecvagare 10 months ago

Thanks for the interesting article! I think this comes together with what such media scholars as

Axel Bruns and Henry Jenkins have described as Generation C and participatory culture. What

we have to deal with nowadays is digital natives and exceptionally tech-savvy population and

traditional online marketing methods just don’t work on them. Generation C trust each other

and look to one another for recommendations. This means that making a lasting impression

and ensuring the awless customer experience is the most crucial thing for brands (you can

read more about it here: http://cli.re/generation-c-marketing-tips). I totally agree that now it’s

more about the experience and community that brands can offer than plain branding itself.

And the best way to do it is by analyzing your customers and their behavior and interactions

with your content. This is also why I use different analytic tools like Google Analytics and

www.capsulink.com on daily basis. This way I make sure I can optimize the content I create

and provide meaningful experience to the audience.

Sonya Baldwin a year ago

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This is a great article with good info! A lot of success of your project also depends on how well

you trust your branding company. Here are some ways to avoid project failure written by Nice

Branding – https://nice-branding.com/trust-branding-company-hired/

William Leeman a year ago

Very well written article, right on point, personally I love how the industries its created are

evolving. I just broke into social media management etc myself I love the research and

constant learning and adapting. I love creating gorilla tactics yes I meant to spell it that way lol

to give my clients as much reach and lead conversion as possible.

Emma Braun 2 years ago

This is a literally amazing article about how social media can be utilized as branding. I guess

social media itself is a playground to make-up your brand and have a word of mouth of your

product. 90% of the marketers of this era cannot neglect social media as a core factor for their

brand. Recently I found another article which is highly interconnected with this piece of

writing. Here are 5 advantages of social media for marketing and branding you never know! :

http://www.craftedium.com/blog/top-5-advantages-social-media-for-marketing

Ganesha Lufthansa 2 years ago

I nd this article very helpful and interesting. When it comes into branding, this website surely

is very helpful. There’s also a website that gives insights about branding:

http://www.dreambox.id/blog/ which is very helpful and understandable, too.

Lorena Carpio 2 years ago

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I nd pretty important for our business and brands to have a unique personality to be

identiable from other brands. Equally important, we have to take care of its image on the

internet. That is why a few months ago I started working with the Dalai Group team. I was soon

made aware of how meaningful it is to be present on social networks and generate

engagement with our consumers. With the social media strategy Dalai Group built for my

brand, my business saw a 15% growth rate in social media trafc this month. Users took part in

conversations about our brand and new visitors came to our website to request products. This

is where you can nd them http://dalaigroup.com/services/social-media-marketing/ they are

really good at consulting and SEO strategies.

Marlee Ellison 2 years ago

An excellent read. Cultural shifts in the digital age have posed a mountain of problems for

brands, and it seems that a lot of them have never truly recovered. People don’t trust branded

content anymore – it’s trying to sell you something, not help you. It’s just not objective.

Another great way to work with social media (instead of against it) is to incorporate user-

generated content into marketing strategies. People trust photos and videos taken by other

ordinary people. And when brands use this content, their engagement soars.

Fortunately, high-tech platforms like Scop.io help brands take advantage of the social media

explosion. You can now license photos and videos from Twitter and Instagram with the click of

a button. It works far better than stock photos or branded content!

Nelson Traver 2 years ago

Thanks a lot Douglas for the post on branding.Thank you for posting the wonderful post, i have

gone through this article and i have learned so much from this. I would like to add another

perspective as detailed “Branding and Advertising includes concepts of product branding,

consumer behavior, marketing communication, and public relations. Branding is the process of

creating a distinct image of a product or range of products in the customer’s mind. This image

communicates the promise of value the customer will receive from the product or products.

Branding should remain consistent across all channels of customer communications.” in

http://www.smstudy.com/. U could also go thorough this site and gather some information

about the marketing research :http://www.smstudy.com/Article/

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SERENA GONSALVES 2 years ago

I love articles that make me think and motivates me to look at things differently! It was a very

insightful and well written article!

Cheers

Serena

Ranjeet Menon 2 years ago

This is an extremely insightful article and a must read for everyone connected to the internet. I

have rst hand experience of the power of crowd culture. I am sure the world must have heard

about Indian movies and Bollywood. Every Indian state has it’s own movie industry. I come

from the state of Kerala and what is unique about what we call as Mollywood is that no matter

whose movies get released, it can be of a super star or a rst timer, if the movie neither has a

good story line nor is a good entertainer, word spreads so fast that the fate of the movie sinks

in 2-3 days.

When the author of the article talks about crowd culture, he is talking about the people on the

ground who understands the realities and who truly understands what can be changed and

what it takes to bring about those changes. The time when people used to lap up all the

advertisements in print and visual media has changed rapidly in the last few years. The two

words that have become extremely signicant in the digital media world are user engagement

and user retention. To promote a brand through social media, companies need a dual strategy

of continuously engaging with people on one side and also ensuring that there are positive

outcomes and value add for both the parties.

A friend who works in the digital marketing had told me about a couple of the clients she is

working for, one trying to push latest clothing trends for women through the digital media into

a city that is immersed in traditional values and the boss of a beauty salon startup who is

expecting 3 times revenue for what he is investing every month for branding his products in the

digital space. The rst question I asked her was, what are the marketing strategies of these

companies on the ground? Indian market is a very unique and sensitive place where branding

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strategies can vary considerably from one state to another. To get people to talk about their

products on social media, they still need to have the basic marketing strategy in the print and

visual media in place rst and it is this dual strategy that would work for them. This would hold

true specically for any company that is trying to create market disruption through it’s

products. The success of every business model depends eventually on it’s strategies for

reaching out to people and engaging with them.

SOFIE Sandell 2 years ago

When I train and speak about social media I always say it’s hard to do it well if you don’t know

who you are and what you stand for. If your brand isn’t sure about that their communication

will become wishy-washy.

11 difcult & time-consuming ways to boost your social media strategy

http://www.soesandell.com/11-difcult-time-consuming-ways-to-boost-your-social-media-

strategy

I’m tired of posts that share ‘X easy ways to boost your social media strategy’. Being great at

communication is never easy. Sorry, but it isn’t, never ever. It takes effort, engagement and a

big dose of endurance to be great at any kind of communication.

I’ve listed some of the headlines that most annoy me below. I found them by randomly

searching on Google for ‘easy ways’ to boost your social media strategy.

‘7 Easy Ways To Boost Social Engagement Today’

‘5 Easy Ways to Improve Your Social Media Marketing’

‘8 Guaranteed Ways to Increase Social Media Reach’

‘11 Incredibly Easy Ways to Improve Social Media Results’

The formula: no effort = great results. This is very rarely true in any context.

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I teach large organisations how to manage their social media strategy. Not a single person has

ever said it’s easy, quick or simple to manage their strategy. Nope, not a single one and I’ve

met hundreds of social media managers.

Rajnil Mallik 2 years ago

Interesting article, but there might be a few simplications. Fundamentally, not everyone on

social media is the same – there are niches along every conceivable dimension and successful

campaigns need to customize heavily. For example, some dimensions may include brand

positioning (Prada v. Zappos), by platform (Facebook v. LinkedIn), and by target segment

(Millennials v. Pre-Teens).

The title “Branding in the Age of Social Media” implies a need to center all branding practices

on social media. Multiple channels (the TV, radio, newspaper, subway ads, etc.) have always

co-existed, and the real winners incorporate holistic, omni-channel strategies rather than

solely focusing on Social Media as a separate toy.

The true power of social media is that it allows for a) customization (based on user

preferences) b) enrichment (videos and live interaction as opposed to billboards) and c) fast

failing (and faster recovery)

Brand marketers must continue to focus on dening the brand messaging and customer

promise. Social Media should only be but one of many means for spreading the messaging.

Gwen Gayhart 2 years ago

The author’s point, however, wasn’t really about which platforms are or should be used

for branding. Rather, he reected on (and recommended a strategy for) branding in

general. Despite the fact that other, more traditional distribution mediums continue to

exist, his point was that the dawn of the hyper-connected, super-active social media

era has prompted a shift in the origins of what drives cultural innovation, thereby also

prompting a need for brands to consider “amplied subcultures” in their branding

strategies, no matter the medium. If a brand can’t “get relevant,” its brand strategy is

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doomed to fail, and if brands want to get relevant, they need to look up from their

metrics spreadsheets and engage with their kids (or young people, in general), who are

naturally-primed to be sensitive to what’s culturally-relevant.

Jaime Porta Martin 2 years ago

I think the point of this article is that you have to focus on an ideology instead of a

trend. People are looking for brands that support their way of being. Meanwhile,

brands have to nd the main ideology that supports the biggest share of its targeted

customers (Axe with the lad culture; Dove with the real body, etc.).

Once the ideology is found, the brand has to nd the marketing strategy to release it. It

doesn’t matter if it is on social media or in the newspaper, what really matters is that

people nd the support they search.

ERIK Sturesson 2 years ago

Really good article. I loved it when I read the article in the newspaper-subscription. Thank you

for keeping us, the readers, up to date!

Best wishes

Erik Sturesson

CEO, Student Node

Cirqus 6 2 years ago

Good article. I think there are a few simple yet brutally frank truths that need to embraced.

Fact is, branded content works. The problem for most large agencies however is that the

crowd-culture is more creative, produces better content faster, taps into a global subcultural

zeitgeist much better (because it is a part of that zeitgeist) and is completely unfettered by the

norms and practices of traditional advertising. The volatile cauldron of social dynamics has

often been the catalyst for the creation of pop culture phenomena. This cauldron however is

fueled by the heat of true, raw, authentic human emotion in reaction to prevalent or even

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eeting social situations. With the democratization of creativity and connectivity enabled by

social media, the creative output caused by these responses to social situations is more

authentic and therefore, results in more immediate and natural resonance. The cauldron has

the added benet of being akin to a pot of hot porridge or grits (trust me, I’m going somewhere

with this). As it bubbles, tiny volcano like structures emerge and tiny ‘pops’ of hot

porridge/grits emerge. In the cauldron of globally connected hyper creativity, these pops are

akin to the super successful creative executions we see (because the number of super

successful creative is a small fraction of the total creative output generated). Large brands

however, aren’t designed to produce massive creative output in order to nd a few successful

hits; in fact they’re designed to achieve the exact opposite – make creative hits as efciently

and quickly and cost effectively as possible. In such a pressure cooker environment, the

pressure cooker can rarely produce the kind of taste that the cauldron can because the

method of cooking is different. Brands need to, in the old parlance of the street, get over

themselves. Take percentages of their massive budgets to support those who do create great

content. If bloggers blog for the love of it yet inuence the opinions of millions of people

worldwide, reach out to bloggers and nd simple ways to collaborate. What’s painfully obvious

now is that much of the in house creative from large brands and large agencies simply cannot

compete any more with a globally connected structure of creatives. The open market has co-

opted the conversation and brands need to nd a way to maintain relevance in that

conversation lest consumers more rapidly embrace what’s now a nascent but growing

phenomenon; creating for themselves, the products and services they desire, bypassing those

created for them.

Nathanael Este-Klein 3 years ago

Interesting read, even if the article is some kind of native advertising. But a professional

sharing his convictions is obviously only self-promoting himself, and shouldn’t he be allowed

to do so?

In my humble opinion, the question you raise is simply: has a cultural approach for branding

and communication became more relevant at the digital age that it used to be in the past?

I believe that yes, even if I am not convinced by your examples nor by the methodology of

“cultural branding” (let’s be careful, trademark infringement here) Mostly because, like others

readers, it seemed all warmed over to me.

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– “Branding is a set of techniques designed to generate cultural relevance”. Totally agree, but

this has been discussed since the early age of marketing with academic works and highlighted

with buzzwordy concepts from agencies as “cultural traction” (WPP, 2010) or “cultural muscle”

(JWT, 2014)

– “Map the cultural orthodoxy and locate the cultural opportunity”? Sounds very familiar to

disruption (TBWA, 1996) with just a « cultural » twist.

– “Target the crowdculture and diffuse the new ideology”? This isn’t different from what

advocates Ogilvy for (at least) 10 years: a brand should have a point of view, OK, we got that.

I found the concept of crowd-culture interesting though, and I agree on many points about

subculture’s inuence and how they can now be amplied with digital tools. How a subculture

can became mainstream at the digital age is indeed a very interesting question. Exploring the

brands that has tapped into subcultures to build their legitimacy – like let’s say Supreme –

would have been much more relevant than taking the examples of the last Lion’s winners and

turning them into “cultural case studies”

Also, even a failed attempt of taking the concept of “culture” and using it as a real

methodological tool, not just a gimmick, would have been really honorable. But in order to do

that, it would have needed a clear denition, and maybe we would still be debating about that

instead. Merriam-Webster crowned “culture” the 2014 Word of the Year but my feeling is that

we still don’t know what does it really means, neither for us or for brands.

Barbara Kruger made a great work titled « When I heard the word culture, I take out my

checkbook”. Maybe I will take out my wallet and buy your book after all, out of curiosity.

PS: English is not my native language, sorry if you felt it.

Kevin York 3 years ago

Iz A is on the right path. To take it a step further, I’d say HBR should really have this piece

labeled as sponsored content. An entire article promoting “cultural branding” from the guy

whose agency ofcially trademarked the term? Plus he promotes the Jack Daniel’s example as

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a success without disclosing that Jack Daniel’s is a client. Real lack of transparency there. Lost

some respect for HBR with this one.

In terms of the subject matter, this post isn’t saying anything new. Branded content isn’t

broken, it’s not going anywhere. All good pieces of content combine audience, context and

brand. It’s just that some brands aren’t good at it, while others are. The same argument

could’ve been made 20 years ago with other mediums.

Richard Hren 3 years ago

Perhaps companies will go back to basics, simply making great products.

tim Piper 3 years ago

Branded content succeeds when the work is great and culturally relevant. PR and social media

are good distribution tools, with traditional TV and paid YouTube views coming a distant

second. The problem is (always has been, always will be) the quality of the creative product.

Academics and marketers keep refusing to accept this because it means that success is out of

their immediate control. While the debates continue, the same creative-driven companies

keep delivering for intelligent brands no matter what the climate. Ted Manger is correct and I

speak from experience having written Dove’s rst viral “Evolution” and co-created the Chipotle

series, which had an 800% return on investment with enormous earned social media & PR btw

(and drew attention to multiple issues, which the short form animations couldn’t due to

length.) That said, enjoyed the article and found it mostly valid.

Iz A 3 years ago

You keep reminding the reader “…what I call….” And “….what I call….” And “…what I call…”

We get it. You coin phrases and terms no one cares about. Marketing, like music or humour,

cannot be taught.

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Marc Dhalluin 3 years ago

This is a terric post, thank you. I think you frame and package the holy grail of competitive

marketing – gaining acute insight into an appropriate audience, amplifying that insight in a

relevant way, and then distributing it correctly. And the insight, to be ‘culturally’ effective, has

to, absolutely has to be considered ‘higher purpose’ insight. It encompasses the ‘why’ we do

things, as opposed to ‘what’ we do. Web has made it easy for everyone to be present, and

therefore mediocrity has ourished.

Gaurav Bhandari 3 years ago

A very insightful article. However, I wonder if the brands identify the sub-culture and plan or if

the sub-culture is identied post the success of a campaign? My experience says that there are

too many sub-cultures going around (as specied in the article as well). While planning a

campaign, you try and touch as many relevant aspects as possible and then zero down on the

one which is most effective!

ted manger 3 years ago

With all due respect, this is the quintessential example of over complicating the obvious —

something marketers and academics excel at.

Having worked for years in marketing I can bet that the very reason that your success stories,

Chipotle, RedBull, UnderArmor etc. succeeded is because they ignored articles like this one.

Do you really thing they sat down to “map the cultural opportunity”? I don’t. I think they did

what they thought was cool instead of consulting some kind of marketing playbook –even one

as well thought out as this. If you have to read how to do it, you don’t know how.

Ted Manger

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Emily Sandoval 2 years ago

Exactly. The problem for most brands is that they are too scared to take a risk on

promoting what is culturally relevant (aka cool and new) — right as it’s beginning and

before any other brands participate. Dove – they pioneered that “body positive”

movement (from a brand perspective). And now look at all of the brands that are now

following suit.

Neha Bindal 3 years ago

Case studies about these popular brands clearly demonstrates that marketing and branding

activities work when they are linked with some way of life. One size doesn’t t all, we can have

the perfect blend of marketing mix but if it lacks a hook i.e. some unique association or

belongingness then it cant work out.

Soriya Pen 3 years ago

Great read!!

edith duarte 3 years ago

Enjoyed this reading. Great insight. Practical. Shared on my network.

Jonathan Feliciano 3 years ago

Amazing Article! A lot of great insight.

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BRANDING

Branding in the Age of Social Media by Douglas Holt

FROM THE MARCH 2016 ISSUE

In the era of Facebook and YouTube, brand building has become a vexingchallenge. This is not how things were supposed to turn out. A decade agomost companies were heralding the arrival of a new golden age of branding. They hired creative agencies and armies of technologists to insert brands

throughout the digital universe. Viral, buzz, memes, stickiness, and form factor

became the lingua franca of branding. But despite all the hoopla, such efforts

have had very little payoff.https://hbr.org/topic/brandinghttps://hbr.org/search?term=douglas+holthttps://hbr.org/

As a central feature of their digital strategy, companies made huge bets on what

is often called branded content. The thinking went like this: Social media would

allow your company to leapfrog traditional media and forge relationships

directly with customers. If you told them great stories and connected with them

in real time, your brand would become a hub for a community of consumers.

Businesses have invested billions pursuing this vision. Yet few brands have

generated meaningful consumer interest online. In fact, social media seems to

have made brands less significant. What has gone wrong?

To solve this puzzle, we need to remember that brands succeed when they break

through in culture. And branding is a set of techniques designed to generate

cultural relevance. Digital technologies have not only created potent new social

networks but also dramatically altered how culture works. Digital crowds now

serve as very effective and prolific innovators of culture—a phenomenon I call

crowdculture. Crowdculture changes the rules of branding—which techniques

work and which do not. If we understand crowdculture, then, we can figure out

why branded-content strategies have fallen flat—and what alternative branding

methods are empowered by social media.

Why Branded Content and Sponsorships Used to Work

While promoters insist that branded content is a hot new thing, it’s actually a

relic of the mass media age that has been repackaged as a digital concept. In the

early days of that era, companies borrowed approaches from popular

entertainment to make their brands famous, using short-form storytelling,

cinematic tricks, songs, and empathetic characters to win over audiences. Classic

ads like Alka-Seltzer’s “I Can’t Believe I Ate the Whole Thing,” Frito-Lay’s “Frito

Bandito,” and Farrah Fawcett “creaming” Joe Namath with Noxema all snuck into

popular culture by amusing audiences.

This early form of branded content worked well because the entertainment

media were oligopolies, so cultural competition was limited. In the United States,

three networks produced television programming for 30 weeks or so every year

and then went into reruns. Films were distributed only through local movie

theaters; similarly, magazine competition was restricted to what fit on the

shelves at drugstores. Consumer marketing companies could buy their way to

fame by paying to place their brands in this tightly controlled cultural arena.

Brands also infiltrated culture by sponsoring TV shows and events, attaching

themselves to successful content. Since fans had limited access to their favorite

entertainers, brands could act as intermediaries. For decades, we were

accustomed to fast food chains’ sponsoring new blockbuster films, luxury autos’

bringing us golf and tennis competitions, and youth brands’ underwriting bands

and festivals.

The rise of new technologies that allowed audiences to opt out of ads—from

cable networks to DVRs and then the internet—made it much harder for brands

to buy fame. Now they had to compete directly with real entertainment. So

Once audiences could opt out of ads, it became harder for brands to buy fame.

companies upped the ante. BMW pioneered the practice of creating short films

for the internet. Soon corporations were hiring top film directors (Michael Bay,

Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Wes Anderson, David Lynch) and pushing for ever-

more-spectacular special effects and production values.

These early (pre-social-media) digital efforts led companies to believe that if they

delivered Hollywood-level creative at internet speed, they could gather huge

engaged audiences around their brands. Thus was born the great push toward

branded content. But its champions weren’t counting on new competition. And

this time it came not from big media companies but from the crowd.

The Rise of Crowdculture

Historically, cultural innovation flowed from the margins of society—from fringe

groups, social movements, and artistic circles that challenged mainstream norms

and conventions. Companies and the mass media acted as intermediaries,

diffusing these new ideas into the mass market. But social media has changed

everything.

Social media binds together communities that once were geographically isolated,

greatly increasing the pace and intensity of collaboration. Now that these once-

remote communities are densely networked, their cultural influence has become

direct and substantial. These new crowdcultures come in two flavors:

subcultures, which incubate new ideologies and practices, and art worlds, which

break new ground in entertainment.

Amplied subcultures.

Today you’ll find a flourishing crowdculture around almost any topic: espresso,

the demise of the American Dream, Victorian novels, arts-and-crafts furniture,

libertarianism, new urbanism, 3-D printing, anime, bird-watching,

homeschooling, barbecue. Back in the day, these subculturalists had to gather

physically and had very limited ways to communicate collectively: magazines

and, later, primitive Usenet groups and meet-ups.

Social media has expanded and democratized these subcultures. With a few

clicks, you can jump into the center of any subculture, and participants’

intensive interactions move seamlessly among the web, physical spaces, and

traditional media. Together members are pushing forward new ideas, products,

practices, and aesthetics—bypassing mass-culture gatekeepers. With the rise of

crowdculture, cultural innovators and their early adopter markets have become

one and the same.

Turbocharged art worlds.

Producing innovative popular entertainment requires a distinctive mode of

organization—what sociologists call an art world. In art worlds, artists

(musicians, filmmakers, writers, designers, cartoonists, and so on) gather in

inspired collaborative competition: They work together, learn from one another,

play off ideas, and push one another. The collective efforts of participants in

these “scenes” often generate major creative breakthroughs. Before the rise of

social media, the mass-culture industries (film, television, print media, fashion)

thrived by pilfering and repurposing their innovations.

Crowdculture has turbocharged art worlds, vastly increasing the number of

participants and the speed and quality of their interactions. No longer do you

need to be part of a local scene; no longer do you need to work for a year to get

funding and distribution for your short film. Now millions of nimble cultural

entrepreneurs come together online to hone their craft, exchange ideas, fine-

tune their content, and compete to produce hits. The net effect is a new mode of

rapid cultural prototyping, in which you can get instant data on the market’s

reception of ideas, have them critiqued, and then rework them so that the most

resonant content quickly surfaces. In the process, new talent emerges and new

genres form. Squeezing into every nook and cranny of pop culture, the new

content is highly attuned to audiences and produced on the cheap. These art-

world crowdcultures are the main reason why branded content has failed.

Beyond Branded Content

While companies have put their faith in branded content for the past decade,

brute empirical evidence is now forcing them to reconsider. In YouTube or

Instagram rankings of channels by number of subscribers, corporate brands

barely appear. Only three have cracked the YouTube Top 500. Instead you’ll find

entertainers you’ve never heard of, appearing as if from nowhere.

YouTube’s greatest success by far is PewDiePie, a Swede who posts barely edited

films with snarky voice-over commentary on the video games he plays. By

January 2016 he had racked up nearly 11 billion views, and his YouTube channel

had more than 41 million subscribers.

How did this happen? The story begins with the youth subcultures that formed

around video games. When they landed on social media, they became a force.

The once-oddball video-gaming-as-entertainment subculture of South Korea

went global, producing a massive spectator sport, now known as E-Sports, with a

fan base approaching 100 million people. (Amazon recently bought the E-Sports

network Twitch for $970 million.)

In E-Sports, broadcasters provide play-by-play narration of video games.

PewDiePie and his comrades riffed on this commentary, turning it into a potty-

mouthed new form of sophomoric comedy. Other gamers who film themselves,

such as VanossGaming (YouTube rank #19, 15.6 million subscribers),

elrubiusOMG (#20, 15.6 million), CaptainSparklez (#60, 9 million), and Ali-A

(#94, 7.4 million), are also influential members of this tribe. The crowdculture

was initially organized by specialized media platforms that disseminated this

content and by insider fans who gathered around and critiqued it, hyping some

efforts and dissing others. PewDiePie became the star of this digital art world—

just as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Patti Smith had done in urban art worlds back in

the analog days. The main difference is that the power of crowdculture propelled

him to global fame and influence in record time.

Gaming comedy is just one of hundreds of new genres that crowdculture has

created. Those genres fill every imaginable entertainment gap in popular culture,

from girls’ fashion advice to gross-out indulgent foods to fanboy sports criticism.

Brands can’t compete, despite their investments. Compare PewDiePie, who

cranks out inexpensive videos in his house, to McDonald’s, one of the world’s

biggest spenders on social media. The McDonald’s channel (#9,414) has 204,000

YouTube subscribers. PewDiePie is 200 times as popular, for a minuscule fraction

of the cost.

Or consider Red Bull, the most lauded branded-content success story. It has

become a new-media hub producing extreme- and alternative-sports content.

While Red Bull spends much of its $2 billion annual marketing budget on

branded content, its YouTube channel (rank #184, 4.9 million subscribers) is

lapped by dozens of crowdculture start-ups with production budgets under

$100,000. Indeed, Dude Perfect (#81, 8 million subscribers), the brainchild of

five college jocks from Texas who make videos of trick shots and goofy

improvised athletic feats, does far better.

Coca-Cola offers another cautionary tale. In 2011 the company announced a new

marketing strategy—called Liquid & Linked—with great fanfare. Going all in, it

shifted its emphasis from “creative excellence” (the old mass-media approach) to

“content excellence” (branded content in social media). Coke’s Jonathan

Mildenhall claimed that Coke would continually produce “the world’s most

compelling content,” which would capture “a disproportionate share of popular

culture,” doubling sales by 2020.

The following year, Coca-Cola launched its first big bet, transforming the static

corporate website into a digital magazine, Coca-Cola Journey. It runs stories on

virtually every pop culture topic—from sports and food to sustainability and

travel. It’s the epitome of a branded-content strategy.

Journey has now been live for over three years, and it barely registers views. It

hasn’t cracked the top 10,000 sites in the United States or the top 20,000

worldwide. Likewise, the company’s YouTube channel (ranked #2,749) has only

676,000 subscribers.

It turns out that consumers have little interest in the content that brands churn

out. Very few people want it in their feed. Most view it as clutter—as brand spam.

When Facebook realized this, it began charging companies to get “sponsored”

content into the feeds of people who were supposed to be their fans.

The problem companies face is structural, not creative. Big companies organize

their marketing efforts as the antithesis of art worlds, in what I have termed

brand bureaucracies. They excel at coordinating and executing complex

marketing programs across multiple markets around the world. But this

organizational model leads to mediocrity when it comes to cultural innovation.

Brand Sponsors Are Disintermediated

Entertainment “properties”—performers, athletes, sports teams, films, television

programs, and video games—are also hugely popular on social media. Across all

the big platforms you’ll find the usual A-list of celebrities dominating. On

YouTube musicians Rihanna, One Direction, Katy Perry, Eminem, Justin Bieber,

and Taylor Swift have built massive audiences. On Twitter you’ll find a similar

cast of singers, along with media stars like Ellen DeGeneres, Jimmy Fallon,

On social media, what works for Shakira backres for Crest and Clorox.http://www.amazon.com/Cultural-Strategy-Innovative-Ideologies-Breakthrough/dp/0199655855

Oprah, Bill Gates, and the pope. Fans gather around the tweets of sports stars

Cristiano Ronaldo, LeBron James, Neymar, and Kaká, and teams such as FC

Barcelona and Real Madrid (which are far more popular than the two dominant

sports brands, Nike and Adidas). On Instagram you’ll find more of the same.

These celebrities are all garnering the superengaged community that pundits

have long promised social media would deliver. But it’s not available to

companies and their branded goods and services. In retrospect, that shouldn’t be

surprising: Interacting with a favored entertainer is different from interacting

with a brand of rental car or orange juice. What works for Shakira backfires for

Crest and Clorox. The idea that consumers could possibly want to talk about

Corona or Coors in the same way that they debate the talents of Ronaldo and

Messi is silly.

How One Brand Uses Celebrities to Break Through Under Armour’s recent campaign “I Will What I Want” shows how to combine celebrity sponsorships and cultural branding to create content with impact.

Under Armour originally became an iconic brand by swiping Nike’s cultural strategy—then doing it one better.

Nike’s approach, launched in the 1970s and perfected in the 1990s, was to tell stories of athletes who overcame societal barriers through sheer willpower. But a decade ago Nike abandoned its competitive-underdog ideology to go all in on branded content, using famous athletes to make entertaining sports lms. Under Armour stepped into the void, producing arresting new ads, such as “Protect This House,” that championed the same ideology and took off on social media.https://www.underarmour.com/en-us/iwillwhatiwant

Under Armour also followed Nike in dramatizing how übercompetitiveness, traditionally associated with masculinity, applied equally to women, broadcasting spots that showcased female athletes. The latest effort, “I Will What I Want,” pushed gender boundaries even further, challenging conventions in arenas where traditional ideals of femininity still reign.

Ballet star Misty Copeland—who grew up in poverty with a single parent—is an athletic, muscular dancer in a profession that celebrates waish, reed-thin women. Under Armour made a video about how she rose above adversity (the voice-over is from a rejection letter saying that her body was completely wrong for ballet), showing her dancing in a formtting sports bra and pants that reveal her curvier physique.

A Gisele Bündchen lm followed the same convention-breaking formula but mashed up incongruous crowdcultures to provoke a social media response. The former Victoria’s Secret star is usually portrayed within the glamorous world of runways and celebrity hobnobbing. Under Armour broke the frame by placing her in what was essentially an old Nike ad: a backstage video of Gisele in an intense kickboxing workout. The company announced the partnership ahead of lming. It immediately stirred up the crowdculture: Sports fans were cynical, Gisele fans were curious, fashionistas were puzzled, and feminists simply loved it. Under Armour’s agency scraped all this commentary from the web and projected quotes from the digital discussion on the walls behind her. The resulting video shows Gisele sweating and kicking the bag, ignoring the litany of digs surrounding her: “Is posing now a sport?” “She’s not even pretty.” “What’s her sport, smiling?” “Stick to modeling, sweetie.”

Under Armour succeeded because it innovated with ideology—using female celebrities to provocatively push against gender norms. The company aimed its communiqués directly at the crowdcultures that held those norms, which set off a restorm of debate.Social media allows fans to create rich communities around entertainers, who

interact directly with them in a barrage of tweets, pins, and posts. Sports teams

now hire social media ambassadors to reach out to fans in real time during

games, and once the game is over, the players send along insider photos and hold

locker-room chats. Beyond the major platforms, new media sites like Vevo,

SoundCloud, and Apple Music are spurring even more direct digital connections.

Of course, entertainers are still more than happy to take sponsors’ money, but

the cultural value that’s supposed to rub off on the brand is fading.

Cultural Branding

While the rise of crowdculture diminishes the impact of branded content and

sponsorships, it has greased the wheels for an alternative approach that I call

cultural branding. The dramatic breakthrough of the fast-casual Mexican food

chain Chipotle from 2011 to 2013 (before recent outbreaks of foodborne illness)

demonstrates the power of this approach.

Chipotle took advantage of an enormous cultural opportunity created when the

once-marginal movements that had challenged America’s dominant industrial

food culture became a force to be reckoned with on social media. The chain

jumped into the fray as a champion of this crowdculture’s ideology. By applying

cultural branding, Chipotle became one of America’s most compelling and

talked-about brands (though recent food-safety difficulties have dented its

image). Specifically, Chipotle succeeded by following these five principles:

1. Map the cultural orthodoxy.

In cultural branding, the brand promotes an innovative ideology that breaks with

category conventions. To do that, it first needs to identify which conventions to

leapfrog—what I call the cultural orthodoxy. America’s industrial food ideology

was invented in the early 20th century by food-marketing companies. Americans

had come to believe that, through dazzling scientific discoveries (margarine,

instant coffee, Tang) and standardized production processes, big companies,

overseen by the Food and Drug Administration, would ensure bountiful,

healthful, and tasty food. Those assumptions have undergirded the fast food

category since McDonald’s took off in the 1960s.

2. Locate the cultural opportunity.

As time passes, disruptions in society cause an orthodoxy to lose traction.

Consumers begin searching for alternatives, which opens up an opportunity for

innovative brands to push forward a new ideology in their categories.

How Cultural Branding Builds Icons Iconic brands are cultural innovators: They leapfrog the conventions of their categories to champion new ideologies that are meaningful to customers.

As a result, they enjoy intense customer loyalty and superior sales and prots, and garner loads of free media coverage. In business, few achievements are more prized than creating an iconic brand. Yet the two dominant branding models are not designed to do the job.

The rst model, mindshare branding, is one that companies have long relied on. It treats a brand as a set of psychological associations (benets, emotions, personality). The second model, purpose branding, has become popular in the past decade. In it, a brand espouses values or ideals its customers share. Over the past 15 years I’ve developed an alternative approach—cultural branding— to turn what was once serendipity into a rigorous discipline. Let me illustrate how it works, using the transformation of Jack Daniel’s from a near-bankrupt regional distiller to the maker of the leading premium American whiskey.

Whiskies compete to be perceived as upscale and masculine. In the 1950s the major brands sought to align themselves with the male ideal of the day: the sophisticated modern corporate executive. Jack Daniel’s, a small whiskey

targeted to upper-middle-class men, was being trounced by the national competitors. How could it break through?

Mindshare-branding experts would advise the company to convey, very consistently, the key brand associations: masculine, sophisticated, smooth- tasting, classic. But that was precisely what Jack Daniel’s was doing—its ads mimicked the national brands’, showing alpha executives drinking smooth whiskey. And they didn’t work. Purpose-branding experts would encourage the rm to champion its core values. With that approach, the focus wouldn’t be much different: Those values had to do with producing classic charcoal-ltered whiskey for a sophisticated drinker.

Instead, the rm (tacitly) pursued a cultural-branding approach. Because masculine ideals are shaped by society, they change over time. The Cold War had dramatically affected Americans’ perceptions of masculinity. In the face of a nuclear threat, the corporate executive seemed too sedentary. Instead, the public was drawn to what had only recently been viewed as an anachronism: the gunslinging rugged individualist of the Old West, who, in the American mythos, had helped forge the country’s success. The enormous popularity of Western lms was one indication of this shift. This massive cultural opportunity, which Marlboro and Levi’s leveraged as well, is obvious when analyzed through a cultural-branding framework—but invisible without one.

The Jack Daniel’s distillery was in a rural region of Tennessee that the postwar mass media portrayed as an impoverished land of hillbillies. Yet in the American imagination, the area was also one of the last authentic pockets of the frontier, where Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone had gotten their start. So when American men yearned to revive the ideology of the frontier, the whiskey offered great potential as a symbol. This theme was rst hit upon by men’s magazines (Fortune, True), which published stories romanticizing the distillery as a place run by frontiersmen, little changed since the 19th century. The company’s print-ad campaign simply emulated those stories, adding some folksy copy.

Jack Daniel’s quickly became the aspirational whiskey among urban upper- middle-class men; the branding converted its once-stigmatized location into a place where men were really men. Conventional models would never build a

strategy centered on such a downscale version of masculinity. But in cultural branding, inverting marginal ideologies is one of the tricks of the trade.

For industrial food, the tipping point came in 2001, when Eric Schlosser’s book

Fast Food Nation powerfully challenged it. This was followed in 2004 by Morgan

Spurlock’s film Super Size Me and in 2006 by Michael Pollan’s influential book

The Omnivore’s Dilemma. These critiques dramatically affected the upper middle

class, quickly spreading concerns about industrial food and providing huge

momentum to Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s, and a host of other upmarket

food purveyors. The same transformation is unfolding in other countries

dominated by industrial food ideology. For instance, in the United Kingdom the

celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall have played a

similar role.

Before social media, the influence of these works would have remained locked

within this small fraction of society. Instead, crowdcultures grabbed the critiques

and blew them up, pushing industrial food anxiety into the mainstream. News

about every major problem linked to industrial food production—processed

foods loaded with sugar, carcinogenic preservatives, rBGH in milk, bisphenol A

leaching from plastics, GMOs, and so on—began to circulate at internet speed.

Videos of the meatlike substance “pink slime” went viral. Parents worried

endlessly about what they were feeding their kids. Crowdculture converted an

elite concern into a national social trauma that galvanized a broad public

challenge.

3. Target the crowdculture.

Challengers to the industrial food ideology had lurked at the margins for more

than 40 years but had been easily pushed aside as crazy Luddites. Small

subcultures had evolved around organic farming and pastured livestock, eking

out a living at the fringes of the market in community-supported agriculture and

farmers’ markets. But as social media took off, an influential and diverse cluster

of overlapping subcultures pushed hard for food innovations. They included

advocates of evolutionary nutrition and paleo diets, sustainable ranchers, a new

generation of environmental activists, urban gardeners, and farm-to-table

restaurants. In short order, a massive cultural movement had organized around

the revival of preindustrial foods. Chipotle succeeded because it jumped into this

crowdculture and took on its cause.

4. Diffuse the new ideology.

Chipotle promoted preindustrial food ideology with two films. In 2011 the

company launched Back to the Start, an animated film with simple wooden

figures. In it, an old-fashioned farm is transformed into a parody of a hyper-

rationalized industrial farm: The pigs are stuffed together inside a concrete barn,

then enter an assembly line where they are injected with chemicals that fatten

them into blimps, and then are pressed into cubes and deposited in a fleet of

semis. The farmer is haunted by this transformation and decides to convert his

farm back to its original pastoral version.

Crowdculture converted an elite concern into a national social trauma.

The second film, The Scarecrow, parodied an industrial food company that

branded its products using natural farm imagery. The company is actually a

factory in which animals are injected with drugs and treated inhumanely. It

cranks out premade meals stamped “100% beef-ish” that kids, oblivious to the

real process, eagerly gobble up. A scarecrow who works at the factory is

depressed by what he witnesses until he gets an idea. He picks a bunch of

produce from his garden, takes it to the city, and opens up a little taqueria—a

facsimile of a Chipotle.

The films were launched with tiny media buys and then seeded out on social

media platforms. Both were extremely influential, were watched by tens of

millions, generated huge media hits, and helped drive impressive sales and profit

gains. Each won the Grand Prix at the Cannes advertising festival.

Chipotle’s films are wrongly understood simply as great examples of branded

content. They worked because they went beyond mere entertainment. The films

were artful, but so are many thousands of films that don’t cut through. Their

stories weren’t particularly original; they had been repeated over and over with

creative vigor for the previous decade or so. But they exploded on social media

because they were myths that passionately captured the ideology of the

burgeoning preindustrial food crowdculture. Chipotle painted an inspired vision

of America returning to bucolic agricultural and food production traditions and

reversing many problems in the dominant food system.

The bête noire of the preindustrial food movement is fast food, so the idea that a

major fast food company would promote that story was particularly potent with

the crowd. Chipotle was taking on pink slime! Moreover, boutique locavore food

was expensive, but at Chipotle people could now assuage their worries with a $7

burrito. Because they tapped into anxieties percolating in the crowdculture,

Chipotle’s films never had to compete as great entertainment.

5. Innovate continually, using cultural ashpoints.

A brand can sustain its cultural relevance by playing off particularly intriguing or

contentious issues that dominate the media discourse related to an ideology.

That’s what Ben & Jerry’s did so well in championing its sustainable business

philosophy. The company used new-product introductions to playfully spar with

the Reagan administration on timely issues such as nuclear weapons, the

destruction of the rain forests, and the war on drugs.

To thrive, Chipotle must continue to lead on flashpoint issues with products and

communiqués. The company has been less successful in this respect: It followed

up with a Hulu series that had little social media impact because it simply

mimicked the prior films rather than staking out new flashpoints. Then Chipotle

moved on to a new issue, championing food without GMOs. Aside from the fact

that this claim challenged its credibility (after all, Chipotle still sold meat fed by

GMO grain and soft drinks made with GMO sweeteners), GMO was a relatively

weak flashpoint, a contentious issue only among the most activist consumers

and already touted by many hundreds of products. These efforts failed to rally

the crowdculture. A number of other flashpoints, such as sugary drinks and

industrial vegetable oils, generate far more controversy and have yet to be

tackled by a major food business.

Of course, leading with ideology in the mass market can be a double-edged

sword. The brand has to walk the walk or it will be called out. Chipotle is a large

and growing business with many industrial-scale processes, not a small farm-to-

table taqueria. Delivering perishable fresh food, which the company is

committed to as a preindustrial food champion, is a huge operational challenge.

Chipotle’s reputation has taken a painful hit with highly publicized outbreaks of

E. coli and norovirus contamination. Chipotle won’t win back consumer trust

through ads or public relations efforts. Rather, the company has to convince the

crowdculture that it’s doubling down on its commitment to get preindustrial

food right, and then the crowd will advocate for its brand once again.

Competing for Crowdcultures

To brand effectively with social media, companies should target crowdcultures.

Today, in pursuit of relevance, most brands chase after trends. But this is a

commodity approach to branding: Hundreds of companies are doing exactly the

same thing with the same generic list of trends. It’s no wonder consumers don’t

pay attention. By targeting novel ideologies flowing out of crowdcultures, brands

can assert a point of view that stands out in the overstuffed media environment.

Take the personal care category. Three brands—Dove, Axe, and Old Spice—have

generated tremendous consumer interest and identification in a historically low-

involvement category, one you would never expect to get attention on social

media. They succeeded by championing distinctive gender ideologies around

which crowdcultures had formed.

Axe mines the lad crowd. In the 1990s feminist critiques of patriarchal culture

were promulgated by academics in American universities. These attacks

whipped up a conservative backlash mocking “politically correct” gender

politics. It held that men were under siege and needed to rekindle their

traditional masculinity. In the UK and then the United States, this rebellion gave

rise to a tongue-in-cheek form of sexism called “lad culture.” New magazines like

Maxim, FHM, and Loaded harked back to the Playboy era, featuring lewd stories

with soft-porn photos. This ideology struck a chord with many young men. By

the early 2000s lad culture was migrating onto the web as a vital crowdculture.

Axe (sold as Lynx in the UK and Ireland) had been marketed in Europe and Latin

America since the 1980s but had become a dated, also-ran brand. That is, until

the company jumped onto the lad bandwagon with “The Axe Effect,” a campaign

that pushed to bombastic extremes politically incorrect sexual fantasies. It

spread like wildfire on the internet and instantly established Axe as the over-the-

top cheerleader for the lad crowd.

Dove leads the body-positive crowd. Axe’s aggressive stand set up a perfect

opportunity for another brand to champion the feminist side of this “gender

war.” Dove was a mundane, old-fashioned brand in a category in which

marketing usually rode the coattails of the beauty trends set by fashion houses

and media. By the 2000s the ideal of the woman’s body had been pushed to

By targeting novel ideologies from crowdcultures, brands can stand out.

ridiculous extremes. Feminist critiques of the use of starved size 0 models began

to circulate in traditional and social media. Instead of presenting an aspiration,

beauty marketing had become inaccessible and alienating to many women.

Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” tapped into this emerging crowdculture by

celebrating real women’s physiques in all their normal diversity—old, young,

curvy, skinny, short, tall, wrinkled, smooth. Women all over the world pitched in

to produce, circulate, and cheer for images of bodies that didn’t conform to the

beauty myth. Throughout the past decade, Dove has continued to target cultural

flashpoints—such as the use of heavily Photoshopped images in fashion

magazines—to keep the brand at the center of this gender discourse.

Old Spice taps the hipster crowd. The ideological battle between the laddish view

and body-positive feminism left untouched one other cultural opportunity in the

personal care market. In the 2000s, a new “hipster” ideology arose in urban

subcultures to define sophistication among young cosmopolitan adults. They

embraced the historical bohemian ideal with gusto but also with self-referential

irony. Ironic white-trash wardrobes (foam trucker hats, ugly Salvation Army

sweaters) and facial hair (waxed handlebar mustaches, bushy beards) became

pervasive. Brooklyn was chock-full of lumberjacks. Amplified by crowdculture,

this sensibility rapidly spread across the country.

Old Spice branding piggybacked on hipster sophistication with a parody of Axe

and masculine clichés. The campaign featured a chiseled, bare-chested former

football player, Isaiah Mustafa, as a huckster for Old Spice—“the man your man

could smell like.” The films hit the hipster bull’s-eye, serving up an extremely

“hot” guy whose shtick is to make fun of the conventions of male attractiveness.

You too can be hot if you offer your woman amazing adventures, diamonds and

gold, and studly body poses, all with aggressive spraying of Old Spice.

These three brands broke through in social media because they used cultural

branding—a strategy that works differently from the conventional branded-

content model. Each engaged a cultural discourse about gender and sexuality in

wide circulation in social media—a crowdculture—which espoused a distinctive

ideology. Each acted as a proselytizer, promoting this ideology to a mass

audience. Such opportunities come into view only if we use the prism of cultural

branding—doing research to identify ideologies that are relevant to the category

and gaining traction in crowdcultures. Companies that rely on traditional

segmentation models and trend reports will always have trouble identifying

those opportunities.

A decade in, companies are still struggling to come up with a branding model

that works in the chaotic world of social media. The big platforms—the

Facebooks and YouTubes and Instagrams—seem to call the shots, while the vast

majority of brands are cultural mutes, despite investing billions. Companies need

to shift their focus away from the platforms themselves and toward the real locus

of digital power—crowdcultures. They are creating more opportunities than ever

for brands. Old Spice succeeded not with a Facebook strategy but with a strategy

that leveraged the ironic hipster aesthetic. Chipotle succeeded not with a

YouTube strategy but with products and communications that spoke to the

preindustrial food movement. Companies can once again win the battle for

cultural relevance with cultural branding, which will allow them to tap into the

power of the crowd.https://hbr.org/archive-toc/BR1603

A version of this article appeared in the March 2016 issue (pp.40–48, 50) of Harvard Business Review.

Douglas Holt is the founder and president of the Cultural Strategy Group and was formerly a professor at Harvard Business School and the University of Oxford. He is the author of How Brands

Become Icons: The Principles of Cultural Branding (Harvard Business School Press, 2004).

Related Topics: SOCIAL PLATFORMS

This article is about BRANDING

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31 COMMENTS

Niki Qwee 15 days ago

Thanks for this useful post! Social media Inuencers, when used correctly, are arguably one of

the world’s most powerful forms of digital marketing at present and thus worth it. Inuencers

typically specialize in their own niche to capture a targeted audience. I use ingramer.com and

bigbangram.com/hashtag-generator for me account on IG and also I use livelikes.com( thishttps://hbr.org/archive-toc/BR1603https://hbr.org/search?term=douglas+holthttps://hbr.org/topic/social-platformshttps://hbr.org/topic/branding

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program get likes, followers, views, reposts and commentson the most prominent social

media – Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, VK, and Youtube). You might want to check out, I can

say that this will surely help you either.

Monica Wilson 9 months ago

Thanks for sharing this post. I think so now a days social media is one of the biggest and

greatest places to promote your business and get brand recognition. You can build the brand

on social media and earn the trust of people. It is very necessary for every brand to have

unique personality from other brands. You can also try some tools like Growr (

https://socialgrowr.com/ ) to get followers for your Instagram account.

Linda Vecvagare 10 months ago

Thanks for the interesting article! I think this comes together with what such media scholars as

Axel Bruns and Henry Jenkins have described as Generation C and participatory culture. What

we have to deal with nowadays is digital natives and exceptionally tech-savvy population and

traditional online marketing methods just don’t work on them. Generation C trust each other

and look to one another for recommendations. This means that making a lasting impression

and ensuring the awless customer experience is the most crucial thing for brands (you can

read more about it here: http://cli.re/generation-c-marketing-tips). I totally agree that now it’s

more about the experience and community that brands can offer than plain branding itself.

And the best way to do it is by analyzing your customers and their behavior and interactions

with your content. This is also why I use different analytic tools like Google Analytics and

www.capsulink.com on daily basis. This way I make sure I can optimize the content I create

and provide meaningful experience to the audience.

Sonya Baldwin a year ago

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This is a great article with good info! A lot of success of your project also depends on how well

you trust your branding company. Here are some ways to avoid project failure written by Nice

Branding – https://nice-branding.com/trust-branding-company-hired/

William Leeman a year ago

Very well written article, right on point, personally I love how the industries its created are

evolving. I just broke into social media management etc myself I love the research and

constant learning and adapting. I love creating gorilla tactics yes I meant to spell it that way lol

to give my clients as much reach and lead conversion as possible.

Emma Braun 2 years ago

This is a literally amazing article about how social media can be utilized as branding. I guess

social media itself is a playground to make-up your brand and have a word of mouth of your

product. 90% of the marketers of this era cannot neglect social media as a core factor for their

brand. Recently I found another article which is highly interconnected with this piece of

writing. Here are 5 advantages of social media for marketing and branding you never know! :

http://www.craftedium.com/blog/top-5-advantages-social-media-for-marketing

Ganesha Lufthansa 2 years ago

I nd this article very helpful and interesting. When it comes into branding, this website surely

is very helpful. There’s also a website that gives insights about branding:

http://www.dreambox.id/blog/ which is very helpful and understandable, too.

Lorena Carpio 2 years ago

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I nd pretty important for our business and brands to have a unique personality to be

identiable from other brands. Equally important, we have to take care of its image on the

internet. That is why a few months ago I started working with the Dalai Group team. I was soon

made aware of how meaningful it is to be present on social networks and generate

engagement with our consumers. With the social media strategy Dalai Group built for my

brand, my business saw a 15% growth rate in social media trafc this month. Users took part in

conversations about our brand and new visitors came to our website to request products. This

is where you can nd them http://dalaigroup.com/services/social-media-marketing/ they are

really good at consulting and SEO strategies.

Marlee Ellison 2 years ago

An excellent read. Cultural shifts in the digital age have posed a mountain of problems for

brands, and it seems that a lot of them have never truly recovered. People don’t trust branded

content anymore – it’s trying to sell you something, not help you. It’s just not objective.

Another great way to work with social media (instead of against it) is to incorporate user-

generated content into marketing strategies. People trust photos and videos taken by other

ordinary people. And when brands use this content, their engagement soars.

Fortunately, high-tech platforms like Scop.io help brands take advantage of the social media

explosion. You can now license photos and videos from Twitter and Instagram with the click of

a button. It works far better than stock photos or branded content!

Nelson Traver 2 years ago

Thanks a lot Douglas for the post on branding.Thank you for posting the wonderful post, i have

gone through this article and i have learned so much from this. I would like to add another

perspective as detailed “Branding and Advertising includes concepts of product branding,

consumer behavior, marketing communication, and public relations. Branding is the process of

creating a distinct image of a product or range of products in the customer’s mind. This image

communicates the promise of value the customer will receive from the product or products.

Branding should remain consistent across all channels of customer communications.” in

http://www.smstudy.com/. U could also go thorough this site and gather some information

about the marketing research :http://www.smstudy.com/Article/

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SERENA GONSALVES 2 years ago

I love articles that make me think and motivates me to look at things differently! It was a very

insightful and well written article!

Cheers

Serena

Ranjeet Menon 2 years ago

This is an extremely insightful article and a must read for everyone connected to the internet. I

have rst hand experience of the power of crowd culture. I am sure the world must have heard

about Indian movies and Bollywood. Every Indian state has it’s own movie industry. I come

from the state of Kerala and what is unique about what we call as Mollywood is that no matter

whose movies get released, it can be of a super star or a rst timer, if the movie neither has a

good story line nor is a good entertainer, word spreads so fast that the fate of the movie sinks

in 2-3 days.

When the author of the article talks about crowd culture, he is talking about the people on the

ground who understands the realities and who truly understands what can be changed and

what it takes to bring about those changes. The time when people used to lap up all the

advertisements in print and visual media has changed rapidly in the last few years. The two

words that have become extremely signicant in the digital media world are user engagement

and user retention. To promote a brand through social media, companies need a dual strategy

of continuously engaging with people on one side and also ensuring that there are positive

outcomes and value add for both the parties.

A friend who works in the digital marketing had told me about a couple of the clients she is

working for, one trying to push latest clothing trends for women through the digital media into

a city that is immersed in traditional values and the boss of a beauty salon startup who is

expecting 3 times revenue for what he is investing every month for branding his products in the

digital space. The rst question I asked her was, what are the marketing strategies of these

companies on the ground? Indian market is a very unique and sensitive place where branding

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strategies can vary considerably from one state to another. To get people to talk about their

products on social media, they still need to have the basic marketing strategy in the print and

visual media in place rst and it is this dual strategy that would work for them. This would hold

true specically for any company that is trying to create market disruption through it’s

products. The success of every business model depends eventually on it’s strategies for

reaching out to people and engaging with them.

SOFIE Sandell 2 years ago

When I train and speak about social media I always say it’s hard to do it well if you don’t know

who you are and what you stand for. If your brand isn’t sure about that their communication

will become wishy-washy.

11 difcult & time-consuming ways to boost your social media strategy

http://www.soesandell.com/11-difcult-time-consuming-ways-to-boost-your-social-media-

strategy

I’m tired of posts that share ‘X easy ways to boost your social media strategy’. Being great at

communication is never easy. Sorry, but it isn’t, never ever. It takes effort, engagement and a

big dose of endurance to be great at any kind of communication.

I’ve listed some of the headlines that most annoy me below. I found them by randomly

searching on Google for ‘easy ways’ to boost your social media strategy.

‘7 Easy Ways To Boost Social Engagement Today’

‘5 Easy Ways to Improve Your Social Media Marketing’

‘8 Guaranteed Ways to Increase Social Media Reach’

‘11 Incredibly Easy Ways to Improve Social Media Results’

The formula: no effort = great results. This is very rarely true in any context.

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I teach large organisations how to manage their social media strategy. Not a single person has

ever said it’s easy, quick or simple to manage their strategy. Nope, not a single one and I’ve

met hundreds of social media managers.

Rajnil Mallik 2 years ago

Interesting article, but there might be a few simplications. Fundamentally, not everyone on

social media is the same – there are niches along every conceivable dimension and successful

campaigns need to customize heavily. For example, some dimensions may include brand

positioning (Prada v. Zappos), by platform (Facebook v. LinkedIn), and by target segment

(Millennials v. Pre-Teens).

The title “Branding in the Age of Social Media” implies a need to center all branding practices

on social media. Multiple channels (the TV, radio, newspaper, subway ads, etc.) have always

co-existed, and the real winners incorporate holistic, omni-channel strategies rather than

solely focusing on Social Media as a separate toy.

The true power of social media is that it allows for a) customization (based on user

preferences) b) enrichment (videos and live interaction as opposed to billboards) and c) fast

failing (and faster recovery)

Brand marketers must continue to focus on dening the brand messaging and customer

promise. Social Media should only be but one of many means for spreading the messaging.

Gwen Gayhart 2 years ago

The author’s point, however, wasn’t really about which platforms are or should be used

for branding. Rather, he reected on (and recommended a strategy for) branding in

general. Despite the fact that other, more traditional distribution mediums continue to

exist, his point was that the dawn of the hyper-connected, super-active social media

era has prompted a shift in the origins of what drives cultural innovation, thereby also

prompting a need for brands to consider “amplied subcultures” in their branding

strategies, no matter the medium. If a brand can’t “get relevant,” its brand strategy is

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doomed to fail, and if brands want to get relevant, they need to look up from their

metrics spreadsheets and engage with their kids (or young people, in general), who are

naturally-primed to be sensitive to what’s culturally-relevant.

Jaime Porta Martin 2 years ago

I think the point of this article is that you have to focus on an ideology instead of a

trend. People are looking for brands that support their way of being. Meanwhile,

brands have to nd the main ideology that supports the biggest share of its targeted

customers (Axe with the lad culture; Dove with the real body, etc.).

Once the ideology is found, the brand has to nd the marketing strategy to release it. It

doesn’t matter if it is on social media or in the newspaper, what really matters is that

people nd the support they search.

ERIK Sturesson 2 years ago

Really good article. I loved it when I read the article in the newspaper-subscription. Thank you

for keeping us, the readers, up to date!

Best wishes

Erik Sturesson

CEO, Student Node

Cirqus 6 2 years ago

Good article. I think there are a few simple yet brutally frank truths that need to embraced.

Fact is, branded content works. The problem for most large agencies however is that the

crowd-culture is more creative, produces better content faster, taps into a global subcultural

zeitgeist much better (because it is a part of that zeitgeist) and is completely unfettered by the

norms and practices of traditional advertising. The volatile cauldron of social dynamics has

often been the catalyst for the creation of pop culture phenomena. This cauldron however is

fueled by the heat of true, raw, authentic human emotion in reaction to prevalent or even

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eeting social situations. With the democratization of creativity and connectivity enabled by

social media, the creative output caused by these responses to social situations is more

authentic and therefore, results in more immediate and natural resonance. The cauldron has

the added benet of being akin to a pot of hot porridge or grits (trust me, I’m going somewhere

with this). As it bubbles, tiny volcano like structures emerge and tiny ‘pops’ of hot

porridge/grits emerge. In the cauldron of globally connected hyper creativity, these pops are

akin to the super successful creative executions we see (because the number of super

successful creative is a small fraction of the total creative output generated). Large brands

however, aren’t designed to produce massive creative output in order to nd a few successful

hits; in fact they’re designed to achieve the exact opposite – make creative hits as efciently

and quickly and cost effectively as possible. In such a pressure cooker environment, the

pressure cooker can rarely produce the kind of taste that the cauldron can because the

method of cooking is different. Brands need to, in the old parlance of the street, get over

themselves. Take percentages of their massive budgets to support those who do create great

content. If bloggers blog for the love of it yet inuence the opinions of millions of people

worldwide, reach out to bloggers and nd simple ways to collaborate. What’s painfully obvious

now is that much of the in house creative from large brands and large agencies simply cannot

compete any more with a globally connected structure of creatives. The open market has co-

opted the conversation and brands need to nd a way to maintain relevance in that

conversation lest consumers more rapidly embrace what’s now a nascent but growing

phenomenon; creating for themselves, the products and services they desire, bypassing those

created for them.

Nathanael Este-Klein 3 years ago

Interesting read, even if the article is some kind of native advertising. But a professional

sharing his convictions is obviously only self-promoting himself, and shouldn’t he be allowed

to do so?

In my humble opinion, the question you raise is simply: has a cultural approach for branding

and communication became more relevant at the digital age that it used to be in the past?

I believe that yes, even if I am not convinced by your examples nor by the methodology of

“cultural branding” (let’s be careful, trademark infringement here) Mostly because, like others

readers, it seemed all warmed over to me.

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– “Branding is a set of techniques designed to generate cultural relevance”. Totally agree, but

this has been discussed since the early age of marketing with academic works and highlighted

with buzzwordy concepts from agencies as “cultural traction” (WPP, 2010) or “cultural muscle”

(JWT, 2014)

– “Map the cultural orthodoxy and locate the cultural opportunity”? Sounds very familiar to

disruption (TBWA, 1996) with just a « cultural » twist.

– “Target the crowdculture and diffuse the new ideology”? This isn’t different from what

advocates Ogilvy for (at least) 10 years: a brand should have a point of view, OK, we got that.

I found the concept of crowd-culture interesting though, and I agree on many points about

subculture’s inuence and how they can now be amplied with digital tools. How a subculture

can became mainstream at the digital age is indeed a very interesting question. Exploring the

brands that has tapped into subcultures to build their legitimacy – like let’s say Supreme –

would have been much more relevant than taking the examples of the last Lion’s winners and

turning them into “cultural case studies”

Also, even a failed attempt of taking the concept of “culture” and using it as a real

methodological tool, not just a gimmick, would have been really honorable. But in order to do

that, it would have needed a clear denition, and maybe we would still be debating about that

instead. Merriam-Webster crowned “culture” the 2014 Word of the Year but my feeling is that

we still don’t know what does it really means, neither for us or for brands.

Barbara Kruger made a great work titled « When I heard the word culture, I take out my

checkbook”. Maybe I will take out my wallet and buy your book after all, out of curiosity.

PS: English is not my native language, sorry if you felt it.

Kevin York 3 years ago

Iz A is on the right path. To take it a step further, I’d say HBR should really have this piece

labeled as sponsored content. An entire article promoting “cultural branding” from the guy

whose agency ofcially trademarked the term? Plus he promotes the Jack Daniel’s example as

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a success without disclosing that Jack Daniel’s is a client. Real lack of transparency there. Lost

some respect for HBR with this one.

In terms of the subject matter, this post isn’t saying anything new. Branded content isn’t

broken, it’s not going anywhere. All good pieces of content combine audience, context and

brand. It’s just that some brands aren’t good at it, while others are. The same argument

could’ve been made 20 years ago with other mediums.

Richard Hren 3 years ago

Perhaps companies will go back to basics, simply making great products.

tim Piper 3 years ago

Branded content succeeds when the work is great and culturally relevant. PR and social media

are good distribution tools, with traditional TV and paid YouTube views coming a distant

second. The problem is (always has been, always will be) the quality of the creative product.

Academics and marketers keep refusing to accept this because it means that success is out of

their immediate control. While the debates continue, the same creative-driven companies

keep delivering for intelligent brands no matter what the climate. Ted Manger is correct and I

speak from experience having written Dove’s rst viral “Evolution” and co-created the Chipotle

series, which had an 800% return on investment with enormous earned social media & PR btw

(and drew attention to multiple issues, which the short form animations couldn’t due to

length.) That said, enjoyed the article and found it mostly valid.

Iz A 3 years ago

You keep reminding the reader “…what I call….” And “….what I call….” And “…what I call…”

We get it. You coin phrases and terms no one cares about. Marketing, like music or humour,

cannot be taught.

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Marc Dhalluin 3 years ago

This is a terric post, thank you. I think you frame and package the holy grail of competitive

marketing – gaining acute insight into an appropriate audience, amplifying that insight in a

relevant way, and then distributing it correctly. And the insight, to be ‘culturally’ effective, has

to, absolutely has to be considered ‘higher purpose’ insight. It encompasses the ‘why’ we do

things, as opposed to ‘what’ we do. Web has made it easy for everyone to be present, and

therefore mediocrity has ourished.

Gaurav Bhandari 3 years ago

A very insightful article. However, I wonder if the brands identify the sub-culture and plan or if

the sub-culture is identied post the success of a campaign? My experience says that there are

too many sub-cultures going around (as specied in the article as well). While planning a

campaign, you try and touch as many relevant aspects as possible and then zero down on the

one which is most effective!

ted manger 3 years ago

With all due respect, this is the quintessential example of over complicating the obvious —

something marketers and academics excel at.

Having worked for years in marketing I can bet that the very reason that your success stories,

Chipotle, RedBull, UnderArmor etc. succeeded is because they ignored articles like this one.

Do you really thing they sat down to “map the cultural opportunity”? I don’t. I think they did

what they thought was cool instead of consulting some kind of marketing playbook –even one

as well thought out as this. If you have to read how to do it, you don’t know how.

Ted Manger

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Emily Sandoval 2 years ago

Exactly. The problem for most brands is that they are too scared to take a risk on

promoting what is culturally relevant (aka cool and new) — right as it’s beginning and

before any other brands participate. Dove – they pioneered that “body positive”

movement (from a brand perspective). And now look at all of the brands that are now

following suit.

Neha Bindal 3 years ago

Case studies about these popular brands clearly demonstrates that marketing and branding

activities work when they are linked with some way of life. One size doesn’t t all, we can have

the perfect blend of marketing mix but if it lacks a hook i.e. some unique association or

belongingness then it cant work out.

Soriya Pen 3 years ago

Great read!!

edith duarte 3 years ago

Enjoyed this reading. Great insight. Practical. Shared on my network.

Jonathan Feliciano 3 years ago

Amazing Article! A lot of great insight.

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